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16 - George Cross Parade, Red Fort, Delhi 11 March 1947.jpg

HISTORY

Gallantry awards

Indian soldiers only became eligible for the Victoria Cross in 1911.  Until that time they had their own distinctive reward for gallantry known as the Indian Order of Merit.  

World War I

During World War I a total of 11 were awarded to Indian soldiers, three of whom were Muslims, while a further seven were awarded to British Officers of the Indian Army.  

World War 2

31 Victoria Crosses and 9 George Crosses were awarded to the Indian Army or those attached to it, and of the 29 VCs awarded for the Burma campaign, or on India’s north-east frontier, 20 were won by the Indian Army.  Nearly 6,300 awards were earned by the Indian Army for gallantry and meritorious service during World War 2; awards for gallantry alone totalled about 4,800.  

 

World War I

The first VC to be awarded to an Indian soldier was for the First Battle of Ypres (19 October – 22 November 1914) to Sepoy (later Subadar and Honorary Lieutenant) Khudadad Khan of the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, a Punjabi Muslim serving in a unit that generally recruited Muslims from the North West Frontier.  On 31 October 1914, at Hollebecke, Belgium, the British officer in charge of his machine-gun detachment had been wounded and the other gun put out of action by an enemy shell, Sepoy Khudadad Khan, although himself wounded, remained working his gun until all five of his comrades had been killed.  

The second Muslim VC winner was Jemadar Mir Dast, IOM, 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) attached to 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force).  Again at Ypres, but six months after the first VC, on 26 April 1915, Jemadar Mir Dast led his platoon with great gallantry during an attack and then gathered together various parties of his regiment when no British officers were left and kept them under his command until the retirement was ordered.  Later the same day he helped to carry eight British and Indian officers to safety while under very heavy fire.

Six of the 18 VCs awarded to the Indian Army were given for actions in Mesopotamia, including Lance Naik (later Subadar) Shahamad Khan of 89th Punjabis, the unit earlier turned away from Gallipoli.  On 12/13 April 1916, as the British pushed towards Turkish defences on the Tigris, he was in charge of a machine-gun section in an exposed position within 150 yards of the enemy’s entrenched position.  He beat off three counter attacks and worked his gun single-handed after all his men, with the exception of two belt-fillers, had become casualties.  After his gun had been knocked out by enemy action he and the two belt-fillers held their position with rifle fire until ordered to withdraw, taking the gun, ammunition and one severely wounded man with them. 

No VCs were awarded for the campaign in East Africa but the total of 50,000 Indian soldiers who served in that theatre deserve to be remembered for the extreme privations suffered by men and animals alike with heat and humidity, coupled with malaria, ticks and ‘jigger’ fleas against the men, and tsetse fly against the animals.  It was a most difficult terrain in which to fight and many Indian soldiers distinguished themselves by their gallantry.  

World War 2

The first Muslim soldier of the Indian Army to win the VC in World War 2 was Jemadar Abdul Hafiz, 3/9th Jat Regiment.  On 6 April 1944, in the fighting north of Imphal, he led his platoon up a bare hillside and, though wounded in the leg, went on and seized a Japanese machine gun.  He then took a Bren gun from a wounded man and led a charge against the enemy with such ferocity that they fled the battle field.  Severely wounded in the chest, Jemadar Abdul Hafiz died shortly afterwards.  He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 2 March 1945, but this time near Meiktila in central Burma, Naik Fazal Din (7/10th Baluch Regiment) silenced a Japanese bunker, only to be attacked by six enemy, including two officers. The Naik was wounded in the chest by one officer's sword, but when this officer withdrew his weapon, Fazal Din seized it, killed his opponent and two more Japanese. Waving the captured sword, he encouraged his men, but collapsed soon afterwards and died. He was also posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

In Italy, during the crossing of the River Senio on 9 April 1945, Sepoy Ali Haidar (6/13th Frontier Force Rifles) destroyed a German post and took four prisoners. Though wounded, he charged a second post and then, having been wounded twice more, he crawled forward and silenced the post with grenades. His success enabled his company to cross the river and establish a bridgehead.

Equally gallant were those Muslim soldiers awarded the George Cross:

1

10 -George Cross Parade programme - Delhi - 11 March 1947.jpg

Captain Mateen Ahmed Ansari, 5/7th Rajput Regiment, who was posted to Hong Kong in November 1940 and executed by the Japanese in 1943 – posthumously awarded the GC.

