Battle of Saragrhi

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The Battle

Sikh soldier in ceremonial turban, Indian Army

Details of the Battle of Saraghari are considered fairly accurate, due to Gurmukh Singh signalling events to Fort Lockhart as they occurred.

* Around 9.00am, around 10,000 Afghans reach the signaling post at Saragarhi.
* Sardar Gurmukh Singh signals to Col. Haughton, situated in Fort Lockhart, that they are under attack.
* Colonel Haughton states he cannot send immediate help to Saragarhi.
* The soldiers decide to fight to the last to prevent the enemy reaching the forts.
* Bhagwan Singh becomes the first injured and Lal Singh was seriously wounded.
* Soldiers Lal Singh and Jiwa Singh reportedly carry the dead body of Bhagwan Singh back to the inner layer of the post.
* The enemy break a portion of the wall of the picket.
* Colonel Haughton signals that he has estimated between 10,000 and 14,000 Pashtuns attacking Saraghari.
* The leaders of the Afghan forces reportedly make promises to the soldiers to entice them to surrender.
* Reportedly two determined attempts are made to rush the open gate, but are unsuccessful.
* Later, Fort Lockhart is breached.
* Thereafter, some of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting occurs.
* In an act of outstanding bravery, Ishar Singh orders his men to fall back into the inner layer, whilst he remains to fight. However, this is breached and all but one of the defending soldiers are killed, along with many of the Pashtuns.
* Gurmukh Singh, who communicated the battle with Col. Haughton, was the last Sikh defender. He is stated to have killed 20 Afghans, the Pashtuns having to set fire to the post to kill him. As he was dying he was said to have yelled repeatedly the regimental battle-cry “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal (He who cries God is Truth, is ever victorious).

Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned their attention to Fort Gulistan, but they had been delayed too long, and reinforcements arrived there in the night of 13-14 September, before the fort could be conquered. The Afghans later stated that they had lost about 180 killed and many more wounded during the engagement against the 21 Sikh soldiers, but some 600 bodies are said to have been seen around the ruined post when the relief party arrived (however, the fort had been retaken, on 14 September, by the use of intensive artillery fire, which may have caused many casualties). The total casualties in the entire campaign, including the Battle of Saragarhi, numbered at around 4,800.

Order of Merit

All 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, the highest gallantry award of that time, which an Indian soldier could receive by the hands of the British crown, the corresponding gallantry award being Victoria Cross. This award is equivalent to today’s Param Vir Chakra awarded by the President of India.

The names of the 21 recipients of the gallantry award are:

1. Havildar Ishar Singh (regimental number 165)
2. Naik Lal Singh (332)
3. Lance Naik Chanda Singh (546)
4. Sepoy Sundar Singh (1321)
5. Sepoy Ram Singh (287)
6. Sepoy Uttar Singh (492)
7. Sepoy Sahib Singh (182)
8. Sepoy Hira Singh (359)
9. Sepoy Daya Singh (687)
10. Sepoy Jivan Singh (760)
11. Sepoy Bhola Singh (791)
12. Sepoy Narayan Singh (834)
13. Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (814)
14. Sepoy Jivan Singh (871)
15. Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (1733)
16. Sepoy Ram Singh (163)
17. Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1257)
18. Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1265)
19. Sepoy Buta Singh (1556)
20. Sepoy Jivan Singh (1651)
21. Sepoy Nand Singh (1221)

The Battle at Saragarhi is one of eight stories of collective bravery published by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). It has been mentioned as one of the five most significant events of its kind in the world which includes the Saga of Thermoplyae associated with the heroic stand of a small Greek force against the mighty Persian Army of Xerxes in 480 B.C.


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