Supplementary Information for ‘On This Day’ Entries

Index:

  1. 12th October 1914.
  2. 6th October 1911
  3. 30th October 1914
  4. 14th October 1977
  5. 4th November 1915
  6. 19th February 1915
  7. 7th June 1945
  8. 3rd October 1824 – The Battle of Koonja
  9. First Battalion Occupation of Macedonia
  10. 16th September 1965 – Indonesian C-130 crash in Borneo

 

12th October 1914.  The Regimental history reports: “The reception accorded to the Meerut Division by the French people vied with that given to the Lahore Division, which had landed three weeks earlier, in warmth of welcome and kindness. The Press, both English and French, were eloquent in praise of the Indian troops, but unfortunately filled their columns with exaggerations giving totally absurd ideas as to numbers and the part the contingent would play in the great struggle – a part (according to them) which would have been beyond the capability of human beings to accomplish. This led naturally to impossibly high expectations, so that many imputed failure to the Indian troops when they left France, forgetful of the new conditions of warfare, the appalling winter, and equally appalling losses with which our men were confronted, and which were met and  sustained with a heroism to which all the highest authorities on the spot recorded their deepest appreciation. Later views showed the contingent to have entered the arena and saved the situation for the Allies at a most critical period, when the British forces were seriously outnumbered, were exhausted with constant fighting, and had then no trained reserves to draw upon.”

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6th October 1911.  The Abor Expeditionary Force under the command of Major General H Bowers CB began punitive operations in Upper Assam against Abor tribesmen. The operations were mounted in retaliation for the murder the previous the spring of the Sadiya Political Officer, his companion and entourage. The Force included the 1st Battalion, under command Col J Fisher, plus 100 men from the 2nd Battalion. Secondary objectives were to establish political relations with the tribes and undertake survey work in an hitherto unknown country and to improve communications. In early January 1912, with villages destroyed, numbers killed and wounded and food supplies confiscated or destroyed the Abors sued for peace. This enabled the expedition to pursue its secondary objectives of mapping the country and fostering political relations with the indigenous tribes. The expedition ended in late April and the 1st Battalion returned to Dehra Doon. General Bowers recorded in his despatches dated 23 May 1912 that: “the 1st/2nd Goorkhas well maintained its reputation for efficiency both on the Ledlum Column and in guarding Lines of Communication. An excellent spirit pervades the Regiment”.

Appendix M of Volume 2 of the Regimental History provides this note on the Abor Expedition:

That this Expedition, from the point of view of military operations, was more of a disappointment than a success goes without saying, and it received many severe strictures both from officers connected with it from the Press, chiefly on account of the dilatoriness of the advance, the size of the force, and its consequent expense amounting to some 12 lakhs. Much was expected as a result of these operations, which a high official stigmatised openly as a “contemptible farce, differing only from all others on the north East Frontier in its colossal expense”.

The Morning Post’s animadversion on this expedition is interesting as showing government methods, and may be quoted.

“With the exception of the survey and exploration part of it, this expedition may fall into the same category as those of earlier days whose lessons had not been learnt viz unsatisfactory and practically a failure from a military and punitive point of view. As usual the advice of those on the spot was ignored as to methods, the “show” was controlled (one might say conducted) by higher authority far from the scenes, and the interests of the civilians and exigencies of Government were once again to outbalance the military, whose original scheme of advancing rapidly and overrunning the country in several small and handy columns was vetoed by a Committee none of whom had been nearer the frontier than Calcutta. On the recommendation of this Committee orders were issued forbidding the use of small columns, stating the force was to run no unnecessary risks. Thus the General Officer Commanding had his hands tied, whether to his content or the reverse is not known, though it might be said here that often it is “better to have commanded an expedition and failed, than never to have commanded one at all. Once over the border the advance was far too slow. Had freer scope been given to initiative and originality of those acquainted with these hills and wild tribes, and had it all been conducted with greater dash and deeper determination, the final punishment for the Abors would have been more than adequate.

