Mir Dast (1874–1945) was born at Maidan, Tirah, in the mountainous North-West Frontier Province of British India, on 3 December 1874. His family were of the Afridi tribe of Pathans, a Muslim people renowned for their hardiness.
He was one of a handful of soldiers—British and Indian—who tried to hold their ground during the German attack at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April 1915. The Germans had released chlorine gas, in an attempt to break Allied lines, which drifted with the wind across the allied positions, causing chaos among the soldiers.
As Mir Dast started to recover from the immediate effects of gas, he rallied a small group of survivors. Although wounded, and driven back slightly by German counter-attacks, he held on until nightfall, when he was ordered to retire. As he withdrew, he led to safety some other men, whom he had found sheltering in old trenches. After dark, he risked his life in the open again, helping to carry into the allied lines eight British and Indian officers who otherwise might have died of their wounds. While doing so he was wounded for a second time. For these actions of great courage Mir Dast was recommended for the Victoria Cross.
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The Australian Heroes
Corporal William Dunstan Captain Frederick Tubb Corporal Alexander Burton
These three Australians took part in the savage Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and all three were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in the Lone Pine trenches. They all hailed from the state of Victoria, in South-Eastern Australia and enlisted in the 7th Battalion.
These three men bravely fought off a ferocious Turkish counter-attack, rebuilding sand-barriers which had been destroyed by Turkish bomb attacks and repelling the enemy advancement. They did this several times, at a great risk to their lives, before Corporal Burton was killed by a bomb and Corporal Dunstan temporarily blinded by it whilst rebuilding a parapet. By this point, the Turkish attack had weakened and, although heavy shelling continued to rain down upon them, the ANZAC forces managed to hold their positions.
Colour Sergeant George Williams
Colour Sergeant George Williams, 1/3rd Regiment Kings African Rifles, was a Sudanese soldier with an English name. He was awarded the KAR Distinguished Conduct Medal for reconnaissance work at Tsavo, East Africa in September 1914.
The next year in January 1915 at Jassin in the Umba Valley, Colour Sergeant Williams under a heavy enemy fire extricated the remainder of his platoon after one officer (Lieutenant GM Dean 1/3rd KAR) had been killed and the other seriously wounded. Colour Sergeant Williams also managed to personally carry away the platoon machine gun after the crew and supporting carriers had all been killed or wounded too.
For this deed, the Divisional Commander Major MJ General Tighe, recommended him the Victoria Cross. If this award had been approved, George Williams would have been the first soldier in the KAR to be so honoured. He did not receive the VC, but he was eventually awarded a bar to his DCM before he was killed later in July 1918. The main reason that the VC was not confirmed would seem to be inter-departmental politics. The War Office was not going to have the Colonial Office handing out their highest military decoration.
RSM JUMA DCM, 1 KAR
Winston Churchill Millington
Born in Barbados in 1893,but moving to Trinidad 4 years later with his father, Winston Churchill Millington was one of 15,600 men of the West Indies Regiment who fought in the Great War. He worked at a secondary school before volunteering for B Company in Trinidad and was sent to fight in the Palestine Campaign in December 1916.
Caribbean soldiers served in auxiliary roles in France, Italy and Egypt but saw front-line action in Jordan and Palestine against the Turks, who, in Millington's own words were "ferocious fighters".
Winston was a member of the Machine-gun section of the West Indies Regiment which was deployed during the Palestine Campaign to assault Turkish Trenches, which they did with great success. During these battles, a number of Caribbean soldiers distinguished themselves through their bravery, one of them being Winston: Under heavy fire from a Turkish attack, and with the rest of his gun-crew killed by enemy fire, Winston held his ground for several minutes and continued firing his gun. For his courage and coolness under fire, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Khudadad Khan, a Pathan from Punjab joined the army for regular pay and a chance of honour and glory. He was sent by sea to France with his regiment of Baluchis were he served as a machine gunner.
He was immediately sent to the front line to stop a German push on strategic ports in both France and Belgium. Outnumbered by five to one, facing appalling conditions in an alien country and under resourced with both manpower and armaments, most of the Baluchis were pushed back. But Khudadad Khan and his machine gun team remained until he himself was the only survivor and had to play dead as the enemy moved on. Though severely wounded, he made his way back to his Regiment. His actions and those of his fellow Baluchis ensured that the Germans were held up long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive. This in itself had a strategic effect.
Khudadad Khan was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace, the first Indian to receive Britain’s highest award for valour. He died at the age of 84 at home in Pakistan. Several of his descendants now live in England.Please click here to view our WW1 Commonwealth Contribution Presentation
Walter Tull’s Father arrived in England from Barbados in 1876. Both his parents died when he was very young and he was then raised in an orphanage. He played football for both Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town. As soon as the war broke out he abandoned his football career, joined the army and was sent to France.
He was noted by his Officers as a man with courage and great leadership ability and to this end was recommended for Officer training, promoting as a Lieutenant in 1917. He was the first black Officer in the British Army. He served both on the Western and the Italian Front and was Mentioned in Dispatches for his gallantry and coolness under fire. He was then recommended for a Military Cross which he never received. He was killed by machine gun fire on 25 March 1918 and his body was never found.