Medals from the Collection of Peter Duckers

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Date of Auction: 17th July 2019

Sold for £4,000

Estimate: £1,400 - £1,800

A rare and important posthumous I.D.S.M. awarded to Sepoy Lafar Khan, 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, who at Hollobeke on 31 October 1914, serving as part of a maxim gun crew, continued in action at close range until overrun by a German bayonet attack and every man was either shot or bayoneted at his post, the only survivor being awarded the first Victoria Cross to be conferred on an Indian soldier

Indian Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R., 1st issue (No. 3600 Sepoy Lafar Khan. 129th Baluchis.) with integral top riband bar, and contained in fitted case of issue, nearly extremely fine £1,400-£1,800


Provenance: Buckland, Dix & Wood, December 1992.

The Action at Hollobeke

31 October 1914 was probably the most critical day in the three weeks of obstinate and sanguinary fighting which is known as the First Battle of Ypres. Early in the morning fighting began along the Menin-Ypres road, south-east of Gheluvelt, and a little later an attack against that place developed in overwhelming force, with the result that the line of the 1st Division was broken, and it was driven back to the woods between Hooge and Veldhoek. Its retirement exposed the left of the 7th Division, and the Royal Scots Fusiliers were cut off and destroyed; while it was only by the most heroic efforts that the right of the 7th and General de Moussy’s troops of the 9th French Corps on its right were able to hold their ground. Farther south, the 3rd Cavalry Division, under General Allenby, was also desperately hard pressed. It had the whole of the allied line to hold from Klein Zillebeke by Hollebeke to south of Messines, and the only reinforcements it could call on were two battalions from the 7th Indian Brigade (the 57th (Wilde’s) Rifles and the 129th Baluchis) which had been sent to its support some days previously; and were already in a somewhat exhausted condition. Nevertheless they acquitted themselves valiantly.

It was during this phase of intense fighting that a soldier of the 129th Baluchis won the first Victoria Cross to go to an Indian soldier. The regiment’s two Maxim guns, under Captain Dill, had been continuously in action when German artillery fire, intensifying in preparation for their main infantry assault, destroyed one of the guns and killed most of its crew with a direct hit. The three survivors joined the other machine-gun, fought by Dill, who was soon severely wounded by a shell splinter and was reluctantly forced to be carried away. One gun crew continued in action at close range until overrun by a German bayonet attack and every man was either shot or bayoneted at his post. Only one man, Sepoy Khudadad Khan, survived the attack, keeping the gun in action until the last. Seriously wounded, he managed to feign death as the Germans swept through and after nightfall crawled back to safety. The remnant of the 129th was ordered back behind Hollebeke chateau at 4.00 p.m. and was relieved shortly afterwards. In its first ten days in action the regiment lost (mainly on the 31st October) three British and three Indian officers killed, two Indian officers wounded. 26 men killed and 138 wounded; most of the 67 men additionally reported ‘missing’ were later returned as killed.

For his devotion to duty and conspicuous gallantry in keeping the machine-gun in action to the very last moment, Khudadad Khan was awarded the first Victoria Cross to be conferred on an Indian soldier, the award announced in The London Gazette on 7 December 1914. All the other members of the same gun crew were also honoured. Captain Dill received the D.S.O. and all the Indians were Mentioned in Despatches and given posthumous decorations – Havildar Ghulam Mahomed received the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class, and the other four gallant machine gunners received the Indian Distinguished Service Medal. In his own account of the campaign on the Western Front, the general officer commanding the Indian Corps in France, Sir James Willcocks, paid them the highest tribute:
‘I believe that the V.C. is made from the metal of guns captured at the Alma; the second gun of the 129th Baluchis might well be manufactured into the future Victoria Crosses of the Indian Army... Engrave these names in letters of gold for all time: 2524 Colour Havildar Ghulam Mohamed, 2813 Sepoy Lal Sher, 4182 Sepoy Said Ahmad, 103 Sepoy Kassib, 3600 Sepoy Lafar Khan [and Khudadad Khan].’

Lafar Khan is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) memorial, Belgium.

Sold with copied research.