London: Tul Bahadur Pun, a Nepalese soldier who won Britain's highest military honour and later spearheaded the Gurkha rights campaign, has died in his home village, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Pun was awarded the rare Victoria Cross, the greatest possible decoration for bravery in the face of the enemy, for his extraordinary heroics in Burma in June 1944.
He single-handedly stormed a Japanese machine gun position, under heavy fire.
The VC takes precedence over all other military honours and Pun's death leaves just one living recipient from World War II, and only eight in total.
He died on Wednesday in his home village of Myagdi. His official age was 88, but his real age was thought to be 92.
Pun's bravery won him an invitation to Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953 and he had tea with her mother, Queen Elizabeth.
In his old age the warrior fought one more campaign, this time for the rights of Gurkha veterans.
He successfully battled for the right to settle in Britain, having initially been rejected, and went on to help win settlement rights for all Gurkha veterans.
His situation sparked public outrage in Britain and the actress Joanna Lumley, whose father fought alongside Pun, joined him in spearheading the campaign.
His lawyer Martin Howe, joint leader of the Gurkha Justice Campaign, said his efforts in 1944 were instrumental in turning the tide of the war in the Far East by opening the way for the allied troops to take the strategically-important town of Mogaung.
"Tul Bahadur Pun VC was an exceptional man and an inspirational leader," Howe said.
"In June 1944, his single act of incredible courage saved the lives of several hundred British soldiers and by his outstanding example he encouraged our forces to repel and eventually defeat the Japanese.”
"He was not boastful or egoistic, but like so many brave Gurkhas he was a mild-mannered and considerate man.”
"He dedicated his early life to 18 years' service in the British army, and then spent his later years fighting for Gurkha rights and justice for his comrades."
The Gurkhas -- known for their ferocity, loyalty, bravery and razor-sharp kukri fighting knives -- first served as part of the Indian Army in British-run India in 1815.
Around 200,000 fought for Britain in World Wars I and II; some 43,000 were killed or wounded.
Around 3,500 now serve in the British army, including in Afghanistan.
Pun settled in London, but had raised funds to build a new school in his village and had returned home to oversee its completion.
He suddenly suffered respiratory problems and died unexpectedly in Myagdi.
His funeral will be held in Nepal, while friends hope to hold a memorial service in London.
First Published: Friday, April 22, 2011, 09:35