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michaeldr

Amritsar massacre - 100 years ago today

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michaeldr
voltaire60

 It is a moot point  as to whether Amritsar stood alone and a point that cannot be dealt with within the confines of what constitutes "Great War" on this Forum. (eg Golden Temple and Amritsar at a later date would clearly be classed as "political", though it is of interest by comparison as showing what happens when state force meets resistance). Growing violence well before the Great War had  made Bengal especially close,if not into, insurgency. How the British Army/Indian Army dealt with this by political and military "police" actions frames what happened at Amritsar in 1919. And after?   eg The Malabar Rebellion in the early 1920s. British rule was not peaceful-nor were its predecessors and successors. But I do think it is unreasonable to take Amritsar 1919 as a sole aberration. 

   In a wider context, what the Great War did was crank up the level of "acceptable" violence in the societies of all states involved.  And that level of violence tends to be difficult to put to bed afterwards. One cannot simply switch off violence as if it were a tap. What I would like to see more of is an exercise in comparative history- say, Amritsar, Freikorps in Germany and the Anglo-Irish troubles of 1919-1922. A one-off  slagging of Dyer does not do justice to a much meatier topic that should be within the bounds on this Forum.- Just how do you turn off the violence after a formal state of war has ended?

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michaeldr
57 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

Just how do you turn off the violence after a formal state of war has ended?

A very good point V60,

and when do you deploy an army unit, as opposed to a civilian police force

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Maureene

There are a number of online books about the Massacre at Amritsar, see the FIBIS Fibiwik page 

https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Massacre_at_Amritsar#Historical_books_online 

including

 

Punjab disturbances, April 1919; compiled from the Civil and military gazette 1919 Archive.org

 

Army. Disturbances in the Punjab. Statement by Brig.-General R E H Dyer Presented to Parliament HMSO 1920. HathiTrust Digital Library

 

India As I Knew It, 1885–1925 by Sir Michael Francis O’Dwyer 1925 Archive.org mirror version, originally from Digital Library of India. In 1885 the author was posted to Shahpur in the Punjab and retired as lieutenant-governor of the Punjab in 1919. His actions during 1919 were controversial.

 

Cheers

Maureen

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Uncle George
6 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

   In a wider context, what the Great War did was crank up the level of "acceptable" violence in the societies of all states involved.  And that level of violence tends to be difficult to put to bed afterwards. One cannot simply switch off violence as if it were a tap. What I would like to see more of is an exercise in comparative history- say, Amritsar, Freikorps in Germany and the Anglo-Irish troubles of 1919-1922. A one-off  slagging of Dyer does not do justice to a much meatier topic that should be within the bounds on this Forum.- Just how do you turn off the violence after a formal state of war has ended?

 

5 hours ago, michaeldr said:

A very good point V60,

 

This is the theme of the excellent ‘The Vanquished - Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923’ (2016) by Robert Gerwarth.

 

https://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/2045

 

“Gerwarth’s principal purpose in this book, then, is to provide a single, concise, one-volume overview of the myriad conflicts that made up the half-decade of warfare that engulfed parts of Europe after November 1918. Indeed, the entire study is essentially underpinned by the argument that all of these post-1918 conflicts, whether their origins lay in ethnic and territorial dispute or revolutionary convulsion, whether they occurred in the frozen wastes of Siberia or on the streets of Barcelona, can ultimately be grouped together and understood as a single spasm of continental violence that lasted for half a decade after 1918, with the Bolshevik Revolution and defeat of the Central Powers as their twin points of origin.”

Edited by Uncle George

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Martin Bennitt

The depiction of the massacre in the museum at the Red Fort in Delhi

 

Cheers Martin B

Amritsar.jpg

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Ron Clifton
7 hours ago, michaeldr said:

and when do you deploy an army unit, as opposed to a civilian police force

There was (is) normally a procedure for this, involving at least one magistrate, and when he/they consider that the police can no longer contain an insurrection, they formally request the army to take over responsibility. The procedure is discussed at length in the Manual of Military Law - Chapter XIV if I recall correctly. In the Great War period the Army's expert in these matters was Sir Nevil Macready, who served as Adjutant-General in France and later at the War Office. After the war he became Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

 

Ron

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Keith Woodland

Which unit provided the troops who actually did the shootings? The Channel 4 programme I watched last night uses a clip from The film Ghandi and this appeared to show Indian soldiers and Ghurkas firing. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought it was Koyli that were involved. Also was General Dyer actually with the troops, very unlikely in a modern situation I would have thought.

