It’s been almost 122 years since one of the greatest “last stands” in military history – Battle of Saragarhi, but honestly, it’s still a little too hard to digest how it had actually panned out.
For those who don’t know, here’s a quick little summary. It’s the incredible story of 21 badass Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army who unflinchingly stood against over 10,000 Afghans that attacked the signalling post at Saragarhi, so that communication would be lost between the two forts.
Twenty One Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment lead by Havildar Ishar Singh bravely fought off the hordes of invaders for over ten hours until they were finally overrun and killed. However, their primary goal was to stall the Afghans so their British allies could call reinforces to defend the forts, which was sure as hell achieved.
Here are some interesting details and facts about the Battle of Saragarhi that everyone must know.
1) Although the Afghans claimed that they had lost 180 men, but over 600 bodies of Afghan soldiers were found on the battlefield when the relief team arrived. It is estimated that those 21 Sikh took down approximately 400 to 600 invaders. Not less than a Hollywood film irl!
2) Gurmukh Singh, who operated the heliographic machine for communicating across the forts told their leader, Ishar Singh, that they were ordered to “hold position”, Ishar Singh discussed with his men on whether to retreat or fight on and only when everyone was in agreement and knew the consequences of their answer, that he asked Gurmukh to send back one word reply, “Understood.” Damn.
3) Even the army of over 10,000 Afghans couldn’t breach the Saragarhi fort for over seven hours.
4) The Sikhs were equipped with the most efficient rifle of that time – Martini Henry, a breech-loading rifle weighing about ten pounds that could be fitted with a 20-inch bayonet for close-quarter combat.
5) Afghans were so taken aback by the courage of Sikh soldiers, they tried to bribe them by asking them to surrender and join them. They also promised them a safe passage. Heh, Nice try.
6) The signaler Gurmukh Singh was the last man standing. He took down 20 Afghans right before they set his post on fire. He repeatedly yelled the Sikh battle-cry “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” while dying. *goosebumps*
7) Gurmukh Singh was also the youngest one of them all. He was merely 19 years old. 1 9 y e a r s o l d. Let that sink in.
8) The sacrifice of those 21 men didn’t go in vain, they not only killed hundreds of enemies, but also managed to delay their advance to Fort Gulistan, which gave time for reinforcements to arrive and defeat the enemy.
9) British halted their parliament midway to give a standing ovation to the courage of those 21 brave Sikh men. Queen Victoria also said, “It is no exaggeration to record that the armies which possess the valiant Sikhs cannot face defeat in war. 21 vs 10,000.”
10) This story of one of the greatest last stands is also recorded in the collection of list “8 stories of collective bravery in the history of mankind” assembled by UNESCO.
It’s sad that not many people in India know about their unflinching courage, and even the history books shy away from telling their story because they fought for the British Indian army. However, it’s good to see mainstream Bollywood finally catching up. With movies like Kesari, people will finally know the untold story of 21 Sikh heroes.