Lt Gen Faridoon N Bilimoria: A Soldier’s General

Endearingly called Billy by his friends, Lt Gen FN Bilimoria, PVSM was undoubtedly one of the most distinguished and dedicated soldiers in the Indian Army. His family lineage too was uniquely illustrious. Among his forebears were a naval chief, a vice chief of the army staff, an army commander, a corps commander, a governor, an ambassador, an inspector general of police and a chief justice to boot. There couldn’t have been a more pre-eminent genealogy. Faridoon Bilimoria himself retired as an army commander. If all this high ranking ancestry was not enough, Bilimoria’s older son Karan added a unique niche to the family lineage by becoming a peer – the youngest and the first Parsi to enter the portals of the House of Lords.

Article by Raj Kanwar | The Citizen

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In a simple but fascinating narrative, Maj Gen Ian Cardozo writes about the Life and Times of Lt Gen Bilimoria. I can do no better than reproduce this quote from the book’s blurb “It is the story of the soldier who by his personal life and example extolled the virtues of the army and his Regiment. He lived life to the full in keeping with the values given to him by the simple Gorkha soldiers from the hills of Nepal.”

His love affair with the army began when he joined in 1949 the 2nd Course in the Joint Services Wing – a forerunner of the National Defence Academy in Clement Town, Dehra Dun – and continued virtually over much of his life. From the Joint Services Wing to the Indian Military Academy, it was a seamless transition for the young Faridoon.

Bilimoria was not even 20 when he was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Gorkha Rifles. The ‘Second Five’ was proudly known as the ‘VC Battalion’ as three of its soldiers had won during World War II Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award in the then British Empire. Two of the proud winners were Gaje Ghale and Agan Singh Rai. It was thus a fortuitous happening that these two Victoria Cross winners were in the ‘Second Five’ Battalion when Billy joined it. It was therefore no wonder that the two VC winners became Billy’s mentors; he was a great learner and these two helped him further hone all the skills needed in commanding the troops.

As a young captain, he was chosen as the ADC to the president Dr. Rajendra Prasad. It was during that tenure that Billy happened to meet his future wife Yasmin at a function during the President’s visit to Hyderabad. Yasmin greatly captivated Billy, and in January 1960, the two tied the knot at Secunderabad. Yasmin was a great pillar of support to him; she happily and proficiently performed each and every activity that came the way of an army wife. Her role became more and more pronounced as Billy rose higher and higher in the army hierarchy.

Over the years, Faridoon achieved one distinction after another. Much later, he was the Colonel of the Regiment – the highest and most prestigious appointment that anyone could aspire for. Yet another exalted honour came his way when he was appointed president of the Gorkha Brigade. Suffice it to say here that Gen Bilimoria bestowed extra lustre to whatever he did in the course of his brilliant career in the army. He loved every bit of the army. The book highlights many important landmarks in Gen Bilimoria’s career. He truly epitomized and even lived the Chetwode Credo, “The Safety, Honour And Welfare…… Always And Everytime”. In fact, if there ever was a soldier’s General, it was Faridoon Bilimoria, more or less in Sam Manekshaw’s mould.

Bilimoria had also developed a pronounced liking for Dehra Dun; he was just 11 when he entered the Doon School. After five years of schooling, he spent some more years at the Joint Services Wing and the Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun. It was also home to his Battalion and the Gorkha Brigade. He was also the deputy commandant and chief instructor at the Indian Military Academy. Thus settling down in Dehra Dun after retirement was an obvious choice. He meticulously built a beautiful house in Dehra Dun’s upscale Vasant Vihar – in close proximity to his alma mater, the Indian Military Academy. He died at age 72 on 31 August 2005.

Yasmin Bilimoria is still socially very active. She lives here with her younger son Nadir who is in publishing business.

Maj Gen Ian Cardozo deserves compliments for the painstaking research that must have taken a good deal of his time. This well written biography brings to life the many qualities of head and heart that Gen Bilimoria embodied.

Lt Gen Bilimoria – His Life & Times
By Maj Gen Ian Cardozo
92 Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research,
United Service Institution of India 2016
For Private Circulation

(Raj Kanwar is a Dehradun based veteran journalist and author.)