Valor Friday

| November 19, 2021

Tul Bahadur Pun (circa 2007)

To the British Army, there is one group of legendary fighters that will never be equaled. This elite formation is made up entirely of volunteers from a small landlocked country in south-central Asia. With a history of service to the British Empire dating more than 200 years, they have earned their reputation time and again.

In Nepal, the British recruit for a small (~4,000 man) Brigade of Gurkhas. The Gurkhas are known as fearless warriors who, with their distinctive kukri in hand, have fought in every major conflict of the last two centuries. Beginning with the British East India Company, they then became part of the British Indian Army before India’s independence after World War II. Since then, they have been a unique formation of the British Army.

The selection and training process to become a Gurkha is arduous. In 2017, of 25,000 applicants, only 230 passed. Native speakers of the Nepali language, part of their selection is a testing of English proficiency. They undergo 36 weeks of physically demanding training before arriving at their regiment.

As to their combat prowess, these quotes best describe the Gurkhas;

“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” ?- Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Indian Chief of Army Staff (8 June 1969 – 15 January 1973)

“I have never seen more steadiness or bravery exhibited in my life. Run they would not and of death they seemed to have no fear, though their comrades were falling thick around them, for we were so near that every shot told.” – Ensign John Shipp describing the Battle of Makwanpur, February 1816

“The Gurkha is a soldier of high battle-skill, a world-famed fighting man and respected in every country where men fought alongside us in the last war.” – Lieutenant General Sir Francis Tuker, While Memory Serves (1950)

“The Almighty created in the Gurkhas an ideal infantryman, indeed an ideal Rifleman, brave, tough, patient, adaptable, skilled in field-craft, intensely proud of his military record and unswerving loyalty.” – Field Marshal Viscount Slim, Unofficial History (1959)

With this in mind, it should be no surprise that many Gurkhas have received Britain’s highest awards for combat bravery. For example, the UK’s highest award, the Victoria Cross (VC), has been awarded 16 times to native Gurkhas of the Brigade of Gurkhas and ten times to British officers serving with the Gurkha regiments.

With a heritage of valiant service, it should also surprise nobody that this valor can often run in families, such as it does with my subject today. I’ll be following this up with a relation of his next week.

Royal Gurkha Rifles cap badge with crossed kukris

Tul Bahadur Pun was born in 1923 in Myagdi, Nepal. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered for the Gurkhas. After his basic training he was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles Regiment, known officially as “6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles.”

By early 1942, the Japanese conquest of Asia had marched right to the front door of the British Empire’s largest holding in the region, India. The end of May that year saw the Japanese driving Allied forces to retreat to India while the Imperial Japanese held the strategically important Burma.

At the end of 1942, the first Allied offensives were attempted, both failed with heavy casualties. Both sides positioned for a major offensive throughout 1943. By the beginning of 1944 the Japanese had placed three corps worth of men to push into India. Meanwhile the Allies had amassed several American-led Chinese divisions, the British 14th Army, and the famed special operations unit of nine battalions of Chindits under legendary British Brigadier Orde Wingate.

Starting in December 1943 and through the next year the two massive forces would meet. The 3rd Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles would see action supporting the Chindits in Operation Thursday. Commencing 5 February 1944 and continuing until 27 August with an Allied success in driving the Japanese out of Burma.

It was in this overall campaign that Pun, a rifleman by rank and assignment, would be one of two men of the battalion to receive Britain’s highest honor. British Chindit Captain Michael Allmand and Pun would receive their Victoria Crosses for their actions on the same day during a key battle around a railroad bridge during the Battle of Mogaung in Burma. Captain Allmand and his company were ordered to take the bridge on 23 June 1944.

Allmand commanded the troops of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles up the road. As soon as they approached, the enemy opened up with accurate, withering small arms and machine gun fire. This forced the men, among them Pun, to find cover.

As Pun’s platoon and another platoon from his company were near the front of the advance, they felt the brunt of the enemy’s carefully dialed in fire, which came from two sides simultaneously. With the exception of Pun, most of the men of his section would perish in the coming moments.

As the men were pinned down, Captain Allmand, alone and without hesitation, charged boldly ahead despite suffering from a painful case of trench foot. Charging into the nest he was mortally wounded. This was his third such lone man charge into an enemy fortification just in the month of June. For these three acts he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. He was only 20 years old.