As it was, the only real punishment such people recognise was not meted out while the actual murderers of Mr Williamson and Dr Gregson and party, who were given up, were not tried summarily in the field and hung according to their deserts; but were tried later by civilian tribunal, which sentenced them to the Andamans for a period of years, from which in 1920 one or two of them were allowed back to their village. When the expedition withdrew government decided to leave the tribes to themselves, to have no political dealings with them, and declined to establish the suggested trading and police post at Rothang which would have tended towards a better feeling between these wild folk and ourselves. A few years later this matter was reconsidered, and a trading post with a hospital, was established, backed by 200 rifles of the 2nd Assam Rifles, disposed at: Pasighat, 100 , at Rhotang 75; and at Yambung below Khebang village, 25. It was then, however, more or less too late to produce any good effect, for the Abors, finding themselves left alone again, adopted a sullen, truculent demeanour and declined to trade, though they come in occasionally for treatment in the post hospitals.

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30th October 1914.  The Regimental history describes the conditions in the trenches thus: “Water being so near the surface here made digging of deep trenches very difficult and often impossible as soon as the became waterlogged. Heavy rains had turned these trenches into a series of muddy excavations. No revetting material was available, and parapets were often so weak that men were sometimes shot through them. Troops stood and moved around all day, frequently knee deep in mud and water, into which often if a wounded man fell he was drowned before he could be got out. Dug outs were frail and continually blown to bits by shells, even billets some distance to the rear were unsafe. Life under these conditions was one of utter discomfort, wallowing in mud and filth, continually digging or bailing out water”.

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14th October 1997.

Photograph of the ‘burho toli’ (old soldiers) attending the Regimental Reunion in Hong Kong on this day:

Standing (from left): Lt IM Christie, Maj JL Carruthers, Capt JN McCaffrey, Maj MJ Fuller, Lt Col HGW Shakespear MC, Col PHD Panton CBE, Capt DR Henderson, Col RC Jackman OBE, Maj P Richardson DSO, Lt Col MA Ormsby MC, Maj N Wylie Carrick, Maj PS Leathart MBE CPM, Capt F Simpson MBE.

Middle Row (from left): Hon Lt(GCO) Dilbahadur Rana MVO, Hon Lt(GCO) Kamansing Gurung MVO MBE, Hon Lt(GCO) Nandaraj Gurung MVO MC, Hon Lt(GCO) Kishanbahadur Thapa IDSM MBE, Hon Capt(GCO) Bharti Gurung MC, Gen Sir Edwin Bramall KCB OBE MC, Hon Capt(GCO) Partapsing Gurung MVO MBE, Hon Lt(GCO) Narbir Thapa MVO, Hon Capt(GCO) Pirthilal Pun MBE MC, Hon Lt(GCO) Aitasing Gurung MC, Hon Lt(GCO) Tule Ale IDSM.

Front Row (from left): Hon Lt(GCO) Lalbahadur Kanwar, Maj (GCO) Bhimbahadur Thapa, Hon Lt(GCO) Dalbir Ghale IDSM, Capt (GCO) Manbahadur Gurung, Hon Lt(GCO) Thandaraj Pun, Hon Lt(GCO) Surendraman Gurung, Hon Lt(GCO) Maitalal Gurung, Hon Lt(GCO) Chinbahadur Gurung, Havildar Bhanbhakta VC.

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5.   4th November 1915.  Message from His Majesty King George V (dated 25th October 1915) to the Indian Corps that had served in France, on their leaving the theatre:

“Officers, NCOs and men of the Indian Corps, more than a year ago I summoned you from India to fight for the safety of my empire and the honour of my pledged word on the battlefields of Belgium and France. The confidence which I then expressed in your sense of duty, your courage, and chivalry, you have since then nobly justified.

I now require your presence in another field of action, but before you leave France I send you my dear and gallant son the Prince of Wales, who has shared with my armnies the dangers and hardships of the campaign, to thank you in my name for your services and to express my satisfaction.

