They belonged to different mohallahs of the old walled city of Lahore. In
one fateful day, on the Third of September, 1879, the city lost 41 sons
out of 69 killed. Their great grand children, now old men in their
eighties, remember the respect they once commanded. They had a nameplate
outside Mohallah Qassaban, inside Delhi Gate, that was removed in the
1920s after Jallianwala. They were the cannon fodder of the British
Empire, unsung, forgotten, the ones who never came back.
In the old city they sing a couplet that goes: "Sarkar kay deewanay,
jissay Kabul mein na mannay". This couplet I had heard a number of times
in my youth, and recently on one of my walks through the old city, I
happened to share a cup of tea with old Baba Rehmat, who lives in Tehsil
Bazaar, near the old mosque. I often use him as a sounding board for old
stories, and every time he comes up with a unique explanation.
When I asked him about the couplet, he referred to a massacre of the
"Lahore regiment" as he put it in Kabul, 20 years after the 1857 War of
Independence. He calls it the 'wadah ghaddar'. "The moghals had become
eunuchs, what else did you expect", he said scornfully. I researched the
incident, met the great grand children of four Lahori soldiers, and the
story makes remarkable reading, for we have lost just so much without
learning anything from our losses. The decline continues.
The story of the 41 soldiers belonging to the old walled city out of the
69 Indians who never returned from Kabul in 1879 was told for years. They
belonged to the 21 Guides Cavalry and 48 Guides Infantry, which were elite
regiments of the Indian Army. The 41 belonged to four basic mohallahs, 11
of them from Mohallah Qassaban inside Delhi Gate, nine from Chohatta Rajah
Dina Nath in Delhi Gate (now renames Chohatta Qazi Allah Dad), and 15 from
Chuna Mandi Bazaar nearer the Masti Gate end, and six from Kocha
All these mohallahs had in the past produced soldiers for the Moghal and
Sikh armies, and had rich martial tradition. Even today some of the finest
officers of the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force belong to the old walled
city; they have that special guile, educated and street smart.
First a bit about the fight, then about the actual soldiers, and lastly
about what faded memories still exist in the city's winding lanes. The
British Residency was in the Bala Hissar in Kabul. In May, 1879, a Treaty
was signed between the British and Amir of Afghanistan, Yakub Khan. Under
the terms of the Treaty a British Mission was to be established in Kabul.
Their safety was guaranteed by the Treaty and the word of the Amir. The
Residency was set up in July 1879, and a small detachment of cavalry and
infantry belonging to the 21 Guides Cavalry and 48 Guides Infantry, elite
regiments belonging to Lahore, were sent as a security measure.
On the 3rd September 1879, without warning, Afghan soldiers attacked the
Residency and were joined by almost the entire civilian population of
Kabul. Urgent messages were sent to the Amir, claiming protection. The
messages were ignored. It was to be a fight to the end.
The attackers promised amnesty, which none of the staff in the Residency
believed. The attack started even before the time given was over. The
worst fears of the Lahori soldiers were proven right. And so four British
officers and 69 men from Lahore and its environs faced a raging attack by
over 10,000 armed men.
The first to fall was the British Envoy, Major Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon
Cavagnari, KCB, originally belonging to the 1st Bengal Fusiliers. Aged
just 38, he was an experienced soldier and was serving as the
Assistant-Commissioner in the Punjab, based in Lahore. With him was killed
Surgeon Ambrose Kelly of the Indian Medical service.
After studying medicine and surgery in Dublin, in 1869 he was commissioned
to the Bengal Medical Service and served in the Lushai expedition. He was
posted to the 1st Punjab Infantry in 1872. He was working in Lahore when
he was selected to join the Embassy to Kabul and was killed treating the
wounded in the first wave of attacks.
As the Residency staff regrouped, they were led by the one remaining
British officer, a 23-year old dashing soldier by the name of Lt. Walter
Richard Pollock Hamilton, V.C., of the Guides Cavalry. At Fatehabad he led
the Guides in a charge and was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was selected
to command the 75 men of the Corps of Guides who accompanied the British
Embassy to Kabul. He was killed defending the second wave of attack. With
him dead, command was taken over by the Lahori soldiers.
The Afghans offered amnesty to the Muslim soldiers. The answer from the
Lahori soldiers was the battle cry "Ya Ali Haider", and an even stranger
one the Afghans had never heard, and it was "Lahore Lahore Aye, Maaut
Maaut Aye". Regimental researchers were to note this unique battle cry, a
cry that was only used again in the 1965 War with India by the Punjab
regiment soldiers in the defence of Lahore.
So the third wave of attack started in which the last remaining British
officer to be killed was a uniquely gifted 32-year old British "political
officer" by the name of William Jenkyns. Educated at Cambridge, in 1876 he
was Interpreter and Secretary to the Embassy at Peshawar for the
conference with the Amir of Afghanistan. In 1878 he was a Political
Officer with the army in Afghanistan and spoke fluent Pushto. Thus all
British officers were dead and the men from Lahore were left to face the
Afghan records tell us that they stood fighting to the last man. One
account of the battle tells us that when their bullets had finished, they
fixed their bayonets, gave their battled cries and faced the enemy. After
12 hours of fighting the few remaining men fixed bayonets and charged out
to their deaths. Over 600 Afghan dead bore witness to the heroic
resistance of this small force from Lahore. From this emerged the ballad
in Punjabi: "Marrna aye tey dass lay kay marriay". Even today this myth of
every Lahori soldier taking ten of the enemy is perpetuated in the
regiments of Pakistan and India. Its roots are grouted firmly in the
reality of the Kabul of 1879.
When on their own, the men were led by Jemadar Jewand Singh, who belonged
to Mohallah Qassaban. He was assisted by Daffadar Hira Singh of Mozang.
The cavalry sowars who charged in the final analysis were all from inside
the old walled city, they being Gul Ahmed, Khair Ullah, Akbar Khan,
Muhammad Akbar, Miroh Badshah, Ghulam Habib, Mahomed Amin, Mahomed Hassan,
Amir Hyder, Pars Ram, Amar Singh, Wazir Singh, Ratan Singh, Harnam Singh,
Deva Singh and Farrier Amir Ullah.
From the infantry were Jemadar Mehtab Singh, Havildar Hussain, Naik Mehr
Dil, Bugler Abdullah (of Tehsil Bazaar and great grandfather of Baba
Rehmat), Lance Naik Jangi. Among the sepoys were Sonu, Shibba, Sirsa and
Tota all of Chuna Mandi. Then there were sepoys Roedad, Akbar Shah, Said
Amir, Alam Shah, Mir Baz Khan (all from Kocha Chabbaksowaran), Hamzulla
Waddah and Humzulla Chootha, two brothers from Chootha Rajah Dina Nath.
The list goes on and on. Last on the list is 3rd Class Hospital Assistant
Rahman Bakhsh, who also worked in a Lahore hospital, and went to Kabul for
the money and adventure. His great grandson, ironically, still lives
inside Bhati Gate and works in Mayo Hospital, Lahore. But then who
remembers all these exceptionally brave soldiers who refused to surrender.
Even the families of these martyrs now have little recollection, except
for the stories they have heard. Probably in a few years even the songs
and ballads will die out.
It matters not who the rulers were, for we have had foreign rulers for
almost 1,000 years. The men who died belonged to our soil. In a way, even
today, the rulers seem foreign to the poor. The least we can do is to
erect a monument for the 'Unknown Soldiers' of our city and land, so we
never forget all those, irrespective of time, place, belief and
circumstances, who helped shape our history.
Back To Majid Sheikh's Columns
Back To APNA Home Page