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Havildar Abdul Rehman, 3/9th Jat, Regiment.  On 22 February 1945, at Cerem Island, Dutch East Indies, he was travelling in a jeep with four others when it struck a mine and burst into flames.  Ammunition in the jeep started to explode but Havildar Abdul Rehman continued to pull his comrades free until he was himself burnt to death by the exploding petrol tank.

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Lance Naik Islam-ud-Din, 6/9th Jat Regiment.  On 24 March 1945 while at Pyabwe in Central Burma, a number of men were cleaning their weapons when a safety pin from a primed hand grenade became accidentally detached.  Shouting to his comrades to take cover, Lance Naik Islam-ud-Din threw himself on top of the grenade, which exploded immediately and killed him outright.

Captain Mahmood Khan Durrani, 1st Bahawalpur Infantry, Indian State Forces.  Cut off from his regiment in Malaya and Penang in December 1941, he remained in hiding until betrayed to the enemy in May 1942.  As a prisoner of the Japanese he persuaded his captors to open a school for supposedly pro-Japanese agents to be sent to India but in fact used the opportunity to generate anti-Japanese messages.  He was eventually arrested and tortured, though he survived the war and his GC was gazetted on 25 May 1946.

11 -GC citation - Captain Mahmood Khan Durrani.jpg

We also remember Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan. She served in the ranks of the (British) Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in  Wireless units in the early years of World War 2 until being seconded to the Women’s Transport Service, known as the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and attached to the Special Operations Executive in June 1943 at which time she was given an honorary commission as an Assistant Section Officer WAAF. The first woman SOE operator to be infiltrated into enemy France under the codename ‘Madeleine’, she was landed by Lysander aircraft in June 1943. After 3 ½ months she was betrayed to the Gestapo but refused to cooperate with them or to give them any information. She was transferred to Germany where, on 13 September 1944, she was shot at the Dachau Concentration Camp and her body cremated. The citation for her posthumous George Cross noted that “Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.” (Supplement to The London Gazette of 1 April 1949, 5 April 1949, Number 38578, p.1763).

Indian Order of Merit (IOM)

Until made eligible for the VC in 1911, Indian soldiers had been rewarded for gallantry with their own distinctive decoration, the Indian Order of Merit (IOM). Established in 1837, it pre-dated the Victoria Cross by 17 years and, until eligibility for the VC was extended to Indian soldiers in 1911, the IOM was regarded as the Indian soldiers’ VC.  Originally awarded in three classes, a recipient had to be admitted to the Third Class before a subsequent act of gallantry allowed advancement to the Second Class, and yet another act of gallantry enabled advancement to the First Class.  The number of classes was reduced to two on the introduction of the VC eligibility and it was further reduced to a single class award on 15 February 1944.     Reading some of the citations for these awards can only lead to a sense of awe and admiration for those involved.

Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM)

In addition to the IOM Indian service personnel were also eligible for the Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM).  In 1893 the Secretary of State for India decided “to rigidly enforce the Statutes of the Order of Merit in order to ensure that the distinction was only available for acts of conspicuous gallantry performed in the field.”     This led to the need to develop another award that could recognise gallantry performed in other circumstances.  The wording of the IDSM Statutes was thus left suitably vague so that it could be awarded in both peace and war.  During World War I a total of 3824 awards were made plus an additional 35 awards of a bar given for a subsequent act of gallantry.  During World War 2 a total of 1161 awards were made plus an additional 10 bars for subsequent acts of gallantry.

Sources

4

    Ibid.

    Rana Chhina. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal. New Delhi: Invicta, India Publishers, 2001, p.4.

3

    Cliff Parrett and Rana Chhina.  Indian Order of Merit – Historical Records 1937-1947. Brighton: Tom Donovan Editions, 2018.  To date Volumes One and Two of the Military Division covering 1837-1861 and 1861-1911 respectively have been published, as has Volume Three, Civil Division 1902-1947.  The passing of Cliff Parrett in October 2020 will cause some delay in the publishing of the Fourth and final volume covering the military record 1911-1947.

2

    NAI. Office of the PS to the Viceroy (Honours Branch). F. No. 114-H/1946. ‘Publication of War Department
Notification in connection with military awards (1946).

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sources
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