Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

31 October 2014

Award of Victoria Cross to Khudadad Khan

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the award of the Victoria Cross to the first soldier of the Indian Army.  Born in 1888, in the village of Dab in the Chakwal District of the Punjab, Sepoy Khudadad Khan was a machine gunner in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis. 

  VC Sepoy N10013-75
Sepoy Khudadad Khan from  The Indian Corps in France ... With portraits, illustrations and maps, etc. John Walter Beresford Merewether and Frederick Edwin Smith (London, 1917).  NocImages Online

The action in which Khudadad was to be awarded the VC took place during the First Battle of Ypres, in which the Allied forces attempted to prevent a German advance to the coast to seize possession of the Channel ports and cut the British supply lines. The 129th Baluchis were part of the Lahore Division, which reached Marseille at the end of September 1914, and were immediately put into the front line near the strategically important town of Ypres. In this opening stage of the First World War, the very static trench warfare which was to characterise the conflict on the Western Front had not yet developed, and the front line was very fluid. Communications were difficult, the terrain was water-logged and offered little natural protection, and small units could easily find themselves surrounded by enemy positions.

  Indian VC ior!l!mil!17!5!2415_f006v
IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2415 Noc

On 31 October 1914, the 129th Baluchis were engaged in heavy fighting around the Belgian village of Hollebeke, in the course of which two machine gun crews of the Regiment were cut off. One of the machine guns was destroyed by a shell, and its crew killed or wounded. A short time later, the British officer Captain Dill was severely wounded. Despite being wounded himself, Khudadad kept working his gun with the other men of his gun detachment until they were rushed by the enemy in overpowering numbers. All were killed except Khudadad, who was left for dead. Amazingly Khudadad survived this attack, and under the cover of darkness was able to crawl back to the safety of the Regiment.

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Example of Victoria Cross - Foster 4280  Images Online Noc


The other members of Khudadad’s machine gun crew were posthumously honoured. Havildar Ghulam Mahomed was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, while Sepoys Lal Sher, Said Ahmed, Kassib and Lafar Khan were awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medals. Captain Dill was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The 129th Baluchis fought in several battles during the First World War, including at Neuve Chapelle, suffering a devastating 3585 casualties out of the 4447 men who served in the Regiment during the war.

Khudadad was treated for his injuries at one of the Indian hospitals in Brighton. He survived the War, and returned to India. He died in Pakistan in 1971.

John O’Brien
Curator, India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:

The V.C. and D.S.O. A complete record of all those officers, non-commissioned officers and men of His Majesty’s Naval, Military and Air Forces who have been awarded these decorations from the time of their institution, with descriptions of the deeds and services which won the distinctions and with many biographical and other details, edited by the late Sir O'Moore Creagh and E. M. Humphris (London: Standard Art Book Co., 1924)

A Matter of Honour. An account of the Indian Army, its officers and men., by Philip Mason (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974)

The Fourth Battalion, Duke of Connaught's Own, Tenth Baluch Regiment in the Great War, (129th D.C.O. Baluchis), by W S Thatcher (Cambridge: Univ Press, 1932) [Reference: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/4301]

Alphabetical list of recipients of the Victoria Cross during the campaign from August 1914 to 30th April 1920 (War Office, 1920): IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2415

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Lives of the First World War 


29 October 2014

The Waste-Paper Basket of Verse

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After our post on the fascination of newspaper notices, we turn to the gems found in the pages of official directories. The Calendar for the Royal Engineering College at Coopers Hill 1902-1903 has copious advertisements for clothing and equipment thought likely to appeal to young engineers embarking on a career in India. It also contains a list of books issued by Harrison and Sons, the publishers of the Calendar. This is a splendid assortment, including

• Bicycle Gymkhana and Musical Rides

• Crecy and Calais from the Public Records

• Dress Worn by Gentlemen at His Majesty’s Court

• The Service for the Consecration of a Church and Altar, according to the Coptic Rite

• Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing for the Labouring Classes

• Peeps at Portugal

• Protoplasm, Physical Law and Life

• The Waste-Paper Basket – a book of humorous verse by H J Jennings.


This last book caught my eye. Favourable reviews were quoted:

“The work is smart, learned in some places, and in almost every instance amusing and laughable” – Dundee Courier

“Mr Jennings is the possessor of a pretty wit” – The Outlook

“Clever fin de siècle poems” – The Citizen

“The contents of ‘The Waste-Paper Basket’ are wonderfully clever, and should make London chuckle and even roar with glee. Whoever is out of sorts should take a dive into it and be healed” – Glasgow Herald

Waste Paper Basket
Cover of The Waste-Paper Basket by H J Jennings

How could I resist looking at this book? Let me share with you the titles and opening lines of a few of the poems in The Waste-Paper Basket. 