With their commander laying dead, most of the men around them dead or dying, and pinned down by enemy fire from a location called the “Red House”, Pun’s section commander took Pun and the only other able-bodied man and led them on a charge to the Red House, some 200 yards away.

As the three men rushed the house, the section leader was gunned down. Pun and his fellow rifleman pressed on until Pun’s comrade too was stopped after being hit by enemy fire. Pun retrieved the Bren Gun his fellow Gurkha was carrying, their only light machine gun, and continued on to the enemy stronghold.

Firing the Bren from his hip as he, alone, charged into the fortification, Pun faced the full force of the enemy’s fire. With the dawning sun at his back, Pun would have been the perfect silhouette for the Japanese to target. They unleashed a “shattering concentration of automatic fire” as his award citation reads.

Pun moved over 30 yards, through mud, across shell holes, and over downed trees, all in the open, before he got to the Red House. Somehow he was unscathed and once at the house he engaged the enemy within.

Pun’s award citation says he killed three Japanese before the remaining five fled. Pun himself gave a differing account decades later, saying that he killed four by shooting them and dispatched three with his kukri. He also claimed to have killed 30 Japanese with a flamethrower later on. While the record isn’t perfectly clear on just how many enemy he killed in the Red House, Pun killed several.

After securing the enemy’s stronghold, complete with two machine guns and stores of ammunition, he used the house to provide accurate covering fire for the rest of his platoon. This allowed them to finally reach their objective.

Victoria Cross

Because his amazing display of “outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise,” Pun was awarded the Victoria Cross. His award was gazetted on 9 November 1944.

The campaign would be costly for the men of 3rd Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles. A battalion in the British Army during World War II had a nominal strength of 845 men. By the end of Operation Thursday, they had suffered 126 killed, 352 wounded and 7 missing. That’s a 57% casualty rate.

After the war, Pun would return to Nepal. He, along with other Victoria Cross recipients, to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. He attended the ceremony and the after party at Buckingham Palace. He visited the UK many times, even having tea with Elizabeth II’s mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Pun remained in the Gurkhas until 1959, completing 20 years of service, and leaving with the rank regimental sergeant major and the honorary rank of lieutenant. After WWII he participated in the Malayan Emergency and saw service in Hong Kong.

In later life, Pun suffered ill health. He was living in rural Nepal, in a house with no roof, no sanitation system, and no electricity. To get his £132 pension check from the British Army, he would have to be driven three hours (one-way) and then travel on foot for a whole day. When old and enfeebled, he would need to be carried in a wicker basket by two or three men for the last leg of the journey. If he failed to show up, he would forfeit that month’s pension payment.

Not being a British subject, he applied for a permit to reside in the UK in 2006, not just to aid his failing health but to be with his fellow veterans. His petition was denied, because despite having served the British so well that he received their highest and most prestigious honor, he had “failed to demonstrate strong ties with the UK.”

An appeal followed, along with the story going public. This put pressure on the right government apparatchik to approve his permit request. He was sent off to much fanfare in Nepal and arrive to equal jubilation on his arrival in London on 4 July 2007. While in the UK, Pun lobbied on behalf of getting recognition for his fellow Gurkha veterans to allow them to relocate to Britain.

Pun returned to Nepal in 2011 to see the completion of a school in his village of Myagdi. The school was a project he’d been involved with. It was there that he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. His solicitor (lawyer) Martin Howe had this to say about Pun,

He was not boastful or egoistic, but like so many brave Gurkhas he was a mild-mannered and considerate man.

He dedicated his early life to 18 years’ service in the British army, and then spent his later years fighting for Gurkha rights and justice for his comrades.

He was passionate about education, and that children in Britain and Nepal take full advantages of the opportunities he missed out on as a young man.

Here was a man who at the prime of his life did everything to protect our country and defend it, and in later life was honoured to be living here and being around British people, family and friends.

Next week we’ll look at his descendant, who shows bravery and selfless service often run in our blood.