British and Indian comrades-in-arms, yours has been a fellowship in toils and hardships, in courage and endurance often against great odds, in deeds nobly done in days of ever memorable conflict. In a warfare waged under new conditions and in peculiarly trying circumstances you have worthily upheld the honour of the Empire, and the great traditions of my army in India.

I have followed your fortunes with the deepest interest and watched your gallant actions with pride and satisfaction. I mourn with you the loss of many brave officers and men. Let it be your consolation, as it was their pride, that they freely gave their lives in a just cause for the honour of their Sovereign and the safety of my empire. They died as gallant soldiers, and I shall ever hold their sacrifice in grateful remembrance.

You leave France with a just pride in honourable deeds already achieved, and with my assured confidence that your proved valour and experience will contribute to further victories in the new fields to which you go.

I pray God to bless and guard you and to bring you back safely when the final victory is won, each to his own home, there to be welcomed with honour among his own people”.

GEORGE R.I.

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6.  19 February 1915.

From the. 60th Rifles Aid society, the Rifle Depot, Winchester, 19 February 1915

“Sir

The Vice Patrons and Executive. Committee of this society desire me to write – as it may be some gratification to your gallant Riflemen in the trenches, little though it be – to say that the sum of £100 has been granted by the King’s Royal Rifles Branch of this Society for use in any way you think best at the time as it is feared there must be some distress in the ranks of your Battalion. I am to assure you that all ranks of the King’s Royal Rifles follow with the greatest interest the doing s of their sister Regiment, whose Riflemen have proved themselves worthy successors of the heroes of the Mutiny.

We deeply regret the loss of so many valuable and gallant lives both in officers and. Riflemen.

Kindly accept this gift in the spirit in which it is tendered, and it is hoped the friendship of the two Regiments cemented at Delhi may continue for all time.

Messrs Cox & Co have remitted the amount through their Indian branch to the Regimental HQ at Dehra Doon.

I have the honour to be

Sir

Your most obedient servant

J W Dane Major (Secretary)”

 

From the 2nd Battalion. In the Field. 3 March 1915:

Sir

I have to thank you for your letter of 19th February which has been read to all ranks of the Battalion.

The kind action of the Society in presenting the sum of £100 towards the provident expenses of the Regiment has been deeply appreciated. No better stimulant could have been received by any Regiment. Whatever losses we suffer the esprit de corps will always remain, and with it the honoured friendship of the King’s Royal Rifles.

Our one regret is that we are not brigaded with one of your battalions, so that we could be side by side throughout the war. The men are. Not fighting for their country, but as Riflemen of the British Army, and to feel that their old comrades of the Mutiny are watching them has given them something else to link to the cause for which they are fighting.

Please convey to the society the hearty thanks of every man in the Regiment for its kind gift. I am sending a copy of your letter to the Adjutant of our other Battalion , which unfortunately is not with us here, that they too, may appreciate it as much as we do.

I have the honour to be

Sir

Your most obedient servant

E Corse Scott Lieut. And Adjutant.

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7th June 1945 – The Battle of Tanbingon.

At 01.00hrs A Company (Major A Davies) and B Company (Major P R Collins) of the 4th Battalion moved off to surround the village of Tanbingon, A Company to the north and B Company to the east.  B Company had only moved 300m from their overnight position when the leading platoon came across an enemy observation post (OP) occupied by 8 sleeping Japanese who were all killed silently without alarm.  A further 300m on another OP was encountered but this time the enemy was alert and opened fire: ‘A Gurkha section racing for the flank was caught by machine gun fire and both the section commander and Bren gunner killed.  Rifleman Harilal Pun sprang to the front, grabbed the Bren gun and accounted for 6 Japanese single handedly.’  At 05.00hrs B Company walked into a strong enemy position, surprising both Gurkhas and Japanese and a furious firefight broke out:  ‘Major Collins with great courage and quick judgement stood in full view in the scrub and identified target after target in the half light.  He moved from group to group until every Gurkha was engaging the enemy.  He then ordered a frontal attack against two strong dug in positions with overhead cover and connecting bays.  As 6 Platoon dashed to the close a number of men fell.  Naik Kishanbahadur Gurung, although wounded, crawled to within grenade range of the first trench.  His first two grenades killed all the occupants.  Springing to his feet he charged the second post , firing his tommy gun as he ran.  Five Japanese went down as the dauntless naik sprang among the survivors and five more died under the steel [of his kukri] before he succumbed to a score of wounds.  16 Japanese were found dead in the two trenches on the following day .’

