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The following are included on this page;


1.  The O’Dwyer v Nair Libel Case of 1924: New Evidence and Its Implications Concerning Indian Attitudes and British Intelligence During the Punjab Disturbances - Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 21, Part 4, October 2011.


2. Brigadier-General Dyer and Internal Security: The Aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh - British Army Review, Summer 2005, No. 137.


3. The Jallianwala Bagh Revisited - The Deposits from the O'Dwyer-Nair Libel Case - U.S.I. Journal, the journal of the United Services Institute of India, Part I - April-June 2006; Part II - July-September 2006.


4. The Butcher of Amritsar's Chinese Roots: Brigadier General Dyer and Revolution in Hong Kong 1912-1914 - Talk to the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, June 2005.


5. A Muse Abused: The Politicising of the History of the Amritsar Massacre - A Review of Nick Lloyd's Amritsar: The Untold Story - The Asian Review of Books, 17 July 2012.





By Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel A. Collett MA (Oxon) MA (Bucks) FRAS


Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 21, Part 4, October 2011


In 1923, Sir Michael O'Dwyer sued Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair for a libel alleged to have been made in his book, Gandhi and Anarchy.  O’Dwyer, a fiery Ulsterman, had been Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab from 1913 to 1919 and in this position had been largely responsible for the suppression of the Punjab Disturbances in his last year in office.  His authoritarian rule had made him very unpopular in India and was the prime cause of his assassination by the Indian Udam Singh in London’s Caxton Hall in 1940.  His opponent, Sir Sankaran Nair was a prominent establishment Indian politician, high court judge, President of the Indian National Congress in 1897 and, until 1919, when he resigned in protest at the suppression of the Punjab Disturbances, a Member of the Viceroy of India’s Executive Council.  He had written his book to attack Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-co-operation movement, but Nair, who was a moderate, had not resisted the opportunity to take a swipe at O’Dwyer, whose oppressive policies he, with much of India, regarded as the real cause of the disturbances of 1919 and the repression under Martial Law which had followed them.[i]  He had written: “Before the reforms [the Montagu-Chelmsford Indian constitutional reforms] it was in the power of the Lieutenant-Governor, a single individual, to commit the atrocities in the Punjab which we know only too well.”[ii] 


   The O’Dwyer-Nair trial has been described many times in the Amritsar literature, but its records have not been analysed in print.  They are of interest in two ways.  Firstly, they provide detail of events in the Punjab which is unrecorded elsewhere.  Principal participants expanded the accounts they had given at other times.  Some of the minor characters who had played parts in 1919 and who remained otherwise unheard were given the chance to speak.  This article’s first aim is to examine this new evidence.   Secondly, the testimony of witnesses at the trial reveals clues to two issues which have not since then been much considered, one being the attitude of Indian establishment classes to the suppression of the Punjab Disturbances, the other being the quality of the intelligence then available to the Government of India.  Coupled with other long-ignored snippets of evidence recorded elsewhere at the time, evidence given at the trial indicates that some of those Indians whose positions depended upon continued British rule in India were not only content to see the Punjab Disturbances crushed, but also did what they could to ensure this outcome.  The second aim of this article is to consider this evidence.


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Some detail of the trial will be useful here.  The case was heard before Mr Justice McCardie, an opinionated judge of right wing views, in the Court of King’s Bench over five weeks from 30 April 1924.  Apart from being one of the longest civil hearings in legal history, the case was notable for being the only airing in an English court of any issue arising from the Punjab Disturbances of 1919.  The trial was seen, and was intended by the plaintiff, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, to be seen, as a means of vindicating the actions of his Punjab administration and of the officials who had taken a hand in suppressing the disturbances, among them most notably Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the perpetrator of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar.  It was accepted at the trial that two of the major points at issue were that:


1. On 13 April 1919, General Dyer committed an atrocity by ordering the shooting at Amritsar, and


2. That the plaintiff caused or was responsible for the commission of that alleged atrocity.[iii]    


   The trial brought together many key actors from the India of 1919.  Most of the Englishmen concerned there then were by now back home and so could appear in person.  These included the Viceroy of the time, Lord Chelmsford, a remote and rather characterless placeman, who, with Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu, had given his name to the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms.  He had not distinguished himself in the crisis of 1919 and now in 1924 was First Lord of the Admiralty.  Also present was Major-General Sir William Beynon, Sir Michael O'Dwyer’s military equivalent in the Punjab and Martial Law Administrator there during the disturbances, who was now in retirement.  He was a very gallant officer of Gurkhas who had won a DSO in 1895 during the Relief of Chitral and had sprung to public fame soon thereafter with the publication of his account of the campaign, With Kelly to Chitral.  In 1919, he had been General Officer Commanding 16 (Indian) Division in Lahore and so Brigadier-General Dyer’s superior in the Punjab.  Of the major figures, only Dyer himself, struck down in 1921 by a stroke and afflicted by the arterial sclerosis which was steadily killing him, so by now too sick to endure the excitement of the courtroom, was missing. 


   The proceedings of the libel case were reported in great detail in the press, usually with almost verbatim recounting of what had been said in court. In the absence of the court record (which has not been located), the law report of The Times for the period May to June 1924 gives the best account of what transpired.[iv] Of course, the evidence given at any trial, deliberately presented in the adversarial circumstances of a courtroom some five years after the event, has clearly to be used with some caution.  Nor can full confidence be placed in the reporting of any newspaper, however august.  However, the columns of The Times do give much corroboration of the accounts of events and attitudes found in other sources and are themselves corroborated by these sources and by the law reports of other newspapers, such as the Daily Telegraph and the Morning Post, which also covered the trial in detail.  In general, it can be said that the statements recorded by The Times from witnesses at the trial confirm in all major aspects what is already known from sources elsewhere. 


   In court, Nair found himself at a very great disadvantage.  In the England of 1924 there were few who were prepared to support his view that Sir Michael O'Dwyer had been a repressive tyrant, and those who were had little public standing.  The only Englishman ready to appear for him as a witness was Mr Gerard Wathen, a man of liberal views who in 1919 had been Principal of the Khalsa College in Amritsar.  By 1924, Wathen had returned home and was a school principal in Hampstead.  His evidence adds little to what is known of events, though his description of the summons, issued to him at his College on 13 April 1919, to join all the British in the safety of the Amritsar cantonment, gives the flavour of the nervousness of the British forces in the city at the time:


The first I heard was when I saw a wild man – it was a subaltern – riding towards me firing his revolver in the air to attract the attention of the students, who were running away in terror. He was shouting in execrable Hindustani, ‘Where is the Sahib?’[v]


In the absence of other English support, Nair’s legal team was forced to fall back on the depositions legally sworn by over 120 witnesses in India.[vi]  Amongst these were statements from witnesses who had testified before the Indian Congress Inquiry led by Gandhi, whose report is much amplified by them.[vii]  The depositions contain much evidence of wrongdoing in the Punjab during O’Dwyer’s tenure in office (though, regrettably for Nair, none that could be laid directly at O’Dwyer’s door), yet Mr Justice McCardie made it plain that for him these had far less weight than did the evidence of those who appeared before the jury.  Sir Michael O'Dwyer won his case, and was able ever thereafter to maintain that he and Dyer had been vindicated in a British court of law. He could do so relying to a good degree upon Mr Justice McCardie’s highly partial summing up, which included the words:


I express my view that General Dyer, under the grave and exceptional circumstances, acted rightly, and in my opinion, upon his evidence, he was wrongly punished by the Secretary of State for India.[viii]


   Before looking at the trial testimony, some recapitulation of the events that lay behind the trial will be useful.  In the early part of 1919, opposition had arisen in India to the Rowlatt Acts, which had been proposed as a framework for India’s security after the imminent expiry of the wartime Defence of India Act.  The acts were viewed by many Indians as unnecessarily repressive and as a betrayal of India’s hope for the gradual devolution of self government.  Gandhi took up the fight against them and allied himself with many groups across India; in March 1919 local politicians created what was the Punjab’s first political movement under the Raj to oppose the Acts.  The British took fright, mistakenly believing they faced a rebellion. The province’s Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who ruled with a firm, many would say a hard, hand behaved true to form on this occasion and acted pre-emptively. On 9 April 1919, he prevented Gandhi from entering the province and on the 10th had Amritsar’s two most prominent local leaders deported. These actions sparked off a rash of violent incidents which lasted for over a month and became known as the Punjab Disturbances. 


