Subedar Major Harkabahadur Gurung, Sirdar Bahadur OBI IDSM

Subedar-Major Harkabahadur Thapa leads the Battalion and the rest of 4th Indian Division ashore at Karachi on 7 February 1946.  Behind him are Subedar Balbahadur Thapa followed by Jemadar Chimbahadur Pun.

Harkabahadur enlisted in the 2nd Goorkhas in 1922 and served with the 1st Battalion between the wars on the North-West Frontier of India.  Commissioned in 1939, he served with them throughout the campaigns in Iran, North Africa, Italy and Greece.

He won his IDSM in an action in North Africa, part of the deception plan for the second battle of El Alamein.  On 13 October 1942 the Battalion moved to the north of the Ruweisat Ridge, relieving the 1st Royal Sussex.  The role of 4th Indian Division in the 8th Army attack was to pin down the forces facing them while the main attack was mounted along the sea coast, and to deceive the enemy as to the route the advance would take.  To this end two strong raids were planned, one of which was allocated to the 1st Battalion.  Their objective, Point 62, was only about half a mile in front of their positions.  The plan was for an initial artillery bombardment of the enemy positions.  Carriers under Jemadar Harkabahadur Thapa would lead the assault, equipped with grapnels and 200 yards of rope to pull aside the enemy wire.  Two platoons of C Company under Lieutenant Norbert Carrick, accompanied by Sappers, would follow up.

On the night of 23 October the huge artillery barrage that was the prelude to the second battle of El Alamein opened.  As part of this twenty minutes of fire was directed at the enemy in front of the 1st Battalion, although several shells fell short, making it necessary for the Sirmooris to pause in their forward move to avoid casualties.  It was a bright moonlight night and they were clearly visible.  Small arms fire erupted from the enemy positions and several men were wounded.  One carrier broke down, the tow line of another parted, but the third successfully pulled away the wire.  Lieutenant Carrick with one platoon pressed forward.  In an account of the action published after the war in the Regimental Journal, Carrick described what happened:

‘Giving the signal to charge I leapt the wire in front of me which had been stretched a bit then the second which had not, followed by the leading platoon but encountering heavy fire.  [German General] Ramcke’s paratroopers were all armed with Schmeisser light automatics.   One [of our] section[s] was wiped out trying to get up to the west of the main sangar.  In the course of this short rush several stick grenades were thrown at me from behind the main sangar.  I ran into them leaving them to burst behind me – a splinter from one got me in the small of the back though I hardly felt it.  The enemy in all the sangars were engaging my assault party from behind their sangars rather than from inside them.  In between shell bursts and automatic fire I could hear them calling in English “Come on Tommy!  Come on Tommy!”.  By this time I had reached the main sangar but I was unaware of any of the leading platoon being near me.  At that moment I only had one 36 Grenade left and my .45 Webley.  There were three or four German paras behind the main sangar which was shoulder high and loopholed, whom I had seen on my dash forward up the rise, so I had to act pretty quickly before I was outflanked.  I drew the pin out of my grenade, counted “one, two, three” and lobbed it over and followed up by moving right-handed round the sangar.  As I sighted the first ‘dushman’ [enemy] I felt myself blown sideways and then I must have lost consciousness’.

Carrick and the leading platoon had overrun four outposts and killed eight enemy.  Only Carrick and two Riflemen had reached the top of the knoll; Carrick and one of the Riflemen was wounded, the other Riflemen killed.  Meanwhile the second platoon, trying to approach the eastern side of the strong point, could not find a gap in the wire and, coming under intense fire, was unable to lift any mines.  Ten minutes after the operation had begun the men began to withdraw.

The raid had not been successful, but it had served its purpose and the Corps Commander, General Horrocks, sent his congratulations.  Nine men, including Carrick, were missing, eight of whom were later confirmed killed, and 17 men were wounded.   12-14 enemy had been killed.  Rifleman Lalbahadur Gurung, shot through both legs, crawled in after nightfall the following evening with important information about enemy strength and dispositions.  Carrick spent the rest of the war as a German prisoner of war, making a daring but unsuccessful attempt to escape.  Jemadar Harkabahadur was awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal for his part in the battle.

In 1944 Harkabahadur became Subedar Major of the 1st Battalion, remaining in post until 1948 when the Battalion left India at which point he retired from the Army.  During this time he had to deal with a difficult incident at Santa Cruz near Bombay when junior non-commissioned officers of the 1st Battalion, incited by an education Jemadar who was a fanatical member of the Congress party, refused to parade, having been persuaded that they would be moved to Malaya without their families and without redress (neither of which was true).  Harkabahadur’s common sense and good judgement enabled the incident to be dealt with smoothly and without rancour.

Harkabahadur in Dehra Dun in 1946

His medals are held by the Royal Gurkha Rifles and currently (2024) are displayed in the Officers Mess in Seria, Brunei.

 

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