Lines to a Boarding House Egg
Thou dubious feature of the morning meal!
Thou hesitating link ‘twixt new and old!
Not always downright bad like those that make
The candidate his nasal organ hold,
Or fragrant asafoetida suggest;
Yet never fresh as taken from the nest;
But hovering round uncertain age, -
Loath to assume too juvenile a look,
Or lag upon the gastronomic stage,
Filling with mirth the grim sardonic cook.

“Sweet Violets”
They talk of the perfume of roses, of jasmine and eau de Cologne,
But where is the perfume, my Onion, that ever surpasses thy own?
Distil me no ottos and extracts if I, with olfactory pride,
Can inhale thy beneficent odour, au naturel, roasted, or fried.

In Praise of Baldness
“Call no man fortunate until he’s dead,”
Or knows, at least, the joy of a bald head.
Luxuriant hair has had its vogue, no doubt,
And been by silly poets raved about;
‘Tis even true, that inexperienced girls
Will sometimes dote on hyacinthine curls;
Indifferent to the brains that cogitate,
They spurn the merits of a shiny pate.

Are you chuckling?  Feeling inclined to roar with glee? Or perhaps a baffled smile?

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

Further reading:

Calendar  -Royal Indian Engineering College, Coopers Hill

H J Jennings, The Waste-Paper Basket (1901)

Henry James Jennings (d.1921) was a newspaper editor and the author of a variety of books ranging from biography to poetry.  See Explore the British Library for his work.


27 October 2014

Newspaper notices- a window into the past

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Looking for an ancestor?  Or land sales?  Or would you like to know how people felt 100 years ago? Read the newspapers!  And don’t limit yourself only to the main headings.  Go to the ‘boring’,  the ‘why bother flicking to the end’ and the ‘no one reads it anyway’ part – the notices.  You will probably learn more about the past than from the headlines or editor’s comments. The Tribune published in Lahore gives account of the daily issues the locals were facing.  And they were probably much more important than the latest news from Paris or New York.

The Punjab Mental Hospital wanted to outsource the delivery of milk from 1 April 1926 to 31 March 1927. The required five maunds had to be as fresh as possible, so the cows of the successful applicant had to be kept in accommodation provided on the Hospital premises. It was clearly a buyers’ market, as the Medical Superintendent Captain T. H. Thomas wanted a deposit of 1000 rupees and milk tests to be conducted daily.  He retained the right to reject any applicant without giving a reason.

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Add.Or.1427  Images Online      Noc

The Swasthya Sahaya Pharmacy at Alipore was giving away freebies. Anyone interested in Sexual Science by Rai Sahib Dr Dass (sic) could just drop by.  The Huston Brothers went even further and their booklet Life after Death was for those who lost their manhood ‘through follies, abuses and excesses’.  This scientific remedy brought domestic happiness without any drugs or medicines.

Equipped with the booklet a man, now fully assured, could check the matrimonial notices.  A girl from a Khatri family, well-educated and well-versed in household work, was just looking for a suitable husband.  Girls and their families could also find a match in the local paper.  A ‘robust young Saraswat Brahmin’ with a permanent commission in the Indian Army was available. It was not that easy though – an interview was absolutely essential. Want more choice? The Lahore Hindu Marriage Bureau had suitable candidates for a spouse – a fifteen year old daughter of a Rai Sahib; a seventeen year  old daughter of a retired shopkeeper;  a bachelor with an income of 1000 rupees and property of five laks; or a handsome chap who just returned from England.

In April 1926 Godar Mall, a clerk at the Arsenal at Rawalpindi ,changed his name to Gian Parkash.  He wanted to inform his relatives and friends that from now on they should address him this way.

Ghulam Mustfa of Bhera announced that Nazool land will be sold on public auction on 17 February 1926 at the Rest House at Bhera.  

C. H. Rice of the Forman Christian College had an unclaimed bicycle. Want it back?  Show the proper documents!

The most interesting notice I need to quote in full:
The General Public is hereby informed that my son Mahla Ram, since over a year and a half has become a vagabond and do not consider him to be a fit person to live in my house. He has no connection whatever with me and with self-acquired property, etc. Those dealing with him will do so at their own risk and I will in no way be accountable nor will my property be. Mahla Ram will be responsible for his own doings and dealings personally. Signed Buta Ram.

Dorota Walker
Reference Specialist, Asian and African Studies   Cc-by

Further reading:
The Tribune, January to April 1926, shelfmark SM 13.