Monday, 28 August 2017

Subedar Khudadad Khan, the First Recipient Of Victoria Cross In India

While travelling on Islamabad - Lahore Motorway, M2, you may have seen a big board, close to Balkasar Interchange, informing you about a man, who in the words written on the board was "The First Muslim Recipient of Victoria Cross". The statement though correct, is actually a little bit misleading. He was not just the first Muslim recipient of Victoria Cross, but also the first Indian to receive this most prestigious military decoration of the British Empire. Seven Muslim soldiers of British Indian Army won this highest award for bravery. Five of them from Punjab and two of them were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I already have written a post about Shahamad Khan of Takhti, who also won the Victoria Cross.

Subedar Khudadad Khan was born in Dab, a small village just 3 kilometers south east of Chakwal on Chakwal - Sohawa road, on 28 October, 1888. At the start of the WWI he was a Sepoy in 129th Duke of Connaught's Own Baluchis, now the 11th Battalion of Pak Army's Baloch Regiment. Nearly 1.3 million Indians served in the British Army during WWI and the largest proportion of them came from the Rawalpindi Division. Khudada Khan was one of them. But one thing distinguished him from all of them and that was winning a Victoria Cross by displaying extraordinary bravery while fighting Germans in Belgium. 

Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration of the British Empire. It is awarded for "the most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy." This was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 and since has been awarded to 1355 individuals. 

Till 1911 it was not awarded to the Indian soldiers. But during the Delhi Darbar of 1911, it was announced that henceforth it would be awarded to the Indian soldiers also. In total five Punjabi Muslims and two Pakhtuns won this medal during the British Raj. Subedar Khudadad Khan is one of them. 

A portrait of Subedar Khudada Khan, VC.

Details of his action, which won him Victoria Cross, are described as under at:
In October 1914, the Germans launched a major offensive in northern Belgium, in order to capture the vital ports of Boulogne in France and Nieuport in Belgium. In what came to be known as the First Battle of Ypres, the newly arrived 129th Baluchis were rushed to the frontline to support the hard-pressed British troops. On 31st October, two companies of the Baluchis bore the brunt of the main German attack near the village of Gheluvelt in Hollebeke Sector. The out-numbered Baluchis fought gallantly but were overwhelmed after suffering heavy casualties. Sepoy Khudadad Khan’s machine-gun team, along with one other, kept their guns in action throughout the day; preventing the Germans from making the final breakthrough.
The other gun was disabled by a shell and eventually Khudadad Khan’s own team was overrun. All the men were killed by bullets or bayonets except Khudadad Khan, who despite being badly wounded, had continued working his gun. He was left for dead by the enemy but despite his wounds, he managed to crawl back to his regiment during the night. Thanks to his bravery, and that of his fellow Baluchis, the Germans were held up just long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive. They strengthened the line, and prevented the German Army from reaching the vital ports. For his matchless feat of courage and gallantry, Sepoy Khudadad Khan was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The same website tells us that Khudadad Khan received his Victoria Cross from King George V on 26 January 1915. He received many other medals for his service in the army. In addition to that, he received 50 acres of land in Chak No. 25, near Rukkan, in district Mandi Bahauddin. After the retirement, he lived in the same Chak and died and buried there on 7 March, 1971. 

Sepoy Khudadad Khan, 129th Duke Connaught’s own Baluchis, was the first Indian—and Muslim—to be awarded the Victoria Cross. This photograph was taken while he was recovering from his wounds at an Indian convalescent home at Barton-on-Sea. (

Victoria Cross of Subedar Khudadad Khan 

129th Baluchis of Lahore Division near Hollebeke, Belgium. (Wikipedia)

Subedar Khudadad Khan. (A picture provided by his family)

A statue of Subedar Khudadad Khan in front of the Army Museum, Rawalpindi. (Pininterest)

My desire to visit and discover his grave was fulfilled on 24.03.2016, when I visited Chak 25. The grave itself is about one kilometer north east of the Chak. However, I was a little disappointed to know that his family had shifted from the place, back to their native Chakwal and they also had sold his agricultural land. Now my next plan was to visit his ancestral village of Dab. 

