Saragarhi, looking back at the battle on it’s 121st anniversary
Throughout the ever increasing vestiges of history there are no shortages of options for great “last stands.” The Spartans at Thermopylae is probably the first that comes to most peoples minds. But many others could just as easily be remembered, The British vs the Zulu at Rorke’s Drift, The Americans lost in the Argonne, The last group of Samurai standing up the the government, etc. My personal favorite however is one of the lesser known, but no less impressive. The Battle of Saragarhi.
For this we must head over to the Indian subcontinent. To the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and modern day Pakistan. Back in 1897 however this was the edge of British India. The local Afghan tribes had rebelled against the British, and the British had in turn occupied and fortified many of the old forts in the region. Two of these forts, Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan, did not have direct line of sight between each other so the small outpost of Saragarhi was born.
Saragarhi was manned by a small contingent of 21 Sikh soldiers, operating signaling equipment designed to flash Morse Code via reflected sunlight.
On the 12th September 1897 after repeated failed attacks on the 2 forts and realizing Saragarhi is the weak point, a force of between 10000-12000 Afghans came marching on the little outpost. The attack also cut off the forts from sending aid. Leaving the 21 men to fend for themselves. After repeated attacks and setting the local flora alight the invaders were able to breach the outer wall.
Saragarhi’s commanding officer Ishar Singh sacrificed himself to hold off the attackers while the surviving few men fell back to the inner wall and entrenched themselves. All through the battle Gurmukh Singh, the faithful signalman remained at his post, and constantly narrated the battle back to the Officers at Fort Lockhart. Only once all his comrades had fallen and he was the last man left did he signal requesting permission to leave his post and engage. After this was granted, he first very carefully packed up and put away all the equipment, then fixed bayonet and took out 20 enemies before they had to burn down the outpost to eventually stop him.
All 21 soldiers were awarded the highest award available to them at the time. Although all 21 were killed in the battle, they delayed the enemy long enough for the Forts to call in reinforcements. And a few days later what was left of Saragarhi was recaptured. The exact number of enemy casualties is uncertain, but it seems to be somewhere between 180 and 600 Afghans taken out by the 21.