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The Defence of Saragarhi

In the summer of 1897, the frontier between India and Afghanistan was set ablaze by the call for Jihad galvanising a force of over 10,000 Pashtun Afridi and Orakazai tribesmen in an invasion of India. On September 12th 1897, this force zeroed in on a strategic post at Saragarhi on the Samana range. Not wanting to lose time in a skirmish, the detachment of 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry manning the post were given a chance to surrender by the Afghans. When the defenders elected to stand their ground, a 7-hour battle ensued in which the Sikhs having expended all munitions resorted to hand to hand fighting; before falling to a man they would inflict over a thousand casualties on the Afghans, with over 600 killed according to enemy records. All of the 21 Sikh non-commissioned officers and soldiers of other ranks who laid down their lives in the Battle of Saragarhi were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit (IOM), an equivalent the Victoria Cross that was highest gallantry award of that an Indian soldier of the queen could receive from the Crown. Later, In 1911 King George V would make Indian soldiers eligible for the Victoria Cross and with that, the last stand at Saragarhi had eclipsed the defence of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 as the conflict with the most awards of the Crown’s top decoration for bravery in a single action.


“Without the stiff resistance of the 21 Sikh soldiers at Saragarhi both Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan would have easily fallen to the enemy. By defending their position long enough for the relief column to arrive with artillery support, the 21 Sikh soldiers became the crucial factor in turning the tide of battle in their¬† favour. When the relief column arrived a day later, they saw the burnt out bodies of all the 21 Sikh soldiers, together with at least 800 dead bodies of the tribesmen strewn only yards in front of their position”

“The Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) in Ferozepur, Punjab is a tribute to the Sikh soldiers who sacrificed their lives at Saragarhi. The memorial Gurdwara, was built by the army in 1904 with stones from the Saragarhi post and has the names of the 21 Sikh soldiers inscribed on its walls.”

“36th Sikhs, various ranks, 1896. On the left, holding his sword is an officer. He has a badge on his turban. Next is a Havildar with three stripes on his arm, then a Sepoy in winter dress and three good conduct stripes. On the right is a bugler. These last three other ranks do not wear a badge like the officer, but all four have a quoit circling their turbans. All four also wear boots instead of the sandals or shoes that so many of the infantrymen wore.”