Honorary Captain Gaje Ghale, who has died aged 81 in Delhi, was awarded a Victoria Cross as a havildar (sergeant) when leading a platoon of young soldiers of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles in Burma in May 1943. On May 24 a large force of Japanese was attempting to make an advance into the Chin Hills, where 2nd/5th Gurkhas were part of the defence force. The Japanese occupied a vital tactical point, the key to the position, on Basha East Hill, the approach to which was a long bare knife-edge ridge which in some places was as little as 15ft wide. Two attempts to capture this point had been attempted and both had failed, for the Japanese were able to rake the position with fire from a dozen machine-guns, as well as artillery and mortars, from concealed positions in the surrounding jungle.
On May 25, Gaje Ghale was given the task of taking the position. Although it was his first time under fire, he showed from the beginning outstanding courage. Shouting the Gurkha battle cry, he led assault after assault along the ridge onto the entrenched Japanese. A Japanese grenade wounded Gaje Ghale in the chest, arm and leg. Though covered with blood, he ignored his injuries and continued to throw grenades with his other arm. After prolonged hand-to-hand fighting the position was captured. The Gurkhas succeeded in holding it in the face of heavy fire from the Japanese trying to retake it. In spite of his wounds, Gjae Ghale refused to go back to the Regimental Aid Post until certain that the position was consolidated and secure, and then only when eventually ordered to by an officer.
Gaje Ghale, a Gurung of the Ghale tribe, was born in Barpak village in the Gorkha district of Nepal on August 1 1918 (though he also admitted to being born on July 1 1922). In 1934 he enlisted as a boy recruit, and on completing his training joined the 2nd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force). He served in Waziristan, and from 1939 to 1942 was an Instructor at the Regimental Centre in Abbottabad. In 1943 when it was proposed to present Gaje Ghale with the Victoria Cross at the Regimental Centre, the Regimental Bahun (the near equivalent of a chaplain in a British regiment, who holds no rank and wears no uniform but is a respected religious adviser) announced that the date was inauspicious and should be postponed. Soon afterwards a signal giving official confirmation of the postponement was received. Gaje Ghale later received the VC from Field Marshal Lord Wavell in Delhi at a parade beneath the walls of the Red Fort in the presence of a crowd of 5,000. He was later decorated with the Star of Nepal in Kathmandu by the Prime Minister of Nepal.
In 1963 he served in The Congo with the United Nations Force, along with Subedar Agansing Rai who had won his award in 1944. Before retiring he was granted the rank of honorary captain. A regular attender of VC reunions, in 1990 Gaje Ghale joined four of the seven Gurkha VC-holders then surviving at the opening of the Gurkha Museum at the Peninsula Barracks, Winchester, Hampshire. Five years later he was one of a gathering of 21 VCs at the Royal Tournament as part of the 50th anniversary of VJ-Day. Gaje Ghale was married; he leaves four sons and four daughters.
The Daily Telegraph – 30 March 2000
Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 28th of September, 1943
War Office, 30th September, 1943
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
No. 6816 Havildar Gaje Ghale, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), Indian Army.
In order to stop an advance into the Chin Hills of greatly superior Japanese forces it was essential to capture Basha East hill which was the key to the enemy position.
Two assaults had failed but a third assault was ordered to be carried out by two platoons of Havildar Gaje Ghale’s company and two companies of another battalion.
Havildar Gaje Ghale was in command of one platoon: he had never been under fire before and the platoon consisted of young soldiers.
The approach for this platoon to their objective was along a narrow knife-edge with precipitous sides and bare of jungle whereas the enemy positions were well concealed. In places, the approach was no more than five yards wide and was covered by a dozen machine-guns, besides being subjected to artillery and mortar fire from the reverse slope of the hill.
While preparing for the attack the platoon came under heavy mortar fire but Havildar Gaje Ghale rallied them and let them forward.
Approaching to close range of the well-entrenched enemy, the platoon came under withering fire and this N.C.O. was wounded in the arm, chest and leg by an enemy hand grenade.
Without pausing to attend to his serious wounds and with no heed to the intensive fire from all sides, Havildar Gaje Ghale closed his men and led them to close grips with the enemy when a bitter hand to hand struggle ensued.
Havildar Gaje Ghale dominated the fight by his outstanding example of dauntless courage and superb leadership. Hurling hand grenades, covered in blood from his own neglected wounds, he led assault after assault encouraging his platoon by shouting the Gurkha’s battle-cry.
Spurred on by the irresistible will of their leader to win, the platoon stormed and carried the hill by a magnificent all-out effort and inflicted very heavy casualties on the Japanese.
Havildar Gaje Ghale then held and consolidated this hard-won position under heavy fire and it was not until the consolidation was well in hand that he went, refusing help, to the Regimental Aid Post, when ordered to do so by an officer.
The courage, determination and leadership of this N.C.O. under the most trying circumstances were beyond all praise.