Havildar Lachhiman Gurung, who died on Sunday aged 92, won the Victoria Cross while serving with the Gurkha Rifles in Burma in 1945; in recent years he had been a prominent figure in the campaign led by the actress Joanna Lumley to allow former Gurkhas to settle in Britain. At the end of April 1945, the 89th Indian Infantry Brigade of 7th Division was ordered to cross the Irrawaddy and destroy the enemy north of the Prome-Taungup road. By May 9 the Japanese, after a series of desperate attacks, had broken off contact and were withdrawing towards the Taungdaw Valley. B and C Companies of the 4th/8th Gurkha Rifles were positioned to block their route at the village of Taungdaw, on the west bank of the river. When the Japanese arrived, the two Gurkha companies were surrounded and their lines of communication cut. On the night of May 12, Rifleman Gurung was manning the forward post of his platoon almost 100 yards ahead of the main company. At 1.20 am, more than 200 Japanese attacked the company position. The brunt of the assault fell on Gurung’s section and, in particular, on his post, which dominated a jungle track leading up to his platoon’s position. Had the enemy been able to overrun it and occupy Gurung’s trench, they would have secured control over the whole of the field before them.
One grenade fell on the lip of Gurung’s trench. He quickly grabbed it and hurled it back at the enemy. Almost immediately another grenade came over. This one fell inside the trench. Again Gurung snatched it up and threw it back. A third grenade landed just in front of the trench. Gurung attempted to throw it back, but it exploded in his hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his right arm and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg. His two comrades were also badly wounded and lay helpless in the bottom of the trench. The enemy, screaming and yelling, now formed up shoulder to shoulder and attempted to rush the position by sheer weight of numbers. Gurung, regardless of his wounds, loaded and fired his rifle with his left hand and kept up a steady rate of fire. The attacks came in wave after wave, but the Japanese were beaten back with heavy losses. For four hours Gurung remained alone at his post, calmly waiting for each new onslaught, firing into his attackers at point blank range, determined not to yield an inch of ground. His comrades could hear him shouting: “Come and fight a Gurkha!” The following morning, of the 87 enemy dead found in the company’s immediate locality, 31 lay in front of Gurung’s section. The Japanese made repeated attempts to break through, but the 4th/8th held out until May 15, when they were relieved.
Gurung later said: “I had to fight because there was no other way. I felt I was going to die anyway, so I might as well die standing on my feet. All I knew was that I had to go on and hold them back. I am glad that helped the other soldiers in my platoon, but they would have all done the same thing.” Gurung was invested with the Victoria Cross by Lord Louis Mountbatten at a parade at the Red Fort in Delhi on December 19 1945. The citation declared: ‘This Rifleman, by his magnificent example, so inspired his comrades to resist the enemy to the last that, although surrounded and cut off for three days and two nights, they held and smashed every attack. His outstanding gallantry and extreme devotion to duty, in the face of almost overwhelming odds, were the main factors in the defeat of the enemy.’ Partiman Gurung, Lachhiman’s father, then aged about 74, was carried for 11 days from his village in Nepal to witness his son being decorated.
Lachhiman Gurung was born on December 30 1917 at Dakhani village in the Tanhu district of Nepal. He enlisted in December 1940 and after completing basic training was recruited into the 8th Gurkha Rifles. Of small build (he stood just under 4ft 11in tall), he was under the minimum height and would not have been accepted in peacetime. After the action in which he won the Victoria Cross, Gurung was evacuated to hospital, but lost his right hand and the use of his right eye. He continued to serve with the 8th Gurkha Rifles but transferred to the Indian Army after Independence in 1947. He retired in the rank of havildar (the equivalent of sergeant) the same year. Gurung married soon afterwards and had two sons and a daughter. Later, after the death of his wife, he had two sons from a second marriage. He farmed a two-acre plot and owned several buffalo, oxen, goats and cows. In 1995 the VC and GC Association provided the Gurkha Welfare Trust with £2,000 donated by the Armourers and Brasiers’ Livery Company, and these funds were used to build a new house for Gurung and his family near the Gurkha Welfare Centre at Chitwan. In August 1995 Gurung was received at 10 Downing Street by the Prime Minister, John Major, who presented him with a cheque for £100,500 for the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