   In Amritsar there was a particularly violent reaction. On 10 April, a large number of townspeople poured out of the city and headed towards the British civil lines to demand the return of their deported leaders. They were stopped by rifle fire, which killed several of them.  The crowd turned into a mob which killed two British men before flowing back into the city, where it killed three British bank managers and ransacked and burned many official and business premises. The city passed at that point out of British hands.  British military reinforcements started to reach Amritsar that night and Brigadier Reginald Dyer, commanding 45 Brigade at nearby Jullundur and in whose area of responsibility Amritsar lay, arrived to take command on the 11th.  Two days later, Dyer led a column around the city announcing the banning of all meetings, but that afternoon a political meeting was held in the Jallianwala Bagh, an area of open ground enclosed by high walls in the city near the Golden Temple.[ix]  Over 20,000 people gathered, some to hear the speeches, but most there were locals or visitors attending the celebrations for the Baisakh festival, who were resting in the garden in the heat of the day.  All were unarmed.  Dyer marched a force into the Bagh and, without warning, opened fire. His troops maintained firing for over ten minutes, killing an unknown number of people, at least 480, certainly many more, and wounding probably several thousand.  Martial law was imposed on the city and Dyer enforced the notorious crawling order, making crawl on their stomachs all who wished to traverse the street where a British missionary woman had been attacked and left for dead. The Government eventually yielded to pressure to hold an inquiry into these events; this, known as the Hunter Committee after its Chairman, Lord Hunter, published a report in 1920 which criticised Dyer severely.[x]  Without further investigation, Dyer was removed from his post and sent to England, where he received the censure of both Governments of India and of Britain.  A resolution in the House of Commons condemned him, though the House of Lords voted to support what he had done. He retired without punishment in 1920.[xi]


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Nearly five years later, Major-General Sir William Beynon took the stand on 13 and 14 May 1924.[xii] He maintained, as he had at the Hunter Inquiry, a stout defence of Dyer’s actions at the Jallianwala Bagh.  Dyer’s statements (no less than three had been given to the public over the years), Beynon averred, had grown less reliable as time passed and he continued to accept the original account Dyer had given him face to face in the Bagh in the days after the massacre; this was that he had opened fire as the crowd was surging to surround his force and because he feared for the safety of his troops in the confined space of the Bagh.  “I am sorry to say that the evidence that he gave [to the Hunter Inquiry, where he had stated he went to the Bagh with the intention to open fire on any crowd he had found there] was quite different from what he was doing and thinking at the time. You must judge General Dyer not by what he said, but by what he did.” That Dyer had changed his tune before the Hunter Committee was, General Beynon suggested, due to the hardships he had suffered in the Third Afghan War, which had intervened between the massacre and the inquiry. “He might have forgotten some things and exaggerated others … I think that he over-brooded. I think that his memory was getting rather inaccurate.”  He told the court that he had taken Dyer to task after he had emerged from the Hunter Inquiry’s witness box for misleading them by saying that he had gone to the Jallianwala Bagh with the intention of firing. Outside the inquiry room, he had asked Dyer: “Why did you say that you went down with the intention of firing?”  Dyer had replied: “Of course, I intended to fire if necessary.” “I said: “That is not the impression you have given the Committee”.”[xiii]  Beynon, a much more straightforward man than Dyer, can be forgiven, perhaps, for missing Dyer’s characteristic verbal quibble; Dyer was an officer with a history of misleading his superiors. He had not been straight with Beynon in his original account and had not been straight with him outside the inquiry hall. The Hunter Committee, though, had got the correct impression. They accepted that Dyer had intended to open fire if he found anyone in the Bagh.


   Beynon’s testimony adds further muddle to the confusion surrounding the issue of why Dyer was in Amritsar in the first place.  Beynon’s original testimony to the Hunter Committee, together with the war diaries of 16 Division, of which he was G.O.C., and Dyer’s 45 Brigade, neither of which records any order sending Dyer to Amritsar, had been equivocal on this point.  It is highly likely that Dyer went to Amritsar on 11 April of his own accord.[xiv]  Dyer maintained that he had been sent there by Beynon, but his G.O.C. was strangely reticent on this point, merely telling the Hunter Committee that he had sent another officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan, to take charge in Amritsar, adding that “General Dyer, had, however, arrived at Amritsar” and, as senior, had automatically assumed command.  Now, in court, Beynon took the same line but then altered it.  Having mentioned that he ordered Dyer to send 100 ‘Mohamedan’ troops to Amritsar on 10 April, Beynon added: “General Dyer arrived in Amritsar on April 11, and after that I had communications from him […] I ordered General Dyer to take charge of Amritsar and to take any necessary action.”  Here again Beynon seems to be seeking to avoid saying that he ordered Dyer to go there, but he then added, in response to a question as to whether he had been satisfied to leave affairs in Amritsar to Dyer’s discretion: “I should not have sent him there had I not been.”  So at the last, Beynon did say that he had sent Dyer to Amritsar, but only after much careful choice of words.  The question is an interesting one for the light it may throw on Dyer’s motivations; the issue was referred to later in the trial and will be discussed again below.


   One actor with a minor role in Amritsar in April 1919 who had not given testimony to the Hunter Inquiry was Captain John T. Botting of the Royal Field Artillery.   His eye witness account here is therefore new.  Botting told the court that he had been commanding the twelve British and 200 Indian troops of 12 Ammunition Column which was part of the city’s permanent garrison.[xv]  He described one of the murders carried out by the mob on 10 April, that of railway guard Robinson:


We heard a roar and saw a surging mob coming towards the civil lines … They murdered an inoffensive railway guard who was working in the station. All that he had to defend himself with was an umbrella. When the mob had done with him he bore no resemblance to a human form. He was simply a bundle of red rags.[xvi]


While the city was largely out of British control between 10 and 12 April, Botting sent some of his Indian N.C.O.s into the city and they reported to him that they had found there an air of defiance. “The British”, they said they had been told, “were no longer the Government of India.”  His men reported that meetings “were being held secretly at different persons’ houses” and that people were saying “We will try our strength.” He also heard that the meeting which General Dyer eventually fired on would be held in the square “whether there were British troops there or not.” He had informed Dyer of all this.  He stated that, after the firing in the Jallianwala Bagh on the 13th, “I had walked through the city at midnight with one of my Indian officers and there was not a soul about.” He described the effect of Dyer’s actions as “electrical. The city became normal”, an odd description of the paralysis induced by fear afflicting its population. Botting clearly approved of what Dyer had done. It seems likely from this that he was one of the conservative coterie surrounding Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, the Amritsar Medical Officer, which, in March 1919, had given Sir Michael O’Dwyer reactionary advice behind the back of Miles Irving, their new and rather weak Deputy Commissioner, advice which called for strong tactics in the city and which had encouraged O’Dwyer to stoke the fire that broke out on 10 April.


