Ganju Lama, who has died aged 75, was awarded a Victoria Cross in Burma for his action on June 12 1944 when B Company, 7th Gurkha Rifles were checking a Japanese attack, supported by tanks, in the Imphal and Kohima area. Although the Japanese had failed in their attempt to break through the British lines and move on into India, they still had the resources to mount fierce attacks. On June 12 they had put down an intense artillery barrage on the Gurkha-held position north of the village of Ningthoukhong, knocking out several bunkers and causing heavy casualties. They followed this up with an exceptionally strong attack. After ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, and supported by three medium tanks, they broke through the line in one place, pinning opposing British troops to the ground with intense fire.
B Company, 7th Gurkha Rifles was order to counter-attack and restore the situation. Shortly after passing the start line, the company came under heavy enemy medium machine-gun and tank machine-gun fire at point-blank range, which covered all lines of approach. Rifleman Ganju Lama, the No 1 of the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) – which launched a 3lb grenade on his initiative – crawled forward through thick mud, bleeding profusely, and engaged the tanks single-handedly. In spite of a broken left wrist and two other wounds, one in his right hand and one in his leg, caused by withering cross-fire concentrated on him, he succeeded in bringing his gun into action within 30 yards of the enemy tanks. He knocked out first one, and then another, the third tank being destroyed by an anti-tank gun.
Despite his serious wounds, he then moved forwards and engaged with grenades the tank crews who were now attempting to escape. Not until he had killed or wounded them all, thus enabling his company to push forward, did he allow himself to be taken to the Regimental Aid Post to have his wounds dressed. “Throughout the action,” his citation attested, “Rifleman Ganju Lama, although seriously wounded, showed a complete disregard for his own personal safety and it was solely due to his prompt action and brave conduct that a most critical situation was averted, all positions regained, and heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy.” After this exploit, having been taken by stretcher to the Regimental Aid Post, Ganju Lama was evacuated to a Base Hospital.
His VC – the award of which requires three independent witnesses and the risk of death to be 90 to 100 per cent – was eventually presented to him in Delhi by the Viceroy, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, in the presence of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, General Slim, and members of his own family. A month earlier, Ganju Lama had been awarded the Military Medal [not gazetted until 5 October 1944]. During operations on the Tiddim Road, his regiment surprised a party of Japanese and killed several of them. Ganju Lama was awarded the MM for destroying two tanks in the action.
Ganju Lama was born in India at Sangmo, southern Sikkim, on July 22 1924 and, although neither an ethnic Gurkha nor a Nepalese subject, he enlisted in the 7th Gurkhas in 1942. At that time, Gurkha regiments were prepared to accept any potential recruit who closely resembled the Gurkha and lived near the border of Nepal. Ganju Lama’s tribe lived in the independent kingdom of Bhutan, in the Himalayas east of Sikkim. His real name was Gyantso, but a clerk in the recruiting office wrote in down as Ganju and Ganju he remained. After leaving the Regimental Centre in 1943, he joined the 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, in Burma, near Imphal.
After Indian Independence in 1947, Ganju Lama joined the 11th Gorkha (as it is spelt in the Indian Army) Rifles, a regiment formed from Gurkhas of the 7th and 10th Gurkhas Rifles who had decided to continue their services in India instead of joining the British Army. Later, he was promoted subedar major (chief Indian officer in a company of Sepoys) and in 1965 was appointed ADC to the President of India. The year before, a large boil had developed on his leg; when it burst, a Japanese bullet came out. In retirement, Ganju Lama returned to his people and was appointed honorary ADC to the President of India for life. He had been granted the honorary rank of captain in 1968 while still serving.
The Daily Telegraph – 3 July 2000
Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 5th of September, 1944
The War Office, 7th September, 1944
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
No. 78763 Rifleman Ganju Lama, 7th Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army.
In Burma [actually in Manipur State, India], on the morning of the 12th June, 1944, the enemy put down an intense artillery barrage lasting an hour on our positions north of the village of Ningthoukhong. This heavy artillery fire knocked out several bunkers and caused heavy casualties, and was immediately followed by a very strong enemy attack supported by five medium tanks. After fierce hand to hand fighting, the perimeter was driven in in one place and enemy infantry, supported by three medium tanks, broke through, pinning our troops to the ground with intense fire.
“B” Company, 7th Gurkha Rifles, was ordered to counter-attack and restore the situation. Shortly after passing the starting line it came under heavy enemy medium machine-gun and tank machine-gun fire at point blank range, which covered all lines of approach. Rifleman Ganju Lama, the No. 1 of the P.I.A.T. gun, on his own initiative, with great coolness and complete disregard for his own safety, crawled forward and engaged the tanks single handed. In spite of a broken left wrist and two other wounds, one in his right hand and one in his leg, caused by withering cross fire concentrated upon him, Rifleman Ganju Lama succeeded in bringing his gun into action within thirty yards of the enemy tanks and knocked out first one and then another, the third tank being destroyed by an anti-tank gun.
In spite of his serious wounds, he then moved forward and engaged with grenades the tank crews, who now attempted to escape. Not until he had killed or wounded them all, thus enabling his company to push forward, did he allow himself to be taken back to the Regimental Aid Post to have his wounds dressed.
Throughout this action Rifleman Ganju Lama, although very seriously wounded, showed a complete disregard for his own personal safety, outstanding devotion to duty and a determination to destroy the enemy which was an example and an inspiration to all ranks. It was solely due to his prompt t action and brave conduct that a most critical situation was averted, all positions regained and very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy.