Sikhs In The Army

Chitral

 

14th King George's Own Ferozepore Sikhs

CHITRAL, 1895

In June, 1894, the 14th Sikhs were ordered to find an escort for the British political agent proceeding to Gilgit. A and B Companies, under the command of Captain C. R. Ross, were detailed for this role and left Ferozepore on the 15th of June. On arrival at Gilgit A Company, under Lieutenant Harley, was sent to Mastuj, while B Company remained at Gilgit.

All was quiet until January, 1895, when the Mehtar of Chitral was murdered. At this time the assistant political officer was in Chitral with an escort of nine men of the 14th Sikhs, so Lieutenant Harley immediately sent Subadar Gurmukh Singh with fifty men from Mastuj to reinforce the escort. On the 27th of January the British agent set out for Chitral to investigate the situation and took with him the remainder of A Company under Lieutenant Harley and three hundred Kashmir State troops under Captain Campbell. On arrival at Chitral the agent took over the fort and completed the stocks there in case of emergency.

Meanwhile, Umra Khan of Bajaur, a tribal leader, invaded Chitral territory and soon overcame the weak resistance of the Chitralis. By the beginning of February Umra Khan had captured the fort at Drosh, a few miles from Chitral, and was joined by Sher Afzul, who claimed the Mehtarship. Umra Khan supported Sher Afzul and demanded the withdrawal of the political agent and his escort. Negotiations broke down and theChitral pretender advanced on Chitral.

On receiving information of the approach of Sher Afzul on the 3rd of March Captain Campbell took a force of two hundred men of the Kashmir State troops and reconnoitered along the road to Drosh. The enemywere encountered two miles from the fort and Captain Campbell attacked. The enemy were in much greater strength than had been anticipated and the column was repulsed with heavy losses. LieutenantHarley was therefore instructed to bring out a party of men to cover the retreat. He immediately moved out with fifty men and took up a position in the Serai, a quarter of a mile from the fort. By the time the Sikhswere in position it was quite dark and the enemy were pressing on hard after the Kashmir Rifles. The Sikhsheld on to their position. They then successfully broke contact and withdrew in good order back to the fort.Captain Campbell was very seriously wounded in this action, so his second-in-command, CaptainTownsend,( *Later General Townsend and defender of Kut in the First World War.) took over command of the Chitral garrison.

The fort, which was on low ground near the river, was difficult to defend, as it was commanded on three sides by hills, while water for the garrison had to be obtained from the river.

The siege started in earnest on the 4th of March, when the enemy fired into the fort all day long. At the beginning the Sikhs were detailed to hold the southern face of the fort and the keep, while the Kashmir Rifles were allotted to the northern and western faces, covering the main gate and the water point. Steps were immediately taken to improve the defences and construct a covered way to the water point.

On the night of the 7th of March the enemy made a determined effort to fire the tower covering the waterway. They were repulsed, but the Kashmir sepoys holding the tower had been so shaken by the action on the 3rd of March. that it was quite evident that they could not be trusted to defend any of the important points in the fort. The Sikhs therefore took over the north and west faces.

On the night of the 14th of March the enemy made ferocious attacks against the western face, but were repulsed with losses by a party of 14th Sikhs under Subadar Gurmukh Singh. After this the enemyconcentrated on trying to seize the water point, so twenty men of the 14th Sikhs had to occupy a sangar near the water's edge. This was an unpleasant duty, as there were always six inches of water in the sangar and there was no cover from the heavy rain and snow which fell continually at the beginning of the siege. The Sikhs accepted the duty cheerfully, as it was considered a post of honour.

 

Everyone was placed on short rations at the beginning of the siege and duties were very heavy, but all hardships were borne cheerfully and the men never grumbled.

 

 

On the 6th of April the enemy occupied a summer-house situated close to the garden wall outside the fort, while at about 5 a.m. they attacked the water point under cover of heavy fire on the western and northern faces of the fort. The Sikhs threw back the enemy from the waterway, but during the fighting another party of the enemy, unnoticed by the Kashmir sentries, piled up and set a heap of firewood alight at the bottom of the south-eastern tower. This fire set light to beams in the tower and there was great danger of the tower collapsing The fire was put out with the greatest difficulty, as the enemy kept up a continuous fire on that part of the fort. However, a party of Sikhswas sent to reinforce the garrison of the tower and the fire was eventually put out after six hours' hard work. Sepoy Bhola Singh was awarded the Indian Order of Merit for his gallantry when helping to put out the fire. He was severely wounded in one arm, but continued to throw water on the fire, although constantly exposed to heavy enemyfire.

On the next day the men of the 14th Sikhs asked to be allowed to hold all four towers of the fort as well as the water sangar, since the safety of the garrison depended on the vigilance of the sentries on these important posts. Captain Townsend accepted the suggestion and theSikhs took over these positions and held them until the end of the siege.

On the 11th of April the enemy made another attack on the east and west faces, but they were again beaten back without much difficulty. On the 17th of April, after a few apparently quiet days, a sentry heard the noise of picking from the direction of the summer-house and it was soon obvious that a mine was being made and that the enemy had reached a point about twelve feet from the fort. Captain Townsend decided to send Lieutenant Harley with fiftySikhs and sixty men of the Kashmir Rifles to capture the summer-house and destroy the mine.

At 4 p.m. the assaulting party assembled at the eastern ate, with the Sikhs in front. Harley dashed through the gate followed closely by his men, and charged straight for the summer-house. A party of Pathans, located in the summer-house to cover the men working in the mine, fired a volley at the assaulting party, but they fled down the garden wall as the Sikhs closed in with the bayonet. The enemy took up a position at the end of the garden and opened up very heavy fire on the Sikhs around the summer-house. Harley told off a party to engage the enemy while he searched for the mine. Another party of Pathans opened up from the left of the summer-house and two young Sikhs dashed forward and assaulted the position. Although these two men were immediately killed, their gallant action put the Pathans to flight and they were all killed' by fire from the fort.

