Captain Bhandari Ram, who has died aged 82, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on November 22 1944 when serving as a Sepoy with the 10th Baluch Regiment, Indian Army, in the Arakan, Burma. After Lord Louis Mountbatten’s appointment as Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command in August 1943, fighting continued during the monsoon season, and by February of the following year, Allied troops had made considerable advances in the Arakan. But the Japanese launched an offensive which nearly succeeded, and which effectively confined 7th Indian Division to the Administration Box, surrounded by the enemy. The British push to recover their position along the Mayu range began in March, but largely remained within the Indian border – stranding the Japanese without support until the end of the monsoon season in October. Before the final victorious advance by XV Corps in the Arakan in December, a number of small raids were undertaken.
On one of these, the 16th Battalion, 10th Baluch Regiment, part of 51st Brigade, was attacking a strongly-held Japanese bunker position in East Mayu, and Sepoy Bhandari Ram was in the leading section of one of the platoons. In order to reach its objective, the platoon needed to climb a steep slope by way of a narrow ridge with sheer sides. Fifty yards from the top the leading section came under severe fire from heavy and light machine-guns. Three men were wounded, including Bhandari Ram, who received a burst of light machine-gun fire in his left shoulder and a wound in his leg. Although the platoon was now pinned down by intense enemy fire, Bhandari Ram crawled up to the Japanese machine-gun whilst in full view of the enemy and approached within 15 yards of the enemy position. The Japanese hurled grenades at him, seriously wounding him in the face and chest but, undeterred by injuries from bullets and grenade splinters, and bespattered with blood, Bhandari Ram crawled up to within five yards of his objective – with what the citation described as ‘superhuman courage and determination’. There he threw a grenade into the position, killing the enemy gunner and two other men. Not until the position had been occupied by the rest of the platoon did he lie down and allow his wounds to be dressed. By his outstanding gallantry and determination to destroy the enemy at all costs, the young sepoy had enabled his platoon to capture what he knew to be the key to the enemy position. Bhandari Ram was decorated by Field Marshal Lord Wavell at Delhi, and also held the 1939-45 Star, the Burma Star and the British War Medal.
Bhandari Ram was born on July 24 1919 at Pargna Gugeda village, Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, India. He worked as a farmer before enlisting in the Indian Army on his 22nd birthday, and soon obtained the Army First Class Education Certificate. He was posted with the 10th Baluch – which was made up of a Muslim/Hindu mix, two-thirds Muslim and one-third Dogra Hindu Brahmin – to Burma. After the 16th Battalion was disbanded in 1946, Bhandari Ram returned to the Regimental Centre, and after India was partitioned following Independence in 1947 the Dogra Hindu element, to which Bhandari Ram belonged, was transferred to the Dogra Regiment in February 1948. Subsequently he served with distinction in the wars over Kashmir, often fighting against his former colleagues. He was promoted to subedar major in 1964 and in January 1969 to Honorary Lieutenant. That August he was promoted to Honorary captain, the rank in which he left the army in November 1969. Bhandari Ram was also awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal and Tamar Patra by the President of India, and received the 1953 Coronation Medal and 1977 Silver Jubilee Medal. When interviewed in April 1999 in a Radio 4 programme, Bhandari Ram modestly explained his gallantry as “all to do with wanting to please commanding officers by doing a good job”. He was a popular figure at Victoria and George Cross reunions. He married Champa Devi, who survives him with their three sons and two daughters.
The Daily Telegraph – 23 May 2002
Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, the 6th of February, 1945
War Office, 8th February, 1945
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
No. 24782 Sepoy Bhandari Ram, 10th Baluch Regiment, Indian, Army.
On the 22nd November, 1944, in East Mayu, Arakan, during a Company attack on a strongly held Japanese bunker position, Sepoy Bhandari Ram was in the leading section of one of the Platoons. In order to reach its objective, it was necessary to climb a precipitous slope, by way of a narrow ridge with sheer sides.
When fifty yards from the top of the slope, the leading section of the Platoon came under heavy and accurate light machine-gun fire. Three men were wounded, amongst them Sepoy Bhandari Ram, who received a burst of light machine-gun fire in his left shoulder and a wound in his leg. The Platoon was pinned down by intense enemy fire. This Sepoy then crawled up to the Japanese light machine-gun, whilst in full view of the enemy, and approached to within fifteen yards of the enemy position. The enemy then hurled grenades at him, seriously wounding him in the face and chest. Undeterred, severely wounded by bullets and grenade splinters and bespattered with blood, this Sepoy, with superhuman courage and determination, crawled up to within five yards of his objective. He then threw a grenade into the position, killing the enemy gunner and two other men, and continued his crawl to the post. Inspired by his example, the Platoon rushed up and captured the position. It was only after the position had been taken that he lay down and allowed his wounds to be dressed.
By his outstanding gallantry, determination to destroy the enemy at all cost, and entire disregard for his personal safety, this young Sepoy enabled his Platoon to capture what he knew to be the key to the whole enemy position.