Gurkhas and the Empire Gallantry Medal and George Cross – Naik Nandlal Thapa and Lance Naik Chitrabahadur Gurung.
Over the course of its history 26 Victoria Crosses, the highest military award for valour, have been awarded to Gurkha soldiers and British officers in Gurkha regiments. In addition to these, two Gurkha soldiers have been awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal, an antecedent to the George Cross, which is correspondingly often regarded as a ‘Civilian VC’ but which can be awarded to military personnel for situations where military awards might not be appropriate.
Such a situation occurred on the night of the 30th/31st of May 1935, when the worst earthquake then known to have ever occurred in India struck near the city of Quetta. The devastation was most intense in the city’s residential districts. Both battalions of the 8th Gurkha Rifles were stationed nearby and rushed from their cantonments to assist in the relief effort as soon as day broke on the 31st. Naik Nandlal Thapa and his section were some of the first troops to reach the area. Quickly spotting a number of bodies caught under the roof of a collapsed building, Nandlal rushed in and began pulling out the injured, saving three lives, all whilst aftershocks continued to shake the area and render any buildings still standing extremely dangerous. His section worked all day in the rescue effort and on their return to barracks Naik Nandlal and his men stopped a final time to dig out a man from the debris with their bare hands after hearing his cries for help. Altogether 10 people are recorded as having been rescued by Nandlal’s actions.
Lance Naik Chitrabahadur Gurung also led a section of men in the rescue effort that day, and he and his section were instrumental in the painstaking and careful rescue of the wife of the local Railway Police Superintendent, whose bungalow had been destroyed and who was trapped with her (sadly deceased) husband in the debris. They too operated tirelessly for hours, whilst in serious danger should any more buildings collapse around them, continuing to work after this rescue for the rest of the day.
Both men were awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for their actions. In 1940 the George Cross was created by King George VI, and the EGM was subsumed into this new decoration. Living recipients of the EGM were invited to exchange their medal for the George Cross. Naik Nandlal Thapa did so, but Lance Naik Chitrabahadur Gurung had died the previous year and so his medal was never exchanged.
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