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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Geoffrey Langlands, 2015 January 31.
Oral history with Geoffrey Langlands, 2015 January 31.
Langlands, Geoffrey, 1917- and Hassan, Fakhra
Author (no Collectors):
Langlands, Geoffrey, 1917-, Hassan, Fakhra, Hassan, Fakhra, and Hassan, Fakhra
Geoffrey Douglas Langlands was born on 21st of October, 1917 to a British family in Hull, Yorkshire in England.His father worked for an Anglo-American company and his mother was a folk dance instructor at a small school. Mr Langlands was raised with his twin brother John Alexander Langlands. Both the boys were named by their mother.“Geoffrey and John were my parents’ favorite names. Alexandar Douglas was the name of my maternal grandfather. Since my twin brother was ten minutes older than me, Alexander went to him, and Douglas became my middle name,” he says.Mr Langlands’ father died as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic that had killed over 20 million people worldwide. After their father’s death, the Langlands moved to their mother’s parents’ home in Bristol where he was raised with his brother by their mother and maternal grandparents. Geoffrey’s mother died of cancer in 1930, and went into the care of their grandfather eventually, who’d passed away a year later. “Our father died when we were one year old. Our mother died when we were twelve, and we lost our grandfather when we turned thirteen. There was a lot of death in our family from a very early age,” he recounts.In July 1935, Geoffrey completed his A levels, and took up teaching science and mathematics to second grade students at a small school in London the same year. He taught for nearly four years. “In my fourth year, I was promoted to teaching third grade students,” he says.During this time, news of World War II caught Geoffrey’s attention. “I was preparing to enter the fourth year of teaching and then came September 1939. I was sitting by the radio all by myself when I heard Churchill say that Hitler has taken over Poland, and as of 11am, Britain is at war with Germany,” he recounts. “I never did anything without discussing things with my brother. Once, I saw an advertisement in the English paper asking for persons to join to become engineers in the air force. My brother advised against it since our family had no money whatsoever. He was not around at the time WW II was announced. Without telling anyone I made the decision, and headed straight to the recruitment office to enroll as an ordinary solider,” he recounts.Mr Langlands joined the British army in 1939, and in 1942, he was recruited as commando and fought against the Germans at the Dieppe beach in France organized by the chief of operations Lord Mountbatten.In January 1944, Geoffrey joined the British Indian army and was posted at Bangalore where he was made in charge of selecting, recruiting and training young men to become officers in the army. “I was under training at Kent. One day, three British colonels of the Indian army came to the place where we were being trained to become army officers. They wanted volunteers for selecting applicants to the British Indian army. I was the only one with that kind of experience, and was therefore chosen for the job. I was in a unit for interviewing, testing and training the boys applying to be officers in the army. It was an important task and I was engaged in the unit for two years,” he says.Sharing his experience of the initial years in India, Mr Langlands says the Quit India campaign by the Congress was gaining a lot of momentum and the British soldiers could sense the tensions building up. “To quit India was something impossible, especially when the war was on. We were under strict orders to stay at our posts till the end of the war. There was no question of going anywhere else around the world,” he says.In early 1947, Mr Langlands and his unit came under the supervision of Lord Mountbatten for the second time, now as the last viceroy of British India. “He was in charge of all of us, and it was evident that he was in a hurry from day one in India as well. We used to call him the whirlwind man,” Geoffrey says. “The first thing he did was give names of volunteers to stay on for one year after the actual independence. I was also selected as one of the volunteers since I’d already been engaged in the task of recruiting and testing potential army offices in India,” he recounts.“We had to add one short paragraph in a lot of documents stating ‘do you want to join the Pakistan army or the Indian army?’ Mountbatten made the Indian army in charge of the task, and there was a lot of suspicion that he did this to delay whether young ones wanting to join the Pakistan army would have the choice to make the selection,” he recounts. “However, when the lists were finally issued by the Indian army, the young ones had the choice to join Pakistan army,”After Geoffrey’s recruitment as the volunteer trainer during Partition, he was posted at Dehradun, where he trained potential officers for both the armies up to December 1947,” he says. “In the meantime, in July, I was told that I must travel to Rawalpindi at once by train because I’d been posted to one year in the Pakistan army, and the young men at Dehradun wanting to join the Pakistan army were to arrive at Rawalpindi from where we would take them to the military academy in Kakul for training.”Geoffrey took a train to Rawalpindi to make arrangements for the young men’s arrival in the city. When he reached Rawalpindi, he found the city deserted and found the army officers’ mess after all day of inquiring. “There was only one cook in the mess, and everyone else had gone off to India I was told. There was no office for the young men from Dehradun to gather at, and no one to receive them there,” he recounts.At the time of Partition, Mr Langlands describes being on the railway for route back and forth between India and Pakistan for ten days as an officer of the Pakistan army.His journey began from Rawalpindi to the tribal areas around the Himalayas by train, to make a farewell visit to his infantry there. Upon reaching the Gujrat railway station, the station master requested him to vacate the train for passengers in the train behind them. “The passengers were Indian army troops bound to India. We stayed in the station for an hour, and then moved on. When we got to the Lahore station, it was almost