   New evidence was heard in court from a soldier of a far more eminent rank, who as Commander-in-Chief in India had played the key role in dismissing Dyer from his post after the Hunter Report was published in 1920.  This evidence was taken on oath from abroad, as General Sir George Carmichael Munro was now Governor of Gibraltar.  Monro, a bluff, taciturn and almost monosyllabic soldier, had known Dyer since they had served together in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment in the Third Burma War in 1886 and ‘87.  At the publication of the Hunter Report, he had felt personally betrayed by Dyer’s admission of his intention to fire without warning in the Bagh and had immediately removed Dyer from his post, returning him to England without taking any formal disciplinary action against him and even without asking him for an explanation of what he’d done.  Monro had been much criticised for this within the Army and in India.  Now, in his evidence to the court, he let slip one small additional ground for his animosity towards Dyer, who appears to have lied to him directly.[xvii] Questioned about the infamous crawling order imposed by Dyer on the street in which a British missionary teacher, Marcella Sherwood, had been beaten and left for dead by the mob of 10 April, Monro stated: ‘I sent a direction to forbid it [the order] directly I heard of it. General Dyer sent back word that he had heard of it and had stopped it before he got my telegram.’  Dyer’s reply to his C-in-C[xviii]  had been typically disingenuous; he had personally designed the crawling order as retribution and had imposed it himself, not merely ‘heard of it’. When he was in full possession of the facts, Monro must have found this a highly offensive obfuscation on the part of a relatively senior officer long known to him personally.  It is yet more evidence that Dyer was far from the ‘honest soldier’ he liked to portray himself.


   The evidence at the trial of Mr A.J.W. Kitchin, in 1919 the Commissioner of the Lahore Division, also contains new elements.  He had been the superior of the Amritsar Deputy Commissioner, Miles Irving, and had been one of the very few officials who had been censured by the Government of India after the publication of the Hunter Report, largely for his actions on 10 April 1919, when he had handed control of Amritsar to the military without giving them clear instructions.  He had been delegated authority to deal with events at Amritsar by Sir Michael O’Dwyer,[xix] to whom he reported directly, and had been an advocate of taking firm steps to deal with the disturbances. He had always been a supporter of Dyer’s actions.  The censure he had suffered forced his resignation and he was chief among those whom O’Dwyer was seeking to rehabilitate at the trial.  His account to the court supplements the detail he gave the Hunter Committee, before which he had worked hard to follow the Punjab Government line as well as to exonerate Dyer.[xx]  He took the same line in the evidence he gave to the court.


   Asked whether, when on 12 April he returned to Amritsar from Lahore, he had instructions from the Lieutenant-Governor for General Dyer, he said he had not; “so far as I know he did not know General Dyer was there. I did not know it.” This new evidence is particularly noteworthy as one day earlier, on the 11th, Kitchin had pushed the Lieutenant-Governor to demand from General Beynon that a senior officer be sent to Amritsar to take charge.  It had been for this reason that General Beynon had sent the Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan whom Dyer superceded there, so it is interesting that General Beynon had not informed the civilian authorities of Dyer’s despatch there; a further indication, perhaps, that Dyer had gone there of his own accord.


   Kitchin stated to the court that he had left Amritsar to go back to Lahore on 13 April and so was there when, in the early hours of 14 April, he and Sir Michael O’Dwyer were awakened and informed of Dyer’s action in the Jallianwala Bagh.  O’Dwyer immediately sent him back to Amritsar “to take care that there should be no more firing if it could possibly be helped.” On arriving in Amritsar just after dawn, he met Dyer. “He said: “I have done my duty. It was a horrible duty. I haven’t slept all night but it was the right thing to do.” He asked me what Sir Michael O’Dwyer’s view was, and I told him that at the moment he had not expressed an opinion.”[xxi]  Kitchin’s words (uttered by him here for the first time) confirm the state of Dyer’s mind as reported by others who met him just after the shooting.  Gerard Wathen had found him “distraught” immediately after he returned to his base from the Bagh. Miles Irving met Dyer shortly after this and found him “dazed and shaken up.” Others including Dyer’s wife  testified of his sleeplessness for months afterwards, and he himself mentioned this to others up to six months or more later.[xxii] Dyer was to use the word “horrible” many times in describing what he’d done. Before the Hunter Committee he repeated it: “it was a horrible duty for me to perform”; “a horrible act and it took a lot of doing”; “it only struck me at the time it was my duty to do this, and that it was a horrible duty”; “a merciful act though a horrible act”; and “a horrible duty for me to perform”.[xxiii]  He was to use similar words when he arrived back in England in 1920, telling the Daily Mail reporter who met him at the quayside in Southampton that he had done: “my horrible, dirty duty”.[xxiv] The phrase seems to have stuck in Dyer’s brain from the very beginning, and there is more than a hint here that it was at least in part a ploy for sympathy.  Just after the shooting, Dyer felt highly insecure about the rightness of what he had done and was very worried about the reactions of his superiors and the military authorities. He knew he had broken the law.  It was that which caused him to lie and to alter his story until he felt so sure that he had secured his superiors’ support that he at last felt free to boast of what he had done before the Hunter Committee.  Even there, though, his words make plain that he was still fishing for sympathy (though not from the Indian members of the inquiry; he never used these words in response to questions from them).  Kitchin’s evidence makes it plain that this trait began on the day following the shooting.


                                                                                                - - -


Before the court, Commissioner Kitchin made some surprisingly disparaging remarks about the unreliability of the Indian troops in the Punjab in 1919 and in particular of those stationed at Amritsar.  In this, he was repeating what he had said at the Hunter Inquiry where he had echoed the words of his Lieutenant-Governor, who had maintained before the Hunter Committee[xxv] that he had proof of disaffection.  O’Dwyer made these charges again in his autobiography.[xxvi]  Though such fears were no doubt real at the time, neither Kitchin nor O’Dwyer (or anyone else) ever made a convincing case that they were justified.  Indian troops almost universally did their duty unswervingly in the Punjab in 1919 and the idea that the Indian Army had become unreliable was dismissed out of hand by Lieutenant-General Sir Havelock Hudson, Adjutant-General in India, in his own testimony before the Hunter Committee.[xxvii]  The fears of the Government of the Punjab were unfounded, but the question remains as to why it had been led to give credence to these fears.  Kitchin’s evidence at the trial presents one small key to this mystery.


   In the background to all British thinking about the Punjab Disturbances of 1919 was the recent memory of the Gadr conspiracy that had caused disaffection during the 1st World War among some Indian troops in the province and as far afield as Singapore and Hong Kong.  This had been dealt with relatively easily and had been limited in scope, but many of those under suspicion at the time were still resident in the Punjab.  Further back in time, of course, lay the Mutiny of 1857, when much of the Bengal Army had risen, an event which still coloured much of British thinking in the early 20th century.  But now, in court, Kitchin made clear that there was something more specific causing the Punjab Government concern.  Kitchin rather extraordinarily maintained to the court that one of the reasons that Dyer had acted as he did in the Jallianwala Bagh was because he feared for the loyalty of his Indian troops (something that Dyer had never mentioned and an idea against which, in all likelihood, he would have objected violently had such a thing been suggested to him).  Kitchin said: “I am content to put it forward as a factor operating on my own mind. It was an argument put forward by practically every Indian who came to us. They all said that we could not trust the troops.”


   Who were these Indian informants who had dripped such poison into the administration’s ears, why had they done so and why did the administration take any notice of them?  The question is a wider and more important one than might strike one initially, for it was not just in the issue of the reliability of their Indian soldiers that the British were fed highly suspect and deliberately inflammatory information during the Punjab Disturbances.  This disinformation was but one piece of a pattern of alarming reports which included information that the Golden temple was about to become a centre of “the rebellion”, that agents of the “rebels” in Amritsar were abroad spreading their “rebellion” throughout the province, that reinforcements to the “rebels” were on their way to Amritsar and that the surrounding countryside was about to rise. 


   It might be maintained, perhaps, by those laying all evil at the feet of the colonialists, that the British made up this information themselves in order to provide an excuse to heighten tension and to impose the severe measures of martial law.  But just as there is no evidence that there was any Indian conspiracy to overthrow the Raj in 1919, so there is no credible evidence of a British conspiracy either to create a break down in civil order or to use the opportunity of such a break down to crush India.  Deliberate misinformation will not do as an explanation.   The British were being misled.


