Treachery or Myth?- The Executed Gurkhas

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Tawahi-50, Jun 24, 2012.

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  1. I have long been interested in Gurkha history but when delving into it (researching is probably too grand a word for my activity!) I am immediately aware of a problem.

    I, like most people I expect, like my history to be to be balanced but virtually all the books published are written, usually by ex-officers, are sanitised and set out to lionise the Gurkha and to perpetuate the myth. Having said that, some, like those of Masters and 'Birdie Smith' and others are quite rightly classics, but not all.

    It's perfectly understandable that there is a reluctance to wash one's dirty linen in public, but it goes well beyond that- time after time I've come across instances where it's not merely the polishing of a myth, there is something that seems to drive people to knowingly lie when the word Gurkha is brought up. God knows we saw enough of that during the Joanna campaign.

    So when I come across virtually anything Gurkha related, it has to be taken in the knowledge is that it might not be 100% kosher. I'm not saying I automatically jump to the conclusion that it's fiction, it's just that I cannot take it as gospel without an amount of cross-checking;-not always straightforward when coming up against either the myth or its antithisis, the Gurkha 'Wall of silence'

    So the the account of the two Gurkhas executed during WW2 for 'Waging war against the King Emperor' is one such case, and I find I still have to treat it in such a manner.

    What is in the public domain is basically as follows;
    Havildar Durga Malla 2nd/1st Gurkha Rifles
    Jamadar Dal Bahadur Thapa 2nd/1st Gurkha Rifles
    Both were captured in Malaya and subequently joined the Indian National Army working for the Japanese achieving the rank of Major and Captain respectively.
    Both were retaken by the British forces on or near the Northern Indian front.

    Malla was caught in the act of espionage upon British formations while Thapa was taken as a POW.
    They were, it seems, tried in Delhi and convicted of 'waging war against the King-Emporor' and executed,
    Malla on August 25, 1944, and Thapa on May 3, 1945.

    Today, these two men are feted as martyrs and heroes of the Indian independence struggle in Gorkhaland. A statue to Malla has been erected in New Delhi's parliament complex and there is a memorial to both of them.

    However the silence surrounding them in UK or Nepal is deafening, they won't appear in any lists of those on the allied side being executed for treason/treachery.
    Is that because it never happened or because the wider knowledge of it would do great damage to the oft-trumpeted myth of Gurkha loyalty?

    In any other circumstance, I would find the evidence that I have come across of two Gurkha soldiers being executed, overwhelming, and I believe that the probability is that it did actually occur.

    But bring in the 'G'-factor and I would just have a slight reluctance to stake my pension upon it being true. There's a feeling of 'something's not quite right, here'

    The depth of detail, dates of execution and so on that is given in the reports is significant but not damming; the myth-factory in that area is a precision one, usually providing extra-ordinary detail to complement their fiction.

    There are various sources on the web, one of the least partisan, but still embroidered, accounts appears in Wiki;

    Durga Malla

    Much might be made of the fact that neither is claimed to be Nepal born- but it's not a significant factor; In the pre- and early stages of the war, large numbers were recruited from what is now Gorkhaland- it's where the recruiting depots were. Being non former Nepal residents meant that the British wouldn't need the approval of the ruling Ranas in Nepal in order to deal with the renegade soldiers.

    There are other questions, why does it appear that only Gurkhas and
    not other INA members were tried and executed prior to VJ Day?
    A policy was introduced in 1944, that there would be no trials of INA
    defectors until the cessation of hostilies. If the trial of these two men took place, the charges would have to have been serious enough to be outside that policy, espionage one case and possibly similar (espionage, sabotage or subversion) in the other.

    It's well documented that other INA members were tried after VJ Day but aquitted- it is said, due to the pressure from the future Indian rulers. Also, those INA members who were despatched, were normally executed as a result of summary justice in the field, why was it felt necessary and possible to bring Gurkhas to Delhi for trial?
    The fact that they were apprehended on Indian soil may have facilitated a trial.
    Any trial would have been secret, the existance of the INA was keep
    under wraps by the authorities in India until after the war.

    So truth or myth? Who knows?

    Another, more flowery, internet account:

    Veer Shaheed Major Durga Malla « Gorkhatimes
  2. If this is a lesson in egg-sucking then I apologise

    If time/geography permit, you could try the India Office records held in the British Library. A quick go at the online catalogue for 'Indian National Army' gives 73 hits. The search page is here

    • Like Like x 1
  3. You seem to trying to make something out of nothing. Thousands of Indian soldiers joined the INA, and it seems a whole "2" Ghurkas did the same. No Indian troops were executed because we were leaving India and it would have been a bit silly to cause a row by killing a few thousand of them just before we left.
  4. You're welcome to your opinion of course but you appear to have made curious leaps in logic to support it.

    In saying "Thousands of Indian soldiers joined the INA, and it seems a whole "2" Ghurkas did the same" you have somehow deduced that two executed Gurkhas equals the number of of Gurkhas joining the INA.
    Not so, I could argue numbers with you but that wasn't the point of my posting.

    Secondly, there is no evidence that it was even considered "killing few thousand of them" (Indian soldiers who had joined the INA), let alone being prevented by Indian opinion from doing so.

    It was however, the intention to put ring-leaders on trial after the war, the first trials resulting in custodial sentences or aquittals and the following ones abandoned because of public opinion.
  5. Bouillabaisse

    Bouillabaisse LE Book Reviewer

    You're not dealing with history here. You're dealing with politics. In 1945 very few people in India or Nepal would have considered these people heroes. But nations need myths and heroes so the INS have been exagerated and feted in India to provide those heroes. It's also happening with the Indian Mutiny - a political rising to preserve the Moghuls has become a war of independence for all India. And my last short sentence contains enough political and cultural biais to start a war.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. The two are not mutually exclusive.
    History should be about separating the fact from the fiction. The story of the Piltdown Man, for example, is no less history in its own right, for being a hoax. If this martyr story is fiction, then I'm just as much interested in how this fiction came about, where the reality ends and the myth starts.

    As a humourous (maybe) aside,

    The Indian Chief Minister with the unfortunate name seems to play along with it

    One New Zealand newsreader seems to re-act to it

    The irony is that, despite the damage limitation that the other presenters tried, it is actually pronounced Dikshit
    by the Chief Minister herself.
  7. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    Actually the trials of INA officers at the Red Fort in Delhi became something of a cause celebre amongst most Indians at the time. The British tactic of attempting to show no bias by trying a member of each religion only managed to piss off all of them. Post Independence the INA were conveniently dropped (as was the Congress policy of encouraging strikes and mutinies amongst the Armed Forces) as the new rulers quickly figured that the Army whose subversion they had been supporting was now theirs. One former INA officer did manage to get reinstated after independence, but it took a lengthy court case to do so.

    T-50, ref your original research I'm suspicious of the story to be honest. The whole INA/Battaglione Azad Hindoustan/Indische Freiwilligen-Legion subject makes for fascinating study and there is still quite a bit of decent source material knocking around and a lot of it in Kew as mentioned above.