13/4/1919 Bloodbath in Amritsar as the British shoot 1,500 Indians

Tensions have been mounting in India. Nationalists there had hoped that the country’s contribution to the British war effort would lead to it being granted self-government similar to that of South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However it has become apparent that the British have no intention of loosening their hold on the country. Indeed, they have maintained and strengthened wartime emergency measures restricting press freedom and political activity.

Gandhi, the nationalists’ leader, has called for strikes and civil disobedience against the colonial authorities. He has urged his followers to avoid all forms of violence against the British. The authorities have responded by arresting Gandhi and attempting to clamp down on nationalist activity, but this has led only to further unrest.

The Punjab province is especially tense. The city of Amritsar has already seen rioting, in which a number of Britons and Indians were killed (and in one shocking incident, a female British missionary beaten and stripped before being rescued by Indians).

The British determine to restore order in Amritsar. Michael O’Dwyer, the lieutenant governor of the Punjab, sends Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer to bring the natives to heel. Indians are forced to crawl along the street where the missionary was assaulted while policemen are given carte blanche to flog anyone they take a dislike to.
Today Dyer bans unauthorised persons from entering or leaving Amritsar. He also issues a proclamation banning all gatherings in the city of more than three people. And then he hears of a large gathering taking place in Jallianwala Bagh, a public square. Some of those present are taking part in a political rally, others are relaxing after religious ceremonies at the nearby Golden Temple.

Dyer decides to teach those gathered at Jallianwala Bagh a lesson. He leads 90 soldiers to the square and orders them to open fire, without issuing a warning or an order to disperse. The result is carnage, with the soldiers firing continuously for about ten minutes, Dyer himself directing fire to the densest sections of the crowd. The bloodbath only comes to a halt when Dyer’s men have run out of ammunition, at which point they leave.

At least 379 people are killed by Dyer’s men, including an infant, and 1,137 wounded.

images:

Amritsar, after the massacre (Guardian: The legacy of the Amritsar massacre lives on in India’s general elections)

Aftermath (Guardian: Amritsar, 100 years on, remains an atrocity Britain cannot be allowed to forget)

13/4/1919 The Amritsar Massacre

As you’ve probably noticed, this blog has fallen a bit behind and is a few weeks behind events from a hundred years ago. I project that I will catch up with by late April or early May and then will be on track until the conclusion in June.

I am breaking sequence now to mention a terrible event that happened a hundred years ago today, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, India. India at the time was experiencing an upsurge in nationalist agitation, with Indians hoping to secure the kind of self-governing status that the white dominions of the British Empire had already achieved. Some disturbances had occurred in Amritsar and Colonel Reginald Dyer decided on extreme measures to restore order.

On the morning of the 13th Dyer proclaimed a ban on all public meetings in the city. In the afternoon crowds were gathering in the Jallianwala Bagh square in central Amritsar, a mixture of religious pilgrims and people attending a political rally. Dyer brought a squad of troops to the square and without issuing a warning ordered his men to open fire. They fired continuously for around ten minutes, halting only when their supply of ammunition was almost exhausted.

A subsequent official inquiry counted 379 deaths, including a six week old baby, but the actual number may have been around a thousand, with many more injured.

Dyer was never prosecuted for his actions, partly because he was acting with the broad support of his superiors (in particular Michael O’Dwyer, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab). The revulsion generated by his action blighted his career but supporters in Britain raised a considerable sum of money for him that must have allowed him to retire in some comfort. Dyer died in 1927. O’Dwyer was assassinated in London by an Indian nationalist in 1940.

It does seem that lately a certain imperial nostalgia has gripped sections of the British population. If you encounter someone waxing lyrical about Britain’s civilising mission in India, remind them of the Amritsar massacre. It is not even the worst thing the British did in India.


image source:

Jallianwala Bagh massacre (Wikipedia Commons)

18/3/1919 Egypt spirals out of British control

1919 Revolution (22)
Egypt is in uproar over Britain’s heavy-handed response to a request by Saad Zaghloul and other nationalist leaders to attend the Paris Conference (the nationalists have been arrested and deported to Malta). Safia Zaghloul and other wives of the exiled nationalists have led women’s demonstrations calling for their husbands’ release while the country generally has been engulfed by strikes and increasingly raucous demonstrations. The British and their local allies have attempted to maintain order forcibly but discontent is becoming more heated, with violent attacks on the British and sabotage of railway tracks and telegraph lines. Today in an incident that particularly shocks the British, eight British soldiers are killed by a mob in Deirut. The country appears to be slipping out of control and no amount of repression by the authorities seems able to bring the Egyptians to heel. In London, British officials now begin to wonder if a change of tack is required: perhaps the Egyptian nationalists need to be conciliated rather than crushed.

image sources:

Demonstrators (Revolution 1919: The first and last public revolution in Egypt (Flickr))

Women demonstrators and troops standing by (Wikipedia: Egyptian Revolution of 1919)

7/3/1919 Germany continues to go hungry

The British naval blockade of Germany played a major part in its defeat, creating a food crisis in the country by preventing it from importing grain and other foodstuffs from overseas. Germany’s food situation has not improved since the armistice; if anything it has got worse. The British are still preventing Germany’s importation of food, pending a final peace settlement, and they are now also blocking German fishing boats from operating in the Baltic. As a result great suffering continues in Germany. Today Plumer, the commander of British occupation forces in western Germany, reports to Lloyd George that his men are increasingly shocked by the sight of malnourished children begging for food and combing the soldiers’ rubbish for edible scraps; many of his soldiers are sharing their rations with the children, thereby going hungry themselves.

