Thank you, Younes, for this excellent account of Lala Ram, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 21 January 1916:
A century ago today, Lance Naik Lala Ram, from the Himachal Pradesh District (in what now makes up part of northern India), earned his Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery for his actions at the Battle of Hanna, in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).
What was Lala doing there?
Britain wanted to maintain its oil interests in the Persian Gulf and dispatched Indian Expeditionary Force D (IEFD) to do so. As time went on, however, the objective changed and IEF D then hoped to occupy southern Mesopotamia, including Baghdad. Within a year they had reached the town of Ctesiphon, 16 miles south-east of Baghdad.
Having joined the Indian Army in 1901, Lala fought in France in 1914, where he contracted trench foot. After being sent to recover in Brighton, he went to the Middle East, initially stationed on the Suez Canal in Egypt.
Lala’s regiment, the 41st Dogras, arrived, along with the rest of the 7th (Meerut) division and the 3rd (Lahore) Division, in southern Mesopotamia in January 1916 as a relief force. Their aim was to aid the 8000 besieged British Indian soldiers, mostly from the 6th (Poona) Division, in the town of Kut-al-Amara. Ottoman forces had forced British-Indian soldiers to retreat after their defeat at the battle of Ctesiphon in November 1915 and had pursued them south to Kut-al-Amara, 100 miles south of Baghdad.
What happened at the Battle of Hanna?
The Battle of Hanna was the third attempt in January to reach the town of Kut and the British and Indian forces besieged there. The British suffered over 2,500 casualties, with little medical care available and in freezing temperatures. Lala’s actions at Hanna can only be described as courageous, compassionate and ultimately, hugely loyal to his fellow soldiers.
Coming across a British officer from another regiment, heavily injured and lying dangerously close to the Ottomans, Lala dragged the wounded man to safety and bound up his wounds with bandages. The wounded man had company: Lala, in his compassion, had already done the same for four other soldiers, who took refuge in a shelter which he improvised to protect them from the worst of the cold. And he didn’t stop there – hearing the cries from an officer of his own regiment, he sought him out and returned with him, and the five other men, to the main trenches.
Although the British ended up losing Kut-al-Amara and retreated further South, Lance Naik Lala Ram’s actions were remembered and appreciated. The War Savings stamp which illustrates this article was one of a ‘V.C. Series’ promoted Lala to the British public, along with other soldiers who received the award. A recent commemorative postal stamp featuring Kulbir Thapa, a Gurkha who won his VC in France in 1915, aims to give similar publicity to South Asian soldiers today. Here’s hoping!