   Alternatively, it might be imagined that the British were taking fright at the rumours that arose around their own dining tables.  Among the wider Anglo-Indian population, this may indeed have been so.  Gossip about what was seen as an impending storm certainly did damage the morale of the British in the Punjab in the early part of 1919 and especially during Gandhi’s satyagraha campaign.  In the weeks which led up to the disturbances of 10 April, the British became increasingly jittery about a threat they thought they could see but which they could not understand.  In Amritsar specifically, there was loose talk of mutiny and of attempts at subversion of the troops in the garrison early in April.[xxviii] On 9 April, rumours surfaced there that there was a plot afoot to kill the all the Europeans in the station on the 16th.[xxix]  All these rumours proved groundless, but they made the British very nervous, caused the initiation of preparations for civil disturbance (including the issue of weapons) and prepared the ground for what was to happen on 10 April.  A bad case of nerves, though, is insufficient an explanation for the actions and reports of those in power, men who had other sources of information upon which, they thought, they could rely.      


   However, that these sources of information were themselves faulty, and perhaps deliberately faulty, is indicated by evidence that had emerged earlier at the Hunter Committee.  The Inquiry heard that there were two occasions around the time of Dyer’s action in the Jallianwala Bagh when Kitchin gave Dyer information which proved to be untrue but which could have led to more bloodshed had Dyer taken action upon it.  The information, in fact, seems to have been given in order that the British, and in particular Dyer, should take further drastic steps. On 12 April, the day before the shooting in the Bagh, Kitchin returned from Lahore to Amritsar accompanied by Superintendent Donald, Punjab’s Deputy Inspector-General of Police.  They told Dyer that they had picked up information on the road that trouble would go further unless the riots in Amritsar were stopped at once.  They added that 200 armed Sikhs from the Manja (the country area around the city) were about to raid Amritsar.[xxx] They gave this information only verbally to Dyer and it is noteworthy that Kitchin did not include it in his telegrams to Lahore that day.  The information thus formed a part of Dyer’s assessment of the military situation when, on the following day, he fired on the crowd in the Bagh.  Two days after the firing, Kitchin and Donald were back in Amritsar and told Dyer that the “mutineers” intended to hold another meeting around the Golden Temple (again, something not repeated in Kitchin’s telegrams to Lahore).  This information caused Dyer considerable anxiety, but this time, rather than take action himself in or around the Sikh’s holiest temple, which would have led to a bloodbath, Dyer summoned the temple sarbrah (chief priest) to a discussion and defused the situation.[xxxi]  By then, even Dyer could see that there had been enough bloodshed, and, in any case, he held a high regard for the Sikhs, many of whom were his soldiers.


   Kitchin’s two pieces of provocative disinformation were by no means unique.  They can be compared with the false report the Hunter Committee found had been submitted to Dyer on 12 April by Amritsar’s Indian City Superintendent of Police, Ashraf Khan.  This cowardly and untrustworthy police officer, who was clearly seeking to salvage what had been left of the loss of his reputation caused by his failure to take any action to stop the murders and destruction of the 10th, told Dyer that rebellion was being spread into the surrounding districts by agents from Amritsar and that large numbers were coming into the city to form a danda fauj (army armed with staves) to drive the British out.  Ashraf Khan had been holed up in his police station inside Amritsar for two days since he had taken refuge there on the 10th.  He had not emerged outside it until escorted out of the city by Dyer’s troops, so it is unlikely that he could have explained how he had ascertained this information had Dyer thought to ask him.  The information was made doubly unlikely by the fact that troops had been guarding all access to the city through its gates since Dyer’s arrival.[xxxii]  The information was indeed completely false, yet it chimed neatly with that from Kitchin, which came close on its heels, and must have had an effect on the already susceptible Dyer, who had already formed the belief that what was now facing him in Amritsar was the army of the Punjab insurgents which, the next day, he would set out to destroy in the Bagh.


   Where did Kitchin and Donald acquire their information?  In court in 1924, Kitchin said that on the evening of 12 April, he returned to Lahore by motor-car and that as he went, he enquired about the state of the countryside, thereby coming to the conclusion that “the position was most serious.”  The road between Amritsar and Lahore was the Grand Trunk Road, by 1919 a motorable metalled road of thirty-one miles in length which could be covered by car in about fifty minutes.  There was no need to stop, in fact in those disturbed times every reason not to do so, but Kitchin and Donald clearly did so several times en route.  It is unlikely that they pulled over to talk to bullock cart drivers or labourers in the fields.  Instead, they must have called in at locations where they felt they could pick up information from sympathetic sources. Along the road were several such places.  Closest to Amritsar was Chheharta, where there was an important gurdwara (Sikh shrine) founded by the Sikh’s fifth guru.  Next along the road came Khasa, the site of another gurdwara, the Saint Babu Lal Singh ji Maharaj.  The gurdwaras were administered at the time by British appointed mahants, or priest managers. Atari was the next village along the road, and nearby that was the home of the influential Sikh Atwirala family.  All around these villages were clustered the large houses of wealthy and locally powerful Sikh families, supporters, in the main, of the status quo. All were families whose stakes in land and property were threatened by the disorder in nearby Amritsar and who in all likelihood would have desired the British to act decisively before events got further out of hand.  It is perhaps from such sources that Kitchin and Donald received the information they passed on to Dyer.


   The use of such personal contacts among India’s upper classes was one of the few means of gathering intelligence then open to the British authorities.  Senior civil servants did not come much into contact with Indians other than through their work and were forced to rely upon narrow channels of information from the Indian establishment upon whom they largely relied to rule.  At the trial this was made clear; Sir Michael O’Dwyer’s Indian witnesses were exclusively drawn from the upper class and included six landowners and tribal chiefs and no professional men at all.[xxxiii]  The Punjab Government’s available sources of information during the Rowlatt agitation and the Punjab Disturbances were similarly limited, in part due to the prejudices of its officers.  O’Dwyer told the Hunter Committee that “while I would not meet Extremists or conspirators I often spoke to the leading politicians of a more moderate type and asked them to use their influence with the political associations, to prevent the political agitation in the Punjab on extreme lines.” At a meeting of local worthies called by O’Dwyer in Lahore on 11 April, two of them, Mr Shafi and Raja Narendra Nath, proposed to the Lieutenant-Governor that he should meet the leaders of the Rowlatt agitation to defuse the situation.  He refused to do so.[xxxiv]  


   O’Dwyer preferred at all times to work through those he knew were firm supporters of the Government.  The sources of information he lists in his autobiography, India as I Knew It, are indicative. Writing of the beginning of the Rowlatt agitation, he says that he met Nawab Sir Fateh Ali Khan, Kizilbash, “one of the most prominent members of the Shiah community in Northern India. Head of a loyal, influential and historic family with connections in Kabul and Irak, and thoroughly conversant with Islamic thought and feeling”.  This man confined himself to congratulating the Government on the British victory in the 1st World War.  O’Dwyer then met “a Hindu gentleman of wide knowledge, acute observation, and shrewd judgment” who did warn of Gandhi’s threat of passive resistance.  The third and only other source of information he states he consulted at the time was an English friend, a Judge of the Chief Court, who warned of rumours he had picked up in the bar room, that: “the Punjab extremists intended to have a trial of strength with the Government.”[xxxv] 


   O’Dwyer also continued to expect that he could use the usual array of local dignitaries to pass information downwards in order to influence events.  He told the Hunter Committee that on 10 April “At 3.15 I met Sardar Raghbir Singh and other Sardars and Native officers from Amritsar and told them to go there at once by motor, and report to the Deputy Commissioner”.  He added that on 12 April “it was urged on me then and has been urged since by Indian gentlemen of position and proved loyalty that martial law should have been introduced on the 10th or 11th, and that such a course would have in the end been the more humane one.”[xxxvi]  That these men had little contact with those campaigning against the Rowlatt bills and that their interests were diametrically opposed to those of the new emerging politicised professional classes to whom they were rapidly losing their local influence did not, it seems, occur to him or his officials and accounts for his evident surprise that “when I went to Amritsar a week afterwards I enquired for the Vice-President of the Municipal Committee.  Rai Bahadur Gopal Das […] had bolted to Lahore on the first day of the disturbance and did not come back.”[xxxvii]


