My father spent time in Pakistan in 1946, and it is some 70 since then that I now have the privilege of visiting the country for the first time. During the 1939-45 war, he had served in the Signals with the 8th Indian Division, and had been in North Africa, and then fought with them up the eastern coast of Italy. At the end of the war he had returned with them to India, and particularly to the north-west, in the towns of what became Pakistan after partition in 1947. The time he spent here was one of the happiest of his life, and I particularly remember stories he told about the times he spent in Murree and Tret to the north east of Rawalpindi. Islamabad had not even been thought of by then.
The opportunity to run a workshop for the Ministry of IT and another under the auspices of the Inter-Islamic Network for IT over the last fortnight provided me with a chance to visit some of the places he had known and told me about many years ago, and it was wonderful to experience the magic of the landscape and generosity of the people in this particular part of Pakistan.
Just before I left, my mother showed me an old map, dating from 1945, on which he had depicted the route he had followed across India, highlighted with a black pen. The map as a whole provides fascinating insights into what the sub-continent looked like before the traumatic events of partition in 1947. Murree is clearly shown, as befits its role as the summer capital of the Punjab Province until 1864, and its beautiful position as well as its relatively cooler climate makes it clear why it was such a popular location, particular for the British living in India. Indeed, it had recently snowed when I visited, even though the weather was much warmer only a relatively short distance away in Islamabad.
My father had taken some pictures of his time at Murree, and in the village of Tret approximately mid-way between Murree and Islamabad in April 1946, and these provided me with an amazing opportunity to compare how things had changed. First, was the view of the mountains of Kashmir from Kashmir Point in Murree
It was extraordinary to have been able to find almost exactly where he must have stood to take his photograph, and almost equally interesting to note how rather little must have changed since he had been there. He would certainly have recognised my photographs!
He had also taken a photograph of a street scene in Murree, which included a Lloyds Bank building. Unfortunately I was not able to find it any more, but the accompanying photograph shows how very much more crowded the streets are today than they were 70 years ago!
My father clearly loved the mountains and landscapes, and took several photographs of these. Again, I attach one below (labelled “Hills from Murree Road – 5000 feet”), together with one of the hills between Tret and Murree today, albeit from a different viewpoint. Both pictures illustrate a typical settlement on the top of the hills in the mid-distance, but a contrast between them is the difference in forest cover.
I was not able to find exactly where he was based while in Tret, but the photo on the left below shows a 1946 view of the military encampment there with the village in the background on the hill top, and to the right my 2016 photo which might just be of the same buildings. The photo on the right is also particularly interesting because it shows many black flags flying on the buildings, indicating that these houses belong to some of the Shia minority.
Sadly I was not able to locate the old regimental animal lines shown in the picture on the left below, but have matched it with a view of Tret today on the right. My father had been a keen polo player, and had become very fond of one of his horses (Bellezza) in particular, and I recall him being very sad that he had to leave the horse behind on his next assignment. Remarkably, on returning to Islamabad, a friend told me that the old polo ground is still there, and had managed to survive encroachment from the bus station. Next time I visit Pakistan I will have to return and try to find it.
I’m so grateful to everyone who made this visit possible and particularly colleagues in the Ministry of IT, my security team (below), and Asim Malik who accompanied me.