First World War


Indian subcontinent

Their own stories:

Khudadad Khan VC

Khudadad Khan was born in the Punjab (now in Pakistan) in 1887. His family were Pathans who had moved to the Punjab from the North-West Frontier between India and Afghanistan. He joined the army as a sepoy or private soldier for the sake of regular pay and a chance of honour and glory.

In October 1914, almost immediately after arriving in France, the 129th Baluchis were among 20,000 Indian soldiers sent to the front line. Their job was to help the exhausted and depleted soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to prevent the advancing Germans from capturing the vital ports of Boulogne in France and Nieuwpoort in Belgium. If the Germans could manage to take Boulogne and Nieuwpoort, they would choke off the BEF'S supplies of food and ammunition, and the Allies would lose the war.

The 129th Baluchis, with whom Khudadad Khan was serving as a machine-gunner, faced the well-equipped German army in appalling conditions – shallow waterlogged trenches in which to take cover, a lack of hand grenades and barbed wire, and a dire shortage of soldiers to man the defensive line. They were also outnumbered five to one. When the Germans attacked on 30 October, most of the Baluchis were pushed back. But Khudadad Khan's machine-gun team, along with one other, fought on, preventing the Germans from making the final breakthrough. The other gun was disabled by a shell, and eventually Khudadad Khan's own team was over-run. All the gunners were killed by bullets or bayonets except the badly wounded Khudadad Khan. He pretended to be dead until the attackers had gone on – then, despite his wounds, he managed to make his way back to his regiment.

Thanks to his bravery, and that of his fellow Baluchis, the Germans were held up just long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive. They strengthened the line, and prevented the German army from reaching the vital ports.

Sepoy Khudadad Khan recovered from his wounds in an English hospital, and three months later was decorated by King George V at Buckingham Palace in London with the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award 'For Valour'. He was the first Indian to receive the award.

Khudadad Khan returned to India, and continued to serve in the Indian Army. In 1971 he died at home in Pakistan, aged 84. Several of his descendants now live in England.

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Khudadad KhanKhudadad Khan

Sepoy Khudadad Khan VC, 129th Battalion, Duke of Connaught's Own Baluchi Regiment

Troops of the 129th BaluchisTroops of the 129th Baluchis
© Imperial War Museum

Troops of the 129th Baluchis man a trench during the First Battle of Ypres, October 1914
© Imperial War Museum

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