Plumer fears that the food shortages in Germany are driving the country into the hands of the Spartacists. Plumer’s fears are shared by Herbert Hoover, the head of the American Relief Administration, an organisation tasked with providing food aid to Europe. Hoover sees the Allied blockade as the main obstacle to ensuring that Germans are adequately fed and is not afraid to say so. However, the French in particular object to the blockade being lifted before peace is concluded, fearing that Germany may build up its food stocks and then renew the war if food becomes available. For now at least the Germans will continue to go hungry.

image source:

Deutschlands Kindern Hungern (Germany’s Children Are Starving), by Kathe Kollwitz (Wikiart)

25/11/1918 Germany’s last field army surrenders as Lettow-Vorbeck lays down his arms #1918Live

The Western Front armistice also obliged Lettow-Vorbeck‘s army in east Africa to lay down its arms. Lettow-Vorbeck had been unable to prevent much larger Allied forces from overrunning German East Africa but the Allies in turn have been unable to eliminate Lettow-Vorbeck’s force (which consists of mostly African troops (known as Askaris) led by European officers). Lettow-Vorbeck’s men have retreated into the interior of the colony, striking back against the Allies where they can but always retreating away from enemy forces strong enough to destroy them. Lettow-Vorbeck has also carried the war into enemy territory, launching raids into Portuguese Mozambique and more recently the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.

It is easy to romanticise Lettow-Vorbeck’s army as a plucky David taking on the Allied Goliath, but the reality is a bit less appealing. The Germans are supporting themselves by looting food from the local civilian population, so his army leaves famine and devastation in its wake. Ludwig Deppe, a doctor serving with Lettow-Vorbeck, ruefully notes: “We are no longer the agents of culture; our track is marked by death, plundering and evacuated villages, just like the progress of our own and enemy armies in the Thirty Years War”; hundreds of thousands of civilians may have died from famine and disease. The Allies meanwhile have press-ganged enormous numbers of African porters to support their armies, under-feeding them and bringing them to areas where they have no resistance to the local diseases, with the result that the porters have been dying at a higher rate than soldiers on the Western Front; at 45,000 men (soldiers and porters) killed, losses from British East Africa amount to some 12% of the adult male population.

While the armistice obliged Lettow-Vorbeck to surrender, there was the problem of how to let him know the war was over. Lettow-Vorbeck is completely cut off from Germany and has no radio with which to communicate with Berlin. However Lettow-Vorbeck learns of the armistice when an Allied dispatch is captured. Initially the Germans think that the war in Europe must have ended with German victory but gradually the harsh reality of defeat dawns on them. Finally today at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia, Lettow-Vorbeck and his men surrender to the British. His army is now tiny, just 155 Germans, 1,168 Askaris and several thousand more porters. The German officers are allowed keep their swords and pistols pending transportation back to Europe.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender, by an anonymous Tanzanian artist (Wikipedia: Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck)

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Badass of the Week)

The war against German East Africa (Wikipedia: German East Africa)

9/11/1918 Erzberger remonstrates with Foch, in vain #1918Live

On the Western Front the Allied advance continues. The Germans are mostly retreating rather than fighting and the Allies are being slowed more by the booby traps and destruction the Germans have left behind than by German resistance. Nevertheless the recovery of Belgium continues, with Tournai and Ghent today liberated by British and Belgian troops respectively.

In the forest of Compiègne armistice negotiators are trying to bringing the war to an end. The German team is still reeling from the unexpected harshness of the terms presented by Foch yesterday. Now Erzberger, the lead negotiator, asks again for an immediate ceasefire so that the German army can be deployed home to prevent revolutionary chaos. Foch brushes him off once more: German disorder is a problem for Germany and there can be no ceasefire until all the terms are agreed. Erzberger for his part is still waiting for word from Berlin as to whether the terms can be accepted, so he is unable to agree the Allied terms. The war therefore will continue.

2/11/1918 Italy presents its armistice terms to Austria-Hungary

Austria-Hungary is being torn apart by disaffection within and defeat on the battlefield. The Allies are now advancing up the Balkans, pushing the Austro-Hungarians from territories they have occupied since 1915. Today French and Serbian troops liberate Belgrade, which brings them to the pre-war frontier with Austria-Hungary. Now of course the Empire’s southern Slav territories are seceding in the hope of forming a new state with Serbia, the very nightmare that Austria-Hungary’s leaders went to war in 1914 to prevent.

On the Italian front the army is in a state of collapse. Italian troops are pressing eastward and are now across the Tagliamento. The forced evacuation of Monte Grappa meanwhile has allowed the Italians to push northwards into the Asiago plateau. The Austro-Hungarians seem incapable of further resistance here and are surrendering in large numbers; one British division attached to the Italian army here manages to capture some 20,000 prisoners for the loss of only 150 of their own men killed or wounded.

In Trieste the Austrian governor has fled the city after being informed by Vienna that it is being abandoned. And in the Villa Giusti outside Padua Austro-Hungarian negotiators are presented with Italy’s armistice terms. The Austro-Hungarian army must cease fighting, surrender half its artillery and demobilise. The Austro-Hungarians must also evacuate the territories promised to Italy by the Treaty of London and place their transport network at the Allies’ disposal. They have until midnight tomorrow to accept or reject the terms.

image source (Metropostcard – Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The Kingdom of Italy pt1)