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The British Gurkha Lachhiman Gurung’s Victoria Cross - Burma Story, 1945

The Great Gurkha Lachhiman Gurung was born at Dakhani in the Chitwan district of Western Nepal. As with most Gurkhas, his actual date of birth is not known but his probable year of birth is 1917. He enlisted into the 8th Gurkha Rifles on 30th December 1940, and was fortunate to be recruited because he was just under five feet in height and, in peacetime this would have meant rejection. Having passed his recruit training, Lachhiman was posted in March 1945 to the 4th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles in Burma. 

In May 1945 the 4th Battalion was part of the 89th Indian Infantry Brigade in 7th Indian Division, advancing south along the River Irrawaddy against the retreating Japanese forces. On 11th May, “B” and “C” Companies were ordered to hold an important position astride a track on the west side of the river near to the village of Taungdaw. This track was vital to the Japanese withdrawal, and for three days and nights the Japanese fought with fanatical fury in an attempt to clear the track, launching wave after wave of suicidal attacks. 

The key position was held by No 9 Platoon of “C” Company, almost 100 yards ahead of the remainder of the Company, and the most forward post of the platoon was manned by Rifleman Lachhiman's section. This was the situation when Rifleman Lachhiman earned his Victoria Cross. The citation in the London Gazette of 27th J uly 1945 read: 

“At Taungdaw, in Burma, on the west bank of the Irrawaddy, on the night of 12/13th May, 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was manning the most forward post of his platoon. At 01.20 hours at least 200 enemy assaulted his Company position. The brunt of the attack was borne by Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung'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 Gurung'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 Gurung, 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 Gurung remained alone at his post, waiting with perfect calm for each attack, which he met with fire at point-blank range from his rifle, determined not to give one inc h 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 overrunning and occupying Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung'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 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". 

Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was evacuated to hospital but he lost his right hand and the use of his right eye. On 19th December 1945 he was decorated with the Victoria Cross by His Excellency the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, at the Red Fort in Delhi. His proud father, then aged about 74 and very frail, was carried for eleven days from his village in Nepal to be present at the Red Fort to see him decorated.

Lachhiman continued to serve with his regiment, redesignated the 8th Gorkha Rifles after Indian Independence in 1947. He was promoted to Havildar but retired on completion of his service, returning to his village in Nepal. One of his sons subsequently became an Officer in his regiment. 

Though now severely disabled as a consequence of his war wounds, he travelled to the United Kingdom to be present on the ‘Last Big Parade’ held in London on 19th August 1995 to commemorate the end of World War 2.

(An extract from ‘The Story of Gurkha VCs’ published by the Gurkha Museum. )
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