Saint Paul’s Church
I first heard about St.Paul’s church in September 1965, during the days when Indo Pak war had just started and Ambala airfield was their chosen target. 9 O?clock news on All India Radio reported the attack on Ambala Cantt. It reported that Pakistan Air Force bomb strike missed air field but bombs hit the St.Paul?s church and nearby Military Hospital. The church was badly damaged in the attack. I don?t recall the loss of life due to bombing.
I recently went to Ambala and made a point to visit the church. Ambala Cantt is 200 Kms from Delhi. Being an important railway junction and cantonment, the Tribune newspaper and Postal department shifted their operations to this city. After Chandigarh was developed, The Tribune shifted to Chandigarh. Ambala Cantt has not changed much. Cantonment area has beautiful bungalows in large plots. One of the oldest structure is that of St. Pauls church. I have captured few photographs from different angles showing damage to the structure.
I am reproducing an article which appeared in The Tribune:
A LEAF FROM HISTORY
A church steeped in history By Rahul Das (Tribune News Service)
St Paul?s Church in Ambala Cantonment is one of the oldest church in the region. St Paul?s church, which was consecrated on January 4, 1857, was bombed during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The bombing by a Pakistani aircraft considerably destroyed the beautiful church building and today only the church tower remains.
Presbyter SM Bhatty said that the St Paul?s church sustained extensive damage due to the bombing. Since then, a portion of the parsonage is being consecrated and used as church. Previously, the church compound was spread over 21 acres of land and now a large area has been acquired by the Air Force authorities for a school and other purposes.
The church was bombed in September, 1965. It is believed that the aircraft which bombed the church was hit by Air Force ground fire. Later that month, Mrs India Gandhi visited the church. The heavy metal bell was, thereafter, shifted to near the Parsonage. The bell, which has been built in England, has been mounted on two columns. The bombed church is now within the Air Force school complex.
An interesting fact which has come to light is about the spelling of Ambala. In old documents, Ambala is spelled as ?Umballa?. However, this correspondent noticed a plaque of 1884 which reads ?In affectionate memory of Henry Wentworth Hughes, Lieutenant, Central India Horse, Son of General WT Hughes, CB, lately commanding the Sirhind Division, who entered into his rest December 1st, 1884. Deeply regretted by his friends in Ambala.? This is perhaps one of the first reference to Umballa being spelt as Ambala.
The work on the St Paul Cathedral began in 1855. The building work was carried out by the British Army who first built a wooden model of the church. During the first war of Independence in 1857, Britishers took refuge in the church.
On April 3, 1925, a meeting of 25 members was held. The meeting was presided over by Lt Col GC Hobson. After the meeting, it was shifted from Church of England to Lahore Diocese. In April 1925, Harold Spooner was made Chaplain of Ambala. Following partition in 1947, it was shifted from Diocese of Lahore to Amritsar Diocese. Thereafter, it was shifted from Amritsar Diocese to Diocese of Delhi.
Presbyter SM Bhatty said that Air Force authorities were planning to turn the bombed church into a war memorial chapel. He said that St Paul?s church was a garrison church as it was located in the cantonment. He stated that British troops used to offer prayers at the church before going on military campaigns.
About The Author
Author: Ramesh Lalwani- New Delhi