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Above: Havildar Ishar Singh. Image on homepage: a theatrical re-enactment of the Battle of Saragarhi. Thumbnail: The Saragarhi Gurdwara Memorial. Below, first from bottom - the Saragarhi Post after the battle in 1897.

Our Heroes

Remembering Saragarhi

by AVTAR SINGH GILL

 

September 12 is celebrated every year around the world as Saragarhi Day by all the battalions of the elite Sikh Regiment. UNESCO has recognized this battle as one of the eight great battles of the world known for collective bravery. 

On receiving the news shortly after the Battle in 1897, it is reported that the British Parliament interrupted its proceedings and gave a standing ovation to the Saragarhi Braves. Each hero was awarded an Order of Merit (IOM), the highest award given to an Indian soldier in the British Indian Army for valour and sacrifice. Altogether, 21 IOMs were awarded in one day, a record in itself. The battle of Saragarhi gave rise to the slogan: Last man, last round!

 

 

Every year, Sikhs in Punjab's Ferozepur District mark Saragarhi Day to remember the unparalleled valour demonstrated by 21 Sikh soldiers on September 12, 1897 while participating in the battle of Saragarhi against a 10,000-strong enemy force.

The Sikh soldiers of the 4th Battalion (then, the 36th Sikhs) of the Sikh Regiment of British India were sent to defend Fort Lockhart at Saragarhi Post, in North West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan).

Some 10,000 tribesmen had attacked the Saragarhi Post.

The battle lasted over six hours and, one by one, the defenders fell while trying to protect their post.

But they did not surrender.

The day marking the epic battle is observed each year around the world as "Saragarhi Day".

The Gurdwara, named the Saragarhi Memorial, in Ferozepur stands today as a protected monument and is a tribute to those Sikh soldiers who sacrificed their lives.

The memorial gurdwara, surrounded by half-a-dozen small and big cannons and with the names of the 21 brave soldiers inscribed on its walls, was built by the army with stones from the Saragarhi post.

It was declared open in 1904 by Sir Charles Revz. The Saragarhi Memorial is an inspiration to all as a symbol of courage and bravery.

Captain Sadhu Singh of the Sikh Regiment says: "About 110 years ago, on 12th of September, 1897, a battle was fought in which 21 brave soldiers were martyred while fighting under the leadership of Hawaldar Ishar Singh at the Saragarhi Post. We celebrate this day every year in memory of those martyrs. Whatever our ancestors have given us thus in legacy makes our nation and our community proud".

On the occasion of the 110th anniversary of Saragarhi Day, a cross-country run was held, in which hundreds of civilians as well as army personnel participated.

After covering a distance of nine miles on the Faridkot-Ferozepur Road, the run culminated at the Saragarhi Memorial Gurudwara.

The Sikh Regiment organized a cross-country and cycle rally with the support of the State government to inspire youth and instil a spirit of sacrifice in them.

Lt. Gen. R.S. Sujlana, Colonel of the Sikh Regiment, states: "Today, we organized a cycle-rally and a run, which saw the participation of a large number of youth".

Ferozepur City in South-west Punjab is on the sensitive border with Pakistan and has witnessed three wars in recent decades.

The border village lacks medical facilities and to make the Saragarhi Day a memorable one, the army also organized a free medical camp .

Each year, by observing the Saragarhi Day, the spirit and inspiration is kept alive from generation to generation.

 

[Courtesy: Newspost]

September 30, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Arvinder Singh Kang (Oxford, MS, U.S.A.), October 01, 2008, 8:59 AM.

I wish our school textbooks in Punjab include the history of real life heroes. What can be a better example of "Purza purza katt marai, kabhoon naa chhaade khet"? These martyrs did not just win the battle with their physical enemy but with inner doubts, with their fears.

2: Satinder Gill (Khanna, Punjab), October 01, 2008, 10:58 AM.

I am proud of being an army officer's daughter, with every fibre of my being. Having seen so closely the life they lead and the sacrifices they make has given me a sense of deep reverence for all the men and women who stand on guard for their nation of birth or their adopted countries.

3: Seasingh (India), October 02, 2008, 4:11 AM.

My grand father fought in France during The Great War(WWI) and I heard the story of Saragarhi from my father, himself a Second World War veteran who served in the Indian Army for 37 years. After nearly twenty years in the Indian Navy flying helicopters and serving on ships, I still get touched somewhere deep down when Saragarhi is mentioned. It is one of the most motivating narrations for my two sons also. Truly, those brave men achieved something that inspires us even after 110 years. Did these men fight for the Crown, did these men fight for the loyalty to their pay masters, was the Sikhi threatened in any way and they defended it or was it a sense of duty that is so deeply ingrained in any Sikh that it inspires him to make the supreme sacrifice for what he thinks is 'Right'? I cannot really answer this and it can be debated but the fact remains that Saragarhi is a saga that makes a Sikh further proud of his heritage.