   At the next level down, Kitchin consulted the same type of people. On 11 April, he telegraphed O’Dwyer from Amritsar to say that all was quiet, that the shops would reopen soon and that “A message has come from the heads of the Dharmsalas [religious associations] that all is well.”[xxxviii]  That unsolicited information from sources of this type was also utilised is shown by the inclusion in the Hunter Report of a letter sent on 15 April to Mr G.G. Cocks, Deputy Inspector-General, C.I.D., by one of O’Dwyer’s witnesses at the trial, the then Major (later Colonel) Malik Sir Umar Hayat Khan, Tiwana, who wrote in to give the Government information on the rumours and reports he had received whilst on the way to Shahpur.[xxxix] 


   Military officers had similar sources of information amongst their men (as Captain Botting’s testimony to the court indicated) and amongst the large numbers of pensioners who had retired with much wealth and status to their villages. Dyer was in the habit of consulting those he knew and with whom his regiment kept contact.[xl]  They were to emerge to help the authorities in many places during the suppression of the disturbances.  But these men were by their nature conservative, ill-educated and of an older generation. They were unlikely to have been acquainted with, or to have held any sympathy for, the new political classes.  Clearly, too, they are unlikely to have reported that their younger comrades in arms were so unreliable as to be a danger to the Government.  


  The remaining source of intelligence available to the Government of India was the apparatus of state intelligence embodied in the Indian Police.  In the Punjab, this took the form of the provincial Criminal Investigation Department (which included Special Branch).  It had been established in 1907 and had won its spurs against revolutionaries in the Punjab before and during the 1st World War.[xli]  It operated through networks of informants who were paid or blackmailed into giving information and it reported directly to the Lieutenant-Governor.  It had had considerable success in the war years in defeating the Gadr conspiracy, in thwarting the efforts of German agents and in snuffing out insurrection caused by the Caliphate agitation.  It did not, though, have any experience of monitoring the new middle class Indian political movements.   What is striking from the secret portions of the Hunter Inquiry recorded in the unpublished Volume VI of their findings is that there is no real police intelligence of the Rowlatt agitation recorded in it at all. It seems there was none to record.


   If the misinformation fed into the administration in Amritsar came from the Police, it must have been from local sources.  O’Dwyer told the Hunter Committee that he had tasked the C.I.D. at Amritsar before the Disturbances broke out: 


On the 12th March I drew the attention of the new Deputy Inspector-General, C.I.D., to the serious state of affairs generally and to the need of keeping closer watch on Lahore and Amritsar agitation, getting him to send special agents to watch events at Amritsar. Question: By special agents you mean C.I.D. men? Answer: Yes.[xlii]


   C.I.D. plain clothes Indian officers were present in the Jallianwala Bagh just before the firing and it was their information, passed on to Dyer through Amritsar’s Superintendent of Police, Mr Rehill, that alerted Dyer to the meeting taking place.[xliii]   These agents were inside Amritsar city, so may conceivably have been the ones who passed on the information Kitchin and Donald picked up on the road from Lahore.  It is also possible that Donald had this information from police sources through his headquarters in Lahore and that he had fed this information to Kitchin, who might have wished to disguise the source.  But Kitchin was specific that on both the occasions he gave Dyer information they had picked up that information on the way, so it is more likely that, if the information had come from the police, it was acquired at one or more of the small police stations along the road.  The staff at all of these had been badly scared by the disturbances. Ashraf Khan’s report was an indication of the type of report that low-level Police officers would make in such circumstances.


   In sum, the sources of information utilised by the Punjab Government were narrow and, in the newly politicised circumstances of the province, dangerously skewed.  Their sources remained at either the very top or at the criminal bottom of the social structure.  Neither were to prove useful when the Government was faced with a political movement driven by the newly numerous educated middle class. The traditional channels of information were becoming unreliable if not redundant.  The depositions from Sir Sankaran Nair’s Indian witnesses make it plain that almost the entire professional middle classes in the Punjab became disaffected from the British either during the Rowlatt agitation or during the suppression of the Punjab Disturbances.  Nair’s Indian witnesses included fifteen lawyers, eleven medical men, three educators and six prominent businessmen. O’Dwyer’s list had none.


   So, by default, the administration consulted its old sources and received advice that was less and less useful as time passed. They pulled the old levers but found they no longer worked so well for the power of the upper classes to control events was ebbing away.  The Punjab Disturbances brought this out in sharp relief.  The upper classes found themselves out of touch with political movements that threatened to overturn the status quo.  Additionally, though only for a short time, the police lost control of the streets and saw their lives and their livelihoods, both licit and illicit, endangered. 


    Strangely, the only man who seems to have picked this up at the time was the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, Miles Irving, a man not long in post whose superiors, the military and the civilians of Amritsar all seemed to discount and despise. Writing to O’Dwyer on 8 April, describing the hugely successful hartal called by Gandhi on 6 April, which had totally shut down Amritsar, Irving said:


I was doing my utmost to keep in touch with what was going on, and the opinion almost unanimously expressed, was that there would be no hartal, or if there was that it would be a failure. The only opinion on the other side, and a significant exception, was that of the poor, such as patients at the Mission hospital. Indeed, the Congress Reception Committee itself passed a resolution against the hartal, and the last opinion I had, that of a meeting of Honorary Magistrates and other dignitaries held at my house at 3 P.M. on Saturday was in the general sense […] We know now […]  that the so-called leaders have lost all influence. The mob showed a correct appreciation of the situation not devoid of some sense of humour when they conducted in effigy the funeral obsequies of a Hindu in front of the house of Rai Bahadur Gopal Das Bhandari. The Khan Bahadurs and Rai Sahibs are dead, and not fresh corpses at that. I am trying to get in touch with the new leaders who have influence.[xliv]


   It would scarcely have been surprising if the classes which had held power under the British for so long had been unwilling to surrender it easily or if they had done what they could to bolster their position.   Their relief and thankfulness when order was restored in the Punjab was genuine, despite all the bloodshed. The crowds of notables which thronged the grounds of Dyer’s headquarters at the Amritsar Circuit House towards the end of April, all pressing Dyer to speak to them and determined to give him their thanks for restoring law and order, provided local proof of that.  As did the extraordinary episode of Dyer’s being invited to the Golden Temple by Arur Singh, the chief mahant, to be made an honorary Sikh. He and his Brigade Major were given a privilege unheard of then and since.[xlv]  It was a privilege greatly resented by the majority of the Sikhs and played its part, if a minor one, in the successful Akali struggle (what some have called ‘the Third Sikh War’) which started in 1921 to wrest control of the gurdwaras and the Sikh faith from the hands of the corrupt classes hitherto appointed to control them by the British.[xlvi]


   In Amritsar, both the upper classes and the Indian police did what they could to prick the British to defend the status quo.  They were not to know that the man they were urging to action needed no encouragement.  Dyer was quite capable of making up his own mind, of reaching the wrong conclusion and of acting upon it. The guilt of the Jallianwala Bagh remains his.  Yet the evidence heard at the O’Dwyer v. Nair trial of 1924, taken with the Hunter Report and the other evidence of the day, is unequivocal that the British intelligence system was at a loss in 1919, that in place of reliable information it was being fed deliberate lies and that at least some of the poison that dripped into the ears of British administrators in the Punjab came from Indian mouths.




[i] The case is discussed in its context in Nigel A. Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar (London: Hambledon & London, 2005), pp. 414-18.

[ii] Sir C. Sankaran Nair, Gandhi and Anarchy (Indore: Holkar State (Electric) Printing Press, 1922), p. 47.

