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.


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)

21/5/1918 Ludendorff’s gaze turns to India #1918Live

Ludendorff is preparing a diversionary offensive against the French in the Chemin des Dames sector, after which he plans to attack the British in Flanders. He hopes that this will see the British driven into the sea and the French forced to make peace. But he is concerned that the destruction of their army in France and Belgium may not be enough to force the British to agree to peace terms. With their naval dominance they will be able to rest secure in their homeland and continue to strangle German trade.

How to force Britain’s surrender? Ludendorff thinks he has the answer. Today he writes to Hans von Seeckt, German chief of staff of the Turkish army. Outlining his concerns, he reveals to Seeckt his solution: Britain will have to make peace if threatened in India. Accordingly Seeckt is to prepare the Turkish army for an overland march to attack the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown.

Ludendorff takes for granted that the Turks will gladly allow their army to be used for this grandiose adventure.

image sources:

Erich Ludendorff (The Soldier’s Burden – Die Grosse Schlacht in Frankreich: Events leading up to the 21st of March 1918)

Hans von Seeckt (Wikipedia)

25/12/1915 India and Egypt: a rebellion fails to materialise, Jihadi warriors defeated

The Ottoman Empire is trying to use the power of religion in its war against the Allies. The Turkish Sultan and Caliph has already declared a Jihad against the enemies of the Ottoman Empire, calling on all true Muslims to rise up against Britain, Russia and France. Results have however been disappointing.

Nevertheless, Turkish and German agents continue to try and use Islam as a tool against their enemies. In India agents have been active, trying to stir up disaffection amongst the many Muslims of that key British possession. They had even fixed a date for a Muslim revolt against the British, that date being today. For when would the British be less on their guard than on Christmas Day?

Unfortunately the Muslim Indian revolt is still born. British intelligence operatives are following the plot’s progress and have arrested the leading members of the conspiracy. The rebellion fails to materialise.

Meanwhile in Egypt the Turks are also hoping to use Islam against the British. The Senussi religious brotherhood have crossed from Libya into the western desert and attacked isolated positions. The Turks hoped that this would provoke an uprising by the Muslims of Egypt. However, although some Egyptian army units have proved unreliable, no general revolt has occurred. And now the tide appears to be turning against the Senussi.

Near Marsa Matruh British forces launch a surprise attack on a Senussi position. The Senussi suffer an initial rout but are rallied by Turkish officers. However the might of the British, supported by an offshore warship, is too much for the Senussi. At sunset they flee, leaving behind their dead and wounded and much of their stores.