4: Bawa Preet Ranjan Singh (New Delhi, India), October 02, 2008, 12:16 PM.

A detailed account of the Battle of Saragarhi was written by Lt. Gen. Kirpal Singh Randhawa and published by Nishaan in its 3rd issue of 2000. A few lines need to be repeated here: This action was, in the words of the then Governor General of India - "A heroic devotion which has never been surpassed in the annals of the Indian Army". The Commander-in-Chief of India said of them - "Fighting against such 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". I agree with Arvinder Singh Kang that this ought to be included in all school books. What also needs to be added is another decisive battle - The Battle of Longewala (5th Dec 1971). Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (MVC) with less than a hundred troops and two jeep mounted medium guns confronted a Pakistani brigade of over 2000 troops and 55 tanks. He not only chose to stay put and held the enemy at bay but destroyed their front line. The only Param Vir Chakra ever awarded to the Indian Air Force was to Flying Officer Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon who knowing he'd most likely lose his life, single handedly routed 6 enemy jets over Srinagar and shot down two of them during the 1971 war. I could go on and on. They were, after all, all sons of Punjab.

5: Raj (Canada), October 04, 2008, 8:34 PM.

The list of our heroes is endless. I have posted this before, but I'd highly recommend all of you to read about Lt. General Harbakhsh Singh. He led his troops of the Sikh Regiment in 1947, '62 and '65. A tactical genius, he saved Amritsar from Pakistani Patton tank attacks. Fearing defeat, the Chief of the Indian Army Staff asked him to pull behind the Beas River. He bypassed the order, risking court-martial, and thus not only saved Amritsar, but ended up taking a large number of Pakistani POWs and capturing considerable enemy territory. His dispatches are now studied in the Pakistani Military Academy. These are the same dispatches that the General gave to the then Indian defence minister, Y.B. Chavan for official publication, which were never published. Finally, after about 25 years, the retired General published them privately. That's how Pakistani army got them. He was recommended for the Chief of Army Staff post, but Indira Gandhi gave that postion to Gen. Manekshaw, who was recently accused of selling secrets to the enemy in a book written by the then Pakistani General Yahya Khan. Anyway, I'd recommend all of you to read "In the Line of Duty" by General Harbakhsh Singh and other books by Capt. Amrinder Singh, such as "Lest we Fall". We need to read them, and have our children read them!

6: Saragarhi.org (U.S.A.), October 09, 2008, 7:46 PM.

You can visit the website dedicated on this event: http://www.saragarhi.org

7: Singhdicate (Toronto, Canada), October 26, 2008, 7:22 PM.

Just a small correction ... the drawing of Havildar Ishar Singh is actually a circa WW1 drawing of Havildar Ishar Singh of the 15th Sikhs in France (the puggri badge, a simple quoit can be attributed to the 15th Sikhs).

8: Satbir Singh Bakshi (Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, U.S.A.), October 27, 2008, 2:37 PM.

I agree these heroes have to be remembered and honoured. And more battles and stories recorded. Would love to know more about the battles fought by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Generals, for example.

9: Angad Bir Singh Sodhi (New Delhi, India), September 12, 2009, 2:04 AM.

While there is no denying these 21 soldiers' valour and courage, I just have one question (I haven't had the opportunity to research the battle much) but wasn't there a fort full of British soldiers just a few kilometres away? From what little I have read, the soldiers at Saragarhi were told no help could be sent to them. Yes, they were heroes, but what good are dead heroes? Does no one else think there is a question to be asked as to why the "natives" were left to be slaughtered (maybe not like lambs in this case, but slaughtered nevertheless) when help was close enough? Again, I haven't read up on this enough but I have found no reference as to how long these men held off for before the last man fell and why is it that no help could be sent to save these men, if in truth the battle did rage on long enough for them to get 600 odd Pashtuns? Would appreciate it if anyone could suggest some literature on this battle. Thanks!

10: Edward Davidson (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), August 20, 2014, 5:08 PM.

These were genuine heroes in every sense of the word. Real soldiers, faithful to their special calling. Saragarhi has got to be recognized as the greatest "last stand" in any military history. Every Sikh should learn and take pride in this outstanding example of heroic service.

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