Category: Historical, Myanmar/Burma, Real Soldiers, UK and Commonwealth Awards, Valor, We Remember

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Mario Ortega

This week, author and journalist Eugene Byrne takes a look at the respect and awe that Gurkha troops have been held in by generations of Brits serving alongside them in various conflicts. The story is set in the Second World War and is one that has been around in various forms for many years The story Late on in the Second World War, as the Allies were fighting their way across northern Europe, a battalion of Gurkhas was asked to provide some volunteers for a mission behind enemy lines. The unit was paraded, and a staff officer explained the mission: “It is absolutely vital that you need to go in and secure the position. We only expect light resistance from the Germans. You’ll be dropped from an aircraft at 1200 feet.” The Gurkhas’ own commanding officer then asked for volunteers to take one step forward. About half of the men stepped forward. The British officer was surprised. “I thought the Gurkhas were supposed to be the bravest men of all,” he said to the Gurkha c/o. “And it’s not as though we expect this to be a particularly dangerous job.” “True,” said the Gurkha officer. “But half of them have just volunteered to jump from 1200 feet. Perhaps you should tell them they’ll have parachutes.” The truth The story is apocryphal, but it neatly captures the awe in which the Gurkhas have been held in the British army for generations. It’s not just the British who admire the Gurkhas; Indian… Read more »

SgtBob

On the American side, years ago I read of a staff sergeant who, with a private, attacked a German-held house in Belgium in January 1945. The private was wounded, so the sergeant went ahead. The house was occupied by 22 Waffen SS. The sergeant killed 10 and then went outside. He called on the others to surrender. When they refused, he reentered the house and killed the remaining 12. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. The event is recorded in the Army’s Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge.

KoB

Hard…to…the…CORE! Odd how the Brits let and in, and allow them to take over, thousands of potential mooslem terrorists, but don’t want genuine War Heros that help defend their Empire.

Great write up Mason. We’ll look forward to “the rest of the story”. Thanks!

Jay

Two things about the Gurkhas:

1. Legend has it that whenever they draw the kukri, it cannot be sheathed until it draws blood. They’ve been known to cut their own fingers to keep the tradition alive.

2. One of the most terrifying things you may ever here is “AYO GORKHALI!” It translates to “The Gurhkas are upon you.” They yell that shit before they start un-aliving people.

In 2010, a retired Gurkha fought off FORTY train robbers, killing three of them when they tried to rape an 18 year old girl in front of her parents.

https://www.wearethemighty.com/mighty-history/nepalese-warrior-train-robbery/

Atlanticcoast63

…Supposedly, during the Falklands War, the Gurkhas were turned loose at night to visit Argentine outposts…whose reliefs would show up in the morning to find their fellow Argentine soldiers sitting quite quietly.

With their heads in their laps.

AW1Ed

Fair winds and following seas, Mr. Pun.

gurkha

Thanks, Mason.

Jay

annnnnnnnd stolen.

Jay

In 2009, the UK did an about face and granted settlement/visa rights in the UK for themselves and families if they served over 4 years.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/may/21/gurkha-uk-settle-rights-lumley#:~:text=Gurkha%20veterans%20were%20today%20given,apply%20to%20come%20to%20Britain.

USAF E-5

Reminded me of the story of this guy. Though it is a wikipedia link, I’m pretty sure I saw the story on the history channel sometime in the 90’s. Lachhiman Gurung Gurka’s, 36 weeks of training just to make the unit? yep, pretty sure they aren’t going to be doing much “social justice” there…on the other hand, if a woman were to go thru the whole deal, I’m guessing her name would be Carol Danvers.

Hatchet

Another reason to love former Bond girl Joanna Lumley,

https://www.gwt.org.uk/stories/story/joanna-lumley/

rgr769

I don’t know if the tradition still holds today, but the Gurkha units are commanded by British Army officers. When I was on R&R (I&I) in Hong Kong in 1971, I met a British Army officer in one of the night clubs. He was assigned to a Gurkha regiment that was then guarding the border with Commie China. IIRC, he said his secondment to the Gurkhas was for three or four years. One thing I will say about my service, I met quite a few interesting people. In a parade in Aldershot, England, I met Field Marshal Montgomery.

trackback

[…] Last week I talked about Lieutenant Tul Bahadur Pun VC of the 6th Gurkha Rifles. Pun, as the post-nominals indicate, received the Victoria Cross for action during World War II in Burma, when he continued a charge on an enemy position alone after his compatriots were killed or wounded. Single-handedly vanquishing the enemy within he then used the enemy’s own machine guns to provide covering fire for the remainder of his company, allowing them to finally reach their objective. […]