In the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful   There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is His prophet
Subedar Khudadad Khan
(Victoria Cross)
Death: 9 Moharram Al Haram, 7 March 1971. 
(Location:  32°24'51.68"N;  73°14'31.90"E)

Grave of Subedar Khudada Khan (24.03.2016.)

Grave of Subedar Khudada Khan (24.03.2016.)

It took me another year and a half to finally get a chance to visit Dab, the birthplace of Subedar Khudadad Khan. It was a rainy day, but the weather in Dab was pleasant. I reached his home around 1100. Like many other villages in Chakwal, it is a prosperous village with well built houses and neat and clean. A young man opened the door for us and informed that no male member of the family was at home. However, after checking inside and asking about the purpose of our visit he led us inside. There a was a lady who welcomed us into the drawing room. 

She was Begum Manzoor Fatima, daughter in law of Subedar Khudadad Khan. Despite fragile health, she answered all of my questions and even showed me some pictures of Subedar Khudadad. He had two sons Chaudhry Muhammad Inayat, died 2011 and Chaudhry Muhammad Nawaz, died 2008. She is the widow of the younger son Chaudhry Muhammad Nawaz. She told a few things about the Subedar and their personal life. They sold their land in Chak 25, due to the problems of water logging and also came back to Chakwal in order to provide better education to her grand children. Her son Ali Nzwaz, the grandson of Subedar Khudadad Khan was not at home. The house is located at:  32°54'6.32"N;  72°53'10.31"E. 

A board on M2, near Balkasar Interchange, telling the direction to Dab, the birthplace of Subedar Khudadad Khan. I took this picture on 28.07.2017, during a heavy downpour. 

Newly constructed house of Subedar Khudada Khan. 28.07.2017.

All Praise To Allah
Khudadad Khan House, VC. (28.07.2017.)

A view of the street. (28.07.2017.)

An inner view of the beautiful house of grandson of Subedar Khudadad Khan. (28.07.2017)

Chaudhry Muhammad Inayat , the elder son of Subedar Khudadad Khan. 

Chaudhry Muhammad Nawaz , the younger son of Subedar Khudad Khan. 

I could not meet him then, however later I talked to Ali Nawaz, grandson of  Khudadad Khan, two or three times and also exchanged message through whatsapp. I wanted to know the location of his grandfather's Victoria Cross. But he could give me no satisfactory answer. However, during my research on the net, I found that the Victoria Cross in question is at the moment on exhibition in Imperial War Museum, London.

The following link gives the list of Victoria Crosses on display in Imperial War Museum, London, including the Medal of Khudadad Khan:

He was awarded many other medals for his distinguished service in the army. Details are given on the following site:

Medal entitlement of Subedar Khudadad Khan129th Duke of Connaught's Own Baluchis, Indian Army

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 Star + clasp "5th Aug - 22nd Nov 1914"
  • British War Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • India General Service Medal ( 1908-1935 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Afghanistan NWF 1919"
  • General Service Medal ( 1918-1962 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Iraq"
  • King George V Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1935 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
The house built by Subedar Khudadad Khan in 1935. ([id316]/10/)[id316]/10/

The above two pictures are of the house that was originally built by Subedar Khudadad Khan by himself in 1935. It was torn down two or three years ago and a new house was built at its place. I asked his grandson Ali Nawaz the reason for not preserving the old house. He explained to me that due some changes in the surrounding area, due to the construction of new roads, at a higher elevation, the drainage was no longer possible. Moreover, they repaired the house a few times, but it was not easy to preserve it. 

Lord Ashcroft is a British businessman and politician. He has a very big collection of Victoria Crosses, which are on display at Imperial War Museum London. The Victoria Cross of Subedar Khudadad Khan is one of them.  On his website, he writes in detail about Khudadad Khan:

In 1917, Khan was promoted to jemadar and the following year he was elevated to senior jemadar. He survived the war and, in 1919, was promoted to subadar, his final rank. After retiring in 1921, he worked as a farmer and, in 1956 and by then aged 68, he took part in the VC centenary celebrations in London.
 Khan, who was married twice and had two sons and a daughter with his second wife, died at the Military Hospital, Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 8 1971, aged 82. He was buried at Rukhan Tehsil cemetery, Punjab, Pakistan.
His name is engraved on the Memorial Gates, Hyde Park Corner, London, and there is a statute in his honour at the Army Museum, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
For a time, Khan’s medal group was on display at the Army Museum in Rawalpindi but it remained in the ownership of one of his descendants. When this individual decided to offer the medal group for sale, I was able to secure it in a private deal.
The above mentioned deal was struck in 2016. So now, all that is remaining of this proud piece of our history and heritage is a grave near Chak No. 25, Mandi Bahauddin and a board telling about the direction of Dab, near Balkasar Interchange.  

