It’s the one thing every soldier away from home looks forward to: mail. So everyday it is ‘Hey, Mister Postman, look and see, if there is a letter for me’? For a solider in his outpost, the letter from a loved one is his most cherished and valued document, read and re-read a million times till the next one arrives.
The soldiers in the Indian defence forces are from every nook and cranny of India – from Kashmir in the North to Kanyakumari in the South from Tawang in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the East, to Porbandar in the State of Gujarat in the West. And they are also posted all over the country.
But be it at Bana Post, in Siachen, the longest glacier in the world (7,100 metres) and the world’s highest battleground, or in the desert regions in Rajasthan, a soldier looks forward to the mailbag every day in the hope of news from home.
The Indian army is the largest volunteer service in the world and is raised totally without draft or conscription. This means there is no compulsion for the youth to join the defence forces or undergo compulsory military training. India has a regular strength of 1.1 million men and women soldiers at any given point of time.
Part of the army’s many regiments is the Army Postal Service Corps (APS). Headed by a Major General, the APS is manned partly by volunteers deputed from the Indian Postal Service. This is one corps that knows no holidays and works around the clock 365 days in a year!
The APS was raised in 1788 on an order passed by the then Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings, who authorised employing civilian quasidars or couriers in the British army for the despatch and sorting of mail.
In 1805, a civilian postmaster was ordered to run a postal agency especially for the use of defence forces. In 1865, during the Persia campaign, this postal service became mobile to serve soldiers sent overseas. The first Field Post Office (FPO) thus came into existence.
An FPO was also set up during World War I in 1914-18. It was also at this time that mail censoring was first introduced. The Army Post Office (APO) came into active existence only during the Second World War more than twenty years later when 56 FPO was set up in 1941 at Secunderabad, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. In 1947, it became the base sorting office.
Following independence it became 1 Central Base Post Office and abbreviated to 56 APO, the largest army unit of APS. Today, it serves 294 FPOs to cover most parts of the country.
For the North-eastern sector, including the states of Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim, a second base office was set up called, 2 Central Base Post Office or 99 APO, at Calcutta.
APS has airlifted mail during World War I and introduced the concept of inland letters (an aerogramme type letter for national mail) during World War II. This was later picked up by the civilian postal service and became operational in 1950.
APS has also introduced computerised banking functions and VSAT (very small aperture terminal) for transfer of money orders through satellites to serve remote and hilly areas.
Today, APS serves not only the three conventional defence forces – army, navy and air force but also the territorial forces like the Rashtriya Rifles, Assam Rifles, Border Roads Organisation; and central police forces like the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).