Victoria Cross Holder & Gurkha Justice Campaigner
Lt Tul Bahadur Pun VC was granted British Citizenship in 2007 after a high profile campaign secured his right to live in the UK. He was at the forefront of the Gurkha Justice Campaign - which won the right for all retired Gurkhas to settle in the UK - along with his fellow VC Lachhiman Gurung and the British actress Joanna Lumley. Lt Tul Bahadur Pun VC served as an elite 'Chindit' alongside Joanna Lumley's father, Major James Lumley, in World War II.
In Burma on 23 June 1944, a Battalion of the 6th Gurkha Rifles was ordered to attack the Railway Bridge at Mogaung. Immediately the attack developed the enemy opened concentrated and sustained cross fire at close range from a position known as the Red House and from a strong bunker position two hundred yards to the left of it.
So intense was this cross fire that both the leading platoons of 'B' Company, one of which was Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun's, were pinned to the ground and the whole of his Section was wiped out with the exception of himself, the Section commander and one other man. The Section commander immediately led the remaining two men in a charge on the Red House but was at once badly wounded. Rifleman Tulbahadur Pun and his remaining companion continued the charge, but the latter too was immediately wounded.
Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun then seized the Bren gun and firing from the hip as he went, continued the charge on this heavily bunkered positioned alone, in the face of the most shattering concentration of automatic fire, directed straight at him. With the dawn coming up behind him, he presented a perfect target to the Japanese. He had to move for thirty yards over open ground, ankle deep in mud, through shell holes and over fallen trees.
Despite these overwhelming odds, he reached the Red House and closed with the Japanese occupants. He killed three and put five more to flight and captured two light machine-guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire from the bunker to the remainder of his platoon which enabled them to reach their objective.
His outstanding courage and superb gallantry in the face of odds which meant almost certain death were most inspiring to all ranks and beyond praise.
Extract from London Gazette, 9th November, 1944
'I picked it up and jumped into the midst of the enemy...'
Lt Tul Bahadur Pun VC in his own words
The passage below is from a Nepali book, 'Lahure ka Katha' (Soldiers' Stories), published by Himal Books, extracts were translated into English by Dev Bahadur Thapa and serialised in the Nepali Times - our thanks to Gurkhas.com for their transcription of the original article.
We were pinned down in the open fields. I was leading my platoon and was in the extreme right corner and the section commander was in the middle. Everyone else was killed, I escaped because I was on the edge. The platoon sergeant hid behind a mango trunk and escaped. He called and asked me to leave my weapon, take a gun and charge. I looked to the right and left and found no trace of anyone, they had all been killed. I was the lone survivor and it was clear I would also be killed.
I raised my head, and the enemy spotted me. I jumped forward twice to reach where the section commander’s gun was lying. I picked it up and jumped into the midst of the enemy, firing at all sides until they were all killed. A little distance away there was a bunker and a circular sentry post. Four enemy soldiers were in the process of loading their guns. When I jumped in among them, they were surprised and couldn’t figure out what to do. I pulled the trigger, but had run out of ammo. They were advancing when I threw a grenade into the trench and killed them all off.
There were artillery pieces and machine guns all around. Suddenly the British officer who was with us when we captured the bridge appeared. He had been hit by a bullet and was imploring me to take him away. He instructed me to retreat by crawling. I managed to hide myself, and in this position I was unhurt when the enemies started firing with machine guns. Not one of our troops raised their heads as the battleground was so flat that nothing could escape the enemy’s notice.
I was in a dilemma. The bullets were very close, yet I didn’t know how to get to them. A British regiment was fighting close by, firing at the enemy posts. In one leap, I got to the ammunition boxes and threw them inside the bunker. Since they contained cartridges on a belt, I wrapped the belt around my body, then starting loading the bullets. Each stripe could take 30 bullets. First I tried to throw hand grenades at the enemy, but they kept bouncing back and exploding behind me, no matter how hard I threw them. I kept reloading and firing. There was uninterrupted firing from the other side, which destroyed part of my hideout. After five or six attempts, I hit the enemy and the firing from his side stopped.
