When Naib/Subedar Ali Haider VC of The Frontier Force Rifles died a few days ago at his village Shahoo Khel in District Kohat, one would like to think that he was remembered and honoured by his Regt and by the Army as the last surviving Pakistani holder of the coveted Victoria Cross - the highest gallantry award of the old British Empire. For the profession of arms the brightest light of all had gone out forever as Naib/Subedar Ali Haider VC was laid to rest.
The frail human memory like a flickering lamp stumbles back across the years to that day almost half a century ago on the Italian peninsula when the long drawn-out battle of attrition was being fought with intense ferocity - almost inch by inch. It was during this campaign in early 1945 that Sepoy Ali Haider was serving with his company of The Frontier Force Rifles which was assigned the task of evicting the enemy from their well dug-in positions on the far bank of the River Senio.
Sepoy Ali Haider, the rugged Pathan from the North-West Frontier, had travelled half-way across the world to another continent, to an unknown land about which he had probably never heard in order to join the bitter struggle for his King-Emperor and for his country.
Sepoy Ali Haider along with two other Sepoys of his section crossed over the river under heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy. Despite having been wounded by the enemy fire he succeeded in knocking the enemy strongpoint out of action. Then with sheer disdain for his wounds he pressed forward to attack a second enemy strongpoint and sustained further wounds. Undaunted, Sepoy Ali Haider lobbed a grenade and charged the enemy post with his fixed bayonet. Due to this stunning display of heroism his company was able to achieve the assigned task.
Hardly a few hours before his calibre was put to the test, Sepoy Ali Haider was just Mr. Ordinary Soldier amongst hundreds of other ordinary soldiers, some of whom would soon be owing their lives to him. He was performing his ordinary routine under the stress and strain of the battlefield - perhaps cleaning his rifle, checking his equipment, priming his grenade while having a bite of K-Rations. He could not have imagined such super-human capacity in himself whereby he would soon rise to the occasion so magnificently. It just goes to prove that no man is ordinary. Sepoy Ali Haider was certainly an extraordinary soldier whose act of sheer bravery would illuminate the bloodspattered battlefield and inspire his comrades. He was on that day the bravest of the brave.
One is hushed with awe and almost spellbound just to recapture the dazzling performance of Sepoy Ali Haider in the far-off Italian campaign towards the closing phase of World War II. Time and time again he persisted to press forward the assault on enemy positions with a reckless disregard for his own wounds and his own safety. This splendid and spontaneous gallantry in the face of enemy fire revealed that dauntless fighting spirit with which he was imbued. This was his day and it would be remembered as such.
In times of adversity and crisis human courage can be tested to the extreme. Human nature is at its best when self is forgotten in a desperate struggle to save the lives of comrades. According to Emerson - “Everything in Nature contains all the powers of Nature”.
Now the guns are silenced and the battle-trenches are no more. The flowers blossom as the fishermen dangle their bait in the peaceful River Senio and the young children frolic along the river banks oblivious to this scene of supreme valour 50 years ago. This precious piece of earth.
May his gallant soul rest in peace forever.