Archive: Jan 2017

  1. Lt Col John Haughton, Commander 36th Sikhs

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    *** Watch  Facebook Live: Haughton’s Memorial ***

    It was an early start and long drive to Leicestershire earlier this month when we set out on a pilgrimage to immerse ourselves in the life of a man whose service to his country would earn him the description of ‘a hero of Tirah’.

    Lt Col John Haughton, a hero of Tirah

    Lt Col John Haughton was the commander of the 36th Sikhs on the Samana which in 1897 was the scene of a tribal uprising that would earn his regiment a battle honour. It would, of course, also be where the battle of Saragarhi took place and where 21 Sikhs would defend the small signalling post against the onslaught of 10,000 enemy tribesmen.

    Haughton commanded his men from Fort Lockhart during the uprising, deploying the 21 to Saragarhi as well as reinforcing Fort Gulistan which was also under attack. His leadership was exceptional and was a testament to an officer who knew his men, had studied tactics and the local geography and knew how to counter the enemy.

    Our trip to Leicestershire was with the aim of finding out and documenting more about Haughton’s character, about his Victorian education at Uppingham, a public school founded in 1584; and to see the memorial dedicated to his life and sacrifice.

    It was a trip three years in the making, having discovered the connection during my research for my book I’d been in contact with the school but unable to make the trek for various reasons until now. It was well worth it, as you’ll see.

    Haughton was born in August 1852 in India – where his father, Lt-Gen John Colpoys Haughton, was stationed. The General had served with the 31st Bengal infantry in the first Afghan war (1839-42) and distinguished himself during the defence of Charikar in 1841. A career-soldier and administrator, Haughton raised a family in India, his son John was born in August 1852 at Chota Nagpur.

    There John Haughton would remain until August 1865, when at the age of 13 he was sent back to Britain to attend school. It was believed that public schools such as Uppingham ought to have an important part in the military training of the youth of the upper and middle classes.

    Presenting Uppingham’s archivist Jerry Rudman with a copy of “Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle”

    Haughton, though while having a strong military figure in his father, did not distinguish himself during his schooling as evidenced in his reports. At 17 he went to a crammer to prepare for the entrance exam at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which he passed first time. He passed out in 1871 and was gazetted with the 1st Bn 24th Foot (later the South Wales Borderers). His father applied for John to be gazetted to a regiment in India, and he joined the 72nd Highlanders, which was stationed in Peshawar.

    He later  helped raise the 35th Sikhs in Ferozepur in May 1887 and remained with it before being brevetted as Lt Colonel to its sister-regiment the 36th, taking over command in June 1894. From April 1895 to December 1896 the regiment remained in Peshawar, before then marching onto the Samana to occupy the Forts and posts there.

    Thereafter, Haughton led the 36th Sikhs during the Tirah Expedition, where it joined the 4th Brigade in protecting the right flank of the advancing troops on the Samana Suk. From the Dargai heights to the Maidan Valley, the 36th made the trek to subdue the Afridi and Orakzai tribes.

    It was on 29th January 1898, five months after Saragarhi, that Haughton would fall while in battle. He was tasked to recce caves beyond the Shinkamar pass, but a misunderstanding in orders led to his party of Sikhs being exposed from the rear. The Pathans advanced and Haughton ordered his men to fix bayonets and fire the last of their ammunition. But the order to charge never came, a sniper hit Haughton with a bullet to the head, and he died.

    With the documentary team at the memorial plaque for Haughton (Manpreet, Jay & Jayram)

    Haughton would be buried at a British cemetery in Peshawar, and his brother officers in the 35th and 36th would raise a memorial plaque in his honour at the school chapel at Uppingham. The plaque would state: “Sacred to the memory of Lt. Col. John Haughton, Commandant of the 36th Sikhs who was killed in action at the Shinkamar pass N.W. Frontier of India 29th January 1898 while boldly defending a position to the last against overwhelming odds. This brass is erected by his brother officers of the 35th and 36th Sikhs.”

    His biographer Major A.C Yates writes of Haughton’s qualities that he had a high sense of duty, strong religious feeling, staunchness, cool courage and a readiness to sacrifice himself.  Much of the detail of his life and service can be found in “A Hero of Tirah” which I recommend for further reading.

    Having known about his service and sacrifice, the trip to Uppingham gave us a deeper understanding of his education, and the values he gained from it. It was a rare treat to see such a prestigious place and to speak to an expert in the archivist Jerry Rudman, an interview of which we look forward to bringing to you in due course. And it was a remarkable opportunity to share Haughton’s story with the school, who knew little of what happened to their old boy after he left.

    In the meantime, if you would like to see more, do check out the Facebook Live: Haughton’s Memorial which was broadcast during our trip.

    Memorial Plaque to Lt Col John Haughton, copyright “Sikhs At War”.

  2. Saragarhi’s lost link to Sheffield

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    ** Our immense gratitude to Don Nicolson from Olde Edwardian’s for providing primary source material used within this article.**

    It is a rewarding journey to research into a history, simply to discover new and fascinating connections. It can be a true delight when one interesting thread of thought, once tugged at, unravels a whole new web of untold stories.

