Victoria Cross Ali Haidar: towards two Anniversaries April 9 and August 21

Ali Haidar, Victoria Cross
Ali Haidar, Victoria Cross

Mr Ambassador, we are truly honored to have the possibility of learning from you about one of the most heroic actions that took place during WWII in Italy: the one carried out by Sepoy Ali Haidar.

As an Italian Army Liaison Officer with the 19th Indian Infantry Brigade I had the privilege of taking part in the action under Lt Colonel S J H Green, Commanding Officer of the Battalion where Ali Haidar served on the Senio River. A brief note about this Hero and the circumstances that lead to the VC decoration.

Jemadar Ali Haidar VC was born August 21, 1913, in India and is the only Pathan to receive the Victoria Cross in WWII. He was serving as a sepoy (private) the 13th Frontier Force Rifles in Italy.

By early spring 1945 the 8th Army fighting in Italy was ordered to make one final offensive to destroy the German 10th Army out of the North. It was essential to cross and establish bridgeheads over the Senio River. The offensive was opened on April 9 by General Sir Charles Keightley’s 5th Corps with the 8th Indian and 2nd New Zealand Divisions. The 6 / 13th Frontier Force Rifles, to which Ali Haidar belonged, were with 19th Indian Brigade of the 8th Division. As soon as his platoon started to cross, it came under tremendous enemy fire and only 3 men including him managed to get to the other bank. The action was part of the Battle of the Three Rivers: Senio, Santerno and Sillaro. The Cremona Division of the Italian army was also engaged on that front.

Without orders, and on his own initiative, near Fusignano, Sepoy Ali Haidar, leaving the other two to cover him, charged the nearest post which was about 30 yards away. He threw a grenade and almost at the same time the enemy threw one at him, wounding his back severely. In spite of this, he kept on. The enemy post was destroyed and four enemy soldiers surrendered. Suffering from his wounds he went on to the following post where Germans were very active. Again wounded, exhausted and overcome with pain, he threw a grenade into the enemy post. Two enemies were wounded and two others surrendered. Thanks to his action, the rest of the Company could now charge across the river, set up a bridgehead win yet another decisive battle against the Nazis.

Ali Haidar was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on October 30, 1945.

He died in Pakistan, aged 85, on the July 15, 1999. Buried at Village Shahu Khel, Shahu Khel, Hangu District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

*What is your personal account of those days? *

I was excited and moved at recognizing that I had the honor of liberating a few square miles of my Country together with the Indian soldiers.

How much did your service during the war influence your service as an Italian Diplomat?

I entered the diplomatic service in the same spirit with which I had joined the army in the service of my Country.

You are the promoter of countless initiatives in favor of historical memory. One of these was realized in 1995, fiftieth anniversary of the battle and you brought VC Ali Haidar back to Italy for the celebration. Could you tell us about this amazing effort?

I was responsible for asking the British, Indian and Pakistani embassies to bring back Ali Haider on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war against the Nazi regime of genocide. He was a Hero to be admired by all the Italians who had been suffering in that terrible period.

You have always been close to the towns where you served in 1944 and came back to visit a number of times. What does this mean to you and what does it mean to receive the expression of so much gratitude after nearly 80 years?

I feel a sense of belonging to Lugo, Alfonsine, Bagnacavallo and other places as if they were part of my own family. I sincerely hope that the young generations, thanks to the noble efforts of Wartime Friends Association and in particular of Prof. Mariangela Rondinelli will fully understand the value and valor of the international army that liberated Italy in 1945 as part of the liberation of Europe.

Ali Haidar, Victoria Cross
With Ali Haidar and the Baruzzi family at Casa Costa where we had the Hq of our Bn

Ali Haidar, Victoria Cross
Plaque to remember