Agansing Rai, who has died in Kathmandu aged 80, was awarded the VC when serving with the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) in Burma in 1944. In June 1944 the 5th Gurkhas were under great pressure to stem the fanatical Japanese assault on Imphal, where success would have enabled them to break through into India. The Gurkhas were holding the Bishenpur-Silchar track, which had already been the scene of much hard fighting. On 26 June, C Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Gurkhas was ordered to capture an enemy position which dominated the track and had already changed hands several times. It consisted of two strong points, 200 yards apart and mutually self-supporting. Whereas there was dense jungle on the west of the enemy position, the hillside on the other sides was completely bare. Any assault would have to be launched in full view of the enemy for at least 80 yards up a slippery, precipitous ridge rising to a crest. When the Gurkha company reached the crest they were immediately pinned down by fire from machine-guns and a 37mm gun, suffering many casualties. Agansing Rai (at that time a naik or corporal) realised that delay would only lead to more casualties. So he led his section immediately at the machine-gun, firing as he charged. He killed three of the enemy machine-gun’s crew of four. Inspired by this example the Gurkha company swept forward and drove the remaining Japanese off the strong point which they then occupied.
However the Gurkhas now came under heavy fire from the other strong point, as well as from the 37mm gun concealed in the jungle. Once again Agansing Rai led his section towards the gun. Half the men were killed on the way, but Rai reached the gun and personally killed three of the five-man crew; his section killed the other two. Rai then returned to his former position, took over the rest of the platoon, and in spite of heavy machine-gun fire and a shower of grenades, rushed forward with a grenade in one hand and a Thompson sub-machine-gun in the other. Having reached the position, he killed all the occupants of a bunker with his grenade and bursts of Tommy-gun fire. The remaining Japanese, thoroughly demoralised, fled into the jungle, leaving these two vital positions in the hands of the Gurkhas. Apart from Rai, another member of the 2nd/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, Subedar Netrabahadur Thapa, also won a VC for his part in the action, which proved to be a turning point in the struggle for Imphal.
Agansing Rai was born in the village of Amsara, in the Okhaldhung district of Nepal on 24 April 1920. He enlisted in the 5th Gurkhas in 1941 and was posted to the 2nd Battalion. In 1943 he was promoted to section commander with the rank of naik and saw action in early 1944 in the Chin Hills, where he was awarded a Military Medal [not found in The London Gazette]. He was presented with the VC by the Viceroy, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, in 1945. Besieged by reporters, who asked him how he felt and what he thought during the battle, he smiled disarmingly and said: “I forget.” After the war he became an Instructor at the Regimental Centre and took part in the Victory Parade in London in 1946. He then served with the 2nd/5th Gurkhas in the Army of Occupation in Japan and was promoted to subedar (company commander). After Independence in 1947, Agansing Rai remained with the Regiment in India, and in 1962-63 served in The Congo as part of the UN peacekeeping force. On retirement from the Army, he was granted the honorary rank of lieutenant. He was presented to the Queen during her visit to Nepal in 1986. He attended many reunions of holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross in London, where he was much admired as a man of stature and presence. He is remembered as a wise and quiet man, but one with a sense of humour and an ability to enjoy life. Agansing Rai leaves three daughters and two sons.
The Daily Telegraph – 30 May 2000
The Japanese offensive in Assam in March 1944, launched to counter the 14th Army’s advance into Burma, was halted by the end of May. But elements of the Japanese 15th Army persisted in fanatical attempts to regain the initiative. “Now is the time to capture Imphal,” began Major-General Tanaka’s order to the 33rd Division, “Regard death as something lighter than a feather. It must be expected that the division will be almost annihilated.”
In his memoir Defeat into Victory, Field Marshal Lord Slim acknowledged the courage and hardihood of the Japanese soldiers in this fighting, concluding, “I know of no army that could have equalled them.”
In June the 17th Indian Division was still under intense pressure at Bishenpur, southwest of Imphal. Their supply route, a mere track running through the hills to Silchar, became a scene of bitter fighting. On the morning of June 25, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) was ordered to recapture an enemy position dominating the track.
The position comprised two mutually-supporting outposts, “Water Piquet” and “Mortar Bluff”. They had already changed hands several times but the Japanese had retaken them the previous night in an attack of overwhelming strength. Their continued occupation would cut communications to Bishenpur, rendering positions there untenable. The ground to the west of the hill was dense jungle but elsewhere it was bare. The only approach was by a precipitous ridge to a false crest, beyond which the final assault had to be made over eighty yards of open ground.
After a preliminary artillery bombardment C Company advanced on “Mortar Bluff”. On reaching the false crest, they were pinned down by heavy and accurate machine-gun fire from the enemy position and a 37mm gun concealed in the flanking jungle. Naik (Corporal) Agansing Rai, seeing that any delay must inevitably lead to heavy casualties to the attacking force, led his section in a charge on the machine-gun post, firing as he went, killing three of the four-man gun crew.
