The quest for Victoria Cross

The year was 1914, the location was Ypres in Belgium and the occasion was World War I. Germans was pushing into Europe with their blitzkrieg and the whole Europe and Great Britain was under tremendous pressure. During the first battle of Ypres, the German juggernaut had crushed the Allied frontline save a lone soldier Sepoy Khudadad of 129 Duke of Connaught’s own Baluch. The twenty six year old soldier kept firing his gun and was alone able to hold German forces till reinforcements arrived and the battle was saved for Allied forces. Khudadad Company was finally overrun by Germans and Germans left him alive considering him dead. He was later able to crawl back to his regiment in the night. Sepoy Khudadad was awarded Victoria Cross for his gallantry, promoted to Subedar, awarded land in fertile Mandi Bahauddin and retired. Subedar Khudadad lived the remaining life peacefully in Dabb and Mandi Bahauddin, died in 1971 and is buried in Chak 25 in Mandi Bahauddin.

It all started about two years back while on my way Islamabad, I saw a board at Balkasar interchange mentioning about Subedar Khudadad’s village ‘Dabb’ near Chakwal. Subedar Khudadad’s claim to fame being the first Asian and Muslim soldier to be awarded Victoria Cross in World War I. On my next trip, I exited from Balkasar interchange and went all the way to Talagang trying to find ‘Dabb’ village however while I failed to find ‘Dabb’, I did find the amazing ‘Food valley’ restaurant conveniently nestled in a rolling mountains landscape. Nobody in the area knew about Dabb village.

After guidance from some local friends, I set out again for Chakwal. I was able to finally find Dabb village about twenty minutes from Chakwal on Chakwal Sohawa Road. Happy with myself, I knocked on the door of Ali Nawaz, the grandson of Subedar Khudadad, only to find it locked. However now I had the contact number of Ali Nawaz. After a few months of scheduling with Ali Nawaz, I was again on my way to Dabb village to see the Victoria Cross. I along with friends Ayesha and Niaz were now sitting in the drawing room of Subedar Khudadad’s family. The family was very hospitable however they politely told us that the Victoria Cross medal is with another grandson who lives in Mandi Bahauddin. The story goes like that when Subedar Khudadad was awarded the medal; he was also awarded two squares of land in the fertile colony District of Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin and now half of the family lives in Mandi Bahauddin to manage the awarded land. It was my third trip and I had yet to see the medal.

So Mandi Bahauddin, it was. Luckily for me, Mandi Bahauddin is again on Lahore Islamabad motorway and a civil servant friend was posted there. So one fine evening I was in Chak 25 in Mandi Bahauddin accompanied by my friend Junaid. Abdul Ghafoor the grandson of Subedar Khudadad was again very welcoming and he had gathered half of the village at his dera. We offered our prayers at the grave of Subedar Khudadad; we were shown some old pictures of the soldier however Abdul Ghafoor told us that due to some documentary being made by BBC on the family, the medal was currently in Dabb.

In November, Junaid called from Mandi Bahauddin to tell that finally he has seen the medal and I could also come to have a glimpse of the historical medal. It was my fifth trip in the quest of Victoria Cross and I reached Abdul Ghafoor’s home in Mandi Bahauddin. Abdul Ghafoor proudly showed us the first Victoria Cross given to a soldier from the sub continent in World War I. The Victoria Cross medal was neatly exhibited among other medals awarded to Subedar Khudadad. 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 honored Subedar Khudadad by installing his World War II statue at the front of Army Museum Rawalpindi. The Baluch regiment also invites the family to various events and celebrations. As part of centennial celebrations of World War I, UK Government has recently inaugrated 11 commemorative plaques to honor some 175 Victoria Cross awardees of World War I belonging to 11 different countries. Three of them belong to Pakistan and besides Sepoy Khudadad Khan, include Jemadar Mirdast and Naik Shahamad Khan. The Pakistan commemorative plaque was recently unveiled at UK embassy Islamabad and shall be gifted to Government of Pakistan to be installed at some prominent place. Subedar Khudadad’s family was also invited to UK as a part of centennial celebrations on World War I. There is a need to recognize and celebrate the valour of Subedar Khudadad both by Pakistan and United Kingdom. Prominent signboards leading to Dabb and Chak 25 as well as a smooth mechanism for public display of Subedar Khudadad’s medal and other belongings shall be a good start towards celebrating our heritage.

Omar Mukhtar lives in Lahore and can be contacted at omarmukhtar16@gmail.com. He blogs at www.countryroads.com.pk.

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