empty. The top man was there with few others but no trains were moving. The train that we had vacated for the Indian troops was waiting at the Lahore railway station. The station manager asked me to guard the train for the night as there was a lot of trouble in Lahore, and I kept guard of it the whole night,” he says.The next morning, Geoffrey set off from Lahore. He had gotten half way to Amritsar when their train was stopped a small station near a village. “The villagers told us that we can’t go ahead in the train tonight as there was a lot of trouble in Amritsar. We took refuge in a big bus and there were about 20 Indian officers with me. They were talking to each other and saying somebody has to go out and find out from the train guard on what’s happening. None of them seemed clear on whether they should go. I volunteered to check things on their behalf,” he recounts.Geoffrey met with the train guard who took him to the station master’s office. “We’d walked down the platform and halfway to the station master’s office, some people started firing machine guns at us from nowhere. I shouted at them: Stop fighting! Stop firing!”“They were used to the English voice and they stopped firing. I went down to the steps and shouted don’t fire until you can see who you’re firing at. When we got to the station master’s office, he was lying down, having been shot dead inside the office. The assistant was sitting at his desk shivering, and asked what was happening. We told him the train is not going to move until daylight comes,”About mid-day, the next day Geoffrey and the Indian troops managed to get to Amritsar railway station. “The military guarding the trains at the station were in Pakistani army uniforms, getting ready to return to Lahore. The Indian people knowing that I was from the Pakistan army told me that they no longer want the Pakistani military to be here but allowed me to continue my journey to the Himalayas. Recounting the journey, he witnessed people firing at each other indiscriminately and indescribable insanity. “At times, when people would rush towards the train, the men with the machine gun would ask me, “Should I fire at them?” I was an ordinary passenger in the train trying to keep things calm but the question kept coming up throughout the journey,” he says.Mr Langlands stayed with his infantry in the Himalayas for nearly four days that was quite shocked to hear about what was going on down the hills.“Gradually all the train crosses were cut off, and I had to spend three-four days there [to regain focus].”In September 1947, Mr Langlands took the train to New Delhi from Peshawar [express service]. There he was told to coordinate with the unit in charge of sending migrants to Pakistan. Like most migrants to Pakistan, Mr Langlands was required to get clearance from the Pakistan desk of Delhi. They had to clear some payments and I had no problem with that. From Delhi, I took the emergency flight by air to Lahore. You were only allowed 20 pounds of luggage. There were no seats in the plane as everyone was sitting on the floor to accommodate more people,” he recounts.“The idea of giving any sort of power had no effect on me but the turbulence continued for several months after Partition,” he says.In December 1947, the young men of the Pakistani army in Dehradun were officially transferred to the Pakistan army. During the same time, most British officers were asked to leave Pakistan by the new government prior to the completion of their yearlong contract with the British government. “Jinnah spoke strongly with the prime minister against letting all the British soldiers leave. He directed him to find out what all the British officers had been doing in the past four months and see which ones are worth keeping. So they agreed,” he says.From January 1st 1948, a two-year contract was given to those who’d done moderately good work, and those who were really good at what they’ve been doing were given a contract of three years with the Pakistan government. Mr Langlands retired from the army as Major after a decade of training Pakistani army officers. He resumed his career in teaching and joined the Aitchison College for Boys where he taught in Lahore for 25 years. To read more about his life and career in Pakistan, please visit: his thoughts on the Fall of Dhaka, Mr Langlands says that from the beginning of training of the boys in military units at Dehradun and Kohat, he had sensed aspiring officers from West Pakistan didn’t like going to East Pakistan at all. Every time I went to East Pakistan, I saw the army officers weren’t doing very well there. After 20 West Pakistanis had applied to become army officers, as mandatory practice, a small group of them was sent to East Pakistan for six weeks twice a year. The first group was sent in December,” he recalls.East Pakistan [Bengal] had been supplying items to the capital of West Bengal through Calcutta or growing things and sending them to Calcutta for several decades. “Now they had been cut off from that route, and couldn’t go there. They had good growth in all sorts of things and plenty of water but found no support from the government. The capital of East Pakistan had a university that was just about the worse in all of Pakistan and there was so much of poverty. The government was really not interested in investing there. The Bengalis considered themselves a colony still being ruled by Britain, and had fairly strong reasons right from the start to break away as separate from West Pakistan,” Mr Langlands says.Sharing his final thoughts on Partition, Mr Langlands feels the bloodshed and violence that resulted in the deaths and displacement of millions was due to poor leadership decisions of the last viceroy of British India. “Mountbatten was told to get the final independence by August 1948 but he had it done in August 1947. It was typical of him. Otherwise, millions of lives could’ve been spared. It could’ve been done more peacefully and many wars that followed could’ve been avoided,” he says.Mr Langlands nowadays lives in Lahore at the Langlands House in Aitchison College. “I was seeing two ladies when I was young and each would ask me whom will I marry and when. I’d tell them not until the war is over.” Mr Langlands is 99 years old today, and he never married.
History and History
Physical Description:
1 video file
Publication Info:
Lahore (Pakistan)
Lahore (Pakistan), January 31, 2015
Filmed interviews