Captain Bhagtasing Pun MM

The following obituary appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 22 August 2018:

Captain Bhagtasing Pun, who has died aged 101, was awarded a Military Medal during the Emergency in Malaya.

The Emergency began in 1948. Communist terrorists, mostly Chinese, were intent on overthrowing the Colonial power and Bhagtasing, together with others from 1st Bn 2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkha Rifles (1/2 GR) was seconded to Ferret Force, a specialised jungle unit, with the task of hunting them down.

On July 28 1951, he was in command of a platoon in an operation near Batu Anam, Johore. By painstaking reconnaissance, he located a bandit camp without giving away the presence of his company and a two-platoon attack was launched.

Bhagtasing led his men with great determination and his skilful employment of fire and movement and perfectly timed use of rifle grenades resulted in the death of 12 out of the 14 bandits and the capture of another. The citation for the award of an MM stated that he was largely responsible for the devastating effect of the attack which he had pressed home with great dash and vigour. It added that throughout his service in the swamps and jungles of Malaya he had displayed the highest qualities of leadership, drive, cheerfulness and initiative.

Bhagtasing was born in 1917 into yeoman farming stock in the village of Ramche in the heart of traditional Gurkha recruiting grounds. Having enlisted in 1937, he joined 2 GR at Dehra Dun.

In 1938, he saw operational service in Waziristan on India’s volatile North West Frontier and, in January 1942, he joined his Regiment’s 2nd Bn in Singapore. The Bn had fought costly battles against the Japanese in the retreat through Malaya before preparing defensive positions on the Island.

Within two weeks of Bhagtasing’s arrival and without so much as sighting a Japanese, his Regiment was ordered to surrender. All ranks found the order inexplicable and deeply humiliating. For three and a half years the remnants of the Bn were prisoners of war of the Japanese. This searing experience made him determined to get to grips with the enemy when he next went campaigning.

Bhagtasing’s group of Gurkhas was held in Nee Soon Camp and he recalled the dreadful food and backbreaking work unloading Japanese ships and humping stores and ammunition around the Island in the tropical heat. Close to the end of his captivity, he succumbed to fever and rambled incoherently for days.

In September 1945, after the Japanese surrender, Bhagtasing returned with his Bn to  Dehra Dun. After Indian Independence, he transferred to the British Army and, in 1948, he  arrived back in Singapore with 1/2 GR. A series of successful engagements in Malaya gained him promotion to sergeant and established his reputation as a fearless jungle soldier.

In 1953, Colour Sergeant Bhagtasing was selected for the Gurkha contingent at the Queen’s Coronation and while in England he received his MM at one of HM’s first investitures. Throughout the decade, he continued to operate with his Company in the Malayan jungles and, in 1955, he was commissioned as a Queen’s Gurkha Officer.

Promoted to captain in 1960, his final operational service was to fly with his Bn to Brunei in 1962 to help put down an insurrection. He retired in 1964 after 27 years exemplary service and returned to Ramche to farm his land, carry out village welfare work and look after his family. He eventually moved to Pokhara where he bought a modest house close to the British Gurkha camp.

His light-hearted and gentle nature belied his courage and tenacity on operations. He was the senior veteran of his Regiment and the epitome of a gallant Gurkha soldier.

Captain Bhagtasing Pun died on August 15. His wife, Naumati died in 1991 and he is survived by three daughters and two sons. His daughters married career soldiers in the Nepal, British and Indian Armies. His younger son had a successful career in the British Army in his father’s Regiment.


Click here to return to Distinguished Sirmooris index page.