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American diplomat 'grasped' Godse on January 30, 1948: Letter to the mother

Nehru announcing martyrdom of Gandhi on January 30, 1948 at Birla House
Counterview Desk
Herbert “Tom” Reiner started his first diplomatic posting his in September 1947 as vice consul at the newly opened US embassy in New Delhi. On the fateful day, January 30, 1948, he made a visit to Birla House, where Gandhi lived, to see the Mahatma. Soon after the three fateful bullets were fired, Tom seized Nathuram Godse, the assassin, and handed him over to the Indian security personnel present there.
On February 7, 1948, Tom, who died a bachelor at the age of 82, wrote a 1,466-word letter to his mother, Mrs Herbert Reiner, Sr, describing in detail what had happened on January 30, 1948 thereafter. “The New York Times”, which published a story on Reiner, said, “Mr Reiner grasped the assailant by the shoulders and shoved him toward several police guards. Only then did the crowd begin to grasp what had happened and a forest of fists belabored the assassin.”

Text of the letter:

Dear Mother:
I believe that in my last letter I mentioned something about planning to attend one of Gandhi's prayer meetings. Well as you no doubt have heard by the date fate took me to Birla House on the night of his assassination.
On returning to the Taj, where I am now residing, after work on the 30th and with no engagements impending I suddenly made up my mind to do what had been in the back of my head ever since first arriving and that was to visit one of the Mahatma's "darshans" as his public audiences and prayer meetings are called in Hindustani.
Fortunately one of the Embassy cars was available and I was able to get to the residence on Aurangzeb Road well in advance of the scheduled five o'clock meeting. On arriving at Birla House, the residence of one of India's wealthiest men, as well as a patron and apostle of Gandhi, I made my way to the garden where the meetings were conducted.
There were no other Europeans there at the time but about five minutes later Vincent Shean put in an appearance as did also Bob Stimpson of BBC. Was on the verge of barging into a conversation between Shean and Bod when I noticed Gandhi leaving his quarters on one wing of the Birla estate.
Being curious I made my way to a point of vantage on the edge of the terrace near the stairs (really garden steps) up which Gandhi and his entourage had to pass before proceeding to his prayer platform.
As he mounted the steps leaning on the shoulders of his granddaughters and followed by two or three of his close followers, a person to my right passed a remark in Hindustani -- which I since have been told was uttered in a rather condemnatory manner and took Gandhi to task for being late -- which he was as a result of conversation with Sadar Patel.
Gandhi turned toward the person who had addressed him and in doing so withdrew his arms from the shoulders of the girls. As the girls moved a step or so ahead I noticed a rather stocky full faced fellow in khaki field jacket step out from the orderly group which had parted to permit Gandhi to proceed. I do not recall and perhaps did not see this individual stoop to the ground as though to brush the dust from Gandhi's feet as the granddaughters say he did, for my vision had been temporarily obstructed by Gandhi and his escorts as they passed to my left.
I was doing a great deal of thinking to myself -- how healthy he appeared to be and that despite his recent past -- how tall and full chested and could this be the man who had often been termed the greatest moral leader since Christ -- when I noticed the dirt scatter at my feet and heard muffled reports such as sometimes made by damp firecrackers.
Herbert "Tom" Reiner
Can remember reflecting -- rather strange that Indians should toss firecrackers as do the Chinese whenever prominent personages pass by them. Came to rather suddenly and noticed this Godse standing rather dumbfounded with the small Italian pistol still clenched in his hand.
I stopped around the girls and group huddled around Gandhi on the ground and caught the lad by one shoulder which swung him around into the hands of a Royal Indian Air Force boy who wrenched the gun from him. I held on to him by the neck for a few seconds but withdrew quickly fearing that I might also be shot or felled by a stray blow from the mob.
I then went toward Birla House to which they had carried Gandhi and again encountered Vincent Shean who had actually broken down and wept. At Gandhi's room on the corner of the building all was confusion.
No one had the presence of mind to keep the crowd back and there were so many in the small chamber that those attending him scarcely had space to work. I got out of there almost as fast as I entered, believing it no place for a foreigner when deathbed rituals were being conducted.
Outside I tried my luck at trying to convince & couple of more intelligent beings that they should keep the mob away from the doors, windows and to thin down the number in the chamber -- but all was to no avail. There was little mob hysteria.
I stopped around the girls and group huddled around Gandhi on the ground and caught the lad by one shoulder which swung him around into the hands of a Royal Indian Air Force boy
The realizations of the event, the magnitude of the crime was slow in reaching the minds of those present. All seemed to hope that the wounds would not prove to be serious and throughout the group sitting on the mats before the platform a rumor gained credence that one of the girls had been hit and not Mahatma.
Perhaps twenty minutes later when it became apparent that wishful thinking would not alter the tragedy, more weeping, chanting, semi-audible recitation of prayers and wringing of hands was noticeable. It may have been better than an hour before all present and the recently arrived were convinced that the end had come.
As for myself I could see little hope. After all it had been three or four shots completely through the body at nearly point blank range. The dirt which had scattered at my feet was caused by these bullets which had already done their foul work.
I did my best to aid the BBC correspondent to determine the racial and religious background of the assailant as well as to get definite confirmation of the death. The first was impossible for he bore none of the distinctive characteristics of dress or hair or paint markings of Hindu, Moslem or Sikh.
Fortunately, the man proved to be Hindu which has decreased considerably the prospects of more communal disturbance in the immediate future. As for word of his death, there was no definite statement until nearly six, although a doctor had told me nearly a half hour before that Gandhi was "finished". His word not mine.
By far the most dramatic episode of the evening was Nehru's address to the throng which had assembled outside the gates of Birla House in the early part of the evening. Wearing his white Congress Party cap, somewhat similar to our overseas cap, and clad in the customary long coat he had climbed to the top of a six foot picket gate to make his announcement. Balancing himself with one hand and holding a handkerchief in the other, he made his halting announcement to the thousands.
No more than a few hundred could possibly have heard him but he no longer needed words. A weak light on the side of the gate illumined his features sufficiently to manifest the sorrow and distress indelibly carved upon his face. 
People were now weeping openly and completely dazed. They did not move on their own volition, they were just pushed along by the momentum of the ever increasing throng as it strove to move close to the site of their beloved Gandhi's death. 
Gandhi's body being taken for cremation
There is much that could be written but am sure my coverage could not approximate that which you have read in your magazines and newspapers. I spent the greater part of last weekend being interviewed, questioned and trying to see as much of the procession from Birla House to the Burning Ghats as was possible.
All India seemed on the move, thousands upon thousands began trekking toward Kings Way and the Jumna less than two hours after the death was broadcast. This movement kept up all Friday night and Saturday morning, all ages, all descriptions, young, old, vigorous and the infirm, were struggling to get one last view of their great leader.
Pictures can tell you so much more about the funeral procession than my pen -- Tanks were necessary to force a passage through the mobs and then followed the mounted guard of the Governor General with pennants flying from staffs, turbaned Sikhs, campaign hatted Gurkhas, and units of other Indian army, navy and air corps.
Gandhi's body was borne on a specially constructed bier mounted on a gun carrier. Banked with flowers and with his faithful followers Nehru, Patel, Baldev Singh and his sons either sitting or standing motionless on the four sides of the bier -- the gun carrier was hauled to its destination on the banks of the sacred Jumna by manpower -- each unit of the Indian Defense establishment manned one rope with fifty or sixty of its men.
I did not go to the cremation. For me it would have been anti-climatic and it would have been next to impossible for me to get there in time thru the crowds. I had had to be around the Embassy during the early afternoon.

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