On 12th Sept. 1897, 21 Sikh soldiers of 36th Sikh Regiment were beseized by ten thousand Afreedi Pathans (who claims to be the descendants of mighty king Faridun of Persia) at Saragarhi near fort Lockhart, distt. Kohat of N W F Province (now in Pakistan). The fierce battle known by the natives as ‘Teera battle’ or Saragarhi battle was fought on 12th Sep. 1897 under the command of havildar Ishaer Singh who caused maximum casualities of the invaders. According to the accounts of Afreedi Pathans, more then two hundred pathans were killed in this battle and more then more then one thousand seriously injured. At the fag end of the battle only Havildar Isher Singh was left alone with twenty bodies of his brave fellow fighters Amritdhari Gursikh soldiers lying all around him. Unfrustrated by the attack of huge enemy, the lone soldier fought the battle for hours in the spirit of Chardi-kalaa and showing exemplary courage unparallel in the history of wars, continued firing and fighting till the last drop of blood kept him alive. He and twenty of his other brave Sikh soldiers practically proved in the battlefield the prophetic pronouncement of Guru Gobind Singh that’ Sava lakh se ek laraoon, Tabhai Gobind Singh naam kahaoon’, All these twenty one Sikh soldiers who laid down their lives heroically were awarded the highest gallantry award —— the INDIAN ORDER OF MERITT (IOM) equalent to existing PARAM VEER CHAKRA for their supreme valor and sacrifices by British govt. The highest gallantry awards were given on that day to 21 Sikh soldiers which were the highest in strength awarded for any single day anywhere in world.
When the news of that peerless sacrifice reached England, all the members of the British Parliament in their special session paid glowing tributes to the most daring Sikh soldiers and two minutes silence was observed in their sweet memory . The members of the house while eulogizing the remarkable acts of bravery of the brave Sikh soldiers of Saragarhi battle said, “the English as well as Indian subjects are proud of 36th Sikh Regiment and it is no exaggeration to record that the armed forces which posses valiant Sikhs can not face defeat in any war.”
Below is the extract from a draft publication written in 2002, about Anglo-Sikh relations.
It provide useful briefing material for projects like the Wellington Arch Sikh Exhibition in London, in January 2009.
The Epic of Saragarhi 12th September 1897
“Fighting against overwhelming numbers, they all died at their posts, with unflinching loyalty and devotion to their oath while upholding to the very last, the traditional bravery of the Sikh nation”. (The Commander-in-Chief, India).
This was one of the most heroic actions in recorded history fought by a small detachment of 21 jawans of the 36th Sikh (since redesignated as the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army). The action was fought at Saragarhi in North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan and close to the Afghanistan border. Saragarhi was a small army post, a small square stone blockhouse built on a high ridge called the Samana Ridge. The post provided vital communication between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan on either side of the Saragarhi post. One hundred and twenty-one jawans of the 36th Sikhs were in Fort Lockhart and 175 in Fort Gulistan at the time. You need to remember that communication those days was by visual signalling equipment.
Several thousand Pathan tribesmen attacked this small post on the morning of 12th September 1897. They surrounded the post so that no help from the other units could reach in time. These jawans under the command of Havildar (sergeant) Ishar Singh fought a memorable battle killing over three hundred attacking tribesmen. The last person to join the battle was the signaller, Sepoy (soldier) Gurmukh Singh, who had until then kept the battalion headquarters informed of the situation. He asked permission from headquarters to stop signalling, took up his rifle and fell fighting single-handed. The valor of these heroes of Saragarhi won wide acclaim and they were posthumously awarded the highest military honors for gallantry. Battle Honors were also awarded to their battalion, 36th Sikhs.
It is not surprising that following epics like the battle of Saragarhi and the earlier Anglo-Sikh wars, the gallantry of the Sikh battalions became legendary. The military fame of the Sikhs spread worldwide. The Sikh units of the Indian army became role models for others. They provided a source of inspiration for others while convincing the British commanders that soldiers from the Indian subcontinent could stand their ground against the best in the world. It is with this background that we need to assess the contribution of the Sikhs to the two World Wars fought for the freedom of mankind. A contribution, which is sometimes forgotten by the politicians or overlooked by the military historians.
Posted by : Ajmer Singh Randhawa.