Inspired by Agansing Rai’s example, his section swept through and secured “Mortar Bluff”, only to come under renewed fire from the 37mm gun in the jungle and automatic fire from the enemy still firmly in possession of “Water Piquet”. He led his section in a charge on the gun. However, all but three men were killed or wounded before half the distance had been covered and, at a critical moment, his Thompson sub-machine-gun jammed. Seizing the section’s Bren gun he continued the charge and killed the gun crew while the survivors of his section despatched the remaining enemy in the group. After picking up and clearing his jammed Tommy-gun he led his depleted section back to “Mortar Bluff” to join the rest of C Company preparing for an attack on the “Water Piquet” position. This went well at first, but machine-gun fire and a hail of grenades from a previously-undetected enemy bunker to the flank threatened the advance.
Without waiting for instructions, Naik Agansing Rai ordered his Bren gunner to give him covering fire and advanced alone up a shallow communications trench to the bunker with a grenade in one hand and his Tommy-gun in the other. First throwing in the grenade, he burst into the bunker killing all four occupants with a single burst of fire. The “Water Piquet” position was retaken by his company a few minutes later.
The citation for the award of his Victoria Cross concluded: “Naik Agansing Rai’s magnificent display of initiative, outstanding bravery and gallant leadership, so inspired the rest of the Company that, in spite of heavy casualties, the result of this important action was never in doubt.” He received his decoration from the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, in 1945.
Agansing Rai was born in Amsara in east Nepal. He enlisted in the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) in 1941 and, after joining the 2nd Battalion, soon became a section commander with the rank of naik. He saw action against the Japanese in the Chin Hills area of Burma, a hundred miles south of Imphal, during the early months of 1944.
He was promoted havildar (sergeant) in 1947 and remained with his Regiment when it was transferred to the new Indian Army on Partition. He served with the Indian contingent of the United Nations force in the Congo in 1962-63 and became a subedar-major before retiring in 1971, when he was granted the honorary rank of captain. Subsequently he lived quietly at his home some three days’ walk from Kathmandu. Agansing Rai’s death reduces to 26 the number of living holders of the Victoria Cross. His wife died in 1988. He is survived by his two sons, one of whom is a lieutenant-colonel in the Indian Army, and three daughters.
The Times – 30 May 2000
Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 3rd of October, 1944
War Office, 5th October, 1944
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
No. 63219 Rifleman (acting Naik) Agansing Rai, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), Indian Army.
In Burma on 24th and 25th June, 1944, after fierce fighting, the enemy, with greatly superior forces, had captured two posts known as “Water Piquet” and “Mortar Bluff”. These posts were well sighted and were mutually supporting and their possession by the enemy threatened our communications.
On the morning of 26th June, 1944, a Company of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) was ordered to recapture these positions.
After a preliminary artillery concentration, the Company went into the attack but on reaching a false crest about 80 yards from its objective, it was pinned down by heavy and accurate fire from a machine-gun in “Mortar Bluff” and a 37 millimetre gun in the jungle, suffering many casualties. Naik Agansing Rai, appreciating that more delay would inevitably result in heavier casualties, at once led his section under withering fire directly at the machine-gun and, firing as he went, charged the position, himself killing three of the crew of four. Inspired by this cool act of bravery the section surged forward across the bullet swept ground and routed the whole garrison of “Mortar Bluff.”
This position was now under intense fire from the 37 millimetre gun in the jungle and from “Water Piquet”. Naik Agansing Rai at once advanced towards the gun, his section without hesitation following their gallant leader. Intense fire reduced the section to three men before half the distance had been covered but they pressed on to their objective. Arriving at close range, Naik Agansing Rai killed three of the crew and his men killed the other two. The party then returned to “Mortar Bluff” where the rest of their platoon were forming up for the final assault on “Water Piquet”. In the subsequent advance heavy machine-gun fire and showers of grenades from an isolated bunker position caused further casualties. Once more, with indomitable courage, Naik Agansing Rai, covered by his Bren gunner, advanced alone with a grenade in one hand and his Thompson sub-machine-gun in the other. Through devastating fire he reached the enemy position and with his grenade and bursts from his Thompson Sub-machine-gun killed all four occupants of the bunker.
The enemy, demoralized by this N.C.O’s calm display of courage and complete contempt for danger, now fled before the onslaught on “Water Piquet” and this position too was captured.
Naik Agansing Rai’s magnificent display of initiative, outstanding bravery and gallant leadership, so inspired the rest of the Company that, in spite of heavy casualties, the result of this important action was never in doubt.