Meanwhile at 06.30 hrs B Company was suddenly confronted by large enemy reinforcements which had arrived by lorries from  Ondaw about 5kms to the east of Tanbignon: ‘The Japanese sprang out and charged screaming into the melee.  Major Collins immediately faced and engaged the newcomers.  He signalled Tactical HQ for accurate fire support and as 6 Platoon broke away, 5 Platoon held off the swarming enemy.   As the last sections were on the point of withdrawal, Major Collins was killed instantly by a burst of fire from a few yards away – a most unfortunate ending to a superbly controlled encounter.’

At 07.00 hrs A Company (Major A Davies) had reached their first objective and captured a 70mm infantry gun and its crew, but were unable to exploit any further south-east towards Tanbingon. However D Company (Major N Lockey) had closed up from their overnight position at Teinhymok and succeeded in capturing Tabingon without great difficulty.

At 09.00 hrs the Gurkhas encountered the first of four counter-attacks carried out with suicidal frenzy by groups of a fanatical Japanese, but all resulted in failure.  For the remainder of the day A Company could still make no further progress and by nightfall B Company was ordered into Tanbingon to meet up with Tactical HQ and C and D Companies.  A strong  perimeter was established to the east of the village .

The fighting was over . Total casualties amounted to 1 British officer killed, 7 Gurkha Other Ranks killed and 11 wounded.  76 Japanese bodies were counted the next day with signs that others had been removed.

In 1947 the 4th Battalion became 5/8GR in the Army of independent India and in 1964 a Special Army Order directed that 5/8GR was to be belatedly awarded the Battle Honour ‘Tanbingon’.  Every year on this day 5/8GR commemorates Tanbingon Day.

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3rd October 1824 – The Battle of Koonja

On 27 May 1824 a gang of dacoits or Goojars led by their notorious chief Kulwa, who had been terrorizing the Saharanpur District to the East of Dehra Dun, sacked the village of Bhagwantpur some 5km from Koonja.  Dealing with this insurrection led to the new Regiment’s first battle, at Koonja.

Having marched 36 miles from Dehra Dun that morning, the Sirmoor Battalion came in sight of Koonja Fort at 2pm in the afternoon of 3rd October 1824.  The enemy were drawn up in order of battle in front of the fort ‘of thick, high mud walls’ and opened a heavy fire.  The Sirmooris advanced ‘by double files from the right of companies with a line of skirmishers in front, Mr Shore (the civilian superintendent of Dehra Dun) on the left and Captain Young (Commandant of the Sirmoor Battalion) in the centre’.  The dacoits broke and fled into the fort.  The only entrance was by means of a massive wooden door in the north face.  The Regimental History reported ‘Necessity, the Mother of Invention, inspired some of the men with the idea of battering in the gate with a tree trunk; so while part of the little force occupied the attention of the matchlock men on the wall, another party searched for, found and cut down a tree of sufficient size with their kookeries [sic]……with a ‘one, two, three and hurrah’, bang when the trunk against the thick iron bound door, which at the fourth or fifth blow flew from its hinges on one side so as to admit two men abreast…..Captain Young, supported by two Goorkhas, instantly dashed through the opening, followed by Shore and the storming party….a hand-to-hand conflict followed inside, the Goorkhas using bayonet and kookerie with deadly effect’.  The rebel commander, Kulwa, was killed and his followers killed or taken prisoner.

