The quest for Victoria Cross

Visiting the grandchildren of Khudadad Khan, the first Muslim soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross, to trace his actions of bravery

The quest for Victoria Cross

About two years back, while on my way to Islamabad, I saw a board at Balkasar interchange mentioning Subedar Khudadad Khan’s village Dab near Chakwal. Subedar Khudadad Khan was the first Asian Muslim soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I.

During the first Battle of Ypres in 1914, the Germans were pushing into Europe with their blitzkrieg and had crushed the Allied frontline -- save a lone sepoy, Khudadad Khan of 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchi. The 26-year-old soldier kept firing a machine gun and was able to hold German forces till reinforcements arrived and the battle was saved for the Allied Forces.

Germans finally overran Khudadad Khan and thought him to be dead. That night he crawled back to his regiment to continue fighting.

Sepoy Khan was awarded Victoria Cross for his gallantry, promoted to the rank of a Subedar, and awarded land in fertile Mandi Bahauddin.

Subedar Khudadad Khan lived the remaining life peacefully in Dab and Mandi Bahauddin. He died in 1971. He is buried in Chak 25 in Mandi Bahauddin.

On my next trip, I exited from Balkasar interchange and went all the way to Talagang trying to find Dab. But I failed to find the village. Nobody in the area knew about the village.

After seeking guidance from some local friends, I was able to locate Dab about 20 minutes from Chakwal on Chakwal-Sohawa Road.

Happy with myself, I knocked on the door of Ali Nawaz, the grandson of Subedar Khudadad Khan, only to find it locked. One outcome of the visit was that I was able to acquire Nawaz’s contact number.

After a few months of scheduling with Ali Nawaz, I, along with friends Ayesha and Niaz, were on my way to Dab to see the Victoria Cross. Khan’s family was very hospitable. They told us that the Victoria Cross medal was with another grandson who lives in Mandi Bahauddin.

When Subedar Khudadad Khan was awarded the medal, he was also awarded land in Gujrat District and Mandi Bahauddin. So, now, half of the family lives in Mandi Bahauddin to manage the awarded land.

One fine evening, I was in Chak 25 in Mandi Bahauddin accompanied by my friend Junaid. Abdul Ghafoor, the grandson of Subedar Khan, welcomed us. He had gathered half of the village at his dera.

We offered our prayers at the grave of Subedar Khudadad Khan. We were shown some old pictures of the soldier - and told that due to some documentary being made by BBC on the family, the medal was in Dab.

In November, Junaid called me from Mandi Bahauddin to inform me that finally he had seen the medal and I could also come to have a glimpse. It was my fifth trip in the quest of Victoria Cross.

Abdul Ghafoor proudly showed us the first Victoria Cross given to a soldier from the subcontinent in World War I. The Victoria Cross medal was neatly exhibited among other medals awarded to Subedar Khudadad Khan.

Abdul Ghafoor hosted us to a sumptuous dinner and talked us through the life of Subedar Khudadad VC.

Finally my quest was over and it was worth it all the way.

Pakistan Army has honoured Subedar Khan by installing his World War I statue at the front of the Army Museum in Rawalpindi. The Baluch regiment also invites the family to various events and celebrations.

As part of centennial celebrations of World War I, the UK government has recently inaugrated 11 commemorative plaques to honour some 175 Victoria Cross awardees of World War I belonging to 11 different countries. Three of them belong to Pakistan, besides Sepoy Khudadad Khan, others are Jemadar Mirdast and Naik Shahamad Khan.

The Pakistan commemorative plaque was recently unveiled at UK embassy Islamabad and shall be gifted to the Pakistan government to be installed at some prominent place.

Subedar Khan’s family was also invited to the UK as a part of the centennial celebrations on World War I.

There is a need to recognise and celebrate the valour of Subedar Khudadad Khan both by Pakistan and United Kingdom. Prominent signboards leading to Dab and Chak 25 as well as a smooth mechanism for public display of Subedar Khan medal and other belongings shall be a good start towards celebrating our heritage.

The quest for Victoria Cross