Khudadad Khan became the first Indian and Muslim recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1914, at the age of 26. Despite being hugely outnumbered and badly injured, Khan kept his machine gun firing and fought on with such resilience that he succeeded in slowing the German advance, giving British troops enough time to reinforce their positions. Left for dead, Khan crawled back to British lines. Awarded the VC for his actions, Khan eventually returned to India and lived there until his death in 1971.
Remembrance is part of modern British life and our cultural heritage. It is a time of contemplation – not only for the Armed Forces, but the country as a whole. It is when we reflect on the sacrifice made on our behalf by the men and women of our Armed Forces, both throughout history and today. And Muslim servicemen and women have been an integral part of the British Armed Forces for over 100 years. This year, we’re sharing their stories.
Born in Chackwal, Punjab, in present-day Pakistan, Subedar Khudadad Khan served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis and was sent to the Western Front in 1914.
When the Germans launched a massive offensive in October to capture the Belgian channel ports, the Baluchis were rushed to the front. In what would become known as the First Battle of Ypres, Khan’s regiment bore the brunt of the German assault near the village of Hollebecke, Belgium.
Vastly outnumbered, Khudadad Khan’s machine gun team kept their gun firing throughout the day, holding back the German attack. A shell destroyed the only other machine gun and eventually Khan’s team was over run.
Despite all the other men being killed, and being badly injured himself, Khan had continued to fire on the enemy throughout.
Left for dead by the Germans, he managed to crawl back to his regiment during the night.
His bravery (and that of the other Baluchis) had held off the German advance just long enough that reinforcements could arrive and prevent the enemy from reaching the vital channel ports. For his actions, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Promoted to the rank of Subedar, Khan later returned to India where he remained in the army. He died in Pakistan in 1971 at the age of 82. His portrait hangs at the National Army Museum and his VC is on display at his ancestral home in Pakistan.