Only Forty Indians and Gurkhas were awarded the Victoria Cross since 1912. Subedar Major and honorary Captain Umrao Singh, the last surviving Indian Victoria Cross recipient died in 2005 .Umrao Singh, was awarded the Victoria Cross, for beating off four Japanese attacks on his advanced battery position at Kaladhan valley in Burma on the night of 15th December 1944. He struck down three Japanese soldiers before being knocked out. Six hours later, a counter attack party found Singh at the site of his gun, so severely wounded that he was hardly recognizable. Around him lay ten dead Japanese soldiers.
No south Indian has ever won a VC and so what can be the Travancore connection to a VC?
During the reign of Maharajah Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma of Travancore (AD 1885-1924), various British Residents had been stationed in Trivandrum who assisted in the administration of the country.
In AD 1887, for a brief period of four months between July and September, General Sir Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast was the British Resident (acting) for Travancore and Cochin. He later left for Mysore and was the resident there between 1887 and 1892 in two terms, with some gaps in between.
What is interesting about General Sir Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast is that he was a Victoria Cross winner and that too for his gallant action during the Indian mutiny or the first war of Indian independence as we call it now.
Lt. Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast was with the Royal (Madras) Engineers and aged 23 when his unit, the Malwa Field Force was assigned to suppress the mutiny.
General Sir Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast
On November 21st 1857, at Mundisore, Lieutenant G. Dew, of the 14th Hussars, was in imminent danger of being shot by a Velaitee,-a light infantry man- who covered him from the rear with his musket. Lieutenant Prendergast rushed at him and cut him down, but not before being wounded himself by the discharge of the piece. His gallant action saved the life of Lieutenant Dew, but he was almost cut down in his turn, had not Major Orr killed the rebel. He also distinguished himself at the actions of Ratgurh and Betwa, being severely wounded.
Major-General Sir Hugh Rose, in forwarding his recommendation of this officer, states-
“Lieutenant Prendergast was specially mentioned by Brigadier Stuart for the gallant act at Mundisore when he was severely wounded; secondly; he was specially mentioned by men when acting as my A.D.C. in the action before besieging Ratgurgh on the Beena River for gallant conduct. His horse was killed on that occasion. Thirdly, at the action of the ‘Betwa,’ he again voluntarily acted as my A.D.C. and distinguished himself by his bravery in the charge, which I made with Captain Need’s troop, against the left of the Peishwa’s army under Tantia Topee. He was severely wounded on that occasion.”
He was the son of Thomas Prendergast, a magistrate of the Madras Civil Service. Sir Henry Prendergast was born in India, in 1834 and entered the Army in 1854. He served in the Persian War of 1856-7 and the Central India Field Force of 1858 and was mentioned in dispatches. Ten years later he had taken part in the putative invasion of Abyssinia and was present when Lord Napier and his combined British and Indian army stormed and then destroyed Emperor Theodore’s mountain fortress of Magdala. He also saw through the Indian Expedition to the Mediterranean 1878 and the Upper Burma operations 1885-6 and had been thanked by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the government of India. He was the British resident in Travancore and Cochin (1887) and Mysore and later held other distinguished positions in Baroda (1889) and Baluchistan (1889).
Since his term was rather short in the service of Travancore and Cochin, not many details are known of his days and work over here.