26 June 1944. A fanatical assault by the Japanese on Imphal, India. If they break through here, they break into India. Corporal Agansing Rai and his battalion are ordered to capture two vital enemy machine gun nests 200 yards apart and mutually self-supporting, with a further gun hidden in the jungle.
Pinned down without cover his company suffered many casualties. But Corporal Rai knew any pause would only help the enemy. So he led his company on a charge, directly at one of the machine gun nests in full view of the enemy. He captured the nest, killed the enemy. But a heavy artillery gun fired at them from the jungle. He took some of his men and charged at this. Despite losing half his men, he personally killed three of the five machine gun crew.
Rai then returned to his original position and took over the rest of his platoon, and despite a hail of grenades and fire, led an assault on the other machine gun bunker. Again he killed the Japanese soldiers manning it and succeeded in capturing the post. The remaining Japanese, now demorilised, fled.
These were the fathers of the nation that would become independent India. And if you wonder what the inscription reads on a Victoria Cross, it is this: ‘For most conspicuous bravery…in the presence of the enemy’.
‘They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe.’
Let those who speak of Empire and colonies know, we who call ourselves British Indians, do so with a proud heritage. For there was a time when India and Britain shed blood together in defence of freedom against darkness and tyranny. then from British India was born the largest democracy ever known to man. And from the blood of British Indians was saved Europe from an abyss. The founding fathers of India were men such as Agansing Rai.
This week, at Constitution Hill, outside Buckingham Palace, on Commonwealth Day, we remember Agansing Rai and all the soldiers of the Commonwealth who served in the First and Second World Wars. We remember them at a Memorial helped founded a decade ago by a British Indian Peer, Baroness Shreela Flather.
At a time when Parliamentarians are under attack, let the journalists and public know of this Parliamentarian. At a time when immigration is under attack, let the people know of this immigrant. At a time when multiculturalism is under attack, let them know of this British Indian. And if you want to know about women’s contribution to society – just look at one of our greatest monuments.
It is with immense honour I work with this lady Baroness and as a member of the Council for these Memorial Gates. I am a British Indian.
Alpesh B Patel