The story behind the 6 Indian Victoria Crosses of WW1


Some stories of valour, although gut-wrenching, fill you with a sense of pride. Pride, because these stalwarts belong to the same soil as you. These stories will invoke similar feelings in you.

The Victoria Cross is awarded to British as well as Commonwealth forces and is viewed as the highest award for bravery in the face of animosity. 6 Indian soldiers were privileged to make a place among 175 awardees of the Victoria Cross of World War 1. The UK government in 2014 awarded a bronze plaque to the home countries of the recipients of the Victoria Cross. However, to ensure public recognition, their files were made public.


The stories of each of these brave hearts are inspirational and bring to light the plight soldiers face on the battleground and how they emerge victorious.

Darwan Singh Negi

Born on 4th March 1883, Darwan Singh hailed from the Kartatir village of Uttar Pradesh. He was a Naik, part of the 1st Battalion, 39th Garbual Rifles and Indian Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force. He was acclaimed with the Victoria Cross for the valour he showed from 23rd-24th November 1914, near Festubert, France. In the wee hours of the night, the 30-year-old amid heavy firing was wounded twice in the head and once in the arm while attempting to retake the British trenches from the Germans. He was amongst the first to wade through the trenches and ensured that no German soldiers were present there. One of the earliest recipients, he retired as a Subedar from the Army and was laid to rest in 1950 in India. In his honour, a museum in Uttarakhand is named after him.

Badlu Singh

Badlu Singh who was born on 13th January 1876 in Dhakla, Punjab, India, lived his greatest day on 23rd September 1918 at Khes Samariveh, Palestine. Ranked as a Risaldar, he was part of the 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers, a part of the 29th Lancers of the Indian Army. While he commenced his journey in France, he was later sent to Palestine where he sacrificed himself on the banks of River Jordan. At the break of sunlight, his squadron made headway on the valiant enemy position, located on the west banks of the river. Amid the chaos, it dawned upon Badlu Singh that the squadron was succumbing to injuries owing to a small hill on the left front which was captured by the enemy. The enemy made the hill their focal point, equipped with machine guns and 200 infantries. For the greater good, along with 6 others, he captured the hill, thus preventing injuries to the rest of his squad. When attempting to capture one of the machine guns, he mortally wounded himself, however, he breathed his last only after emerging victorious against his enemies at the hilltop. Although he was cremated where he fell, his name was engraved at Heliopolis Memorial at the Heliopolis War Cemetery in Cairo. His Victoria Cross is part of Lord Ashcroft’s collection at the Imperial War Museum.

Chatta Singh

Sepoy Chatta Singh born in 1886, hailed from Cawnpore, Uttar Pradesh, India. It was at the Tigris Front, Mesopotamia (now Iraq) on 13th January 1916 that his inspiring story was commemorated. Belonging to the 9th Bhopal Infantry, Indian Army, it was owing to his actions during the Battle of Wadi that he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Leaving his own cover, he rushed to the aid of his Commanding Officer who laid wounded in the open. Not only did Chatta Singh, tend to his wounds, but dug cover, all while exposed to heavy firing. He stayed by his Officer’s side for 5 hours, amid gruesome firing, shielding him with his body, biding his time to when it was safe to move. When it was safe to do so, he ran for help and ensured that his Officer was brought to safety. He later breathed his last at Tilsara, Kanpur, India at the rank of a Havildar.

Gabar Singh Negi

Gabar Singh Negi was from Chambra, Uttarakhand. Born on 21st April 1895, he etched his name in the stories of bravery on 10th March 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, France. As a rifleman part of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles, he was a young 21-year-old faced with a gut-wrenching scenario. Part of the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France he was amongst the many mighty Indian soldiers who made their mark as half of the entire attacking force. In order to capture an important enemy position, in the midst of spilt blood, his courage spoke volumes. To capture the German position, along with his party, he entered the trench with bombs and was the first to circle the trenches, driving the enemy back till their hand was forced to surrender. He saw his task through before breathing his last. He was commemorated on the Neuve Chapelle Memorial and in his hometown, The Gabar Singh Negi Fair in April comes alive with booths as a tribute to his valour.

Gobind Singh

The brave heart of Damoi Village, Rajasthan, Gobind Singh, although born on 7th December 1887, showed the world his courage on 1st December 1917 at Pozières, France. As a Lance-Daffadar in the 28th Light Cavalry, Indian Army, he was acclaimed with a Victoria Cross for his actions in the Battle of Cambrai. Enclaved by the enemy during the battle, it was the need of the hour to send a message about their position to the brigade headquarters. The path ahead of him was treacherous since the open ground shook under constant firing. He volunteered to carry the message, not once, but thrice. He was able to successfully carry the messages along with the perfidious one and a half-mile. Although his horse was shot during every one of those journeys, he saw his task through on foot. He survived the war and passed away in 1942.

Lala

Lala was born on 20th April 1876 at Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India. As a Lance-Naik in the 41st Dogras, Indian Army, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts in the First Battle of Hanna in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq. On 21st January 1916, he found a British Officer, part of another regiment lying near the enemy lines, instantly, he knew something needed to be done. He decided to drag the officer into a self-curated temporary structure, where he had already tended to wounded men. After tending his wounds, he heard another cry for help in enemy territory. With no regard for his own life, Lala offered to bring the adjutant back on his back, however, when this was refused, he removed his clothing to keep the wounded man warm. He stayed with him till just before dark and then carried him to the shelter. Later, in the wee hours of the night, he ensured that all the wounded were returned to the trenches. He died of polio in India in 1927.

Lala’s last words were claimed to be, “We fought true”. Indeed, all these men fought true and their inspirational stories of courage continue to echo within our hearts.

References


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