22 November 2005

After a long illness the death has been announced in New Delhi of Captain Umrao Singh VC, Royal Indian Artillery. Umrao Singh died on the 21 November 2005 at the Army Research and Referral Hospital, New Delhi, after a prolonged illness. He was cremated at his home village of Palra, Haryana State, on 22 November 2005.

As a havildar ( sergeant ) Umrao Singh was the only non-comissioned officer of either the Royal Artillery or the Indian Artillery to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. Umrao Singh won his award for valour in what all gunners regard as their near-sacred duty - defence of their guns.

By the end of 1944, General Sir William Slim's 14th Army was poised for a right-flank offensive against Lieutenant-General Sakurai Seizo's 28th Japanese Army in the coastal strip between the Irrawaddy and the Bay of Bengal. General Sir Philip Christison's XV Corps of four divisions was given the job. The offensive was launched on 12th December 1944 but fierce resistance was met by the 81st West African Division advancing down the Kaladan valley, every move forward being challenged by japanese counter-attack. The 33 Mountain Battery, Indian Artillery, in which Havildar Umrao Singh was a field gun detachment commander, was subjected to a sustained bombardment from Japanese guns. Singh's VC citation sums up perfectly his heroic action in defending his guns against overwhelming odds.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 31 May 1945 ], Kaladan Valley, Burma, 15 - 16 December 1944, Havildar Umrao Singh, Royal Indian Artillery, Indian Army

In the Kaladan Valley, Burma on 15 / 16 December 1944, Havildar Umrao Singh was in charge of one gun in an advanced section of his battery when it was subjected to heavy fire from 75 mm guns and mortars for one and a half hours prior to being attacked by two Companies of Japanese. When the attack came he so inspired his gun detachment by his personal example and encouragement to fight and defend their gun that they were able to beat off the attack with losses to the enemy.

Though twice wounded by grenades in the first attack, he again held off the second enemy attack by skilful control of his detachment's small arms fire, and by manning a Bren gun himself which he fired over the shield of his gun at the Japanese who had got to within five yards range. Again the enemy were beaten off with heavy losses. Third and fourth attacks were also beaten off in the same manner by the resolute action and great courage of Havildar Umrao Singh. By this time all his gun detachment had been killed or wounded with the exception of himself and two others.

When the final attack came, the other gun having been over-run and all his ammunition expended, he seized a gun bearer and calling once again on all who remained, he closed with the enemy in furious hand-to-hand fighting and was seen to strike down three Japanese in a desperate effort to save his gun, until he was overwhelmed and knocked senseless. Six hours later, when a counter-attack restored the position, he was found in an exhausted state beside his gun and almost unrecognisable with seven severe wounds, and ten dead Japanese round him.

By his personal example and magnificent bravery Havildar Umrao Sing set a supreme example of gallantry and devotion to duty. When recovered, his gun was fit to fire and was in fact in action again and firing later that same day.

Umrao Singh was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 16th October 1945.

Umrao Singh continued his military service after recovery from his injuries and was subsequently promoted subadar-major. He eventually retired from the Indian Army with the honorary rank of captain.

Medal entitlement of Captain Umrao Singh - Royal Indian Artillery, Indian Army

  • Padma Bhusan ( 1954)
  • General Service Medal ( 1947 )
  • Samanya Seva Medal ( 1975 )
  • Samar Seva Star ( 1965 )
  • Raksha Medal ( 1965 )
  • Indian Independance Medal ( 1947 )
  • 20 Years Long Service Medal ( India )
  • 9 Years Long Service Medal ( India )
  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Burma Star
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 ) + MiD Oakleaf
  • India Service Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ( 2002 )

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 22 November 2005