A Life Less Ordinary

Many of us wonder what the Army does in peacetime when there is no war on. Some people believe that they live a life of luxury, drink a lot and generally waste their time in playing golf or card games or hunting. This is far from the truth. As you know our army is deployed all along the Himalayan borders with China, and along the LoC in J&K. Most of these borders are inhospitable, uncongenial in climate, lacking in normal facilities. Even drinking water is not available in some areas. 

The army formations not deployed on the borders have been busy combating insurgencies in J&K and the Northeast. It is evident that only a small portion of the army gets a chance to stay in a peacetime cantonment, that too for short periods.

This chapter deals with army activities in fields and peace areas, to enable the reader to fully visualize the lifestyle of our solider and officers and their daily activities in peace and field stations.

Life in a Peacetime Location

A military station is called a Cantonment. Here a number of units are billeted in peacetime. A cantonment is a separate township under a cantonment board which is like a town committee or municipal board. It has some elected civilian members and others nominated by the station HQ. The cantonment board runs all the civic services like a municipal board. Most cantonments have normal bazaars and civil population like any small town or locality. The rules and regulations in a cantonment are however strictly enforced. Therefore, you generally find good roads and greater cleanliness in a cantonment as compared to other civil localities. A number of units are located in a cantonment depending upon the availability of accommodation. These units are generally grouped under a brigade or a sub-area (Static HQ). The station HQ is responsible for general administration, allotment of houses and barracks along with allied facilities.A unit, i.e. a battalion or a regiment, stays together in what is known as unit lines. These lines generally have a group of living barracks for troops, playground, armoury for weapons and unit office buildings. The JCOs’ and NCOs’ clubs and Jawans’ langars (community dining rooms) are also located here along with the unit canteen, recreation room, unit clothing stores, transport park and light vehicle repair sections etc. Barbers, washermen and safaiwalas (sweepers), carpenters, blacksmiths etc. posted to a unit also stay here. The family lines of a unit are located nearby where jawans can stay with their families for limited periods. The officers’ messes and living quarters are located slightly away from the unit lines. Married officers live in small bungalows allotted to them in the cantonment area. Bachelors are allotted single rooms near the officers’ messes.

There is no restriction in going in and out of a cantonment area for civilians but they cannot enter a unit line without prior permission from the authorities.

A Normal Working Day

In a peacetime cantonment the normal day of a jawan starts before sunrise. Once the Reveille bugle is sounded, jawans ‘fall in’ (assemble in rank and file) in sports kit. By now every jawan has shaved and washed and is ready for physical training (PT). His platoon commander –a JCO, normally inspects him to make sure that he is properly shaved and well turned out. He inspects his dress to ensure that it is clean and well ironed. Now the jawans are moved ‘on the double’ (running) or marched off briskly to the unit parade or PT ground. In this assembly the whole unit is together. Here the JCOs and then the officers join the parade. The PT, which is the first parade, involves vigorous exercise and running. After the PT, every one disperses for breakfast and assembles for various other training, parades or tasks after an hour’s break. Weapons training, firing, driving training and education classes, as applicable, are carried out till about 12’o clock. At this hour jawans are marched off to clean their weapons and return the weapons and equipment. After this, jawans proceed to the langars for lunch. Officers and JCOs now go to attend the office or administrative work as required.