The mine was well hidden and the Sikhs could not find it for some time. It was eventually discovered behind the garden wall and Lieutenant Harley and six men immediately jumped down the shaft. Twenty Pathans armed with swords tried to escape, but they were all bayoneted as they dashed forward. Lieutenant Harley immediately laid some powder bags to blow up the mine, but found that the fuse had been damaged during the fighting. While he was repairing the fuse two more Pathans tried to escape from the mine and two Sikhsopened fire and the powder exploded. The explosion opened up the mine from end to end and killed six Pathans who had remained in it. Fortunately the force of the explosion was expended by the time it reached the Sikhs at the end of the mine and Harley and a few of the men were only knocked to the ground.Lieutenant Harley had completed his task, so he ordered his men to withdraw to the fort. The Sikhsdashed back under heavy fire, taking the arms and accoutrements of the casualties and a number of rifles and swords of the enemy. The Sikhs lost only three killed and five wounded, while the enemy's casualties were at least a hundred, of which thirty-five were killed by the bayonet.

During the night, of the 18th of April a Pathan came to the fort and reported that the enemy had fled and that British troops were near. In the morning there was no sign of the enemy and the siege: was over, and on the next day Colonel Kelly arrived with a relief force from Gilgit. Captain Townsend, in his report on the siege, wrote

The spirit of the 14th Sikhs was our admiration; the longer the siege lasted the more eager they became to teach the enemy a lesson. There could not be finer soldiers than these men of the 14th Sikhs and they were our sheet anchor in the siege.

Younghusband, in his Relief of Chitral, wrote:

It was the discipline ingrained into these men that saved the garrison. As long as a Sikh was on sentry, whileSikhs were holding a threatened point, Captain Townsend had nothing to fear. The enemy would never catch a Sikh off his guard and could never force their way through a post of Sikhs while one remained alive. They saved the garrison and the officers gratefully acknowledged their service.

In recognition of the gallant and successful defence of the fort at Chitral, His Excellency The Viceroy sanctioned a grant of six months' pay to all ranks, while Lieutenant Harley was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and appointed brevet major. Subadar Gurmukh Singh was appointed to the Order of British India and Jemadar Attar Singh and seven men were awarded the Indian Order of Merit for gallantry.

While A Company were at Chitral with the political agent, B Company, under Captain Ross, took their place in Mastuj, where they arrived at the beginning of March. A few days later information was received that a sapper detachment and a party of Kashmir Rifles, en route to Chitral, were about to be attacked near Reshun.

Captain Ross immediately set out with his company to support this party. The Sikhs halted the first night at Buni and moved on early the next morning, the 8th of March. Soon after 1 p.m. B Company entered a narrow defile below the village of Koragh. The defile was about half a mile long and situated where the Mastuj river, a rapid and unfordable torrent, formed a gorge through the mountains. It is believed thatCaptain Ross was anxious to lose no time and decided to risk entering the defile without first reconnoitering the heights. This decision had disastrous results. As the column was approaching the far end of the defile the track was found to be blocked and in addition parties of the enemy were discovered to be holding the hilltops and. ridges all round.

Since the enemy were in great strength and holding strong positions, it was hopeless to try to attempt to force a way through to Reshun. Captain Ross therefore decided to withdraw and sent Lieutenant Jones with ten men to seize the Koragh end of the defile and cover the withdrawal. However, the enemy had already seized this exit and Lieutenant Jones was unable to break out and suffered heavy casualties. The attempt to break out was temporarily abandoned and the whole party took cover in some caves in the river bank. During the night two attempts were made to force a way out, but the enemy was on the alert and theSikhs had to return to the caves. Having rested in the caves during the day, Captain Ross decided that they must break through that night at all costs.

The party moved off at 2 a.m. on the 10th of March. The enemy was, unfortunately, on the alert and offered strong opposition. Captain Ross was shot dead and many men were killed or wounded. OnlyLieutenant Jones, seventeen men and two followers succeeded in fighting their way out on to the plain towards Koragh.

Lieutenant Jones halted his party a short way from the defile in order to assist any further survivors in breaking through. In this position the enemy launched two ferocious charges against the Sikhs, who stubbornly held their ground and drove the tribesmen back time after time. Three more Sikhs were killed in this fighting and of the rest Lieutenant Jones and nine men were wounded, so the party withdrew slowly to Buni, which was reached at 6 a.m. the next morning. Survivors of this disaster were only Lieutenant Jones, fourteen men and two followers. Lieutenant Jones was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and all the fourteen other ranks the Indian Order of Merit, while the followers were awarded three months' pay.

At Buni Lieutenant Jones joined forces with a detachment of Sikhs, which

 

had been left behind on the outward journey, and the wholeparty withdrew to Mastuj a week later. At Mastuj the remnants of B Company, with a detachment of Kashmir Rifles, defended the fort against a large force of tribesmen until relieved on the 9th of April. Although the enemy made; no determined attacks on the fort, the garrison was continually under fire, while snow and sleet fell most of the time.

In June the two companies of the 14th Sikhs marched from Chitral under Lieutenant Harley and arrived in Ferozepore at the end of the month. Although only one company of theRegiment took part in the siege of Chitral, the 14th Sikhswere given the honour of inscribing Defence of Chitral on their Colours

 

 

Chitral Fort Chitral Sikh Soldiers SeigeOfChitral1895