[iii] For Justice McCardie and the case, see George Pollock, Mr Justice McCardie: A Biography (London: John Lane, 1934), pp. 132-6.

[iv] The Times, Law Reports, 7 -31 May, 3-6 June 1924.

[v] The Times, Law Reports, 3 June 1924.

[vi] The depositions are at: O’Dwyer v. Nair, Supreme Court of Judicature, Depositions – Exhibits Taken off the File, 16 January 1924, J17/634, National Archive, Kew.  They are analysed in Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel A Collett (Retired), “The Jallianwala Bagh Revisited”, in The Journal of the United Service Institute of India, Part One: CXXXVI, No. 564 (April-June 2006); Part Two: CXXXVI, No 565 (July-September 2006).

[vii] Witness statements are in The Congress Punjab Inquiry 1919-1920, ii, Evidence (National Book Trust: New Delhi, 1996).

[viii] Pollock, Mr Justice McCardie, p. 135.

[ix] The depositions entered into the trial provided the only documentary evidence that the meeting was indeed a political one. The deposition of Rup Lal Puri included the five resolutions which were to have been put to the meeting in the Bagh. The original of this document has not been located but it is reported in full in The Times law reports; see Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, pp. 246-7.

[x] Command 681: Parliamentary Papers (Commons), 1920, vol. 14, Reports, vol. 6, “East India (Disturbances in the Punjab, etc)”. “Report of the Committee Appointed by the Government of India to Investigate the Disturbances in the PunJab, etc.” (the Hunter Report).

[xi] Detail of these events is found in Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, pp. 229-93.

[xii] The Times, Law Report, 14 & 15 May 1924.

[xiii] Ibid, 14 May 1924.

[xiv] See the discussion in Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, pp. 240-241.

[xv] Botting exaggerated the strength of his force.  Dyer’s report to 16 Division dated 25 August 1919, Appendix XIII, a list of troop strengths on 11 and 20 April 1919, is confused but puts the figures at 41 British troops in No 12 Column plus 46 men of the Royal Garrison Artillery and 16 of the Indian Defence Force, all of which were presumably under Botting’s command, a total of 103 on 11 April; Report from Brigadier-General R.E.H. Dyer, Commanding 45th Brigade, to the General Staff, 16th (Indian) Division, 25 August 1919, in the Hunter Report, Evidence, iii, appendix xiii.

[xvi] The Times, Law Report, 21 May 1924.

[xvii] Ibid, 20 May 1924.

[xviii] Neither telegram has yet been located.

[xix] ‘He told me not to bother about Lahore, but to go and look after Amritsar’; The Times, Law Report, 24 May 1924.

[xx] Hunter Report, Evidence, iii, pp.163-165.

[xxi] The Times, Law Report, 24 May 1924.

[xxii] Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, p. 264.

[xxiii] Hunter Report, Evidence, iii, pp. 123, 126.

[xxiv] Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, p. 357.

[xxv] Hunter Report, vi, in V.N. Datta (ed.), New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, (Simla: Institute of Advanced Studies, 1975), p. 210.

[xxvi] Sir Michael O’Dwyer, India as I Knew It (London: Constable, 1925), p. 272, where he says he has ‘irrefutable’ evidence of eighteen attempts to tamper with troops in the Punjab, six of which were partially successful, but that he hadn’t told Simla of them so that perhaps the Government of India hadn’t known of them. 

[xxvii] Hunter Report, vii, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, ii, p. 1143.

[xxviii] Captain Ulrich Nisbet, “Diaries and Memories of the Great War”, Imperial War Museum, 78/3/1, p. 1.

[xxix] Mrs Melicent Wathen, “Diary”, in possession of the Reverend Mark Wathen.

[xxx] Hunter Report, Evidence, iii, p. 223.

[xxxi] Hunter Report, Evidence, iii, pp. 118, 163-5, 223.

[xxxii] Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, p. 243.

[xxxiii] Collett, “The Jallianwala Bagh Revisited”, The Journal of the United Service Institute of India, Part Two: CXXXVI, No. 565 (July-September 2006), pp. 481-2.

[xxxiv] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, pp. 69, 70 & 202.

[xxxv] O’Dwyer, India as I Knew It, p. 263.

[xxxvi] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, pp. 792-3.

[xxxvii] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, p. 232.

[xxxviii] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, pp. 376-7.

[xxxix] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, p. 880.

[xl] For instance, Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, p. 226

[xli] Sir Percival Griffiths, To Guard My People, the History of the Indian Police, pp. 347 ff.

[xlii] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, pp. 202 & 790.

[xliii] Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, p. 253.

[xliv] Hunter Report, vi, in Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919, i, pp. 37 & 39.

[xlv] Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar, p 291-2. See also Mohinder Singh, “Jallianwala Bagh and Changing Perceptions of the Sikh Past” in V.N. Datta and S. Settar (eds.), Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, (Delhi: Pragati Pulbications, 2000), which discusses the reaction against this by lower class Sikhs which led to the Akali movement.

[xlvi] J. S Grewal, The Sikhs: Ideology, Institutions, and Identity (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 251 ff; HS Bhatia and SR Bakshi, Encyclopaedic History of the Sikhs and Sikhism (New Delhi: Deep & Deep, 1999), v, p. 86; GS Chabra, Advanced Study in the History of the Punjab (Ludhiana: Prakash Brothers, 1962), ii, pp. 440-41; Mohinder Singh, ‘Gurdwara Reform Movement’, in Ravi Dayal, ed., We Fought Together for Freedom (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 107; Mohinder Singh, The Akali Struggle: A Retrospect (New Delhi: Atlantic Publisher, 1988), pp. 14-16.




By Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Nigel Collett 6GR


British Army Review, Summer 2005, No. 137


On 13 April 1919, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the Commander of 48 Infantry Brigade, opened fire without warning upon an unarmed and unresisting crowd of over twenty thousand men, women and children in the Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar in the Punjab.  His troops fired continuously for over ten minutes into the crowd, which had no easy means to disperse, for the Jallianwala Bagh was a high-walled enclosure with only a couple of narrow exits.  Dyer killed at least 397 of his fellow citizens, almost certainly over 500, and wounded over a thousand more.  Real casualty figures were never established, as Dyer did not stop to count or assist those who lay in the Bagh as he marched his troops back to base.  Most of those who were still living were only rescued the following morning due to the curfew that Dyer had imposed.  Many died where they lay overnight.[i]


   The political effects of this incident were immense.  The Jallianwala Bagh shooting destroyed the loyalty of a nation and set Gandhi off on the course which led directly to Non-co-operation and to the bitterness and bloodshed that marked the road to Indian independence and partition nearly thirty years later.


   Less immediately noticeable, but equally as long-lasting, were the effects that Dyer’s actions, and the disgrace which they eventually brought down upon him, had upon the conduct of internal security operations in the Empire,  effects which were not immediate but accumulated over a period of time.  There was never any military inquiry into the Jallianwala Bagh incident or the Punjab Disturbances as a whole.  Official reactions  came only gradually in the codification of current procedures, and what new doctrine did evolve was left to private individuals to enunciate, and these wrote in a climate of opinion darkened by the fallout from the Jallianwala Bagh.


   At the time, Dyer’s actions were supported by the majority of his brother officers, who deeply resented the public censure which he suffered.  It was felt from top to bottom of the Army that the politicians had betrayed an officer who had made his own judgment of his duty.  The CIGS, Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, noted in his diary:


The Frocks have got India (as they have Ireland) into a filthy mess. On that the soldiers are called in, and act.  This is disapproved of by all the disloyal elements, and the soldier is thrown to the winds.[ii]


There was widespread complaint in the immediate aftermath of the affair that no officer would ever again be safe in exercising his own judgment when acting in aid of the civil power.[iii]  The CIGS again:


How clear I was that in the near future we should have many Dyer cases both in India and in Ireland, and that if we did not stand by our own soldiers we should lose their confidence.  Then they would not act, and then we should lose the Empire.


