b. 30/12/1917 Nepal. d. 12/12/2010 London.
Lachhiman Gurung (1917-2010) was born in the village of Dakhani, in the Tanahu District of Nepal, the son of Partiman Gurung, on 30th December 1917. He enlisted in December 1940 and after completing basic training was recruited into the 8th Gurkha Rifles. Of small build (he stood just 4ft 11in tall), he was under the minimum height and would not have been accepted in peacetime.
At the end of April 1945, the 89th Indian Brigade of 7th Division was ordered to cross the Irrawaddy and destroy the enemy north of the Prome-Taungup road. By May 9 the Japanese, after a series of desperate attacks, had broken off contact and were withdrawing towards the Taungdaw Valley. “B” and “C” companies of the 4th/8th Gurkha Rifles were positioned to block their route at the village of Taungdaw, on the west bank of the river.
When the Japanese arrived, the two Gurkha companies were surrounded and their lines of communication cut. On the night of May 12, Rifleman Gurung was manning the forward post of his platoon almost 100 yards ahead of the main company. At 1.20am, more than 200 Japanese attacked the company position. The brunt of the assault fell on Gurung’s section and, in particular, on his post, which dominated a jungle track leading up to his platoon’s position. Had the enemy been able to overrun it and occupy Gurung’s trench, they would have secured control over the whole of the field before them.
One grenade fell on the lip of Gurung’s trench. He quickly grabbed it and hurled it back at the enemy. Almost immediately another grenade came over. This one fell directly inside the trench. Again Gurung snatched it up and threw it back. A third grenade landed just in front of the trench. Gurung attempted to throw it back, but it exploded in his hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his right arm and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg. His two comrades were also badly wounded and lay helpless in the bottom of the trench.
The enemy, screaming and yelling, now formed up shoulder to shoulder and attempted to rush the position by sheer weight of numbers. Gurung, regardless of his wounds, loaded and fired his rifle with his left hand and kept up a steady rate of fire. The attacks came in wave after wave, but the Japanese were beaten back with heavy losses. For four hours Gurung remained alone at his post, calmly waiting for each new onslaught, firing into his attackers at point blank range, determined not to yield an inch of ground. His comrades could hear him shouting: “Come and fight a Gurkha!”
The following morning, of the 87 enemy dead found in the company’s immediate locality, 31 lay in front of Gurung’s section. The Japanese made repeated attempts to break through, but the 4th/8th held out until May 15, when they were relieved. Gurung later said: “I had to fight because there was no other way. I felt I was going to die anyway, so I might as well die standing on my feet. All I knew was that I had to go on and hold them back. I am glad that helped the other soldiers in my platoon, but they would have all done the same thing.”
Gurung was invested with the Victoria Cross by Lord Louis Mountbatten at a parade at the Red Fort in Delhi on December 19th 1945. After the action in which he won the Victoria Cross, Gurung was evacuated to hospital, but lost his right hand and the use of his right eye. He continued to serve with the 8th Gurkha Rifles but transferred to the Indian Army after Independence in 1947. He retired in the rank of havildar (the equivalent of sergeant) in the same year. Gurung married soon afterwards and had two sons and a daughter. Later, after the death of his wife, he had two sons from a second marriage.
He farmed a two-acre plot and owned several buffalo, oxen, goats and cows. In 1995 the VC and GC Association provided the Gurkha Welfare Trust with £2,000 donated by the Armourers and Brasiers’ Livery Company, and these funds were used to build a new house for Gurung and his family near the Gurkha Welfare Centre at Chitwan.
In August 1995 Gurung was received at 10 Downing Street by the Prime Minister, John Major, who presented him with a cheque for £100,500 for the Gurkha Welfare Trust. In 2008 Gurung became closely involved in the campaign to allow Gurkhas to settle in Britain. The British government had refused entry to the 2,000 Gurkhas who had retired before July 1997, the date when their base was moved to the UK from Hong Kong.
Five claimants — including a Falklands veteran, Lance-Corporal Gyanendra Rai; a Gulf War veteran, Birendra Man; and a Gurkha widow — launched a legal challenge, supported by Lachhiman Gurung and a fellow winner of the VC, Honorary Lieutenant Tul Bahadur Pun, then aged 87. Both men had been told that they would not be allowed to settle here because they had failed to “demonstrate strong ties” to the UK. In the High Court in September 2008, however, Mr Justice Blake said that the policy should be reviewed, referring to the “Military Covenant undertaken by every British soldier by which, in return for their pledge to make the ultimate sacrifice, they are promised value and respect”. He added: “Rewarding distinguished service by the grant of residence in the country for which the service was performed would be a vindication of this covenant.” As the judge rose after his ruling, Gurkhas and their supporters shouted their battle cry “Ayo gorkhali”.
In May 2009 the government announced that all Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years’ service would be allowed to settle in Britain. Even as this victory was secured, however, Gurung was appealing to the Queen and the Prime Minister for his 20-year-old granddaughter, Amrita, who had been facing deportation, to be allowed to stay in Britain to care for him. “I have paid a great price for Britain,” Gurung said, “but I do not complain as I love this country as much as I love my family. However, in my last days I ask Her Majesty the Queen to help by allowing my granddaughter to be with me and at my side.” The Home Office relented, and granted her permission to stay.
In 2008 Gurung had settled at Hounslow, to which he was formally welcomed at a ceremony led by the mayor and the council; he was later made a Freeman of the Borough. He attended many functions of the Nepalese communities in Hounslow and elsewhere, and was honorary vice-president of the Chiswick branch of the Royal British Legion. He then moved into the Chiswick War Memorial Homes. Lachhiman Gurung VC died there on 12th December 2010 aged 92 of pneumonia, and was buried in Chiswick New Cemetery. He left his second wife and five children. His medals were donated to the 4th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: 4TH BATTALION, 8TH GURKHA RIFLES, INDIA.
BURIAL PLACE: CHISWICK NEW CEMETERY, CHISWICK, LONDON.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Memorial Gates, Constitution Hill