Where 21 Sikhs clashed with ten thousand Pathans
On September 12, 1897, at 8 in the morning, the sentry of the Saragarhi Fort ran inside and informed that a Lashkar of thousands of Pathans is moving towards the Saragarhi fort with the flags and nazes (spears) towards the north.
Their number was between 8,000 and 14,000. The sentry was immediately called in and the leader of the troops, Havildar Isher Singh, ordered the signalman Gurmukh Singh to immediately inform the British officers stationed at the nearby Fort Lockhart and asked them what was the order for them.
Colonel Hoten ordered, “Hold your position.” That is, stay in your place. Within an hour the fort was cordoned off on three sides and a soldier of Orakzai raised a white flag in his hand towards the fort.
He shouted, “We have no quarrel with you. Our fight is with the British. You are very few in number, you will be killed. Put arms before us. We will take care of you and give you a way to get out of here safely.” ”
Later, the British army’s Major General James Lunt described the fight, writing, “Isher Singh responded to this offer in Pashto, the language of the Orkzaiyans. Their language was not only strong but also full of abuses. They said that this is the land of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, not of the British, and we will protect it till its last breath. ”
The fort of Saragarhi resonated with the cry of ‘Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akal’.
Why did the battle of Saragarhi happen
The fort of Saragarhi is at an altitude of about 6000 feet in Kohat district of the Northwest Frontier region of Pakistan.
This is the area where no government has been able to control the people living till date.
In the 1880s, the British built three posts here, which was strongly opposed by the local and Kazai people, due to which the British had to evacuate those posts.
In 1891, the British again campaigned there. He got an agreement with Rabia Khel and he got permission to build three small forts in Gulistan, Lockhart, and Saragarhi.
But the local Orkazai people never liked it. They continued to attack these bases so that the British would flee from there.
On 3 September 1897, the great Lashkar of the Pathans tried to surround these three fortresses, but Colonel Hotan somehow managed the situation.
But on 12 September, the Aurkazai besieged the three fortresses of Gulistan, Lockhart and Saragarhi and isolated Lockhart and Gulistan from Saragarhi.
‘The Iconic Battle of Saragarhi’ by Brigadier Kanwaljit Singh
The first fire of the others came at exactly 9 o’clock.
Brigadier Kanwaljit Singh, who wrote the famous book ‘The Iconic Battle of Saragarhi’ on Saragarhi Battle, says, “Havildar Isher Singh ordered his soldiers not to fire and let the Pathans come forward and fire on them only when They should fall within their 1000 ‘firing range’.
“Sikh soldiers had single-shot ‘Martini-Henry .303’ rifles that could fire 10 rounds in 1 minute. Each soldier had 400 bullets, 100 in their pockets and 300 in the reserve. They gave the Pathans a range of their rifles. I came in and then started targeting them selectively. ”
Pathan’s first attack failed
In the first hour itself, 60 soldiers of the Pathans were killed and the soldier Sikh Bhagwan Singh was killed on the Sikhs side and Nayak Lal Singh was badly injured.
The first attack of the Pathans failed. He started running around without any aim but he did not stop firing on the Sikhs.
The Sikhs were given a befitting reply to them, but what was the status of the 21 rifles in front of the Pathans while firing thousands? And then for how long?
Pathans set fire to the grass
At that time, the strong wind blowing from the north side helped the Pathans a lot. They set fire to the grass and their flames started rising towards the walls of the fort.
Taking the support of the smoke, the Pathans came near the fort wall. But due to the precise firing aimed at the Sikhs, they had to retreat.
Meanwhile, the number of injured was also increasing in the Sikh camp. Soldiers Buta Singh and Sundar Singh Veer had gained momentum.
Order to save bullets
Signalman Gurmukh Singh was constantly telling Signal Hotan in sign language that Pathan was preparing for another attack and we were firing.
The Colonel replied, Do not fire indiscriminately. When you are absolutely certain that the enemy will shoot, only drive them. We are trying to help you in some way.
In his book ‘Saragarhi and the Defense of the Samna Fort’, Amarinder Singh wrote, “13 soldiers from the Royal Irish Rifles moved from Lockhart Fort to help the troops present at Saragarhi.”
“But he immediately realized that his numbers were so low that it would not have had any effect on the Pathans if he had fired at them from 1000 yards away.”
“If he gets any closer, the stolen Metford rifles with ‘jizzle’ and long drains of the Pathans will easily make him his target. He returns to his fort.”
Pathans pierced the fort wall
All this was happening because both the Pathans were successful in reaching the wall on the right side of the main fort.
With his sharp knives, he started uprooting the wall of the wall and the stone net below.
Meanwhile, Ishar Singh brought four of his men to the main hall of the fort, when he continued to fire himself.
But Pathan succeeded in making a hole seven feet under the fort wall.
Brigadier Kanwaljit Singh explains, “The Pathans came up with another trick. They took the four-footers over their heads and started to move under the cover of it so that the Sikhs could not be targeted. They took advantage of it. The design of the fort Stinks in “”
“He reached an angle where no one could see him penetrating the fort from above. Major de Voe, commander of Fort Gulistan, was watching all this happen from his hideout.”
“He had also sent signals about this to the soldiers of Saragarhi, but the signalman Gurmukh Singh was busy reading the signals coming from Lockhart, so he did not pay attention to these signals.”
