Robert Harold Nimmo: Stories of Service
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Lieutenant General Robert Harold Nimmo (known as Harold) served in the Australian military forces for over 35 years. He served in World War I and II, and was the Chief Military Observer to the United Nations (UN) in India and Pakistan. This video tells the story of Harold’s role as a peacekeeper and an exceptional leader in the disputed region of Kashmir. Harold not only served in one of the UN's first peacekeeping operations, he was also the longest-serving leader of a UN operation.
Student inquiry questions
- Harold holds an important place in the history of the United Nations. Explain this statement.
- Harold served in both World Wars, as well as other conflicts. List some of the places where he served.
- What does UNMOGIP stand for?
- Mr R.G. Casey says Harold 'was held in the highest esteem by the Secretary General'. What reasons does he give for this high praise?
- What is the ultimate goal of peacekeeping? What are 3 words used in the video to describe the peacekeeping process? Explain why you think these words were used.
- When Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan, the border became a 'ceasefire line'. What were the challenges of supervising this ceasefire line?
- Several measures were put in place so that peacekeepers remained impartial. What were these measures?
Opening credits. A collage of photos arranged on an old sepia file folder show three separate peacekeepers: a colour photo of a blonde-haired lady in an Army uniform, a colour photo of a young male wearing a blue beret with his police uniform, and a monochrome photo of a military officer with a hat and a moustache. A cloth badge with the blue and white logo of the United Nations lies among the photos. The title Stories of Service: Peacekeepers appears.
Monochrome photos arranged on an old file folder show a military officer throughout his career. He is stocky with a strong jaw and moustache. A cloth badge with the blue and white logo of the United Nations lies among the photos.
Narrator speaks: 'In 1950, Lieutenant General Robert Harold Nimmo CBE became the first Australian to command a multinational peacekeeping operation. He is the longest serving commander of an operation in the history of the United Nations.'
A photo shows a station homestead in bushland. A photo of a young soldier's face is superimposed. His slouch hat is topped with the distinctive emu feather plume of the Light Horse.
Narrator speaks: 'Robert Harold Nimmo, known as 'Harold' to his family, was born on 22 November 1893 at his family's property, Oak Park, on the Einasleigh River in North Queensland, the middle of nine children.'
In a profile photo, the young soldier gazes off to his left, his hair and moustache neat. In a team photo, a uniformed officer sits in the middle of players wearing blazers and shorts.
Narrator speaks: 'In 1912, he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and graduated top of his class in 1914. During his time there, he also developed his lifelong love of sport, playing with the first fifteen - the First Grade rugby team.'
Photos lie on a map. Sitting with other soldiers, Harold has his Light Horse hat on his knee. Soldiers on horseback pose among trees. On the map, Egypt, Gallipoli, and Sinai and Palestine are marked. Standing against a barren landscape, the older Harold wears a peaked cap and holds a stick.
Narrator speaks: 'In the First World War, he served as an officer in the 5th Light Horse Regiment in Egypt and later as a Troop Commander in Gallipoli. During the war, he also saw service in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns and ended his service in the First World War as a Major.'
Beside a photo of middle-aged Harold, a handwritten list reads, '1942-43. 4th Cavalry Brigade, 1st Armoured Brigade, 1st Motor Brigade.'
Narrator speaks: 'Harold had a long military career spanning both world wars, and he continued to rise through the officer ranks, being promoted to Brigadier in 1943.'
Harold stands with a younger soldier who wears a side cap. A handwritten list reads, '1943-45. Australian Corps, 2nd Australian Army and Northern Territory Force, 4th Australian Base Area in New Guinea, Headquarters 1st Australian Army at Lae.'
Narrator speaks: 'In the Second World War, he served across a number of postings in Australia and overseas.'
In monochrome film, Harold stands facing ranks of troops who present arms on a Non-Commissioned Officer's order. Harold's sleeves are rolled up. He salutes.
Narrator speaks: 'After the war ended, he assumed command of the 34th Infantry Brigade on the island of Morotai, Indonesia. The brigade then moved to Japan as part of the postwar British Commonwealth Occupation Forces.'
A photo of Harold in full uniform appears over a map of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. Kashmir shares borders with both India and Pakistan.
Narrator speaks: 'In 1950, Harold was appointed to command a new peacekeeping mission along the border between India and Pakistan. He was briefed at the UN Headquarters in New York before arriving in Kashmir in November 1950.'
Sitting outside in rows of chairs, senior officers from different nations chat. A badge labelled 'UNMOGIP' features a mountain range and the UN logo. In a photo, Harold wears a brigadier's uniform.
Narrator speaks: 'His position was Chief Military Observer - CMO - of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. He served in this role from 1952 to 1966. Four years into the role, Harold was promoted to Lieutenant General.'
A man wearing a suit has a neat moustache. Text reads: Mr R.G. Casey, Australian Minister for External Affairs.
Man speaks: 'He is held in the highest esteem by the Secretary-General and senior officials of the UN Secretariat who have indicated that his work in Kashmir is invaluable. He has shown outstanding ability both in military and administrative matters and in diplomatic functions which he has been called to perform in this important post.'
