REMEMBRANCE EXHIBITION: Gurkha VC in the Burma Campaign – Netrabahadur Thapa VC

REMEMBRANCE EXHIBITION: Gurkha VC in the Burma Campaign – Netrabahadur Thapa VC

Netrabahadur Thapa was born in 1916 and enlisted with the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) in 1932. He served on the North West Frontier and was promoted to Subedar (Captain), before being transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the regiment and being posted to the Chin hills in Burma with the 17th Indian Division. In March 1944 the division was ordered to withdraw to Imphal to halt the Japanese assault and movement towards the Indian Assam plains and Bengal. Along the line of communication known as the Tiddim-Imphal Road, huge numbers of casualties mounted, as the Japanese 15th Army became determined to push through and take Imphal at all costs. During this battle, 2/5RGR was stationed in the Bishenpur area, and on June 25th Netrabahadur was in command of a garrison of 41 soldiers at an isolated hillside piquet called ‘Mortar Bluff’. This position was isolated, 400 yards from the nearest other piquet, and devoid of cover. It was also overlooked by a position named ‘Water Piquet’ to the south, which was on higher ground and had been captured by Japanese troops the previous night. It was vital that Mortar Bluff be held, and so a relief force was sent to bolster the piquet’s forces (itself harassed by sniper fire) at 6:30PM.

Just over an hour later the enemy attack began with 75mm and 37mm artillery pieces on the enemy high ground pouring a constant stream of shells onto the position for 10 minutes, followed up by an infantry attack. Netrabahadur and his men defended themselves fiercely, with Netrabahadur exhorting his men to hold fast, and finally succeeded in driving the Japanese back. Netrabahadur displayed tireless energy, moving between his men’s positions, encouraging his young soldiers and tending the wounded. In the lull that followed, Netrabahadur reported his situation to his Commanding Officer via field telephone, called in more artillery support, and braced for the next assault.

Under the cover of jungle, darkness and torrential rain, the next Japanese attack proved just as ferocious, but the Gurkha troops held out until the section’s one Light Machine Gun and Heavy Machine Gun jammed. Their fire-power reduced, the section was unable to maintain its position and the enemy overran their section of the defences, killing 12 out of 16 of its defenders. With no reserve to call on, Netrabahadur himself charged forward from his position and stemmed any further advance with a hail of grenades.

At this point, with low ammunition, the enemy in partial control of his perimeter and over half his men casualties, Netrabahadur would have been justified in a withdrawal. However, his next report to his CO stated that he intended to hold, and simply requested ammunition and reinforcements. Despite several more attempts, no more ground was gained by the attackers, due to Netrabahadur’s efficient plans for defence and deployment of his troops. Eventually, at 4am the next morning, a section of 8 men with grenades and ammunition arrived in support. This drew the attention of the attackers, and very soon all 8 were casualties. Undaunted, Netrabahadur retrieved the ammunition and supplies himself, and led a renewed offensive at the head of his platoon HQ, with grenade and kukri. It was in this assault that he was shot in the mouth, and shortly afterwards struck by a grenade blast, which finally killed him. His body was found the next day, still clutching his kukri, lying next to a dead enemy soldier bearing fatal kukri wounds. Netrabahadur’s Victoria Cross was presented to his young widow, Nainasara Magarni, by Field Marshal Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, on January 23rd 1945.

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