This did not, however, come to pass. Dyer’s successors were to spend the rest of the century doing their duty whatever their fears that they might not be supported and that their actions might lead to disgrace.  The Government continued to back its subordinates and found no more need to censure any officer who had used what could reasonably be viewed as more than minimum force.  But it was this fear which coloured the climate of opinion from which changes in the approach to internal security slowly emerged.  What development there was in internal security doctrine before the Second World War was due to this, and not to any cold-blooded realisation that restraint bestows legitimacy in a way that excessive use of force never can, and that, in internal security operations, it is the legitimacy of the Government side which must be maintained.


   Military doctrine in Dyer’s day was still based upon lessons learned during the previous period of aggressive imperial expansion.  This is not to say that there were no rules obliging the military to operate with restraint; there were, but they were legal rather than doctrinal ones, and they were embedded in an outlook which stemmed from the late Victorian view of the world.  Whilst restraint was prescribed by law and regulation, it was not something which the military believed gave them the moral or political advantage in a civil conflict.  On the contrary, in this view restraint was an obstacle to the successful employment of military power. 


   The textbooks from which the subject was taught in military schools were based, both before 1919 and for a considerable time after it, upon the theory that internal security operations were but one end of a continuous spectrum comprising all forms of warfare, and were as uniquely a military responsibility as any other form of warfare.  Special political considerations were not applied, nor was this form of conflict seen as one in which the civil authorities were owed control.  Nor did the Army conceive that its duty obliged it to act in support of the police.  On the contrary, the Army saw it as the civilians’ duty to hand over authority to it then stand out of the way.


   Whilst this doctrine even then had no basis in law, it was based upon practical experience of campaigning across the Empire.  The man on the spot was usually a long way from any superior authority, and the local magistrate was likely to agree with the occasional need to maintain his own authority by armed force.  The police, though drawn from the local population, did not expect to police that population by consent, and were themselves the subject of some suspicion as regards to their loyalty and effectiveness.[iv] 


   Military theory chimed here with imperial common sense.  Doctrine was principally expounded by Colonel (later Major-General Sir) Charles Callwell, whose book Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice was used in military schools from its publication in 1896.[v]  Callwell divided wars into two categories, ‘regular’ and ‘small’.  In the latter, he included ‘all campaigns other than those where both the opposing sides consist of regular troops’, a ragbag of ‘wars of conquest … campaigns for the suppression of lawlessness … [and] punitive expeditions’.  The linkage which Callwell reinforced in the minds of his readers between very violent types of warfare and the very different ‘suppression of lawlessness’, the term with which he covered internal security operations, encouraged an officer to consider the types of enemy he faced in all these situations as one and the same, and to adopt similar techniques for dealing with them.


   Callwell defined the ‘suppression of lawlessness’ as ‘the crushing of a populace in arms, the stamping out of widespread disaffection by military methods’.  Discussing the amount of force to be applied in such cases, he stated:


When, however, the campaign takes the form of quelling an insurrection, the object is not only to prove to the opposing force unmistakably which is the stronger, but also to inflict punishment on those who have taken up arms.


   We are a long way here from any restraint called for by the law, with which Callwell’s theories sat uncomfortably.  The law obliged an officer to be aware in all that he did that he could be legally held to account for his actions.  It insisted upon the application of ‘necessary’ rather than exemplary force, no matter what kind of campaign was involved.[vi] 


   The law was embodied by the Army in the Manual of Military Law, and in particular in its chapter ‘Summary of the Law of Riot and Insurrection’ which made a threefold distinction between unlawful assembly, riot and insurrection.[vii]  Whilst the Manual allowed freer rein to forces suppressing an insurrection, even in this third category its provisions were quite clearly based upon minimum force.  King’s Regulations reflected this.


   British legal principles applied in India and were embodied in the Code of Criminal Procedure, which made no distinction between unlawful assembly, riot and insurrection.  Section 130 of the Code stated:


A magistrate may require any commissioned or non-commissioned officer to disperse an assembly by military force … Every such officer shall obey such a requisition in such a manner as he thinks fit; and in so doing he shall use as little force, and do as little injury, to persons and property, as may be consistent with dispersing the assembly and arresting and detaining such persons.


   The Army in India codified all of this in Part Two of Army Regulations, India, issued with little change throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This also made no distinction between unlawful assembly, riot and insurrection.[viii]    

   As Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston told the Commons during the Dyer debate, paragraph 573 of the Regulations stated that when an officer commanding troops acted:


to disperse an assembly by force, he will, before taking action, adopt the most effectual means possible to explain that the fire of the troops will be effective.  If it be found necessary to fire he will personally order such a minimum number of files to fire as he considers the circumstances of the case demand.  Care must be taken not to fire on persons separated from the crowd, nor over the heads of the latter.  The firing must be carried out with steadiness and be stopped the moment it becomes unnecessary.[ix]


Brigadier-General Edmonds, the historian of the First World War and Dyer’s fellow student at the Staff College, made it clear that these procedures were clearly taught in Army insitutions:


We had been carefully instructed at the Staff College that when soldiers are called out in the aid of the civil power, the Riot Act must be read and no more force used than is absolutely necessary: thus in the case of a riot, if called on to fire by a magistrate, first only a single round should be fired; if this had no effect, five rounds might be fired; and so on.[x]


   As the dust of the Punjab disturbances settled, what immediately struck the officer corps was way Dyer had been summarily removed without any inquiry or trial by authorities which had hitherto publicly supported him.  This was quite naturally taken to indicate Government weakness in the face of political dissent and the conclusion was almost universally drawn that officers could no longer rely upon Government backing.  Conservative enemies of the Government of the day were quick to seize upon these apprehensions.  Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, wrote to Winston Churchill at the War Office in June 1920 that:


It has come to my hearing that the statement is being made that the Government censure on General Dyer is having effect on our troops in Ireland, and that they are showing, or are likely to show, reluctance to open fire when firing may be necessary because they think they will not be supported if they do.[xi]


This was a political rumour being deliberately circulated by the Government’s enemies, but it was both based upon, and gave rise to, real fears.  Five years later, the Anglo-Indian writer Ethel Savi, in her novel Rulers of Men, described the period following the Punjab Disturbances:


Instantly sedition broke out afresh, encouraged by the weakness of the Government, and things have since gone from bad to worse. The Indians laugh in their sleeves at the Government, and think they can defy it.  Disorder and violence continue unchecked, so that the natives imagine the Government dare not use force to repress outbreaks.  General Dyer should have been upheld if India is to be successfully ruled … It has become a common saying among junior officials, ‘If you don’t fire on a mob out for serious mischief you’ll be killed, and if you do, you’ll be hanged.’[xii]


   These fears on the part of Government officers, both civil and military, were increased by the real attempts made in India to shackle military independence and subordinate it to the civil power.  When, in 1925, the new Commander-in-Chief in India, Field-Marshal Sir William Birdwood, made his maiden speech in the Indian Legislative Assembly, it was to combat a motion seeking to prevent officers giving orders without the specific direction of a local magistrate as to the nature and extent of the force to be used against a mob.[xiii]  Birdwood characterised the dilemma felt then by many an officer: ‘If he is too lenient, and serious rioting ensues, he is abused for his want of decision. If, on the other hand, he takes strong action and loss of life results, he is held up to execration as a butcher.’ He succeeded in staving off this measure, but in future military officers were to be forced to acquire the signature of a civilian magistrate before undertaking any action against a crowd except in the case of being under actual attack. Thus was born the Form IAFD 908 3, 'Instructions to Officers Acting in Aid of the Civil Power for Dispersal of Unlawful Assemblies', immortalised by Slim’s Unofficial History.[xiv] This form included three printed pages on action in aid to the civil power, and one detachable form for a civil magistrate to sign authorizing the military commander to act. 