Tariq Amir

August 25, 2017.

Doha - Qatar. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Monuments of World War 1 In Pakistan

After the Crimean War (1853 - 1856), Europe entered a long and unprecedented period of peace and stability, except the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. It all started to change in the first decade of the twentieth century when an arms race intensified between the two opposing alliances of Britain, France, and Russia on one side and German, Austro Hungarian Empire and Italy on the other side. By 1914 the long accumulated gun powder was ready to explode. The necessary spark was provided by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, in Sarajevo. Armed and backed by new technologies, Europeans soon found themselves involved in a kind of war, of which nobody has ever imagined. The destruction and carnage were on a scale, which the world had not seen till then. 

But all this mayhem did not stay confined to Europe only. Many European countries were big colonial powers and they sucked these colonies into this conflict. One of them was Britain and India was its biggest colony, Jewel in the Crown. Britain mobilized men and resources of India to bolster her war effort. Almost 1.27 million Indian participated in this war which lasted from 1914 to 1918, and over 74,000 of them lost their lives in defense of the British Empire. 

At the start of the war, the strength of Indian Army was 155,000 men, 100,000 of whom were from Punjab. But the army was greatly expanded during the war and 380,000 more were recruited from this region. 120,000 of them were recruited from the Rawalpindi division alone, that in those days comprised of Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum, Shahpur and Mianwali districts. 

The contribution of Indians in general or Punjabis, in particular, is not the subject of this post. It is a vast and complicated subject and well beyond my capacities. However, I want to contribute by writing about the small monuments and plaques which I saw in many places by myself or found on the internet. 

Gun at Dulmial. Given by the government to honour those men, who went to war from this village. (13.03.2009.)  Location:  32°44'19.46"N,  72°55'19.88"E.

Our Heritage
This gun was awarded to Dulmial in recognition of services rendered by all ranks from this village during and prior to First Great War 1914 - 1919. The gun was brought from Jhelum and placed here under the supervision of Honarary Captain Malik Ghulam Muhammad and other veterans in 1925. (Photo: 13.03.2009.)

Gun Foundry Cossipore. No. 12, 1847. (13.03.2009.)

As the inscription on the gun tells, it was manufactured at the Gun and Shell Factory at Cossipore, Kolkata, India. This factory was established in 1801 by the East India Company, it is the oldest ordnance factory in India. 

The writer in front of the gun. (13.03.2009.)

From this village 460 men went to the Great War 1914 - 1919. Of these 9 gave up their lives. 
Photo Source:


front row (left to right) Sub Sultan Ahmed, Risaldar Ghulam Rasul, SM Khuda Bakhsh, Capt Ghulam Muhammad, Lt Muhammad Khan, Sub Fateh Muhammad, Subedar Ghulam Muhammad
standing front row (left to right) Risaldar Muhammad Khan, Jemmadar Noor Muhammad, Sub Ismail Khan, Sub Fateh Muhammad, Sub Muhammad Khan, Sub Mulook Khan, Jemmadar Muhammad Khan, Sub Allah Ditta
standing back row (left to right) Jemmadar Abdullah Khan, Jemmadar Haider Khan, Jemmadar Muhammad Khan, Jemmadar Muhammad Hussain, Jemmadar Abdullah Khan, Sub Ramji Mal

Sources claim that this was the largest contribution of any village in the Indian Subcontinent. Similarly, during the WW II, 732 men from the same village went to war. Considering the size of this village, these figures are amazing. When I visited this Dulmial in 2009, I was not aware of the existence of this memorial, so missed it. This small village lies in Chakwal district, there is another village in the same district, which is very close to Chakwal city. It is called Dab, where a person was born whose name was Subedar Khudada Khan. This person won the first Victoria Cross in India in 1914.  

Subedar Khudad Khan, the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in India. 

Grave of Subedar Khudad Khan, VC, near Chak No. 25 ( 32°24'51.71"N,  73°14'31.94"E) in Mandi Bahauddin district. (24.03.2016.)