In 2008 Gurung became closely involved in the campaign to allow Gurkhas to settle in Britain. The British Government had refused entry to the 2,000 Gurkhas who had retired before July 1997, the date when their base was moved to the UK from Hong Kong. Five claimants – including a Falklands veteran, Lance-Corporal Gyanendra Rai; a Gulf War veteran, Birendra Man; and a Gurkha widow – launched a legal challenge, supported by Lachhiman Gurung and a fellow winner of the VC, Honorary Lieutenant Tul Bahadur Pun, then aged 87. Both men had been told that they would not be allowed to settle here because they had failed to ‘demonstrate strong ties’ to the UK. In the High Court in September 2008, however, Mr Justice Blake said that the policy should be reviewed, referring to the ‘Military Covenant undertaken by every British soldier by which, in return for their pledge to make the ultimate sacrifice, they are promised value and respect.’ He added: ‘Rewarding distinguished service by the grant of residence in the country for which the service was performed would be a vindication of this covenant.’ As the judge rose after his ruling, Gurkhas and their supporters shouted their battle cry “Ayo gorkhali”. In May 2009 the Government announced that all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years’ service would be allowed to settle in Britain. Even as this victory was secured, however, Gurung was appealing to the Queen and the Prime Minister for his 20-year-old granddaughter, Amrita, who had been facing deportation, to be allowed to stay in Britain to care for him. “I have paid a great price for Britain,” Gurung said, “but I do not complain as I love this country as much as I love my family. However, in my last days I ask Her Majesty The Queen to help by allowing my granddaughter to be with me and at my side.” The Home Office relented and granted her permission to stay. In 2008 Gurung had settled at Hounslow, to which he was formally welcomed at a ceremony led by the Mayor and the Council; he was later made a Freeman of the Borough. He attended many functions of the Nepalese communities in Hounslow and elsewhere, and was honorary vice-president of the Chiswick branch of the Royal British Legion. He had recently moved into the Chiswick War Memorial Homes. Lacchiman Gurung attended this year’s Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph, and was also present at last month’s VC and GC Association reunion in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. One of Gurung’s sons subsequently became an officer in the 8th Gurkha Rifles. His second wife, Manmaya, survives him with his five children.
The Daily Telegraph – 14 December 2010
Recommendation for VC for 87226 Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung signed by his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel W C Walker (later General Sir Walter Walker KCB CBE DSO**) on 19 May 1945
At Taungdaw in Burma, on the west bank of the Irrawaddy, on the night of 12/13 May 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was manning the most forward post of his platoon. At 0120 hrs, at least 200 enemy assaulted his company position. The brunt of the attack was borne by Rifleman Lachhiman’s section, and by his own post in particular. This post dominated a jungle path leading up into his platoon locality.
Before assaulting, the enemy hurled innumerable grenades at the position from close range. One grenade fell on the lip of Rifleman Lachhiman’s trench; he at once grasped it and hurled it back at the enemy. Almost immediately another grenade fell directly inside the trench. Again this Rifleman snatched it up and threw it back. A third grenade then fell just in front of the trench. He attempted to throw it back, but it exploded in his hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his right arm, and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg. His two comrades were also badly wounded and lay helpless in the bottom of the trench.
The enemy, screaming and shouting, now formed up shoulder to shoulder and attempted to rush the position by sheer weight of numbers. Rifleman Lachhiman regardless of his wounds, fired and loaded his rifle with his left hand, maintaining a continuous and steady rate of fire. Wave after wave of fanatical attacks were thrown in by the enemy and all were repulsed with heavy casualties.
For four hours after being severely wounded Rifleman Lachhiman remained alone at his post, waiting with perfect calm for each attack, meeting it with fire at point-blank range from his rifle, determined not to give one inch of ground.
Of the 87 enemy dead counted in the immediate vicinity of the company locality, 31 lay in front of this Rifleman’s section, the key to the whole position. Had the enemy succeeded in over-running and occupying Rifleman Lachhiman’s trench, the whole of the reverse slope position would have been completely dominated and turned.
This Rifleman, by his magnificent example, so inspired his comrades to resist the enemy to the last, that, although surrounded and cut off or three days and two nights, they held and smashed every attack.
His outstanding gallantry and extreme devotion to duty in the face of almost overwhelming odds, were the main factors in the defeat of the enemy.
Footnote Although the initial recommendation for an Immediate Victoria Cross was supported by the Brigade and Divisional Commanders, the GOC 12th Army, recommended a Distinguished Conduct Medal, which he later upgraded to the Indian Order of Merit. General Sir Oliver Leese, C-in-C Allied Land Forces, upgraded the award to a Victoria Cross. The wording of the citation is that drafted by his Commanding Officer, with a few, manuscript, corrections in another, unknown, hand incorporated.