Contemporary sketch of the attack on Koonja

During the attack the Honourable Mr Frederick Shore, once inside the fort, continued to pursue the rebel Goojurs and on the roof of a house leading to the ramparts he came across one described as ‘a gigantic ‘pahlwan‘ or wrestler.. This rebel was armed with a heavy sword and shield and attacked Shore furiously, calling out ‘What! You too have turned sepoy? ‘. Shore, who was a good swordsman, was handicapped by having a damaged shield, but Captain Young rushed to his assistance ‘by levelling his manton [a flintlock pistol made by the gunsmith Joseph Manton] at the wrestler. The first barrel misfired but the second ball took effect on the rebel’s chest as he lunged at Shore, who survived the assault despite a gash to his side’.

An artist’s impression of the incident from the Illustrated London News. 
Captain Young of the Sirmoor Battalion is on the left

The victorious Goorkhas returned to Dehra Dun with not only two small cannons taken from the fort (which subsequently were placed in front of the Battalion quarter guard) but also Kulwa’s head, which for many years afterwards swung in an iron cage over the entrance to the Dehra Dun prison.

The Koonja Cannons and Battering Ram outside the Regimental Quarterguard in about 1920

For this successful action, the Regiment’s first major engagement since being formed in 1815, the Sirmoor Battalion was awarded the honour of wearing a ram’s head on their crest and cross-belt badge, representing the battering ram they had used in the attack.

Letter No 5045 from the Secretary to the Government of India, in 1876 stated: ‘Official permission is given to the Regiment [2nd Goorkhas] to the wearing of a ram’s head on their appointments as a result of the assault of Fort Koonja near Roorki in 1824’. The award of this honour 52 years after the event in no way diminished its significance!

This historic honour was transferred to the Royal Gurkha Rifles when the 2nd Goorkhas was merged into the new Regiment in 1994, whose officers continue to wear the Ram’s Head on their crossbelts.

A year after the Battle of Koonja the Hon. Mr Frederick Shore visited the ruins of the fort, accompanied by his Goorkha orderly who had also fought the rebels. The Goorkha was delighted because he was able to recount to Shore an incident when he had chased a rebel. Having cornered him the rebel begged for mercy ‘in the most forcible manner one Hindoo can to another viz by putting some grass in his mouth and saying ‘I am your cow !’.  The Goorkha however was on him at once, shouting ‘Take that, you vile plunderer!’ and cut him down with his kukri’.

Frederick Shore in about 1820

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First Battalion Occupation of Macedonia

On the 5th November 1944 the First Battalion sailed from Taranto, in Italy, to Salonika, where 10,000 Germans were thought to be.  They had expected an opposed landing, but the Germans had evacuated northwards.  The local population gave them a friendly welcome but internecine strife soon broke out.  An initial cause of this was conflict between ELAS, the Greek Communist organisation and its military wing the OMM on the one hand, and ‘Security Battalions’ of anti-communist Greeks raised by the Germans on the other, but ELAS was also opposed to the Greek Provisional Government.  The Communists were found to be liquidating their opponents and attacked the Piraeus Naval HQ, causing fighting to break out in Athens (known as the ‘Dekemvriana’ in Greek, or ‘December Events’).

A truce was agreed and the 1st Battalion was drawn into policing it in conjunction with the local police and National Guard detachments, taking on a wide variety of roles ranging from searching for arms and security duties to various tasks to do with reconstruction.  A decision was made to disarm ELAS, and to assist in implementing this the 1st Battalion moved into Thrace where they had a friendly reception from the local ELAS representatives and patrolled the frontier with Turkey.  The companies were dispersed over 100 miles which made resupplying them difficult and pilfering by the hungry population inevitable.  The arrival of Greek National Guardsmen resulted in the Communists firing on them, but they were eventually able to take over security duties from the 2nd Goorkhas.

It was not a comfortable posting.  The weather was poor and facilities virtually non-existent.  Local game shooting however was good, and an outing to Samothrace by caique yielded 200 brace of partridge although stormy seas resulted in a seasick and drenched company returning after an anxious and unpleasant return journey.   With the Greek National Guard taking over security duties, the 1st Battalion turned to assisting the Red Cross and UNRRA in distributing aid and carrying out tasks that today would be called Military Assistance to the Civilian Community or Civilian Ministries.