Another son of this land who earned an eternal respected place in history, is Subedar Shahamad Khan. Who while fighting in Iraq during the first world war, won Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry medal of the British Empire. 
Subedar Shahamad Khan, VC (1879 - 1947), of Takhti, district Rawalpindi. 
Grave of Subedar Shahamad Khan, VC. located at  33°21'32.04"N,  73° 4'12.48"E. (14.12.2016)
(In Google Earth search for Takti Rajgan.) 

Monument in honour of those who went to war from Takhti. Subedar Shahamad Khan was one of them. 

Plaque on the obelisk. Source of the above two pictures: 
Mohammad Imran Saeed

Soon Valley is a very beautiful valley in the Salt Range, district Khushab. It is inhabited by Awan tribe, a tribe known for its traditions of bravery and valour. I came to know through different sources of some plaques, commemorating the contribution of people of this valley to the WW I. I had visited this valley several times in the past and also had had an opportunity to visit Sakesar mountain, the highest point of the Salt Range, which also houses some installations of PAF. But the beauty of this valley never impressed me more in the past, as it did this time because due to a good Monsoon the scene was simply marvellous.

Two pillars, as a WWI monument, were erected in 1928, at the start of the mountainous road to the valley. Location:  32°26'26.95"N,  72°13'7.27"E. (24.07.2017.)

A plaque commemorating the contribution of three thousand men, who participated in the WW I, on the side of the British Empire. (24.07.2017.)

Details of the official who were involved in the construction of this monument. (24.07.2017.)

I found three plaques in three villages, which briefly tell the contribution of that village to the war efforts. The plaques 
From this village 110 men went to the Great War 1914 - 1919. Of these 8 gave up their lives. 
Location: 32°31'31.24"N,  72° 8'14.17"E. (24.07.2017.) 

Village "Dara", the community guest house, that holds this plaque. (24.07.2017.) 

Front view of the Dara. (24.07.2017.)
A beautiful view of the Soon Valley. (24.07.2017.)

Clouds on the hills.  (24.07.2017.)

Beauty of the Soon Valley.  (24.07.2017.)

Sabral (Sabhral)
From this village 127 men went to the Great War 1914 - 1919. Of these 5 gave up their lives. 
Location: 32°33'32.89"N,   72° 7'13.42"E. (24.07.2017.) 

Front view of the building, a private baithhak, guest room. (24.07.2017.)

From this village 169 men went to the Great War 1914 - 1919. Of these 10 gave up their lives. 
Location: 32°32'49.85"N,  72° 5'29.35"E. (24.07.2017.) 

Back of the school, where the plaque is fixed. (24.07.2017.)

A view of the Kufri. 

Monument at Pind Sawika:  32°46'3.64"N,  73°21'49.62"E. (District Jhelum)

Pind Sawikka (Pind Sawika), district Jhelum. 
From this village 130 men went to the Great War 1914 - 1919. Of these 4 gave up their lives.
Above 2 Photos By: Mr Talha Barkaat @ Google Earth

Monumnet At Lehri, district Jhelum.   33° 9'1.22"N,  73°33'31.29"E. 
Photo By: Mr Jawad Haider Kayani @ Google Earth

A website gives the contribution of all the three major communities of undivided Punjab as thus:
By the end of the war that began in 1915, undivided Punjab had provided some 3.7 lakh recruits, including 1.9 lakh Muslims, around 97,000 Sikhs and 83,000 Hindus, historian David Omissi writes in his book "Sepoy and the Raj".

A website "" gives the following information about the contribution of this region to the war efforts:

1. The first Asian Victoria Cross winner was Subedar Khan from what is now Pakistan on the Western Front, WW1.

2. The first Asian unit to arrive in France during WW1 was the Lahore Division, named after a large city in what is now Pakistan.

3. The first wave of the Lahore Division to see combat on the Western Front was made up of 75% men from Mirpur, Attock, Rawalpindi, Kotli and Jhelum districts from what is now Pakistan.

4. The first Asian casualty and medal awarded on the Western Front was to Sepoy Usman Khan in 1914, from what is now Pakistan.

