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The Unique Tibet Victoria Cross and India D.S.O. Group awarded to Lieutenant (later Colonel) John Duncan Grant, V.C., C.B., D.S.O.,
(i) Victoria Cross, suspension bar and reverse centre engraved (Lieut. J.D. Grant. 8th Gurkha Rifles / 6th July 1904);
(ii) The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Military Division, Companion’s neck badge, in silver-gilt;
(iii) Distinguished Service Order, George V;
(iv) Tibet 1903-1904, 1 clasp Gyantse (Lieut. J.D. Grant. 8th Gurkha Rifles);
(v) 1914-15 Star, impressed at Calcutta mint (Maj. J.D. Grant, 1/8/ Gurkha Rfls.);
(vi) British War Medal (Lt. Col. J.D. Grant.);
(vii) Victory Medal, with emblem for Mention in Despatches (Lt. Col. J. Duncan. Grant.);
(viii) India General Service, 3 clasps Afghanistan N.W.F. 1919, Mahsud 1919-20, Waziristan 1919-21 (Maj. (A/Lt. Col.) J.D. Grant, V.C., 3/11/ Gurkha Rfls.);
(ix) Defence Medal;
(x) Silver Jubilee, 1935;
(xi) Coronation, 1937;
(xii) Coronation, 1953,
C.B. cased as issued and others all mounted for wearing, British War and Victory medals with corrections to naming (probably made at the Calcutta mint), generally extremely fine
Victoria Cross: London Gazette, 24th January 1905: ‘On the occasion of the storming of the Gyantse Jong on 6th July, 1904, the storming Company, headed by Lieutenant Grant, on emerging from the cover of the village, had to advance up a bare, almost precipitous, rock-face, with little or no cover available, and under a heavy fire from the curtain, flanking towers on both sides of the curtain, and other buildings higher up the Jong. Showers of rocks and stones were at the time being hurled down the hillside by the enemy from above. One man could only go up at a time, crawling on hands and knees, to the breach in the curtain.
Lieutenant Grant, followed by Havildar Karbir Pun, 8th Gurkha Rifles, at once attempted to scale it, but on reaching near the top he was wounded, and hurled back, as was also the Havildar, who fell down the rock some 30 feet.
Regardless of their injuries they again attempted to scale the breach, and, covered by the fire of the men below, were successful in their object, the Havildar shooting one of the enemy on gaining the top. The successful issue of the assault was very greatly due to the splendid example shown by Lieutenant Grant and Havildar Karbir Pun.
The latter has been recommended for the Indian Order of Merit’. 356
C.B.: London Gazette, 3rd June 1929 (Birthday Honours): Colonel John Duncan Grant, V.C., D.S.O., Indian Army, Deputy Director, Auxiliary and Territorial Force, India
D.S.O.: London Gazette, 19th December 1922 (‘to be dated 23rd October 1921’): Lt.-Col. John Duncan Grant, V.C., 13th Rajputs, Indian Army ‘For distinguished service rendered in the Field with the Waziristan Force, 1920-1921.’
Mentions in Despatches include: Army Headquarters, Simla, 24 July 1917: ‘For valuable service rendered in connection with the War. The War Office have stated that his name will not be published in the London Gazette, but it is requested that an entry may be made in his record of service.’
Generally known as “Jack”, JOHN DUNCAN GRANT was born at Roorkee, India, on 28 December 1877, the son of Colonel Suene Grant, R.E. and his wife Caroline, née Napper (daughter of Colonel Napper, Bengal Staff Corps). Educated firstly at Manor House School, Hastings, Cheltenham College (1890-95) and then Sandhurst, Grant was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant (unattached) on 22 January 1898. He briefly joined the Indian Staff Corps and was appointed to the 30th (Punjab) Regiment in 1899 before his promotion to Lieutenant on 22 April 1900 following service with the Malakand Force, after which he transferred to the 44th (Gurkha Rifle) Regiment, which was to be renamed the 8th Gurkha Rifles in 1902.
Taking the ‘Great Game’ into the 20th Century, the stated object of Younghusband’s Mission to Tibet was to negotiate with the Dalai Lama. Britain, fearing that a clandestine deal with Nicholas II might produce a back door through the ‘Roof of the World’ for Russian encroachment into Sikkim and India, was making a pre-emptive move with political and military considerations delicately poised. However there were barriers on the way to the sacred city of Lhasa, including the strategically located Gyantse Jong, likened by some British observers to a landlocked Rock of Gibraltar. Jack Grant’s VC action was witnessed by many observers, including the Press. Of the events of 6th July 1904 The Times’s correspondent Perceval Landon wrote:
‘About two o’clock Colonel Campbell, to whom had been committed the command of the attacking force, sent across to Pala village, where the General was watching operations with his staff, urgently recommending that an attack should be made at once upon the extreme east part of the upper works of the jong. The rock of Gyantse is so steep that it seemed accessible nowhere except along the main approach which was well defended.
