Jemadar Nand Singh: The astonishing story of Indian soldierly courage and valor

By Mayank Chhaya-

In the runup to August 15 there is so much to remember, celebrate and honor. Here is one profoundly humbling story of Jemadar Nand Singh.

Among the innumerable stories of astonishing Indian soldierly courage and valor that were on display first in aid of the allied powers in the Second World War and then, after India’s independence on August 15, 1947, for a newly minted India.

The one that jumped out is that of Naik/Jemadar Nand Singh (September 24th, 1914 (Bahadur Village, Punjab, India) December 12th, 1947 (Uri/Kashmir.)

It is a great film waiting to be made. Nand Singh won the Victoria cross (VC) during World War II in 1944 and the Maha Vir Chakra in 1947.

According to the National Army Museum, London, his Victoria Cross was for his extraordinary feat of bravery on 11-12 March 1944 on the Maungdaw-Buthidaung Road in Burma.

“Commanding a leading section of the attack, he was ordered to recapture a position gained by the enemy. He led his section up a very steep knife-edged ridge under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and although wounded in the thigh, captured the first trench. He then crawled forward alone and wounded again in the face and shoulder, nevertheless captured the second and third trenches,” according to a description on the museum’s website.

In that war he fought on behalf of the British forces even as the predatory imperialists were still ruling India. Three years and ten months later, as India became independent as well as partitioned amid mind-numbing religious bloodletting, Nand Singh could have easily chosen to hang up his army fatigues and boots. He did not.

Now with a rank of jemadar he was deployed in the southeast hills of Uri in Kashmir where he came upon a Pakistani ambush on December 12, 1947. That was barely four months after independence. There he helped extricate a battalion from the ambush but was killed in action.

For that action he was honored with India’s second highest gallantry award, the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) posthumously.

Here are the VC and MVC citations:

VC Citation:

In Burma on the night of the 11th/12th March, 1944, a Japanese platoon about 40 strong with Medium and Light Machine-Guns and a Grenade Discharger infiltrated into the Battalion position covering the main Maungdaw-Buthidaung road and occupied a dominating position where they dug fox-holes and underground trenches on the precipitous sides of the hill.

Naik Nand Singh commanded the leading section of the platoon which was ordered to recapture the position at all costs. He led his section up a very steep knife-edged ridge under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire.

Although wounded in the thigh he rushed ahead of his section and took the first enemy trench with the bayonet by himself. He then crawled forward alone under heavy fire and though wounded again in the face and shoulder by a grenade which burst one yard in front of him, took the second trench at the point of the bayonet.

A short time later when all his section had been either killed or wounded, Naik Nand Singh dragged himself out of the trench and captured a third trench, killing all the occupants with his bayonet.

Due to the capture of these three trenches the remainder of the platoon were able to seize the top of the hill and deal with the enemy. Naik Nand Singh personally killed seven of the enemy and owing to his determination, outstanding dash and magnificent courage, the important position was won back from the enemy.”

Later promoted to the rank of Jemadar.

MVC Citation:

“On 12 December 1947, he was out on a fighting patrol at Uri against the tribesmen in Kashmir State. The enemy, who was occupying previously prepared bunker position, opened fire on the leading company of the battalion killing 10 men on the spot and wounding another 15. These 15 wounded soldiers were lying within 10 yards of enemy position. The enemy was attempting, under very heavy covering fire, to pull in these casualties and capture their arms and was at the same time carrying out an encircling movement round this position. Counterattacks by the company on these bunkers had failed, resulting in even heavier casualties. Another company was then ordered to attack from the left flank. Jemadar Nand Singh, VC, was commanding one of its forward platoons.

His platoon went into attack like a band of Trojans with himself to the fore. The fire was intense and his men were falling left and right of him. Yet he pressed on. His men followed him shouting cries of “Sat Sri Akal” and closed in on the enemy. He carried on. Fierce hand to-hand fighting ensued. Jemadar Nand Singh was the first to draw blood with his bayonet. Although wounded, he killed five of the enemy. By this fine example, his men were inspired to frenzy and fought like fiends, bayoneting right and left. The enemy broke and fled, but very few of them could escape.

This brave VCO had captured his objective, but as he stood there on top of the bunker, a burst of enemy LMG (light machine gun) hit him in the chest and killed him on the spot. However, his mission had been completed. The valour, leadership and selfless devotion to duty displayed by this son of India in this little action was something that cannot be described, much less matched.

He was VC of the last war and had more than lived up to the reputation of one.”

Nand Singh was cremated in Uri.

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