Published in the Obituaries section of The Times,
Wednesday October 16 1996.
Gian Singh, VC, who won
the decoration in Burma in March 1995, died in Jullundur, Punjab,
on October 6 aged 76.
He was born on October 5, 1920. In a
display of personal bravery - allied with tactical acumen - which
stands out even in the extraordinary annals of the Victoria Cross,
Gian Singh overwhelmed singlehanded a series of Japenese stringpoints
during the hard fighting for the Irrawaddy port of Myingyan in the
spring of 1945. Although it was a victory achieved
only at platoon level, Singh's action had an inspiring effect on
those around him which was of incalculable value at a time when
General Messervy's Corps was experiencing increasing difficulities
as its columns
pressed on towards Myingyan.
The approach to Myingyan was across a flat,
sandy plain. Dust clouds revealed every movement of armour and infrantry
to the enemy who was strongly dug in with his rearguards well protected
by cleverly sited artillery. Dry gullies and deep ravines lay at
right angles across the line of advance, denying passage to tanks.
Many of these were screened by thick undergrowth and afforded ample
opportunities to ambush the attacking forces.
On March 2, 1945, Singh's unit, the 4th Battalion
15th Punjab Regiment, was advancing down the road between Kamya
and Myingyan when it was pinned down by accurate artillery and machinegun
fire directed at it from a series of strongpoints and foxholes located
in tree-screened positions. Naik (ie corporal, as he was then )
Gian Singh, who was in the leading platoon of his company, perceived
that a nasty situation was developing in which the whole battalion
might well find itself sustaining heavy casualties.
The Japanese defence of their rearward positions
had by this time taken on the semi-suicidal huw which had come to
characterise their operations as the heady victories of 19424 turned
into the bitter defeats of 1944
and 1945. With grenades strapped to their bodies, some Japanese
soldiers were hurling themselves into the midst of British/Indian
units or throwing themselves under lorries and armoured fighting
Summing up the situation with that tactical
intelligence which is instinctive in the finest infantry leaders,
Singh determined to take out the enemy foxholes before they could
inflict the kind of damage that might
seriously affect his battalion's attack. Armed with grenades and
a submachine gun he assailed foxhole after foxhole, subduimg the
defendants with grenades and mopping up with bursts of sub-machinegun
During this breathtaking singlehanded assault,
which astounded all who
witnessed it, Singh was himself hit in the
arm by small arms fire. But he realise that his task was not finished
and refused to go to the rear. A cleverly concealed anti-tank gun
was still giving trouble and he rushed it and killed its crew with
more bursts of fire and further grenades. He then called to the
rest of his section who, much heartened by this robust action, followed
him down the lane along which the battalion had been trying to advance,
clearing enemy positions along both sides of it.
The action, which was in the finest traditions
of the Punjabi regiments of the Indian Army, helped to keep up the
momentum of the assault on Myingyan, which fell later in the month
after further hard fighting. The Myingyan battle was itself a vital
component of the campaign against the railway junction at Meiktila,
whose capture prised loosed the grip of General Honda's Japanese
33rd Army on central Burma.
Singh's VC was gazetted on May 22, 1945. Although
he had sustained quite serious injuries, he refused to be invalided
out of the Army, and insisted on participating in the drive for
Rangoon which concluded the Burma campaign later in the year. During
this he was mentioned in dispatches.
With the partition of India and its Army in
1947, Singh was drafted to the 11th Sikh Regiment in the new Indian
Army. He was to participate in further fighting, during the Chinese
incursion into India of 1962, and later in operations in Kashmir.
In retirement he farmed in Punjab.
A quiet man of great gentleness and charm -
though one of unmistakable military bearing - Gian Singh was devoted
to his family. He greatly enjoyed the reunions of the Victoria Cross
and George Cross Association and only ill-health las year prevented
him from making the journey to London to be present on that occasion.
His wife Hardail Kaur died last year.
He is survived by three sons and two daughters living in this country
(UK) and a son who lives in India.