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Ishar Singh (d. 1963) was an Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
- For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th April, 1921, near Haidari Kach (Waziristan). When the convoy protection troops were attacked, this Sepoy was No. 1 of a Lewis Gun Section. Early in the action he received a very severe gunshot wound in the chest, and fell beside his Lewis gun. Hand-to-hand fighting having commenced, the British officer, Indian officer, and all the Havildars of his company were either killed or wounded, and his Lewis gun was seized by the enemy.
- Calling up two other men, he got up, charged the enemy, recovered the Lewis gun, and, although bleeding profusely, again got the gun into action.
- When his Jemadar arrived he took the gun from Sepoy Ishar Singh and ordered him to go back and have his wound dressed. Instead of doing this the Sepoy went to the medical officer, and was of great assistance in pointing out where the wounded were, and in carrying water to them. He made innumerable journeys to the river and back for this purpose. On one occasion, when the enemy fire was very heavy, he took the rifle of a wounded man and helped to keep down the fire. On another occasion he stood in front of the medical officer who was dressing, a wounded man, thus shielding him with his body. It was over three hours before he finally submitted to be evacuated, being then too weak from loss of blood to object.
- His gallantry and devotion to duty were beyond praise. His conduct inspired all who saw him.
He later achieved the rank of Captain.
From The Indian Express 10 January 1998
Descendants bear cross of regret as war hero's memory comes alive
by Vijay Mohan
HOSHIARPUR (PUNJAB), Jan 9: When an auctioneer in London paused for a moment before announcing that a small souvenir was sold for 55,000 pounds, a village thousands of miles away must have missed a heartbeat. A month after the Victoria Cross (VC) of Captain Ishar Singh was auctioned, his descendants in Panam, Hoshiarpur are still trying to tide over the embarrassment.
Captain Ishar Singh was the first Sikh soldier to win a Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the British Empire. Instituted in 1856 and given until March, 1943, the Victoria Cross was made from guns captured by the British at Sebastopol during the Crimean War. The right to receive the VC was extended to Indian soldiers only in 1911.
After the auction, Ishar Singh's grandson Dalbir Singh rang up his cousin Kulvinder at Panam and told him: "I saw Babaji's Victoria Cross at the auction. I touched it and held it in my hands. I felt like taking it home." Kulvinder heard the news — his grandfather's VC, auctioned for the third time, went to an anonymous buyer.
"We were making efforts to raise money for buying it back. Relatives settled abroad agreed to pool resources and I was prepared to sell some of my land, but the time was too short. I wish we had learnt about the auction earlier," says Kulvinder.
Elders in Panam remember Ishar as Kaptan Saab. But the younger generation appears to have forgotten the war hero. Ishar Singh won the VC for extraordinary deeds of valour during a three-hour battle on the North West Frontier in 1921. Though he was wounded, he captured a Lewis machine gun and shielded the medical officer with his body while the doctor attended to the wounded.
Then a sepoy with the 28th battalion of The Punjab Regiment, he was commended by King George V, who wrote that the "award was well and gallantly won". During his military career, Ishar Singh had won several other decorations. He died in 1963. The medal was initially sold by Ishar Singh's son Harbhajan Singh while he was trying to settle down in England. Family members say Harbhajan took the VC from his mother Raj Kaur "to show it to his friends in England". "It was only after it was sold for 400 pounds in 1973-74 that my father, Jagtar Singh heard about it on the radio. Everyone was shocked that one of his own sons could do such a thing," says Kulvinder. According to the family, Harbhajan, however, had refused to disclose the identity of the first buyer. Harbhajan died two years ago.
"It is a shame," commented Mehenga Singh, Ishar's nephew. "A gallantry medal is a priceless possession and just cannot be sold. It deserves a place of honour and dignity, not secreted away for materialistic gain," he said. Decorated with the Indian Defence Service Medal and now turning 75, he recalls the exhilaration and excitement which swept the village on hearing the news of Ishar Singh being decorated with the highest gallantry award. "The (British) government, as a recognition of his services, had ordered construction of a road up to his village and building of a house for him," Mehenga Singh says.
Then, Ishar Singh was staying at Nainwan, about 30 km from Garhshankar. While the Sainik Rest House at Hoshiarpur has been named after Ishar Singh, the family has built a small memorial to keep the war hero's memory alive.
Copyright © 1998, Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
please update if you know where his medal is publicly displayed
- Sukhvinder Singh
- London Gazette, issue 32530, 25 November 1921 referring to the award of the Victoria Cross
- Ishar Singh
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