As was customary, the recommendation was accompanied by three witness statements:
1st Witness – 8884 Havildar Kharkabahadur Thapa
I am the Pl Hav of 9 Pl C Coy. On the night of 12/13 May, at approximately 0130 hrs, 9 Pl was attacked heavily by about 200 Japanese. At the time I was sharing a trench on the support circle of the perimeter with Nk Debasing Bura. This trench was 5 yds away from the trench occupied by 87726 Rfn Lachhiman Gurung. Before the enemy actually attacked, they threw a large number of grenades into the position. I saw, as soon as this started, one grenade fall very near Rfn Lachhiman Gurung’s trench, and he picked it up and threw it back towards the enemy. A few minutes later I saw another grenade fall into this same man’s trench and he immediately stooped down, picked it up and threw it back before it had time to explode. Only a few seconds after this a third grenade landed just in front of this same trench and again Rfn Lachhiman Gurung reached forward and picked it up, but before he had time to throw it, the grenade exploded, and wounded the three occupants of the trench
From then throughout the night the enemy attacked and kept up continuous rifle and LMG fire, and it was impossible to go forward to Rfn Lachhiman’s post and attend to the three wounded. Throughout this time I noticed that Rfn Lachhiman Gurung continued to fire his rifle at the enemy. It was not until early the next morning that we could reach him, and it was then that I saw he had lost the fingers of his right hand and was also severely wounded in the face, right arm and leg.
As the Coy had been surrounded and cut off by the Japs on 12 May, Rfn Lachhiman Gurung could not be evacuated and had to remain with the Pl until midday on 15 May, when relief arrived. He told me he was not going to die as he wished to continue serving in the Army. The only complaint he made was of the swarms of flies that settled on his blood-stained bandages, and particularly on his eyes and lips, which were burnt from the blast of the bursting grenade. At one stage he could not see out of his eyes and he asked me to bathe them for him. Other than this he asked for no assistance, but remained cheerful and uncomplaining in spite of the intense heat and monsoon storms.
2nd Witness – 85145 Naik Debasing Bura
I am No 3 Sect Comd of 9 Pl C Coy and No 87726 Rfn Lachhiman Gurung is in my Sec. On the night of 12/13 May this Rfn was one of three occupying the most forward post of my Sec. At approx. 0130 hrs a large number of the enemy approached our perimeter, and I had only just got all my men standing to in their trenches when the enemy started throwing grenades at us. From my trench on the support circle, which I shared with the Pl Hav, Hav Kharkabahadur Thapa, and which was only a few yards in rear of Rfn Lachhiman’s trench, I saw a grenade fall very near this man’s trench, and he picked it up and threw it back at the enemy. Very shortly after this I saw another grenade fall inside this same trench, and Rfn Lachhiman Gurung stooped down, picked it up and threw it back. Only a second or two later I saw yet another grenade fall just in front of this man’s trench, and again he picked it up, but before he could throw it the grenade exploded.
Although I knew from the shouting in that trench that he had been badly wounded, I saw Rfn Lachhiman Gurung firing his rifle with his left hand at the attacking enemy. As the enemy continued firing for the rest of the night and assaulted our positions on many occasions, the three wounded men in that trench could not be reached until the next morning. The other two men told me later that their wounds were caused by the grenade which exploded in Rfn Lachhiman’s hand.
Rfn Lachhiman Gurung was very proud that the enemy had not succeeded in over-running his trench. He showed us how he fired his rifle with his left hand. He said that he had previously placed his khukri on the parapet of his trench, and that the enemy could not have passed him as long as he remained alive.
3rd Witness – 88184 L/Naik Ranbahadur Gurung
I am the No 1 Bren Gunner of 3 Sec, 9 Pl, C Coy. On the night 12/13 May, my Bren post was about 10 yds from the trench occupied by 87726 Rfn Lachhiman Gurung and 2 other men. In the early hours of the morning a large number of enemy approached our position and started throwing grenades. I saw one of these land near Rfn Lachhiman’s trench and he picked it up and threw it back at the enemy. Shortly afterwards another grenade fell inside the trench, and I saw Rfn Lachhiman quickly stoop down, pick it up and hurl it back. Immediately afterwards yet another grenade landed just in front of this same man’s trench, and I saw him again pick it up, but this time, before he had had a chance to throw it, the grenade exploded. I heard a lot of shouting coming from the trench so I knew that most probably all three men in the trench had been wounded.
I placed my gun so that I could cover this trench by fire, but I noticed that Rfn Lachhiman was still firing his rifle. I heard the next morning from one of the other men who was with Rfn Lachhiman, and who was wounded when the grenade exploded in Rfn Lachhiman’s hand, that he had used his left hand to fire, resting the rifle on the front of the trench. The enemy attacked us for most of the night but Rfn Lachhiman continued to fire to the end. He was taken out of his trench the next morning, and I saw that the fingers of his right hand had been blown off, and that he had also been severely wounded on other parts of his body. He told me that my bullets had passed very close to his trench and asked me the reason why. When I told him, he laughed, and said that he still had one bandolier of bullets left, and after that there was still his khukri. Sometimes I talked to him during the day-time, and he told me that the enemy were fools to attack C Coy, as we would never give in, and the other Coys were bound to come to our assistance soon.