Major Geoffrey Douglas Langlands was born in 1917 in Yorkshire, England. His father worked for an Anglo-American company and his mother was a folk dance instructor at a school. Hr joined the British Indian Army sometime before Partition.
The Whirlwind Man
In 1944, Major Langlands was posted in Bangalore, where he was in charge of recruiting and training young men to become officers. The anti-colonial ‘Quit India Movement’ was gaining momentum, and British soldiers were aware of the building tension.
“We were under strict orders to stay at our posts until the end of the war,” said Major Langlands. “There was no question of going anywhere else around the world.”
Before arriving in India, Major Langlands was teaching science and mathematics to second grade students at a small school in London. During the Second World War, he saw an advertisement offering jobs for engineers in the Air Force. Despite his brother’s protests, Major Langlands went straight to the recruitment office to enroll as an ordinary soldier.
After Bangalore, Major Langlands was posted in Dehradun. There, he trained potential officers for the Indian and Pakistan armies that would come into effect after Partition. In the same year, his unit came under the supervision of the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. They referred to him as ‘The Whirlwind Man.’
“Mountbatten was told to get the final independence by August 1948 but he had it done in August 1947,” said Major Langlands. “It was evident that he was in a hurry to resolve political issues from day one… [but] the bloodshed and violence that resulted in the deaths and displacement of millions could have been avoided.”
Major Langlands blamed poor leadership decisions. He believed millions of lives could have been spared — or at the very least, the whole process could have been more peaceful.
In July of 1947, he was ordered to travel to Rawalpindi by train because he had been posted to the Pakistan army for one year.
But when he reached Rawalpindi, he found the city deserted. There was no office for the young men from Dehradun to gather at, nor anyone to receive them. There was only one cook in the mess hall, and Major Langlands was informed that everyone else had gone to India.
Pindi to Lahore
At the time of Partition, Major Langlands travelled back and forth on trains between Pakistan and India.
When he arrived at the Lahore station, it was almost empty. The station manager asked him to guard the train for the entire night as there was a lot of trouble in the city.
The next morning, they set off for Amritsar. The train had only gone halfway when it stopped at a small station near a village. The villagers told them they could not go ahead, as it was night and there was some trouble.
Suddenly, Major Langlands heard gunshots. He took refuge in a large bus amongst other passengers of the train.
The next day, Major Langlands and the troops managed to reach the Amritsar station. On his journey towards Dehradun, he saw people firing at each other indiscriminately. In the mountains, he stayed with his infantry for nearly four days.
69 years later
Even though most British officers were asked to leave Pakistan by the new government, Major Langlands stayed on.
He was granted a contract on the basis of his exceptional work, and resumed his career in teaching. He joined the Aitchison College for Boys in Lahore, where he taught for 25 years.
Today, he still lives in Lahore. When he was young, his friends would ask him who he would marry and when. His reply would be that he would not marry until the end of the war. He is 99 years old today, and he has not yet married.
This interview was conducted by Story Scholars Fakhra Hassan.