In flickering footage of South Asia, a horse pulls a cart of supplies, a man and woman look distressed, a building burns. Local soldiers guard equipment laid out in a camp. Dozens of hand grenades are arranged in tightly-packed rows. An officer talks with civilians.
Narrator speaks: 'While peace is the ultimate goal of peacekeeping operations, the process of achieving that goal is often complex, dangerous and frustrating. The peacekeeping operation following the partition of India and Pakistan was all of these.'
On an orange map labelled 'Partition of India', the borders of regions in India appear, then Pakistan and Bangladesh are coloured green. In a photo, people walk by a crowded train. In film, soldiers keep low as they run towards a mountain range. Civilians sit in rubble. Smoke rises from a shattered building. Rubble is piled high near a ruin. Soldiers run across a long bridge. Soldiers examine a rocket-propelled grenade. Civilians wait near bags of belongings. A woman searches rubble. A burning building is hosed down.
Narrator speaks: 'The Kashmiri crisis had its roots in what is known as the partition of India. When the British granted independence to India, they oversaw the partition, or division, of the country into separate nation-states of India, Pakistan and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, based on religion. Millions of people were displaced, and a period of intense civil violence ensued between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.'
'The peacekeeping operation along the border between India and Pakistan was established to manage the ceasefire after fighting broke out when the state of Kashmir joined itself, or acceded, to India despite having a majority Muslim population. Initially, Kashmir wanted to maintain its autonomy but ultimately joined India in 1947, sparking a fresh wave of violence.'
On a map, a wavy irregular border divides Kashmir. One half is coloured orange, like India, the other is coloured green, like Pakistan.
Narrator speaks: 'Kashmir was then divided between India and Pakistan. The border separating the 2 halves of Kashmir, the ‘Line of Control’, marks a ceasefire line between the 2 countries.'
In black and white film, Harold talks with other dignitaries. A photo shows a ragged boy and man on a peak overlooking a sprawl of rough shelters. A sign reads, 'Headquarters, United Nations Military Observer Group.' A soldier looks through binoculars. Near a waterway, tiny figures hurry across a barren rocky plain towards distant trees. A building and bridge are dwarfed by a rugged mountain range. Near mountains, in town and by a road, Western soldiers interact with rugged-up locals. White specks drift through the photos.
Narrator speaks: 'The mission began on 24 January 1949, and was tasked with supervising the ceasefire in Kashmir. Even after the end of the second Indo-Pakistan War in 1965, Kashmir remained disputed territory. The observer group's role was to monitor the ceasefire line between India and Pakistani forces. Much of it is located in rugged mountains and especially harsh in winter, when observers often found themselves trekking through snow and mudslides. They were unarmed and unable to intervene in fighting. The observers alternated their time serving on both sides of the line to demonstrate their neutrality, as it was important to the success of their mission that they were not seen to favour one side or the other.'
On a map, a dot moves from Rawalpindi across the Kashmir border and Line of Control to Srinagar. At a meeting with Western and local soldiers, a Western soldier holds a white flag. A soldier cooks in a rough trench shelter. A man wearing headphones reads a document as he sends Morse code.
Narrator speaks: 'To this end, Harold arranged for the mission headquarters to alternate between Rawalpindi, Pakistan, for 6 months of the year, and Srinagar, Indian-held Kashmir, for the other 6 months. He also established 10 field stations, with five on one side of the ceasefire line and five on the other. The personnel at these field stations also switched places with personnel at a field station on the opposite side every 3 months so that they would not become influenced by local politics.'
Near mountains, a car follows a road running between skeletal trees. A photo shows Harold with other officers. In film, the NCO commands soldiers to present arms. Harold salutes. Senior officers chat. A quote by Brigadier William Robert Artis appears as text over the footage.
Narrator speaks: 'Harold travelled the ceasefire line, meeting with commanders from both India and Pakistan and was known for his firm but fair approach. His colleague, Brigadier William Robert Artis, who served under him in Kashmir, recalled, ‘He did not hesitate to confront senior commanders from either the Indian or Pakistani armies, and express in very strong terms his dissatisfaction regarding serious breaches of the Ceasefire Agreement by formations and units under their command.'
Officers and dignitaries from different countries pose for group photos, Harold among them. Wearing long lines of medals on their tuxedos, Harold and another elderly man chat. Film shows Harold talking with a dignified man. A photo of the man is labelled ‘U Thant, United Nations Secretary General’. The photos of Harold throughout his career lying near the UN badge appear again.
Narrator speaks: 'Harold was respected by senior officers of the Pakistan and Indian armies because he could relate to them as both a soldier and a sportsman. Harold held his role as CMO of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan for just over 15 years until his death at Rawalpindi in Pakistan in 1966, aged 72.'
He had not long returned from New York where he had met with Secretary General U Thant about the peacekeeping mission, who later, after Harold's death, was moved to observe, 'General Nimmo was a devoted servant of peace, and never spared himself in the performance of this difficult and exacting task. He gave many years of valiant and distinguished service to the United Nations, notable particularly for his integrity, objectivity and fearlessness.'
The logo for the Australian Government Department of Veterans' Affairs appears in white on a black screen.