Tribute to Lt Col Fonseca’s golden era as ASPT Commandant

Col Vinay Dalvi (retd)
Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Lt Col John Joseph Fonseca was born in Pune on June 11, 1918. After commission, he served with the British Army in the second World War in the Kings Own Royal Regiment and transferred to Mahar Regiment after partition and the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) in 1959. 

Lt Col John Joseph Fonseca was born in Pune on June 11, 1918. After commission, he served with the British Army in the second World War in the Kings Own Royal Regiment and transferred to Mahar Regiment after partition and the Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) in 1959. 

He was posted as Commandant, Army School of Physical Training, or ASPT (now Army Institute of Physical Training, or AIPT) in Pune during 1963. For six years from 1963 to 1969, his sterling role undoubtedly left an indelible impression in the minds of all those who were fortunate to witness the ‘golden era’ of  ASPT and APTC in Pune. 

In the 1960’s, Pune did not have any sports infrastructure of the kind you see today. There was no Balewadi sports complex, Sahara sports complex or the astroturf hockey stadium in Pimpri-Chinchwad.

BEG, Kirkee (Khadki), CME (Dapodi) and NDA, Khadakwasla had sports facilities, utilised exclusively for military training but not available to the civil world. During that period, Fonseca’s developed ASPT and judiciously utilised, both for military training and for civilians. 

ASPT became the hub of several important sports meets like the Southern Command, Services and National Open Championships in athletics, All India Police Meets, National Hockey Championship followed by the Women’s Hockey Nationals. Services and national coaching camps in Gymnastics, Boxing, Athletics and Hockey were also held at ASPT. 

During this period, the first Senior National Hockey Championship was held with President Maharashtra Hockey Association OP Bahl who was also General Manager of Ammunition Factory, Kirkee, Abel David, Founder Editor of Poona Herald (Maharashtra Herald) and Fonseca’s collaboration. Pune got the opportunity to watch legends like Maj Dhyanchand, brother Roopsingh and KD Singh Babu in action to play during an exhibition match.

Consequently, there was a great demand for Army APTC Instructors in many convent/public schools not only in Pune but also in Nashik, Devlali, Mumbai, Ahmednagar, Panchgani, Delhi, Dehradun, Shimla, Lovedale and Darjeeling. 

Fonseca was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) and remain etched in the memory of all those who were part of these activities.I am fortunate to have seen Fonseca in flesh and blood during that golden era of ASPT, Pune as I was studying in the nearby ‘Bishop’s School’ from 1960-68 which had access to ASPT, Race Course and Command PT School. Like me, many school and college going youngsters of that period in Pune were positively influenced in the development of leadership qualities through witnessing and active participation in competitive sports activities. Many of them, especially children of military personnel, joined the NDA, IMA, OTA and AFMC. 

The Golden Era in Pune 
† At Fonseca’s behest, several PT and Gymnastics displays were held not only during the yearly APTC Corps Day Tattoo shows at ASPT - where all local schools and colleges were invited - but such events were also held in many schools,colleges and even cinema halls (prior to the movie shows).
† The National Gymnastics Coaching camp for 1964 Tokyo Olympics was held at ASPT, Pune and the entire six-member national team which participated in these games comprised Army personnel.
† Lt Col Fonseca who migrated to Australia after retirement, last visited Pune in 2008-09 when he came to attend the APTC Diamond Jubilee and Reunion at ASPT.
† He was based in Perth, Australia and passed away on March 2. His private cremation ceremony was held in South Fremantle.

(The author is a retired infantry officer, who has served as instructor at army academies like the NDA, IMA and OTA.)

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