Parkash Singh wins Victoria Cross in forgotten war

Universal carriers and infantry of 10th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment advance 'under fire' during training near Sudbury in Suffolk, 10 June 1942.

Universal carriers and infantry of 10th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment advance ‘under fire’ during training near Sudbury in Suffolk, 10 June 1942.

Universal carriers of the 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars on exercise near Guildford, 23 July 1940. One of the carriers is equipped with an experimental armoured roof.

Universal carriers of the 1st Royal Gloucestershire Hussars on exercise near Guildford, 23 July 1940. One of the carriers is equipped with an experimental armoured roof.

There are few pictures of the campaign in Burma generally available, fewer still of the Indian army during the early part of the campaign. And I could find no pictures of the British army’s Universal carrier in Burma.

Whilst the Wehrmacht relied on horse drawn transport throughout the war the British army was fully motorised from 1939, and a significant contribution to its mobility was made by the Universal carrier, often referred to a ‘bren gun carrier’ which was one of its roles when employed by the infantry.

The British campaign in Burma was a neglected corner of the war, even those participating regarded themselves as the ‘forgotten army’. After the ignominious retreat through Burma to India in 1942, the British were attempting to move onto the offensive.

The Indian army was to distinguish itself in this campaign. Soldiers from the Sikh regiments from the Punjab were to win a series of honours for their bravery, disproportionately more than any other unit in the British forces, relative to their numbers . Parkash Singh was just the first to be awarded the Victoria Cross for action during this campaign:

Jemadar Parkash Singh VC

Jemadar Parkash Singh VC

On the 6th January, 1943, at Donbaik, Mayo Peninsula, Burma, when two Carriers had been put out of action, Havildar Parkash Singh drove forward in his own Carrier and rescued the two crews under very heavy fire. At the time, the crews of the disabled Carriers had expended their ammunition and the enemy were rushing the two disabled Carriers on foot.

This N.C.O.’s timely and courageous action, entirely on his own initiative, saved the lives of the crews and their weapons.

On the 19th January, 1943, in the same area, three Carriers were put out of action by an enemy anti-tank gun and lay on the open beach covered by enemy anti-tank and machine-gun fire. One of these Carriers was carrying the survivors of another Carrier in addition to its own crew. Havildar Parkash Singh, on seeing what had happened, went out from a safe position in his own Carrier, and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, rescued the combined crews from one disabled Carrier, together with the weapons from the Carrier.

Having brought the crews to safety, he again went out on the open beach in his Carrier, still under very heavy anti-tank and machine-gun fire and with the utmost disregard for his personal safety, dismounted and connected a towing chain on to a disabled Carrier containing two wounded men. Still under fire, he directed the towing of the disabled Carrier from under enemy fire to a place of safety.

Havildar Parkash Singh’s very gallant actions, entirely on his own initiative, were an inspiration to all ranks both British and Indian.

Universal carrier of 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment being ferried across a river near Tanfield in Yorkshire using assault boats and pontoons by men of 16th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, 10 June 1942.

Universal carrier of 53rd Anti-Tank Regiment being ferried across a river near Tanfield in Yorkshire using assault boats and pontoons by men of 16th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, 10 June 1942.

A flamethrower mounted in a Universal carrier in action during a demonstration of flame weapons in Scotland, March 1942.

A flamethrower mounted in a Universal carrier in action during a demonstration of flame weapons in Scotland, March 1942.

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