Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Saga-21 Against 10,000. Battle of Saragarhi

In 1897 the Afghan tribe’s men notably the Afridi and Orkazai tribes revolted against the British. In an effort to contain them the British had earlier built two forts at Lockhart and Gulistan.In between these Forts they had set up a small heliographic communication post. This post consisted of a small block house with loop holed ramparts made of stone and brick. At 9:00 am Sept 12th, 1897, 10,000 Afghan tribal troops launched a surprise attack on Saragarhi. Saragarhi was manned by 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment. The man in charge was Havildar Ishwar Singh.

When the attack began the Sikhs were heavily outnumbered and accordingly they signaled to their Officer Commanding Col Haughten for relief. However as the fort was under attack and the tribes men had surrounded Saragarhi the relief column could not reach Saragarhi. As the Afghans could not make much head way against the fort they made repeated attempts to make the Sikhs to surrender. But these were ignored.

The battle lasted six hours and the Afghan Muslims lost over 1000 dead. Ishwar Singh ordered his soldiers to defend Saragarhi at any cost. He was aware that in case Saragarhi was captured the situation at Fort Lockhart would be disastrous and the resultant control of the British over this region (NWFP) would be greatly weakened. The battle continued for 6 hours and repeated charges of the Afghan were repelled. However with ammunition running low and causalities mounting the Afghans finally managed to break through & capture the post.

In meantime, the British forces had attacked the Afghan forces from the rear and opened a path to the fort. However the Afghans fled and the British were confronted by a burnt out fort and the bodies of the 21 Sikh soldiers who had fought to the bitter end. The Afghans won the battle but it was a Pyrrhic victory for them, for they lost as per credible accounts over 100 dead. Ultimately, Havaldar Ishwar Singh and his 20 men, all died in the defense of Saragarhi

Sepoy Gurmukh Singh will be forever remembered as he gave a minute by minute account of the battle to the forts with his flags. He was the last to die in hand to hand combat. The battle of Saragarhi will forever be remembered as a tribute to the valiant fighting qualities of the Sikhs. Let us salute them and soldiers all over the world learn what bravery is all about. This day the 12th of September is a classic page in the annals of the Indian army.

The House of Lords and House of commons recognized the courage of the 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh regiment by paying homage to their bravery by standing up to a tumultuous ovation.All the soldiers were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross of its day. We talk of Thermopylae but Saragarhi is a living legend- to be remembered for all times to come.

Field Marshal WJ Slim had this to say about the bravery of the Sikhs at Saragarhi ” You are never disappointed when you are with the Sikhs. Those 21 soldiers all fought to the death. That bravery should be within all of us…….”.

Labels: A Saga-21 Against 10,000. Battle of Saragarhi

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