21 Sikh Soldiers of the British Colonial Army Take on 10,000 Attacking Pashtun Rebels
Saragarhi was a communications post in the Samana Mountain Range in British India, now Pakistan. It was built between the two forts Lockhart (old. Mastan) and Gulistan (old. Cavagnari) to enable heliograph communication. [A heliograph is a form of semaphore that uses mirrors to communicate morse code signals using flashes of flight over long distances. It was in widespread use before the advent of radio, but was in common use even during world war 2.]
On the morning of September 12, Saragarhi and its British Indian contingent, consisting of 21 Sikhs of the 36th Sikh Regiment,were attacked by about 10,000 Pashtuns. The Sikhs, led by Ishar Singh, defended the post to the last man against the enormous superiority of the attackers.
Account of the Battle
Major A.C. Yate, himself involved in the subsequent Tirah campaign,describes the battle for Saragarhi and the events associated with it in “The Life of Lieut. Col. John Haughton”, a memoir to the commander of the 36th Sikhswho was at Fort Lockhart at the time of the battle, as listed below. The description is largely based on letters from Haughton to his wife dated September 13–16, 1897.
Around 9 a.m., several thousand Pashtuns gathered around Saragarhi. After the afghans’ first unsuccessful attempts to overrun the post, they retreated but kept up the shelling, while two of the attackers stayed behind to undermine it undetected in the blind spot of the wall. At 12 noon, Saragarhi reported that a Sepoy had been killed, a Naik wounded, and three rifles destroyed by enemy bullets. As a result, twelve men of the Royal Irish Regiment under the adjutant Lieutenant Munn from Fort Lockhart tried to shoot at the attackers on Saragarhi from a distance. Around 3 p.m., Saragarhi reported that they were out of ammunition. Shortly after 3 p.m., the first part of the Wall fell. After the Afghans destroyed Saragarhi, some of the attackers remained in Saragarhi and the rest moved on towards Fort Gulistan.
According to contemporary accounts, the Sikh soldiers “died fighting like demons,” holding off the attackers for hours.