Corps of Engineers

SubramaniamSubedar Subramanian GC was the first Indian to be awarded the George Cross. The George Cross is the highest British award for gallantry while not facing the enemy.

He served with Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners, a unit of the Indian Army, during the Second World War. On 24 February 1944, during the Allied campaign in Italy he won the George Cross at Mignano by throwing himself onto a mine about to detonate and thus successfully protecting others from the blast. His award was gazetted posthumously on 30 June 1944. He was also awarded the India Service Medal (1939–45).

Subedar K. Subramaniam of the Madras Sappers made the ultimate sacrifice to save his comrades’ lives during the Italian Campaign. His 11 Field Park Company was engaged in mine-clearing operations on February 24, 1944 for an attack on the mountain monastery of Cassino, the focal point of the German Gustav Line 100 miles south of Rome. One of the men stepped on a mine and triggered it. With seconds left for it to explode, Subramaniam hurled himself on top of it, smothering the explosion with his own body. His act saved the lives of the entire group, including that of a young British officer.

The Sangro River Cremation Memorial in Italy erected in memory of the officers and men from India who fell fighting in Italy during the Second World War and were cremated there, and the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill in London that commemorates the Allied dead of that war, carry Subramaniam’s name. The details recorded in the Sangro river memorial reads, “Subramanian, son of Kannayiram and Thangammal holding the rank of Subedar, with official Number 14069 from the unit Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sapper and Miners and husband of Shanbgammal of Keelvodivakkam, Chengalpet, India.”

The details show that while Sub Subramanian was operating the mine detector, with Lance Naik Sigamani behind him marking his path with a white tape, there was a small explosion. The subedar realized immediately that the Lance Naik had stepped on an anti-personal mine and within the next four seconds the canister would be thrown into the air and explode causing great damage. Without the slightest hesitation and knowing that this would be fatal, Subramanian hurled himself over the mine knocking the Lance Naik aside. The force of the explosion was neutralized by the Subedar’s body which caused his death. With this action he saved the lives of his comrades, especially Lt Young, who was next to him.

In a rare gesture of gratitude, touching tributes were paid to 5,782 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives fighting for Italy against the fascist forces, on Oct 5, 2007 in Rome. The Memorial Gates in London have been constructed in the Constitution Hill, to pay tribute to the brave men of WW II. Sub Subramanian’s name is included in the memorial list.