The story behind this Gurkha family

The story behind this Gurkha family

Recently we were sent an image online asking if we could identify who was in it and its story. The only lead we had was the caption given to it by the National Army Museum.

‘Photograph, India, 1945. A Gurkha VC winner shows his decoration to his relatives and the relations of other VC winners during an investiture of Indian Army VCs on 19 December 1945.’

Although it is hard to be completely certain, this is what was deduced to likely be the case…

The photograph shows a Gurkha showing a Victoria Cross to what appear to be his family. Altogether 10 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Gurkha soldiers throughout the course of The Second World War. These men were:

Lachhimann Gurung, Bhanbhagta Gurung, Thaman Gurung, Sherbahadur Thapa, Agansing Rai, Netrabahadur Thapa, Tulbahadur Pun, Ganju Lama, Gaje Ghale, Lalbahadur Thapa

We first ruled out those who were killed in action prior to the date of the photograph, which narrowed our list down to 7.  Lachhiman Gurung VC could also be ruled out as he unfortunately lost his right arm during his VC actions, which would prevent him from being the individual visible in the photograph. This reduced our list to 6.

Bhanbhagta Gurung, Agansing Rai, Tulbahadur Pun, Ganju Lama, Gaje Ghale, Lalbahadur Thapa

Our next big clue was the black double stripe in the pagri cloth around the soldier’s Hat, Felt, Gurkha. This was a practice of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), which suggested the soldier in the photograph was also in that regiment, which would in turn narrow our list down to Agansing Rai or Gaje Ghale.

Agansing Rai, Gaje Ghale

From the two, our initial instinct leaned towards Gaje Ghale due to the visible facial hair. However, both men’s VC presentations occurred prior to 19th December 1945, meaning that the date of this investiture ceremony didn’t line up with either of them.

Our next clue was the braided cord on the man’s shoulder which implied that the soldier in question was a Gurkha Officer rather than an N.C.O. This further suggested that it might be Gaje Ghale as he was at the rank of Jemadar (a rank equivalent to Lieutenant) by the time he received his Victoria Cross. We also delved within our archive and found separate images of Agansing Rai’s family and they do not correspond to those around the soldier in this photograph.

So, is the man in the photograph Gaje Ghale?

We still remained uncertain as Gaje Ghale received his Victoria Cross from Field Marshal Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, on January 23rd, 1945, not on 19 December 1945 which is when the photo is detailed to have been taken.

We went back over the information we had and realised that we had made the false assumption that the Gurkha in the photograph was a VC recipient. In fact, because we cannot clearly see their face, we cannot make that assumption and so Gurkha in the photograph was not necessarily related to those in the image. This reopened the possibility that it could be another of those who received the VC for actions in WWII, even those who received their VC posthumously, and that meant Thaman Gurung VC could once again be included. After some more digging we confirmed that on the 19th of December 1945 Thaman Gurung’s mother was presented with his V.C. by the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, at a ceremony in Delhi.

This date ties in with that given in the photo caption and so this suggested that the subjects of this photograph were very likely the family of Thaman Gurung VC with a Gurkha Officer displaying either his own or Thaman’s Victoria Cross. With this supporting evidence we delved back into our archives and manged to find other photographs which showed Thaman Gurung’s family and that they correspond to those in the original shot (indeed, some of the few paintings or sketches of Thaman Gurung were said to have used his brother as a model, due to their noted strong likeness).

Taken together, this all suggested that the photograph shows the family of Thaman Gurung VC being shown his VC medal by an unnamed Gurkha officer of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) (who potentially could have been Gaje Ghale VC given the context of the ceremony) on December 19th 1945.

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