Untold lives blog

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07 March 2016

Award of the Victoria Cross to Indian Army Officers and Men

The India Office Records holds many files relating to the award of medals and honours to soldiers for bravery in battle. One interesting file on the subject of honours is from the India Office Information Department, which was responsible for communicating official policy to the press, advising on broadcasting and films about India, and liaising with the Ministry of Information and the Governments of India and Burma about publicity and propaganda.

The file contains a splendid booklet produced by the Inter Service Public Relations Directorate, India Command, in late 1945. Titled Officers & Men of the Indian Army who have been awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in the field it gives information on the 21 men who had been awarded the medal during the course of the Second World War (up to February 1945). Each page of the booklet gives a photograph of the soldier, with a description of the action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, and a dramatic drawing showing the action.

Included in the booklet is a page on the Indian Army’s second youngest winner of the Victoria Cross, 20 year old Sepoy Kamal Ram, 8th Punjab Regiment, from the small village of Bholupura, Karauli State, in what was then the United Provinces. The action for which Kamal was awarded the VC took place in Italy in May 1944 just after the Regiment had crossed the river Gari. Kamal’s Company found itself held up by four German machine gun posts, and he volunteered to deal with one of them. He attacked the post alone killing the two German gunners and a German officer who suddenly appeared from a trench. Kamal then successfully attacked the second post, and hurled grenades into the third. Not surprisingly the remaining Germans surrendered. He later rushed a house, killing another German soldier, and taking two more as prisoners. The VC ribbon was presented to Kamal by King George VI in Italy in July 1944.

King George VI pinning the Victoria Cross on Sepoy Kamal Ram

King George VI pinning the Victoria Cross on Sepoy Kamal Ram, 26 July 1944. © IWM (NA 17270)

Also in the file is a telegram from the Government of India War Department reporting on a letter received by the family of Kamal Ram from him following his act of bravery. Written for him in Hindi by a friend, it was intended for the whole village. In it he mentions nothing about his exploits, instead asks about news of relatives, their cattle, the crops and the weather. Clearly not wanting to worry his family he wrote to reassure them: “I am serving with great pleasure. I will never disgrace your name. I am at a great distance from you in Italian Raj. I have good food and I am quite fat”. His citation stated “His sustained and outstanding bravery unquestionably saved a difficult situation at a critical period”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
India Office Information Department File 462/80(c) Honours, 1941-1944 [IOR/L/I/1/1034]

See my previous posting on the award of the Victoria Cross to the first soldier of the Indian Army during the First World War.



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