b. 03/12/1874 Maiden, Tirah, India. d. 19/01/1945 Shagi Landi Kyan, Pakistan.
Mir Dast (1874-1945) was born on 3rd December 1874 ar Landai, Tirah Province, India. He was a member of the Kambar Khel Afridi tribe. His father was Madha Mir, an Afridi Pathan from Maidan, Tirah, India, now in the tribal areas of Pakistan. A brother, Mir Mast, served as a Jemadar in the 58th Vaughan’s Rifles (Frontier Force) during the First World War. He saw action in the Ypres Sector in 1914 and was commanding a section of line near Neuve Chapelle when he deserted. It is believed he did this as a Muslim, he was offended by the British being at war with Ottoman Turkey. Mir Mast was reputedly awarded the Iron Cross by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The award of the Indian Distinguished Service Medal on 10th March 1915, was cancelled on 1st April.
Mir Dast enlisted himself twenty years before on 3rd December 1894, into the 1st Regiment of Infantry, Punjab Frontier Force. He served on operations on the North West Frontier 1897-1898 in the Tochi Valley. His Regiment became 1st Punjab Infantry in 1901 and he was promoted to Naik (Corporal) on 15th September. He continued on operations on the North West Frontier in Waziristan. The Regiment became 1/55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) after a former commander in 1903. Promoted to Havildar (Sergeant) on 29th September 1904 and served on the North West Frontier until 1908. He was in action as part of the Mohmand Field Force on 18th May 1908 at Khan Khor Beg. With two other men, he found himself close to a group of the enemy holding a position behind a low wall. The three men rushed the position, shooting two of the enemy and bayoneting a third. Mir Dast was severely wounded in the right thigh. For this action, he was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, 3rd Class on 26th June 1908.
On 3rd March 1909 he was commissioned as Jemadar (Lieutenant) and was one of the twelve represenatatives of the Regiment to attend the Coronation Durbar for the proclamation of King George V as Emperor.
When the First World War broke out, 55th Coke’s Rifles remained in India, but during the first year, it reinforced 57th Wilde’s Rifles with eight officers, 43 NCO’s and 330 Sepoys. One of the reinforcements was Mir Dast, who went to France and served on the Western Front from 19th January 1915. He saw action almost immediately at Neuve Chapelle, and within three months would be involved in his VC.
On 26th April 1915 at Wieltje, Belgium, Jemadar Mir Dast led his platoon with great bravery during the attack, and afterwards collected various parties of the regiment (when no British officers were left) and kept them under his command until the retirement was ordered. He also displayed great courage that day when he helped to carry eight British and Indian officers to safety while exposed to heavy fire.
He was the first Indian officer to receive the VC; Indians only became eligible in 1912. He was promoted to Subadar (Captain) on 27th April 1915, the day after his award was gazetted. He was gassed, but continued to perform his duties until wounded in June. He was then evacuated to England where he was admitted to the Royal Pavilion Military Hospital in Brighton, where he was visited personally by Lord Kitchener in July 1915. The VC was presented to Mir Dast by King George V at the Royal Pavilion Military Hospital on 25th August 1915. During his recovery, the effects of the gas became more marked and he was sent back to India on 19th October, where he re-joined his Regiment. He later remarked “The gas has done for me… I had rather not have been gassed than get the Victoria Cross.”
On the same day he received his VC, he was awarded the Russian Cross of St George, followed by the Order of British India, 2nd Class (entitling him to the title Bahadur) on 17th December 1915. He never recovered from his gassing and was transferred to the Indian Army Reserve on pension in September 1917. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, 3rd Class, Order of British India 2nd Class, India Medal 1895-1902 with clasps for Punjab Frontier and Waziristan, India General Service Medal 1908-35 with clasp North West Frontier 1908, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Russian Order of St George 3rd Class. His medals are believed to be in private ownership.
Mir Dast died at Shagi Landi Kyan Village, Tehsil District, Peshawar, India (now Pakistan) on 19th January 1945. He was buried in Warsak Road Cemetery, Shagi Landu Kyan Village. He is also remembered on the Memorial Gates, Hyde Park Corner in London, which commemorates VCs of Indian heritage including Mir Dast.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: WARSAK ROAD CEMETERY, SHAGI LANDI KYAN, PAKISTAN.
Mir Dast's memorial stone laid at the National Memorial Arboretum (March 15)
Blue Plaque in Brighton
(Picture courtesy of www.memorialstovalour.co.uk)