Ishar Singh VC OBI

b. 30/12/1895 Nenwan, India. d. 02/12/1963 Panam, India.

Ishar Singh (1895-1963) was born at Nenwan, in the Punjab, India on 30th December 1895, and would become the first Sikh to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Little is known of his life prior to enlistment in the Punjab Regiment on the outbreak of World War I. He served throughout the war, and by April 1919, he was serving as a Sepoy with the 28th Punjabis in the tribal territory of Waziristan, on the India/Afghanistan border. In early 1921, he was part of an Indian column sent into the Mahsud heartland to quell a rebellion.

Ishar Singh VC OBI

Britain had begun the first stage of a road-building programme to make the North-West Frontier more accessible. On 10th April 1921, Ishar was part of a company that was escorting a group taking supplies from Haidari Kach to Shakan. The party was attacked from both sides of the valley by the Mahsuds.

Ishar was No 1 in a Lewis Gun Section, and early in the action he received a very severe gunshot wound in the chest, and fell beside his Lewis gun. Hand-to-hand fighting having commenced, the British officer, Indian officer, and all the Havildars of his company were either killed or wounded, and his Lewis gun was seized by the enemy. Calling up two other men he got up, charged the enemy, recovered the Lewis gun, and, although, bleeding profusely, again got the gun into action. When his Jemadar arrived he took the gun from Sepoy Ishar Singh, and ordered him to go back and have his wound dressed.

Instead of doing this, the Sepoy went to the medical officer, and pointed out where the wounded were, and took water to them. He made numerous journeys to the river for this purpose. On one occasion, when enemy fire became intense, he took a wounded man’s rifle and opened fire. On another occasion, he stood in front of a medical officer who was treating a wounded man to shield him from enemy fire. It was over 3 hours before he agreed to be evacuated due to loss of blood.

Ishar recovered from his wounds, and following the announcement of his VC, he was presented with the medal by the Prince of Wales in Rawalpindi in March 1922. Ishar was invited to, and attended the 1929 VC Dinner at the House of Lords, and attended many ceremonial functions. During World War II, he served at the rank of Subedar, and was awarded the Order of British India, and later was promoted to Captain. He was also given 75 acres of land and provided with a house.

Ishar Singh died at his home on 2nd December 1963 in Panam, India, and was cremated. His medal group was initially sold by his son, Harbhajan Singh, who was trying to fund a new life in England. Family members believe it was taken by Harbhajan from his mother “to show to his new friends in England”. It is unknown whether this is true or not, but the medals were sold in 1973 for £400. The medals were auctioned for a second time, purchased by a private collector, before in 1997, they were sold at Sotheby’s, London for a hammer price of £55,000. The purchaser was Michael Ashcroft and his medal group is now displayed at the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.