The UK government’s website (gov.uk) has uploaded stories of bravery of six Indians who had received Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award for soldiers in countries ruled by the British, during the First World War (1914-18), as part of a centenary commemoration. The Cross is equivalent to present-day Param Vir Chakra. Among the six were Lance Naik Lala of Himachal Pradesh and Risaldar Badlu Singh of Punjab.
‘We fought true’
Lance Naik Lala served in the 41st Dogras during the First World War. He was awarded Victoria Cross for saving the lives of British officers on January 21, 1916, during the First Battle of Hanna in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).
According to his citation, after providing medical aid to an officer and four others in a temporary shelter, he heard calls from the adjutant of his own regiment who was lying in the open, severely wounded. “The enemy were not more than one hundred yards distant, and it seemed certain death to go out in that direction, 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, when he returned to the shelter. After dark he carried the first wounded officer back to the main trenches, and then, returning with a stretcher, carried back his adjutant. He set a magnificent example of courage and devotion to his officers,” read his citation. According to the website, he died of polio in 1927 and his last words were said to be: “We fought true.”
‘All machine guns and infantry had surrendered to him’
Risaldar Badlu Singh was a part of the 14th Murray’s Jat Lancers, attached to the 29th Lancers, who was awarded Victoria Cross posthumously for his sacrifice on the banks of the river Jordan in Palestine on September 23, 1918.
According to his citation in the London Gazette, his squadron charged a strong enemy position on the west bank of the river Jordan, between the river and Khes Samariyeh village. “On nearing the position, Risaldar Badlu Singh realised that the squadron was suffering casualties from a small hill on the left front occupied by machine guns and 200 infantry. Without the slightest hesitation he collected six other ranks and with the greatest dash and total disregard for danger, charged and captured the position, thereby saving very heavy casualties to the squadron. 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 had surrendered to him before he died.”
The website says that he was cremated where he fell, but his name is inscribed on the Heliopolis Memorial at Heliopolis War Cemetery in Cairo (Egypt). His Victoria Cross is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection at the Imperial War Museum.
The website also mentions the name of four others — Sepoy Chatta Singh of Uttar Pradesh who saved the life of his commanding officer while fighting in Iraq in 1916, Naik Darwan Singh Negi of Uttrakhand for taking on Germans in France despite being wounded in head twice and arm in 1914, Rifleman Gabar Singh Negi of Uttarakhand who got the medal posthumously for flushing out Germans in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, France, in 1915 and Lance-Daffadar Gobind Singh of Rajasthan who got the medal for his role in sending across messages to brigade headquarters during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917.