Wednesday, 02 December 2020
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Trooping the Colour: Victoria Cross - Part 1 : Early recipients, by Elayne Jude

In the context of rising concern about young British Muslims deciding to become jihadists, the majority of British Muslims remain loyal subjects with a long and glorious history
of distinguished service in HM's Armed Forces.

The Victoria Cross (VC) is awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Members of armed forces of some Commonwealth countries and previous British Empire territories are eligible. It may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service, and to civilians under military command, and is presented by the British monarch. It is jointly, with the George Cross, the highest award for bravery bestowed by the United Kingdom.

Indian troops (including those from what is now Pakistan and Bangaldesh) became eligible for the award in 1911. The first awards, to Darwan Sing Negi and Khudadad Khan, was announced in the London Gazette on 7 December 1914. Today a monument stands at the Memorial Gates at Hyde Park Corner in London to commemorate the VCs of Indian Heritage.

From Nepal, the valour, daring and hardiness of the Gurkhas delivered an unparalled contribution to UK military life.

In 1950, when India became a republic, Indian soldiers and Gurkhas serving in the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army lost their eligibility for the Victoria Cross and they are now covered under the separate Indian honours system. Those serving in the Gurkha units of the British Army remain eligible for the Victoria Cross.

This is a list of those soldiers of colour whose extraordinary character, courage and loyalty won them this highest honour. From the first recipients of WWI to Johnson Beharry in Iraq, these are beyond question role models for all of us, British Muslims and ferengi alike.

1914: Darwan Singh Negi VC (1881 – 1950)
An Indian, and a Naik in the 1st Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles, British Indian Army. For great gallantry on the night of the 23rd-24th November, near Festubert, France, when the regiment was engaged in retaking and clearing the enemy out of trenches. Wounded in the head and arm, he was one of the first to push round each successive traverse, in the face of severe fire from bombs and rifles at the closest range.

1914: Khudadad Khan, VC (1888 – 1971)
Born in present-day Pakistan, and a Sepoy in the 129th Duke of Connaught's Own Baluchis, British Indian Army (now 11th Battalion The Baloch Regiment of Pakistan Army). In the First Battle of Ypres, the 129th Baluchis were rushed to the frontline to support the hard-pressed British troops. Two companies of the Baluchis bore the brunt of the main German attack near the village of Gheluvelt in Hollebeke Sector. The out-numbered Baluchis were overwhelmed after suffering heavy casualties. Sepoy Khudadad Khan's machine-gun team, along with one other, kept their guns in action throughout the day; preventing the Germans from making the final breakthrough. Eventually Khudadad Khan's team was overrun. All were killed by bullets or bayonets except Khudadad Khan, who, despite being badly wounded, continued working his gun. He was left for dead by the enemy but, despite his wounds, managed to crawl back to his regiment during the night.

1915: Gabbar Singh Negi VC (1895 – 1915)
An Indian, and a Rifleman in the 2/39th Garhwal Rifles, Indian Army. At Neuve Chapelle, France, during an attack on the German position, he was one of a bayonet party with bombs who entered their main trench, and was the first man to go round each traverse, driving back the enemy until they were eventually forced to surrender. He was killed during this engagement. The Gabar Singh Negi fair is organised annually in Chamba, Tehri in the memory of Gabar Singh. In 1971, the Garhwal Regiment adopted the Fair.

1915: Mir Dast VC IOM (1874 – 1945)
From present-day Pakistan, and a jemadar in the 55th Coke's Rifles (Frontier Force), British Indian Army. At Ypres, Belgium, he led his platoon with great bravery during the attack, and afterwards, when no British officers were left, collected the remnants of the regiment and kept them under his command until the retirement was ordered. He risked his life to carry eight wounded British and Indian officers to safety while exposed to very heavy fire. His grandson, Dr. Shakil Afridi, assisted the CIA in locating the compound in which Osama Bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

1915: Kulbir Thapa (Magar) VC (1889 – 1956)
A Nepalese, and Rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles, British Indian Army. In Fauquissart, France, himself wounded, he found a wounded soldier of the Leicestershire Regiment behind the first-line German trench, with whom he stayed all day and night. Early next day, in misty weather, he dragged him through the German wire, within spitting distance from the Germans, and, leaving him in a place of comparative safety, returned and brought in two wounded Gurkhas, one after the other. He then went back, and, in broad daylight, fetched the British soldier, carrying him most of the way under enemy fire. When he emerged from his trench for the third time with one more wounded comrade over his shoulder, the German soldiers actually clapped their hands to encourage the Gurkha on. This time, he walked right across the No-Mans-Land back to his own side. The first Nepalese to receive the VC.