Attempts to help were in vain
Three soldiers stationed in the main block along with Lance Naik Chand Singh, Sahib Singh, Jeevan Singh, and Daya Singh were killed.
When Chand Singh was left alone, Ishar Singh and the rest of his companions left their defense positions and came to the main block near them.
Eicher ordered that he put a bayonet in his rifles. Whatever Pathan entered that hole, it was either targeted accurately with rifles or was cut.
But with no Sikhs stationed on the outer edges, the Pathans climbed the bamboo stairs.
Amarinder Singh writes, “Despite the thousands of Pathans rising in that area, Lieutenant Mana and Colonel Hotan once again began firing with 78 soldiers to help their comrades surrounded at Saragarhi to distract the Pathans.”
“When he was just 500 meters from the fort, he saw that the Pathans had blown the fort wall and caught fire in the main door of the fort. Hotan realized that Saragarhi had fallen.”
Gurmukh Singh’s last message
Meanwhile, Gurmukh Singh, who is watching the arrangement of the signal, sent his last message that Pathan has reached the main block.
He asked Colonel Hoton to stop the signal and handle his rifle. The Colonel in his last message allowed him to do so.
Gurmukh Singh kept his helio on one side, picked up his rifle and reached out to the remaining fellow who were fighting in the main block.
By then most of the soldiers of the Sikh contingent including Isher Singh had been killed. The dead bodies of the Pathans were also scattered all around.
The hole made by him and the burnt main gate was lined with the corpses of the Pathans. Ultimately, Nayak Lal Singh, Gurmukh Singh and a civilian herd survived.
Lal Singh was not able to walk due to badly injured, but he did not faint and fell on one place and was continuously hitting rifles and hitting the Pathans.
Herpes also lifted the rifle
By then, there was a strange law in the British army that civilians working with the army would not carry guns.
The job of shingles was to take care of the injured, carry signal messages, open arms boxes and carry them to the soldiers.
When the end came to a close, Dad also lifted the rifle and before he died, he either shot five Pathans or stabbed him in his stomach.
Amarinder Singh writes, “In the end, only Gurmukh Singh survived. He went to the place where the soldiers had room to sleep.”
“Gurmukh shot at least twenty Pathans while firing single-handedly. Pathans set fire to the entire fort to end the fight.”
“The last of the 36 Sikh soldiers thought it better to lay down their lives than lay down their arms.”
This battle of non-equalization lasted for about 7 hours, in which 22 people were killed from Sikhs and between 180 and 200 from Pathans. At least 600 of his people were also injured.
Wooden gate was the reason for losing the war
Brigadier Kanwaljit Singh says, “After the battle, another shortcoming was found in the ‘design’ of Saragarhi fort.”
“The main door of the fort was made of wood and no nails were installed to strengthen it.”
“Door could not withstand the continuous fire coming from the ‘Jisel’ rifles of the Pathans and broke.”
“By three o’clock all the bullets of the Sikhs were exhausted and they were fighting only the bayonets from the advancing Pathans.”
“By the time the Pathans had pierced the fort wall, it had increased to 7 feet by 12 feet.”
A day later, Aurakzai was driven from Saragarhi
On 14 September, 9 Mountain Battery from Kohat reached there to help the British. Pathan was still present in the fort of Saragarhi.
They started throwing cannons at them. The British troops attacked the ridge with great force and rescued Saragarhi from the clutches of the Pathans.
When these soldiers entered, they found a badly mutilated corpse of Nayak Lal Singh there. The rest of the Sikh soldiers and the bodies of herpes were also lying there.
This whole battle was witnessed by the British officers from nearby Lockhart and Gulistan Forts.
But Pathan was so much in number that he could not come to his aid even after much desire.
Lieutenant Colonel John Haughton was the first to recognize the valor of those brave men. He saluted his colleagues who were killed in front of Saragarhi Post.
British Parliament honored 21 soldiers by standing
This fight was given a place in the world’s biggest ‘Last Stands’. When the news of the sacrifice of these Sikhs reached London, the session of the British Parliament was going on.
All the members stood up and gave ‘standing ovation’ to these 21 soldiers.
On February 8, 1898 issue 26937 of the London Gazette, the British Parliament commented on page 863, “All Britain and India are proud of these soldiers of 36 Sikh regiments. There is no exaggeration to say that the army in which the Sikhs are The soldiers are fighting, no one can defeat them. ”
Highest gallantry award to 21 Sikh soldiers
When Queen Victoria received the news, she announced to give the Indian Order of Marit to all 21 soldiers.
It was the largest gallantry medal awarded to Indians till then, which was comparable to the Victoria Cross and the Paramveer Chakra of today.
Till then the Victoria Cross could only be given to the British soldiers and that too to the surviving soldiers only.
In 1911, George V announced for the first time that Indian soldiers would also be entitled to win the Victoria Cross.
The dependents of these soldiers were given 500-500 rupees and two marmalade land which is equal to 50 acres today, from the government.
Nothing was given to just one civilian herd, as he was an ‘NCE’ (Non-Combatant Enroled) and was not allowed to take up arms.
This was a great injustice to the British government because despite being civilian, Dad had killed at least five Pathans with his rifle or bayonet.
After the fight, Major General Yitman Biggs said, “The bravery and martyrdom of 21 Sikh soldiers will always be written in the golden circles in British military history.”