But at the point which Colonel Campbell chose there was just a bare possibility of scaling the rock. It was a fearful climb, and the top of it was crowned by a well-made wall flanked by two projecting bastions. At first the General was unwilling to press forward any further that day, and was in some doubt whether to accede to this request. He determined, however, to be guided by the advice of Colonel Campbell on the spot. At a little past three, a concentrated fire from all points was ordered to be directed upon the wall at the head of this steep climb. The common shell used by the ten-pounders was now employed with terrific effect, and one could see, second by second, a large ragged hole being torn open at this point. Clouds of dust arose and slowly drifted away to the west in the slight breeze, and whenever a lull in the cannonade allowed a clear sight, the breach was wider by a yard or two. A constant cataract of stone and brick fell down the face of the rock below, which here was almost sheer for forty feet. It was not shell alone that did this work. Magazine fire was concentrated at the same point, and under this whistling canopy of ball and shell, the Gurkhas were soon seen moving upwards and onwards from the houses at the base of the rock. It was a moment tense with excitement, Lieutenant Grant was in charge of the storming party, and soon the first figures appeared over the belt of houses and trees which hem in the rock on this side. Instantly the fire redoubled, and from three points a converging fire hammered and bit upon the wall above the heads.
Absolutely confident in the skill of the gunners, the Gurkhas climbed on. Not a Tibetan was seen on the wall above, but through the loopholes of the bastions a few shots were fired, at what was becoming point blank range, and caused one or two casualties among the little figures clambering up on their hands and knees.
To those who watched from a distance, it seemed as if more loss was being inflicted when again and again one of the escalading force was knocked backwards by the masses of stone and brick dislodged by our shells. The steepness was so great that a man who slipped almost necessarily carried away the man below him also. But little by little the advance was made, and conspicuous in front of the small company was Grant, with one Sepoy, who was clearly determined to rival his officer in one of the pluckiest pieces of work ever known on the Indian frontier. The men now reached a point fifteen or twenty feet below the level of the breach, and it was no longer safe to allow the cannonade to continue. The guns had been tested with a success which almost surpasses belief. The chief danger lay in striking too low and exploding the shells on the outside, but not a single missile had struck the rock at the base of the wall. The marksmanship displayed was astonishing; inferiority in the gun itself was the only real danger to be feared, but these new ten-pounders seem to have reached mechanical perfection for all practical purposes.
Just at this moment, when the General himself was issuing orders that the fire should cease, the thin high piep of the Ghurka bugler cried again and again from the distant rocks in the four shrill consecutive notes which call for silence, and silence reigned. Then, uncovered by our guns, the last desperate climb was made, and up the higher ridges of an ascent so sheer that it was almost impossible for our men to protect themselves, one or two of these little figures scrambled. They reached at last the crumbling wreckage of the Tibetan wall. Lieutenant Grant and his faithful follower were the first two men over, and the great semi-circle of the watching British force held their breath for a second to see if they would be at once shot down. For the moment it was two men against all the enemy that were in the jong – for the third man slipped and carried away in his fall his immediate successor – and it was patent enough to us all that if the Tibetans had but reserved their fire and waited in the bastions, they might well have picked off, one by one, each man as his head appeared above the breach… ’
As Brian Best has pointed out, Havildar Karbir Pun would undoubtedly also have been awarded the VC had the statutes so allowed in 1904. In fact a Warrant extending eligibility to Native Officers and Men was to be signed by the King in 1911 (see ‘John Duncan Grant – The Army’s Highest VC’, included in The Journal of The Victoria Cross Society, 15th edition, October 2009 for a detailed account and biography), but as it happened Grant’s Cross was to be the last award before the Great War. He received it from the King at Buckingham Palace on 24 July, 1905 and he married Kathleen Freyer in London on 19 January 1907, his Captaincy in the 8th Gurkhas being confirmed 3 days later. During 1908 he attended the Staff College at Quetta and, following various Indian postings, embarked for New Zealand where he served on the Imperial General Staff, Otago District, arriving in Dunedin on 14 November 1911 with the temporary rank of Major in the N.Z. defence forces.
On the outbreak of War in August 1914 he returned to India before being appointed Brigade-Major, 35th Indian Infantry Brigade with orders to join the Tigris Corps, charged with the relief of Sir Charles Townshend’s Anglo-Indian Force besieged in Mesopotamia at Kut. Already wounded twice in Tibet, Grant was more seriously injured in the thigh at Orah on 13 January 1916 and was repatriated to England, where he convalesced at Lady Ridley’s Hospital in London. After ‘light duty’ in England until Spring 1917, Grant’s sailing orders for return to India were revoked in favour of a temporary secondment to II Anzac Corps, his pre-war experience in New Zealand no doubt carrying weight with the Chief of Staff. As a Major (antedated back to 1 September 1915), he briefly served with the Anzacs in France before embarking again for India, in the Nagoya out of Marseilles, on 16 August 1917.
In May 1918 Grant was once more on his way to Kut, disembarking at Basra as Acting Lieutenant-Colonel in command of 3 Battalion, 11th Gurkha Rifles. However after return to India and being stationed at Manmad in the Bombay Presidency, he was able to enjoy some extended leave before going with the 3/11th to the Third Afghan War (D.S.O., India General Service Medal with 3 clasps). For a period in 1921 he assumed command of a Training Battalion of the 13th Rajput Regiment before returning to the Gurkhas in command of 1st Battalion, 10th G.R.. Between 1925 and 1928 he was Assistant Adjutant General, Army H.Q., India and was promoted a full Colonel on 2 September 1926. Coinciding with his retirement, he was awarded the C.B. in the Birthday Honours List of 1929, and in 1934 he was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 10th Gurkha Rifles.
During the Second World War Grant served with the Home Guard in London. He attended the 1960 Gurkha Association Dinner in the presence of the King of Nepal and was perhaps the oldest recipient present at the fourth VC & GC reunion, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, on 16 July 1964. He died in February, 1967 at the age of 89.