Brave last stand: Saragarhi martyrs finally get applause in British Parliament
Some military personnel attending the event in the House of Commons, including Brigadier David Southall (fifth from left), MP Shailesh Vara (sixth from left), Captain Jay Singh-Sohal (seventh from left), Colonel John Kendall (eighth from left) and Major Sartaaj Singh Gogna (ninth from left).
Lore has it that upon hearing about the brave last stand of the 21 Sikh soldiers who fought till their last breath against 10,000 Afghani tribesmen at Saragarhi post, now in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, in 1897, the British Parliamentarians gave them a standing ovation.
UK-based Capt Jay Singh-Sohal, a military historian and documentary filmmaker, however, found no truth in this claim. It finally came true on November 14, when the British Parliament resounded to a thunderous round of applause in the honour of the Saragarhi martyrs.
They had gathered for a special parliamentary launch and screening of the new docu-drama, ‘Saragarhi: The True Story’, hosted by former justice and work and pensions minister and MP Shailesh Vara.
Made by Sohal after more than seven years of research, the documentary narrates the fate of the 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment of Bengal Infantry (now the 4th Sikh Regiment in the Indian Army), who woke up on September 12, 1897, to find themselves surrounded by 10,000 enemy tribesmen.
Led by Havaldar Ishar Singh, the feisty man who was described by one of the British historians as “a nuisance in peace time, he was majestic in war”, the 21 men and their helper, Daad, fought despite the odds in a battle that lasted seven hours.
In an unprecedented gesture at a time when gallantry awards were not given posthumously, the 21 martyrs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit class III, on a par with the Victoria Cross.
LESSON IN VALOUR
The documentary, filmed in India, Pakistan and the UK, tells the story through private archives, never-before-seen images, stunning visual graphics, effects and re-enactment.
Vara said, “This film rightly records the outstanding courage and bravery of Sikh soldiers fighting against the odds and paying the ultimate price.”
Col John Kendall, one of the officers who visited the two Saragarhi memorials in Amritsar and Ferozepur in September this year, was also present at the screening. The battle, he said, resonates with every military man because of the lesson in valour it offers.
“Despite being hugely outnumbered, the soldiers did not panic and inflicted the maximum damage upon the enemy with their limited ammunition.”
Speaking about the film, Capt Sohal said, “This episode of British Indian history inspired many more Indians to serve during the first and second World Wars, shoulder to shoulder with the British and troops from all over the Commonwealth. It continues to inspire the new generation.”
The film will now begin its international tour, with a screening at the Sikh Arts and Film Festival in New York City on December 2 and events across India.