Saragarhi: Sikhs and Pathans, 1897

Victory over the tribesmen on the North-west frontier of British India, writes James Lunt, is still commemorated by Sikh regiments.

The north-west frontier of India used to be described as the British Army’s finest Training Ground, where a real enemy fired real bullets at one - rather like Mr Jorrocks’ definition of Fox-Hunting as being ‘The image of war without its guilt, and only five-and-twenty per cent of its danger.’

This may have been true enough, so far as guilt was concerned, because the Pathans, as the Frontier tribesmen were collectively known, regarded war as being an inevitable part of their way of life. It was another matter, however, when it came to danger, since the tribesmen were cruel and ruthless adversaries who neither gave nor expected quarter.

The history of the British campaigns on the Frontier tells as much of tragedy as of triumph, and one of the greatest tragedies occurred at the little-known fort of Saragarhi - little-known, that is, until September 12th, 1897, since when what happened at Saragarhi has been commemorated each year wherever the various battalions of the Sikh Regiment happen to be garrisoned.

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