b. 09/1921 Phalpu, Nepal. d. 01/03/2008 Gorkha, Nepal.
Bhanbhagta Gurung (1921-2008) was born in Phalpu, a small hill village in western Nepal in the district of Gorkha in September 1921. Bhanubhakta, whose name is spelt Bhanbhagta on the citation for the medal, joined the third battalion of the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles shortly after war broke out, when he was 18. The unit was part of the Indian army. His battalion was part of Brigadier Orde Wingate’s Chindit expedition, which entered upper Burma in March 1943 to cause disruption behind the Japanese, who had occupied the colony at the turn of 1941-42. Bhanubhakta won early promotion to lance-naik and then naik (corporal), but his battalion was badly mauled in operations which achieved little.
Restored to full strength and retrained, the battalion, now in the 25th division, took part in the fighting in Arakan in 1944. In September Bhanubhakta lost his stripes when an officer sent him to picket the top of a hill which turned out to be the wrong one. He insisted he had done as he had been told, but was still found guilty of neglect of duty, reduced to the ranks and sent to another company in disgrace. None of this, however, prevented Bhanubhakta from carrying a badly wounded soldier on his back for three miles in the jungle to get him treated shortly afterwards.
Bhanubhakta (Gurung is the name of his Nepalese tribe) earned the decoration with a series of spectacular acts of bravery during a long day’s fighting in March 1945. His Gurkha battalion was part of the 25th Indian division, which landed on the Burmese coast to divert Japanese attention from General Sir William Slim’s main southward thrust towards Mandalay with the 14th army. The division advanced towards the Irrawaddy river through the An pass in the teeth of fierce opposition from seasoned troops of the Japanese 54th division, on surrounding hilltops. The battalion’s A company was ordered to take two pieces of unoccupied high ground, designated Snowdon and Snowdon East by the British, near a village called Tamandu.
After dark the Japanese launched a fierce attack which drove the Gurkhas out, killing half the company. The survivors had to cut their way through with curved kukri knives after exhausting their ammunition. At daybreak, B company, in which Bhanubhakta was serving, was ordered to recapture Snowdon East at all costs. His section of about 10 men was advancing uphill when the supporting artillery had to cease fire for fear of hitting the Gurkhas: the shells were landing on their side of the ridge and more likely to hit them than the enemy. Then, the section was pinned down by grenades, a machine gun and mortars, and, in particular, by a sniper in a tree. Unable to get the sniper in his sights, Bhanubhakta stood up, took aim and shot the tormentor out of the tree.
Twenty yards short of the objective crest, the section was held up again by fierce enemy fire from foxholes and trenches on the ridge. On his own initiative, Bhanubhakta stood up again and charged to the top, yelling to his comrades to follow. He lobbed two grenades into a foxhole above him, killing its two occupants, and rushed on to a nearby trench, which he cleared with a bayonet charge. Savage hand-to-hand fighting ensued as Bhanubhakta cleared two more foxholes single-handed. For a fifth and last time, he rushed on alone to tackle an enemy bunker, landing on the roof and hurling his last two smoke grenades through the slit from above. When two Japanese soldiers emerged with their uniforms on fire, he killed them with his kukri. Entering the bunker, he hit its third occupant with a rock and installed a Gurkha with a machine gun, just in time to repel a counterattack with the aid of two other riflemen.
He was gazetted for the VC on 5th June 1945, and he regained his stripes and was promoted to havildar (sergeant) at the end of his service in 1946. Despite efforts to persuade him stay in the army, he decided to go home to the smallholding his young wife and elderly mother were struggling to maintain. He went on to have three sons. His three sons followed their father into the 2nd Gurkha Rifles. In the years after the war he visited his regiment in Malaya, Hong Kong and in Britain, and was always greeted as an honoured guest. In addition to his VC he was also awarded the Star of Nepal, 3rd class. In 2000 the Gurkha training company block at Catterick was named after him. Bhanubhakta suffered from asthma for many years and for the last four years of his life was housebound at his youngest son’s house at Gorkha, where he died on 1st March 2008. He was cremated at Devghal of Chitawan, Nepal. His medals were donated by his family to The Gurkha Museum, Winchester, Hampshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL:THE GURKHA MUSEUM, WINCHESTER, HAMPSHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: CREMATED AT DEVGHAL OF CHITAWAN, NEPAL.
Thomas Stewart – Bhanbhagta Gurung’s VC Medal Group at the Gurkha Museum, Winchester.