5. The first district in Asia on the list of WW1 war dead was Rawalpindi with 1,336 men dead in what is now Pakistan.

6. The first village in number of men contributed to WW1 from Asia was Dulmial, in what is now Pakistan, with 460 men and 9 killed in action.

It is often claimed that the Indian army was the biggest volunteer force in history. But there are indications that all of those recruited did not come voluntarily. Although there were offered some incentives like, a regular salary, no matter how meagre; and allotment of agricultural land at the end of service, appeal to honour etc. But in addition to that, some coercion was also employed. For this purpose influential people like big landlords, religious leaders or land revenue officials were employed and given certain targets to achieve. 

WWI was a war brutal to an extreme and all the participants suffered immensely. I came across a website that sheds some light on the feelings of the general public about this war and the pain felt by the participants and also their families.

Don’t go don’t go
Stay back my friend.
Crazy people are packing up,
Flowers are withering and friendships are breaking.
Stay back my friend.
Allah gives bread and work
You wouldn’t find soothing shades anywhere else.
Don’t go my friend don’t go.

My husband, and his two brothers
All have gone to laam. [l’arme]
Hearing the news of the war
Leaves of trees got burnt.
War destroys towns and ports, it destroys huts
I shed tears, come and speak to me
All birds, all smiles have vanished
and the boats sunk
Graves devour our flesh and blood
He wears a tusser shirt
O train, move slowly
You have a passenger bound for Basra
The sand is hot in the cauldron
Germany stop the war
We do not need it
Trees by the roadside
Wicked Germany, stop the war
There are widows in every household
Potholes on the roads
Poor people’s sons were killed in Basra
In the morning I saddled the horse
For the Basra expedition
Alas, I couldn’t talk to him to my heart’s content
The string flew with the kite
May God forgive me
Germany is on the offensive
The English wouldn’t be able to do anything
May God forgive me
Mothers’ sons have gone to the laam in the foreign lands
May Allah end the laam, my children
May the Five Souls of the Prophet’s family guard you
May Allah bring you back home safe.
Indian soldiers served at many fronts in Europe, Africa and The Middle East. In the above song, Basra is mentioned thrice, because almost half of them served in the present day Iraq and the Basra was the sea port and the point of disembarkation. It also reminded me of my maternal grandmother, Feroz Bibi. Who though not educated, was a very intelligent woman with a sharp memory and good understanding of current affairs. She told me many stories of old warriors, especially of those who participated in the WW II. She was even aware of creation of Azad Hind Fauj after the debacle of Singapore in WWII. In her words some soldier became Baaghis, i.e rebels. Her father Wali Muhammad, himself was a soldier and went to Iraq during the WW I. Once she told me about his father that he was very anxious and worried about the fact that he had had to fight against a Muslims  in Iraq. He said "How would I fire in the direction of Baghdad"? (Baghdad is considered a holy city by many Muslims, because of many shrines, including that of Imam Abu Hanifa and Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani) Unfortunately, I don't have more information about his wartime experiences. She, however, told me that after the war he brought a dinner set of Chinaware,  a novelty at that time. He died in 1950. My maternal grandmother was born around 1927/28 and died in 2009. May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Photographer: Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud 
Year: 1917
Location: France
Description: A group of colonial soldiers from the Punjab region of India, pose for a photograph in France, 1917.
Source: Centenary News

A vast majority of those who went to war from present day Pakistan were Punjabis, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. But the participation of Pakhtuns living on the north west frontier of India was also significant. They fought on many fronts, with their characteristic bravery and many of them earned medals and praise for their outstanding performance. One of such heros was Subedar Mir Dast. He was born in Tirah in 1874 and died in Peshawar in 1945. He was awarded Vitoria Cross for displaying great brave on the western front in Belgium, in 1915.

Subedar Mir Dast, VC. (1874 - 1945)

 Mir Dast receiving the Victoria Cross from George V, August 1915

I am sure that there would be many more such plaques and monuments commemorating WW I and I request my readers to help to find them. But what about WW II? Actually, after the end of the First World War, the British Empire was at its zenith and they built monuments big and small all over the world, to celebrate their victory. However, after the WW II the sun was fast setting and an exhausted and receding empire was in no position and mood to construct memorials, at least in a country like India, which they themselves were in a hurry to leave.

Tariq Amir

August 23, 2017.Doha - Qatar.