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Battle of Saragarhi's 122nd anniversary: 21 Sikh soldiers fought 10,000 Afghans like 'demons'

The 21 soldiers were from Punjab's Majha region and were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, at that time the highest gallantry award which an Indian soldier could receive. 

Battle of Saragarhi's 122nd anniversary: 21 Sikh soldiers fought 10,000 Afghans like 'demons'

One of the greatest last stands, the Battle of Saragarhi was fought on September 12, 1897, by 21 Sikh soldiers of the British India Army against 10,000 Afghans in the Samana Valley of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which was then part of India. In a show of unprecedented courage and unparalleled valour, all the 21 soldiers of 36 Sikh Regiment fought till their last breath against the Afghan hordes and went down as superheroes who are celebrated not only by the Indian Army but even the British Army.

On September 12, 1897, the 21 soldiers of 36 Sikh Regiment soldiers of the British Indian Empire led by Havildar Ishar Singh defended Saragarhi, a small rocky outpost situated between Fort Gulistan and Fort Lockhart in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The 36 Sikh Regiment later became the 4th Battalion of Sikh Regiment in the Indian Army and the force commemorates September 12 as Saragarhi Day to honour their fallen comrades. 

The 21 soldiers were from Punjab's Majha region and were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, at that time the highest gallantry award which an Indian soldier could receive. The soldiers included 165 Havildar Ishar Singh, 332 Naik Lal Singh, 546 Lance Naik Chanda Singh, 1321 Sepoy Sundar Singh, 287 Sepoy Ram Singh, 492 Sepoy Uttar Singh, 182 Sepoy Sahib Singh, 359 Sepoy Hira Singh, 687 Sepoy Daya Singh and 760 Sepoy Jivan Singh, 791 Bhola Singh, 834 Sepoy Narayan Singh, 814 Sepoy Gurumukh Singh, 871 Sepoy Jivan Singh, 1733 Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, 163 Sepoy Ram Singh, 1257 Sepoy Bhagwan Singh, 1265 Bhagwan Singh, 1556 Sepoy Buta Singh, 1651 Sepoy Jivan Singh and 1221 Sepoy Nand Singh.

Recalling the incident, Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh paid homage saying, "My tributes to the soldiers of the historic Battle of Saragarhi. Today’s youth must take inspiration from the indomitable spirit of 36th Sikhs to fight social evils to create a better tomorrow. Joining our Armed Forces would be one such step." 

Even the British Army tweeted, "We honour the selfless commitment and courage of British Sikh soldiers past and present on #SaragarhiDay. Today marks the anniversary of the battle in 1897 when 21 British Indian Army Sepoys (Sikh soldiers) died in a last stand against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen." 

Saluting their bravery, a British officer who was the second-in-command of the 36 Sikh Regiment, called the fallen sepoys of Saragarhi “men of mine”. The officer, Major Charles Des Voeux, added that “they died fighting like demons.” Voeux and 166 of his men from the 36 Sikh Regiment, along with his family were stationed at Fort Gulistan, when Saragarhi fell.

Describing the courage of the Sikh soldiers in the Battle of Saragarhi, Vouex called the fallen sepoys “men of mine”, adding “they died fighting like demons". Vouex said, "The fort next to us, with 21 men of mine and one follower, was taken by storm, and fell at 3.40pm on the 12th. The whole garrison were killed. I hear they died fighting like demons. My men here (Fort Gulistan) fought like tigers, but we lost heavily – 44 out of the 166, killed, wounded and missing. Things are very serious indeed but my men pulled me through." 

Saragharhi was recaptured two days later by another British Indian contingent.