The tour in Greece came to an end on 27th January 1945 when the Battalion embarked at Salonika, arriving at Karachi on 7th February and Dehra Dun three days later, after four and a half years away at war in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy and Greece.

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C-130 CRASH IN BORNEO 16 SEPTEMBER 1965

The incident took place on 16 September 1965, involving C-130 number T-1306 of the Indonesian Airforce.  An account on an Aviation Safety website gives the following details:

‘The Lockheed C-130B Hercules transport plane was lost in an accident during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, that started in 1963 from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia. In 1964 Indonesian forces began attacking areas in the Malay Peninsula in what was known as the Dwikora Operation.  The C-130B, T-1306, was carrying paratroopers when it was hit by friendly fire. One of the two right hand engines caught fire, which developed onto the wing.  All paratroopers were forced to bail out over the forest from low altitude. The flight crew made an emergency landing at Long Bawan, saving the remaining 17 flight crew and passengers, including five jumpmasters.’  There were no casualties.

The same website also has the only known picture of the plane after it crashed:

The obituary for Field Marshal Sir John Chapple, published in The Times on 26 March 2022, gave this account of his experience when commanding C Company of the 1st Battalion:

‘Chapple recalled how, one morning in late summer 1966 [sic] at his jungle base at Ba Kelalan in Sarawak, “out of the mist at very low level came a [Indonesian] Hercules transport aircraft with a parachutist standing in the doorway”. It took a few moments for his Gurkhas to recognise it as hostile, then shouting “dushman, dushman!” (enemy) opened fire.  “The pilot quickly realised he was somewhere he was not supposed to be and turned steeply back and was shot at again before escaping across the border apparently unharmed|”.  That evening some of Chapple’s men saw the aircraft as it approached for a second time, “only to be hit on this occasion by the Indonesians’ own 37mm Russian-made anti-aircraft guns at Long Medan.  Two of its engines were set on fire.  About 20 parachutes were seen to open at quite low level as it lost height but they seemed to get down all right while the aircraft crash landed on the Long Medan football field beyond the border, where it remained as a wreck for long after”.

Some 25 years later, when Chapple was CGS, he recounted the story to an Indonesian general, who then revealed its true import.  That week the Indonesian opposition in Jakarta had planned to stage a coup against President Sukarno, not least because they knew the elite paratroop garrison unit was being deployed from the capital to the Sarawak border.  The first phase involved flying a company to Long Medan, to be followed by the rest of the battalion.  This first phase was the aircraft engaged by Chapple’s Gurkhas, which then flew back to Jakarta, whence it was sent off again in the evening “to do better”.  Because the Indonesians had then shot down one of their own aircraft, the rest of the deployment was aborted.  Most of the paratroop unit was therefore still in central Jakarta when the coup started, and were able to put down the opposition.  Chapple’s company had unintentionally thwarted the coup.  Sukarno was ousted six months later, but not in the manner planned.’

The confirmed date of the incident, 16 September 1965 (not 1966 as stated in the obituary) ties in with the story told to him by the Indonesian General.  The Indonesian Army was able to suppress an attempted coup on 1st October 1965, leading to an appalling purge of communist sympathisers that killed between 500,000 and 1.2 million people and the eventual rise of General Suharto to be President of the country.   The history of those events is complex and still unclear.  The origins of the attempted coup and its aftermath are variously thought to have been instigated by the Communist Party of Indonesia, to have been an internal army affair, a CIA-sponsored attempt to unseat Sukarno because of his flirtation with communism, or a British MI6 psyops plot to do the same.   Some academics argue that Sukarno instigated the coup in order to strengthen his position vis-à-vis the army.  It may have been a combination of some or all of these things.  Whatever is the case, it was a complex and dreadful series of events that led to a huge number of civilian deaths.  The C-130 crash at Long Bawan may, indirectly, have had a part to play in the story.

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