Lance Naik Lala: An epitome of Dogra Valour

Satish Singh Lalotra

” Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities ,because its this quality which guarantees all others…– Sir Winston Churchill.

Seldom in the history of world warfare we come across men who by display of that sublime quality called as ‘Raw courage” distinguish themselves from the ordinary by their sheer act of bravery against all odds. Rare still is this fact to be publically acknowledged by none other than two super powers of that time -The UK and Russia, simultaneously of that super human effort of a humble Indian soldier .Lance Naik Lala of 41st Dogra/ 3 Dogra is the only soldier of India to be honoured by two gallantry awards of two different super powers namely the UK and Russia by their Victoria cross and cross of St George 1st class respectively during the 1st ww. The above2 awards were topped up by Mention in dispatches during the same war. Till date no soldier of India including the common wealth of countries have had the unique distinction of getting bestowed with such rare honour either in the 1st WW or 2nd WW. Born of Dhinga a first grade Zamindar in village Parol , Kangra in Himachal Pradesh in British india on 20th April 1876, Lance Naik Lala was not formally educated ,but was barely literate in Hindi .A good sportsman and a keen footballer , Lance Naik Lala enlisted in the newely raised 41st Dogra regiment in 1901. He had a rich and varied exposure across the globe while soldiering in the British Indian army which took him to distant lands of Chinese coast in 1904/1908 to Suez canal in Egypt , Mesopotamia ,Persian gulf, to name a few. But his crowning glory came calling when he joined his regiment , 41st Dogra (Now 3 Dogra) in Mesopotamia which was the part of Expeditionary force D( DELTA).His unit was drawn into a running battle with the Ottoman Turkish forces for the control of Baghdad in Nov 1915. The force commander General Charles Townshend exhorted his troops to capture Baghdad ,only to be thrown by the Turkish forces back to Kut-Al-Amara about 160 kms from Bagdad, and thus began the infamous siege of Kut ,which culminated in the most humiliating defeat and surrender of complete British Garrison during the 1st WW.
While the siege by the Turkish forces continued ,a large scale reinforcement of British and Indian force was launched from Mesopotamia to break open the siege and relieve the besieged garrison. In one of the desperate assaults by the 41st Dogra Lance Naik Lala won his Victoria cross. The 41st Dogra were part of the assaulting force consisting of 2nd Black watch Battalion,9th Bhopals ,37 Dogra and 6th Jat going on for their objective -The Turkish entrenchments near the ruins of AlOrah on the Tigris river ,close to Hanna defile. Here the assaulting relief force of British /Indian troops numbering 10000( ten thousand),came face to face with the 30000(thirty thousand ) Ottoman 6th army . After a short intense artillery bombardment on January 20/21 1916, the British/ Indian assaulting force attacked the Ottoman defenses .In an advance over open and flooded 600 yards flat terrain / No- mans land and later pouring rain the British attack was repulsed with heavy casualties amounting to 2700 killed. According to the war diary of the expeditionary force Delta ,only 25 men of 41st Dogra reached the enemy trenches . It was in this attack that Lance Naik Lala earned his Victoria cross for having rescued a total of 6 colleagues including 2 British officers shortly after the assault. The citation of Victoria cross in the London Gazette reads…..
“For conspicuous bravery. Finding a British officer of another regiment lying seriously wounded near the enemy trenches ,he dragged him to temporary shelter which he himself had made and in which he already had 4 wounded men .After bandaging his wounds, he heard the cries of call of his own Adjutant who was lying in the open seriously wounded a little away. The enemy was not more than 100 yards distant ,and it seemed certain death to go out in that direction ,but Lance Naik Lala insisted on going out for assisting his adjutant and offered to crawl back with him on his back at once. When this was not permitted ,he stripped of his own clothing to keep the officer warmer ,and stayed with him just before dark, when he returned to his shelter .After dark he carried the first wounded officer back to the main trenches and then returning back with stretcher carried back his adjutant. He set a magnificent example of courage and devotion to his officers.(London Gazette-13 May 1916)’. In fact Lance Naik Lala rescued 6 men including 2 British officers that night including his own adjutant Lt AHE Lindop ,who died later on the operation table ,but not before narrating his saga of valour to a brother officer while being evacuated to the field hospital.
What better can a tribute be than in the words of the Divisional commander Maj Gen Sir George Younghusband ,who commanded the assaulting force relating the events in that great the book…A soldier’s memoirs of peace and war…”A heavy Frontal attack was taking place across the dead flat open ground ,before the Turkish lines which was strongly held.41st Dogra’s attack on the left partially succeeded ,but all along the rest of the Turkish line ,it was held up at a distance from 100 yards to 5oo yards from the Turks. At this moment Lance Naik Lala came across a British Major in his regiment,150 yards from the enemy lines lying completely exposed ,seriously wounded trying to bandage his wound. Lala dragged him a few yards away into a slight depression ,only a few inches deep and there bound up his wounds. While doing so he heard the cries of help coming from the front line of his own adjutant and told the Major… “This is my adjutant sahib calling ,I must go to help him”.No Lala its quite useless you will be shot dead.Just lie down here .I order you not to go.Lala again heard the cries of help ,when in a swift moment Lala jumped and said ,I will be back in a minute and dashed off to his adjutant. This adjutant just before he was being taken to the operating table in the field hospital dictated his account to a brother officer….I was shot down in the open about 100 yards from the enemy and was in great agony. An officer from the Black Watch Battalion who was lying a few yards away from me tried to crawl to my assistance ,but was instantly shot dead. Every time I made a movement bullets would whistle past me or through me . Then came a sepoy to my assistance and he too was shot dead. Then came the rains and a bitter wind sprang up . As I lay in great pain, suddenly Lala appeared from nowhere and lay down beside me with cheering words. First he bound up my wounds and then taking off his own coat spread it over me. Then he lay down length ways so as to protect me from the enemy bullets .For 5( five) hours he lay like that in the wet and cold and all the time cheering me up ,while Turkish fire went around us in a mad frenzy. Encouraging me to keep my spirits up ,As night came he spoke its good sahib very good I have brought some stretcher bearers not very far from here .I will lie flat with you getting on my back and then I will crawl back on my hands and knees to take you away. With great difficulty the adjutant followed his instructions and was brought painfully hundreds of yards to the stretcher bearers. …I must now rush back to fetch the Major and four other wounded men. And this he did without a single bullet or shell touching him. Next day he was as hale and hearty as ever and grinned with great joy when he heard that he was a brave man.”
In addition to the Victoria cross Lance Naik Lala was also awarded the highest Russian bravery award 1ST Class cross of St George at that time.Lala returned to India in 1917 ,but again saw heavy action in 1919in the third Afghan war . He was promoted to the rank of Jemadar in 1923 and retired after 25 years of service in 1926. He returned to his native village Parol in Himachal Pradesh but sadly did not live long after retirement.He died of polio in 1927 . It is said that his last words were …We fought true.