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Steven Broomfield

It was Indian troops; a mixture of Sikhs, Gurkhas and Muslim soldiers, I believe, and Dywer was there.

 

It was an appalling act, but one which has to be set in the context of the times. There had been a lot of disturbance in the Punjab following the war (not helped by the government's crass handling of the Montagu declaration), and there had been several white residents of Aritsar murdered in the days leading to the massacre. Additionally, a white woman (a nurse) had been stripped and sexually assaulted. All these were things which - understandably, pehaps, given that the Mutiny was still within living memory for some people - led to a state of extreme tension.

 

It should also be noted that a few days after the massacre, Dyer was given honorary Sikh status by elders at the Golden Temple.

 

None of this is to excuse the massacre, which was certainly a key event in the direction of Indian independence, but here is always context to be considered.

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michaeldr
3 hours ago, Keith Woodland said:

Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought it was Koyli that were involved. Also was General Dyer actually with the troops, very unlikely in a modern situation I would have thought.

 

See the link provided by Maureen ( https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.31951p00324262w;view=1up;seq=32 )

Dyer's report to Genstaff Division is Appendix C

As well as the two armoured cars and 40 Gurkhas armed only with their knives, he had with him 50 riflemen; from 9th Gurkhas, 25, and from 54th Sikhs & 59th Rifles a further 25

Dyer was there himself and no verbal warning to disperse was given before the firing.

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Heid the Ba
22 hours ago, Steven Broomfield said:

It should also be noted that a few days after the massacre, Dyer was given honorary Sikh status by elders at the Golden Temple.

 

None of this is to excuse the massacre, which was certainly a key event in the direction of Indian independence, but here is always context to be considered.

Dyer is usually portrayed as out of touch and with no understanding of India, whereas he was born in the Punjab and spoke Urdu and Punjabi.  I wasn't aware that Dyer was given honorary Sikh status; the elders of the Golden Temple must have known exactly what happened and would have heard the shooting since Jallianwalla Bagh almost abuts the temple grounds.

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Heid the Ba
On ‎13‎/‎04‎/‎2019 at 19:19, Ron Clifton said:

There was (is) normally a procedure for this, involving at least one magistrate, and when he/they consider that the police can no longer contain an insurrection, they formally request the army to take over responsibility. The procedure is discussed at length in the Manual of Military Law - Chapter XIV if I recall correctly. In the Great War period the Army's expert in these matters was Sir Nevil Macready, who served as Adjutant-General in France and later at the War Office. After the war he became Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

 

Ron

FM Slim wrote a book covering his early time in the Indian Army (the name escapes me at the moment) which includes a chapter called "Aid to the civil" which covers the problems of using the army to police riots and disturbances.

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Steven Broomfield
3 hours ago, Heid the Ba said:

Dyer is usually portrayed as out of touch and with no understanding of India, whereas he was born in the Punjab and spoke Urdu and Punjabi.  I wasn't aware that Dyer was given honorary Sikh status; the elders of the Golden Temple must have known exactly what happened and would have heard the shooting since Jallianwalla Bagh almost abuts the temple grounds.

 

There's an interesting article in the current edition of Standpoint magazine, amongst a lot of other things in various newspapers and books.

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Heid the Ba

It is an interesting article but Masani usually has an axe to grind, and he sometimes has it in for the Sikh community.  I'm not sure why but he talks about the population of Amritsar and the victims as Indian rather than as members of their religious communities, as if they had a commonality of purpose and belief. He criticises Dyer for reading the riot act (metaphorically) throughout the city but not near the Golden Temple claiming Dyer didn't know the city.  It seems to me that Dyer toured the Hindu and Muslim areas, but not the Sikh, and having spent his life in India and much of it in the Punjab it is inconceivable Dyer didn't know where the Golden Temple was.  The actions of the Sikh elders after the massacre would suggest the Sikhs thought Dyer did the right thing, possibly because of tensions with the other religious communities. 

 

It is my experience that Sikhs in India get more worked up about Indira Gandhi ordering the storming of the Golden Temple in 1984 than Jallianwalla Bagh and certainly when we were there a couple of years ago we attracted some interest (but as a white person in India you always do) but no hostility.  On a lighter note some of the bushes in the park have been topiaried into the shapes of soldiers in Brodies firing rifles.

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michaeldr

The act of conferring a Sikh honour on Dyer is discounted today as the doings of colonial placemen who had been appointed by the British rules.

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Heid the Ba

Thanks.

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, michaeldr said:

The act of conferring a Sikh honour on Dyer is discounted today as the doings of colonial placemen who had been appointed by the British rules.

