World War II saw the British Empire still united, with men coming forward from all corners of the globe to volunteer their services. One of the largest contingents of ‘Empire troops’ was the Indian Army, historically a separate formation from the British Army. It is hard to find many personal accounts of the contribution made by the men of Indian Army. Shortly after the war India became independent and there seem to be few memoirs from Indian nationals available in English.
Despite this there are regular mentions throughout the war of the heroism of the Indians then serving the Crown, from North Africa through to Italy and elsewhere. In Burma they were also directly serving Indian interests, because Japan was intent upon invading India.
What for many was an obscure struggle in a remote jungle land, kept surfacing at the top of British official records, because of the actions of individual men:
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—
No. 13068 Sepoy (acting Naik) Nand Singh, 11th Sikh Regiment, Indian Army.
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.
London Gazette 2nd June 1944
Naik was the Indian Army equivalent of Corporal. Nand Singh was to be killed in 1947, when the Indian Army was fighting insurgents from Pakistan, in another heroic action.