1916: Lala VC (1876 – 1927)
An Indian, and a Lance-Naik in the 41st Dogras, Indian Army. Finding a British officer of another regiment lying close to the enemy, he dragged him into a temporary shelter,. After bandaging his wounds he heard calls from the Adjutant of his own regiment, lying in the open, severely wounded. The enemy were less than one hundred yards distant, but Lance Naik Lala insisted on going out to his Adjutant, and offered to crawl back with him on his back at once. When this was not permitted, he stripped off his own clothing to keep the wounded officer warmer, and stayed with him till just before dark. After dark he carried the first wounded officer back to the main trenches. Returning with a stretcher, he carried back his Adjutant.

1916: Chatta Singh VC (1886 – 1961)
An Indian, and a Sepoy in the 9th Bhopal Infantry, Indian Army. During the Battle of the Wadi, Mesopotamia, Sepoy Chatta Singh left cover to assist his commanding officer, who was lying wounded and helpless in the open. He bound up the officer's wound and dug cover for him with his entrenching tool, exposed continuously to very heavy rifle fire. For five hours until nightfall he remained beside the wounded CO, shielding him with his own body. Under cover of darkness, he brought the CO to safety.

1916: Shahmed Khan, VC (1879 – 1947)
Born in present-day Pakistan, and a Naik in the 89th Punjabis, British Indian Army (now 1st Battalion The Baloch Regiment, Pakistan Army). On the Tigris Front in Mesopotamia, he was in charge of a machine-gun section 150 yards from the enemy's position, covering a gap in the New Line at Beit Ayeesa. After all but two of his men had become casualties, Shamahad Khan, working the gun single-handed, repelled three counter-attacks. Under extremely heavy fire, he held the gap for three more hours, whilst it was made secure. When his gun was disabled by enemy fire, he and the two surviving belt-fillers continued to hold the ground with their rifles until ordered to retire. Along with the three men who were sent to his assistance, he brought back to his own lines, his gun, ammunition and a severely wounded man.

1917: Gobind Singh Rathore VC (1887 – 1942)
An Indian, a Lance-Daffadar in the 2nd Lancers (Gardner's Horse). East of Peziθres, France, he was in the midst of the Battle of Cambrai, when his regiment was cut off and surrounded by enemy. An urgent message had to be sent to the brigade headquarters giving the position of the regiment. The route was a 6-mile stretch over open ground, under constant observation and enemy fire. Singh volunteered, delivered the message, and undertook a return message and a subsequent one. He survived enemy machine gun fire directed at him on all three occasions. His horse was killed under him every time.

1918: Badlu Singh VC (1876 – 1918)
An Indian, a risaldar in the 14th Murray's Jat Lancers, Indian Army, attached to 29th Lancers (Deccan Horse). During an engagement at Kh. es Samariyeh, Jordan River, Palestine, he realised that the squadron was under attack from a small hill on the left front occupied by machine guns and infantry. With several comrades, and a total disregard for danger, he charged and captured the position. He was mortally wounded on the very top of the hill when capturing one of the machine guns single handed, but all the machine guns and infantry surrendered to him before he died.

1918: Karanbahadur Rana VC (1898 – 1973)
A Nepalese, and a Rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army. At El Kefr, Egypt, during an attack, Rifleman Karanbahadur Rana and a few other men crept forward with a Lewis gun under intense fire to engage an enemy machine-gun. No. 1 of the Lewis gun team opened fire but was shot almost immediately, whereupon the rifleman pushed the dead man off the gun, opened fire, knocked out the enemy gun crew and then silenced the fire of the enemy bombers and riflemen in front of him. During the remainder of the day he did magnificent work and finally assisted with covering fire in the withdrawal, until the enemy were close on him.

1921: Sardar Bahadur Captain Ishar Singh VC OBI (1895 – 1963)
An Indian, and a Sepoy in the 28th Punjabis, Indian Army. Near Haidari Kach, Waziristan, this Sepoy was No. l of a Lewis Gun-Section when the convoy protection troops were attacked. Early in the action he received a very severe gunshot wound in the chest, and fell beside his Lewis gun. The British officer, Indian officer, and all the Havildars of his company were either killed or wounded, and his Lewis gun was seized by the enemy. Calling up two other men he got up, charged the enemy, recovered the Lewis gun, and, bleeding profusely, again got the gun into action. Ordered to go back and have his wound dressed, he went to the medical officer, pointing out where the wounded were, and carrying water to them, making journeys to the river and back. It was over three hours before he finally submitted to be evacuated, being then too weak from loss of blood to object.

Elayne Jude is a freelance writer/photographer.

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