I raised my head and saw him lying flat on the ground. I went to the edge of the bunker to take his gun, but found there was a wire mesh in front of him to protect him from grenades. That is why all my grenades were bouncing back. I took out my khukuri and cut through the mesh. As I was snatching the gun off the fallen man, two enemy soldiers came up from behind and tried to capture me. I had left my weapon outside, and all I had at my disposal was the khukuri. I beheaded one of them and hit the second one on his shoulder and I had to cut him several times before he also died. Suddenly, a third enemy appeared, but I cut him with my khukuri too. Others from the trench followed, but I kept slashing them with my khukuri. When there were too many of them, I took out another grenade and threw it at them. There was some rustling, and then it was all quiet.
I was pulling out my gun again when our commanding officer, a short man, appeared and said, “Well done, Pun”. He asked if I was all right, and I replied that everything was not all right. I told him that there were quite a lot of enemies inside the trench. He promised to send the flame-thrower, then vanished. On the lower side there was a British regiment which sent a flame-thrower. The flame even keeps burning on water, and if it falls on stone or iron it just turns them into soil. This weapon is best for trench warfare. The fire is so dangerous that if it falls on cloth or a piece of flesh, it just sticks to the skin.
Many enemies were roasted alive. Others fled through the passage that we had kept open. However, they didn’t get far. Most only took a few steps and then fell down. The enemy troops were wiped out and we entered the town. There we saw that the enemy troops and our own men in hand-to-hand combat, making it impossible to fire powerful weapons. Some of the soldiers started firing, while others began fighting with their hands like people under the influence of alcohol and a few were buried under stones and bricks. A few were struck with sticks or rifle butts. There was a sense of the confusion one sees during a festival.
This was followed by the harsh sound of a whistle blown by their commander. They stopped fighting and ran away. A whole lot of soldiers who had been taking shelter in the town started escaping by jumping into the river. The water carried about half of them away, but the rest managed to reach the other side. For a while the whole river was covered with human bodies. The civilians had already abandoned the town, and following the flight of the enemy soldiers, we captured the town.
In the evening we had an assembly, when respective commanders discussed strategies for the next day and also assessed who had fought well and which tactics had worked. Reports were collected on who did best in that day’s capture of the town. Our platoon sergeant reported that except for two men, the rest of our platoon had been killed. He mentioned my name, and told them that I had done excellently during the siege of the bridge and also mentioned that I was the first to get into the enemy camp. The commander added that he was present at the time and had seen the event with his own eyes. A strong recommendation letter was written and dispatched to the war office.
On one day I had been assigned to bring the rations, which were carried by mules. When I arrived at the headquarters, a message had arrived from the war office. The clerk on duty took me aside and said, “Pun, one of the soldiers from your company has done an excellent job. I have collected the message. In all probability he will get a gallantry award.” He gave me the message and told me to give it to the company. I glanced at it, and saw my name on it.
The following day, the commander sent for me. I saluted him, and then he patted me on the back and told me he had received the reply to his letter. “Well done!” he said, “You will receive a gallantry award, but I can’t say right now what class of award it will be. Probably you will receive a very high order gallantry award.” At the time, I was an ordinary rifleman. He told me that I had been elevated to the rank of sergeant and asked me to collect soldiers and form a section.
Our assault on the town had taken place on 23 June, 1944. I was awarded the Victoria Cross for our assault on the town that day. Captain Elmond also got a Victoria Cross. A few months later, I received the gallantry award in Delhi from Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was the viceroy of India and the supreme commander of the allied forces in Asia at the time.
The day after the fighting, the camp was cleaned and an inquiry of how many were killed in the assault took place. The attack on the town had cost us the lives of 11 British officers, 17 Gurkha officers and 773 others below the rank of jamadar (Gurkha lieutenant). After this, we reassembled at Dehra Dun and then went home on a two-month paid leave.
Read the complete extract on Gurkhas.com