    This is just what happened during a Christmas luncheon I attended in Westminster. I sat down opposite someone who had a strong connection to my interest in Saragarhi. Having mentioned I had written a book and explaining what it was about, my acquaintance revealed his grandfather had served during Tirah! He would have certainly crossed through the Samana at the time of the epic battle and would have seen the small ruined outpost which was defended by 21 valiant Sikhs.

    I came away from the lunch with a new thread to pull at, and as I pursued this link I came across something I had yet to discover – a wonderful connection between Saragarhi …and Sheffield! This story is being told below for the first time, and I hope it will trigger more lost connections (and hopefully more primary accounts) to be found.

    On the frontier, British soldiers and officers formed a part of the Tirah Expeditionary Force, which was sent in 1897 after the Samana posts were attached to subdue the unruly tribes who had been incited by their Mullahs to wage holy war.

    One such young officer was 22 year old Bernard Haslam of the Royal Engineers who wrote to his uncle about the experience and of what he saw. The uncle in question was the Rev. A.B. Haslam the headmaster of Sheffield Grammar, and extracts of the letters written from Fort Lockhart in August and September 1897 were duly published in the school newspaper.
    The account begins on the 26th July 1897 with a brief description of the Samana, and the revelation that “I shall, I suppose, mess with the 36th Sikhs”. Haslam would be dining with the Sikh soldiers. He further adds “I am looking forward to a glorious time out there!.”
    Some weeks later on the 7th August, Haslam arrives at Fort Lockhart after a three hour journey on ponies, having set out from Hangu at 5.30am.
    A week later he writes about the mountain conditions making everything damp but there is pleasantry also. “I had a great game of hockey yesterday” he writes. “Four of the officers of the 36th Sikhs and myself and some native officers and sepoys from the regiment were playing. Many of these played with legs bare to the knee, and some with bare feet. They were uncommonly good…”
    By the 29th August, things are hotting up on the frontier with the nearby Shinwari post taken and burnt. Our officer describes how the Sikhs are garrisoning other posts and these are “far stronger” because of it, more so than the posts manned by border police – tribal levies of Pathans that often fled or refused to fight when confronted by their brethren.
    Let us now turn to the fateful day of the 12th September, when Saragarhi was attacked and destroyed. Haslam  was there and describes the dramatic events as thousands upon thousands of enemy tribesmen attacked the frontier post of Gulistan. Here is the extract in full:
    Thereafter, Haslam gives another letter with further details of the events as he saw them at Saragarhi. This below is a remarkable first hand account which gives some unbelievable insight into what the 21 Sikhs at Saragarhi faced against the 10,000 enemy they stood against.  It verifies that: i) the commander Lt Col John Haughton tried to relieve the garrison ii) helio messages were still being signaled up to the point that the post was overrun iii) one Sikh sentry killed 20 enemy, with 200 in total believed killed (the actual number is 180).
    But this account also presents a couple of factual inaccuracies from the writers point of view, which are nonetheless explainable. Firstly, he did not see the wall on the opposite end fall in from where two tribesmen were digging (this was observed from Gulistan). Secondly,  the idea of the tribesmen walking in sounds too casual when we know there was hand-to-hand fighting with those few Sikhs remaining when the post was rushed for the final time.
    Finally, the account given of what befell the signaller Gurmukh Singh does not clear up what exactly happened. In evidence presented in my research (published in Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle) I suggest he did indeed shoot himself rather than fall into enemy hands and this is based on the account of senior officers. But this version states he was “kept alive” and that it is “probable” his rifle was taken before he had a chance of using it on himself. Does this mean he fell prisoner? Or his weapon was somehow lost? Or pulled from him, perhaps in a fight? There is still much left unanswered, which leaves a mystery of exactly what happened, yet we can make educated assumptions with the sources we have based on what we do know of the Sikh soldier of that time.
    This is a fantastic find, an historic eye witness account that truly gives more details about the fateful events on the Samana – and it will no doubt help in our factual understanding of what happened at Saragarhi, and hopefully inspire greater acts of such devotion to a just cause.
    The fate that befell Bernard Haslam was akin to that of many other young British men. After his service on the frontier he would find himself fighting for his country during the Great War. He died not in India or the Western Front but modern day Iran, on 26 August 1918 aged 43 during the Persian campaign. He is named on the Tehran Memorial, details of which can be found from the CWGC website here.
    Finally, I end with a request to readers who have connections to Tirah to get in touch. I’d love to hear more such stories and hopefully continue to share this largely forgotten but highly relevant history with our wider audience.
  3. The India Medal 1895 – 1902

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    The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been published with many Sikhs receiving awards for their selfless service to their community and the nation.

    We had a look through our archives and wanted to share with you the campaign medal given to all soldiers, British and native Indian, who served on the frontier.

    This is the India Medal 1895 – 1902, and it was awarded for campaigns on the Punjab Froniter, Chitral, Malakand and later Waziristan.

    It was also given for the Samana – where the batle of Saragarhi took place in 1897, and Tirah the expedition that occurred thereafter.

    Each medal with the clasps depicting the area of conflict the soldier or officer served tells a story, one of how the unruly frontier was policed and controlled during the Great Game.

    We hope this inspires you to dig around for such medals and to share their stories with us and the wider world.

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