The Battle of Saragarhi is the tale of incredible valour of 21 soldiers who remained unconquered even in death. A tale of bravery in the records of military warfare unfolded when a group of 21 Sikh soldiers defended a vital North-West Frontier post against 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai attackers.
During the British Raj, 36th Sikh troops had stationed 21 of their soldiers at Saragarhi under Havildar Ishar Singh to keep watch. The Afghan tribes saw this as an opportunity, and on September 12, 1897, attacked Saragarhi. Their strategy was to destroy the post quickly, and capture fort Lockhart and Gulistan deeper into North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), now in Pakistan.
The-NRI reports how Saragarhi was a makeshift post of stones and mud walls with a wooden door. After sending off radio signal against the invaders, Havildar Singh and his men knew well that Saragarhi would fall, but decided to defend the post until reinforcements could arrive at Fort Gulistan.
At Saragarhi, the Afghans made numerous attempts to break open the gate of the post but the brave Sikhs kept battling the onslaught. The Afghans could not breach in, to their shock and pain. The sky rang with Sikh battle cry – “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal (Victory belongs to those who recite the name of God with a true heart).”
The Sikhs, knowing very well what their fate would be, held out against some of the most unfavourable odds for many hours. When repeated attacks failed, the Afghans set fire to the surrounding bushes and two of the tribesmen, under cover of smoke, managed to make a breach in the wall. The Afghans soon captured Saragarhi.
Having destroyed Saragarhi, the Afghans turned to Fort Gulistan. But the Sikhs won even in death. Reinforcements had arrived and the Afghan invaders were defeated. The 21 Sikh soldiers had done their duty. After the Afghan uprising was suppressed, the British Army recaptured Saragarhi. They found 600 bodies – 21 of them were Sikh men in uniforms. It is believed that 4,800 Afghans were wounded in the battle.
For this extraordinary act of bravery and valour, the 21 Sikhs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, which was the highest gallantry award given to Indians at the time, reports Business Standard. The Battle of Saragarhi remains the only instance when an entire body of troops has been given the highest award for the same battle.
On September 12, 1987, members of the British Parliament rose to give a standing ovation to the valorous soldiers — all of them Indians, all of them Sikhs. The British Armed Forces in the UK still commemorates Saragarhi Day every year as the greatest ‘last-stand battle’ in their military history.
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