b. 31/03/1913 Lyallpur, India. d. 23/03/1991 Ealing, London.
Parkash Singh (1913-1991) was born into a Sikh family at Sharikar, in the Lyallipur District in Punjab (now Pakistan) on 31st March 1913. He was brought up on a small farm, where his early life was a little unruly. The local schoolmaster put him in charge of some of the younger boys of the village in the hope he would have a steadying impact, but instead, they formed a highly disciplined gang, roaming the villages and stealing produce from gardens and orchards.
His behaviour was largely tolerated due to his cleverness and athletic ability, and he was very good at the 800 metres. He had managed to matriculate, and the headmaster of the government college in Lyallipur offered him a scholarship, hoping he would proceed to higher education. Parkash had other ideas, however, and first tried to join the Viceroy’s Police, and when he found they had no vacancies, he enlisted in the 8th Punjab Regiment in 1936. The Regiment had a mixture of men of different religions, with two companies of Muslims, one of Sikhs and one of Jat Hindus, commanded by British officers.
At the time Parkash joined they were serving on the North West Frontier, and first saw action when his company was besieged by Pathan tribesmen and lost 60 men, including the CO. Promotion came quickly for the 6ft tall, reserved with immaculate appearance soldier with the All-India record for the 800m.
In late 1942, General Slim decided to launch an offensive in the Arakan District of Burma and to capture Aykub, which had a port and an airfield and would be vital for a springboard of further offensives. The terrain was so rugged that the best vehicle to use was the Bren carrier.
On 6th January 1943, the Bren Gun Carrier Platoon of 5/8th Punjab was attacked by a strong Japanese patrol near Donbaik on the Mayu Peninsula. The Platoon Commander was wounded and was forced to retire, handing over the command to Havildar Parkash Singh. Parkash Singh noticed two other carriers bogged down in a nullah, and under heavy Japanese fire. He immediately rushed to the rescue of the stricken carriers; calling on their crews to abandon the vehicles and run for safety while he provided covering fire. When his Bren gunner was wounded, he took control of the gun from him, and charged towards the enemy. Driving with one hand and firing the Bren gun with the other, he drove them out of their fixed positions. As he returned to pick the crews of the stranded carriers, he came under heavy enemy fire, but calmly rescued all eight men. On 19th January, the battalion carriers again came under heavy anti-tank fire in the same area, and several of them were destroyed including that of the Platoon Commander. The crews of the destroyed vehicles were given up for dead, and the rest of the carriers withdrew. But Parkash Singh wanted to see for himself if there were any survivors among the burning wrecks. Driving down the beach under intense enemy fire, he found the officer and his driver in their badly damaged carrier. The men were too badly injured to be moved, so Parkash Singh decided to tow their vehicle to safety. Despite the order of his Platoon Commander to go back and save himself, the fearless NCO rigged a makeshift tow chain and secured it to the damaged carrier, all the time exposed to enemy fire, and then towed it back to safety.
The VC was conferred on Parkash Singh by the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow at the Red Fort in Delhi, and soon afterwards he was commissioned as a Jemadar and then as a Subedar. On his homecoming the Punjab Government granted him 64 acres of land, and a marriage was arranged for him with a suitable local girl. The marriage turned out to be successful. On the Partition of India in 1947, the Sikhs in his Regiment (who went to Pakistan), believed they belonged in India, and Parkash was put in charge of all the wives and children as they made their way with difficulty to Jalandhar, where he was given 64 acres of land to compensate for that he had left behind.
He retired from the Army in 1968 with the rank of Major. He had four children, all girls, and became a prosperous farmer and took an active part in local affairs, in which his wisdom and tolerance were valued. In 1985, he made a great impression when he appeared in “For Valour”, John Percival’s programme for Thames Television about the Victoria Cross. Parkash died on 23rd March 1991, whilst in Ealing, London. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, London and his ashes scattered. His medals were placed on loan to the Imperial War Museum by his family and are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: GOLDERS GREEN CREMATORIUM, LONDON.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Golders Green Crematorium