 

Sounds reasonable.

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Martin Bennitt

Just reopening this thread to refer Pals to a book published last year for the anniversary, 'Amritsar 1919', subtitled "An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre" by Kim Wagner, a teacher of history at Queen Mary, University of London. Puts everything well in context, showing how British attitudes were coloured by memories of 1857. Mutual incomprehension and distrust, incompetence among higher officials in Lahore and Amritsar, and the colonialist belief that a strong lesson was needed to bring the natives in line and nip in the bud what was feared to be an imminent rebellion, though there was no evidence of this.

 

Wagner by the way estimates the death toll at between 500 and 600 with around three times as many wounded in a crowd of 15-20,000 people.

 

Cheers Martin B

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bushfighter

But Dyer, an accomplished field soldier, became a hero throughout the Empire (to Europeans anyway).  Those were the sentiments of the time.

 

In the 1960s a Scottish Colonel did not spare the rod in Aden, and he was equally lauded also (especially by my late mother, who said she was proud to see him going in to retake Crater).

 

As a former field soldier I applaud the actions of both men.  Once you are exposed to situations such as they faced you must always bear in mind the security of your men and your force's local positions, and you must always be aware that outside Europe kindness is very often regarded as weakness.

 

The critics tend to be persons back in the UK with soft urban jobs, who have never had to face a mob that wants to tear them to bits.

 

Harry

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Martin Bennitt

But at Amritsar there was no mob wanting to tear Dyer to bits. He totally misread the situation as a result of his prejudices and those of the civilian officials of the colonial administration. His men fired 1,650 rounds of .303 with no warning into a crowd of men and boys who had gathered to listen to some speeches, albeit in defiance of a proclamation read the day before in a few parts of the city which most of the population would neither have heard nor understood.

 

Cheers Martin B

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Terry_Reeves
3 hours ago, bushfighter said:

But Dyer, an accomplished field soldier, became a hero throughout the Empire (to Europeans anyway).  Those were the sentiments of the time.

Well said Harry. It is very easy to look through the telescope of time from an armchair into a different century. It is a very different matter when you are the man on the spot having to deal with it.

 

TR

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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David_Underdown

Dyer's actions were far from well regarded even at the time by quite a significant body of opinion, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Dyer#Reaction_in_Britain_and_British_India. Granted there was also support, and quite a large fund raised for him organised by the Morning Post.

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bushfighter

If I may tell a war story - which incidentally I have never told before and probably never will do again - in the mid 1960s I was a contract infantry Captain in an African Copperbelt town.

 

One Sunday when the mine workers in their housing areas had drained dry many 40-gallon drums of Chibuku beer (which was their wont on a Sunday), agitators induced riots.

 

I heard that another officer was trapped in a building so I went out in a Landrover with a soldier driver and a loaded rifle.  But in the building were four trapped European civilians, one of them a lady about 9 and a half months pregnant.  Some leaderless policemen were manfully keeping the mob at bay.  We resolved the situation.

 

But the distraught lady kept asking me "Why are they attacking us?  We have done nothing against them!"

 

THERE IS NO LOGICAL ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION - WHEN SUCH A SITUATION HAPPENS YOU RESOLVE IT QUICKLY.

 

Can anybody explain to me why "civilised" Europeans in Northern Ireland - part of the UK - turned into mobs that killed unarmed British soldiers?

 

YOU CANNOT EXPLAIN IT LOGICALLY.

 

General Dyer took his own personal view of what needed doing - was anybody else there who can convince me that the mob was not a threat?  Maybe too many rounds were fired, but in the heat of mob situations where you really are at risk of being torn apart, fire control is never easy. 

 

Everything about the Amritsar incident is hearsay and oral history, which is impossible to quantify.  The days of mobile phone cameras were still many years distant.

 

Please allow some historical slack to the soldiers who have to perform difficult jobs - they are very rarely considered, by the people who were not there, to have operated correctly.

 

As the Daily Telegraph recently analysed, a soldier who killed someone in Northern Ireland is 50 times more likely to be prosecuted than is a terrorist who killed a soldier or civilian.

 

That is how it is - soldiers on the whole do not complain, but it would be pleasant to receive a little more understanding of the conflicting doubts, fears, emotions and responsibilities that the military commander on the ground is faced with, whilst often under attack himself from missiles, firebombs and small arms.

 

Harry

 

 

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Terry_Reeves

Quite agree Harry.

 

TR

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David Filsell

The retrospectroscope is a fascinating dissembling tool

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