Case study

WW1 Pakistani VC recipient Khudadad Khan

The story of Pakistani First World War Victoria Cross recipient Khudadad Khan.

Khudadad Khan
Credit: © IWM ( detail of VC 694)

3 men from Pakistan received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Khudadad Khan

DOB: 20 October 1888

Place of Birth: Chakwal District, Punjab Province

Date of Action: 31 October 1914

Place of Action: Hollebeke, Belgium

Rank: Sepoy

Regiment: Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis

Khudadad Khan was born on 20 October 1888 in the Punjab, in what is now Pakistan, to a family of Pathans who came originally from the North West Frontier, bordering Afghanistan. He served in the First World War with the 129th Baluchis, and was the first soldier of Indian origin to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

In October 1914, Khan, a machine gunner, arrived in France and was among 20,000 Indian troops sent to the front line to help the exhausted British Expeditionary Force (BEF) stop the Germans from capturing the strategic ports of Boulogne in France and Nieuwpoort in Belgium.

The 129th Baluchis faced the advancing Germans in the village of Hollebeke in Belgium under terrible condition; water-logged trenches, insufficient hand grenades and barbed wire, and gaps in the line due to a shortage of soldiers. In fact, the 129th Baluchis were outnumbered five to one. The Germans attacked on 30 October, and many Indian soldiers were killed or wounded. Khudadad Khan’s machine gun crew, along with one other, carried on fighting until they were overrun by Germans and everyone was bayoneted or shot. Khan was the only survivor. He pretended to be dead and then managed to crawl back to his regiment under the cover of darkness. His citation reads:

On 31st October, 1914, at Hollebeke, Belgium, the British Officer in charge of the detachment having been wounded, and the other gun put out of action by a shell, Sepoy Khudadad, though himself wounded, remained working his gun until all the other five men of the gun detachment had been killed.

The bravery of Khan and his fellow Baluchis gave the Allies enough time for British and Indian reinforcements to arrive and stop the German army from reaching the vital ports. He was treated for his wounds at a hospital in Brighton and was later decorated with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Khudadad Khan continued to serve in the Indian Army, and he died in Pakistan in 1971. Some of his descendants now live in Leeds.

Published 20 June 2016