   There was in reality little evidence that any British administration ever wavered in dealing with internal security, but the atmosphere engendered by the aftermath of Dyer’s deeds coloured perceptions for the next two decades, particularly in India.  The Moplah campaign, fought in 1921 and 1922 against radical Islamists in south India, who were bent on exterminating both their Hindu neighbours and their Christian rulers, was widely cited by the opponents of Government as proof of what happened if the military were hamstrung by a weak authority.[xv]  Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the late Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab who had been in power at the time of the Punjab Disturbances, who was a great supporter of Dyer, wrote of Moplah in his book, The India I Knew, that: ‘The efforts of our troops to restore order were rendered null and void by the martial law regulations with which Lord Reading’s Government tied their hands.’[xvi]  This was unjust.  Although the Government showed considerable ineptness in the early stages of the revolt, its eventual suppression by force gave the lie to the idea that the Government had lost sight of the need to maintain order, or of the need to allow its officers the scope to resort to violent methods when they were called for. Government forces killed and wounded 3,989 insurgents and arrested 45,404 people during the campaign.  No officer failed to do his duty.  Administrations continued to call out the troops in aid to the civil power.  As early as 1922, and between February and May of that year alone, troops were called out sixty-two times across India.[xvii]


   Throughout the Empire, and particularly in India, internal security operations were continuous in the Twenties and Thirties.  The forces committed were enormous: twenty-six British infantry battalions of the forty-three in India, and twenty of the ninety-six Indian infantry battalions, were committed permanently to internal security duties.  The pressure was such that the troops allocated to these duties were often unable to cope and frequently had to be relieved by Field Army units.  An officer’s lot in the Empire before the war was an incessant series of operations in aid to the civil power.[xviii] 


   Yet whatever the reality of the course of actual events, the climate of opinion remained as it had been fixed by the Dyer affair. As Mockaitis puts it:


The Army bitterly resented Dyer’s treatment, but the lessons of his case were not lost on other soldiers. In the future they would leave the finer points of law to the solicitors and apply the principle of minimum force to all forms of civil unrest. They also learned that they would have to be far more accountable to civilians than had ever before been the case.[xix]


   By the Thirties, these ideas, along with a similar realization of the counter-productivity of maltreating civilians, something that had been percolating through the Army since the Boer War and had been reinforced in the Ireland of the Troubles, had begun to have an effect upon military doctrine.  In 1934, Major-General Sir Charles Gwynn’s Imperial Policing was published, and this was to be the next milestone in the development of internal security doctrine.[xx]  Gwynn’s book almost immediately superceded Callwell’s Small Wars.  To Gwynn, the Dyer affair was of such cardinal importance to the development of theory that he spent an entire chapter of thirty pages analysing the actions at the Jallianwala Bagh. He was almost totally critical of them.[xxi] 


Was General Dyer justified in opening fire at the Jallianwala Bagh without giving specific warning to the crowd in addition to the general warning conveyed by his proclamation?.  In principle, he was not [… ] Was he justified in continuing to fire when the crowd was attempting to disperse? Clearly, prolonged firing violated the principle that the minimum amount of force only should be used […] Was the motive which Dyer claimed in his evidence inspired his action, that is of inflicting a lesson which would affect the whole situation in the Punjab, perhaps through all India, a legitimate reason for violating the ordinary well-recognised principle?  It clearly was not. His business in the absence of other orders was to deal with the situation of which he had been placed in charge.


To Gwynn, Dyer was the example of what not to do.[xxii] 


   Gwynn’s theories reflected the changes in emphasis that had taken place since Callwell had written.  Troops were now to ‘rely to a great extent on the advice and directions of the civil officials’.  The principles they needed to adhere to were fourfold: questions of policy were to remain vested in the civil Government; the amount of military force employed was to be the minimum the situation demanded - ‘hostile forces’ were fellow citizens, and the aim was to re-assert civil control without an aftermath of bitterness; firm and timely action was to be taken; co-operation was be established and maintained with the machinery and forces of the civil power.  This was a far cry from Calwell’s advocacy of the aggressive use of overwhelming military force.  Military theory had swing into line behind the law.   The practical effect, however, of these changes in the underlying doctrine was less evident and things remained much as before on the ground. For instance, in the case of firing in a riot, Gwynn advised that: 


Fire should be directed against leaders or dangerous individuals. It should never be opened except under the orders or authority of a responsible commander, if possible an officer.  It must be strictly controlled and not continued a moment longer than necessary […] Warning must, if practicable, be given before fire is opened.


   This was not far removed from what Edmonds describes as the teaching at Staff College in the 1890s. Moreover, Gwynn’s doctrine still retained elements which have more recently passed truly out of fashion, for instance: ‘The sight of cold steel has a calming effect, and the steady advance of a line of bayonets has often sufficed to disperse a mob without resort to firing’ and Gwynn's advocacy of the use of machine guns against crowds, albeit using only controlled shots, on the grounds that the sight of such weapons had a deterrent effect.  He also ruled out the use of non-lethal weapons by troops engaged in crowd control as he believed that it would send confusing signals, show a lack of determination and lead to hand-to-hand struggles.[xxiii] 


   Thus the ethos which permeated Callwell’s work had not yet fully been laid to rest.  Three years after Gwynn’s book was published, H. Simson, in his British Rule, and Rebellion, was still coining the phrase ‘Sub-war’ to label internal security operations, a term which he seems to have evolved in his own mind from Callwell’s Small Wars.[xxiv]  However, it was Gwynn’s book which was to be the bible for officers of the next generation fighting the campaigns of the withdrawal from Empire, and it remained the basis of Army teaching until it was replaced in its turn by the work of General Sir Frank Kitson and his contemporaries another thirty years later. 


   On the ground, the troops saw evidence of only a small and gradual change in practice. Military authorities slowly issued documents giving practical shape to the new circumstances.[xxv]  In 1923, the War Office issued the pamphlet 'Duties in Aid of the Civil Power' for the guidance of officers dealing with riot and assembly, and re-issued a revised version in 1937.  In 1934, the year that Gwynn’s book came out, 'Notes on Imperial Policing' extended official guidance to actions required to deal with rebellion.  This pamphlet indirectly commented on Dyer’s actions and his justifications for them by stating that only formed bodies of rebels in the open could be treated as an enemy, thus clearly ruling out the selection of the population of towns or rural areas as a legitimate military target. The Notes insisted that when there was any doubt as to whether there were innocent people present, minimum force was to be applied even if martial law was in effect.  Commenting upon actions to control crowds, the pamphlet specifically ruled out any repetition of Dyer’s actions in the Jallianwala Bagh:


Should it become necessary to fire on a crowd, the firing should not be continued a moment longer than is necessary to effect the immediate object of dispersing the crowd […] To prolong the firing beyond this point with the ultimate object of impressing the population generally and discouraging rebellion in other localities should not be countenanced.[xxvi]


   In 1941, the first training pamphlet on duties in aid of civil power duties was issued to the Indian Army for the new emergency commissioned officers called up for the War.  'Notes on Training for Duties in Aid of the Civil Power: A Platoon Commander’s Guide to Duties in Aid of the Civil Power' added nothing new in the way of doctrine or method, and confined itself to embodying what were by then very well-established rules.[xxvii]  The incremental changes for which Dyer’s action at the Jallianwala Bagh had been the catalyst were by then the unexceptionable norm.


   In 1920, in the Dyer debate in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill had foreshadowed the shifts in policy of the next twenty years.  Referring to Dyer’s actions, he said: ‘We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.’[xxviii]  And it was made clear, at least to the generations of officers to follow.  There was much that remained unchanged in the next two decades in the way internal security duties were conducted, but there had been a sea-change in the prevailing atmosphere which gave rise to developments in doctrine. It was a typically British story of evolution and adaptation, but also one that was the result of a rather un-British accession to fear.  I will leave Slim to have the last word:


As far as the Government is concerned, he [the Company  Commander on the spot] is a little Admiral Jellicoe and this his tiny Battle of Jutland.  He has to make a vital decision on incomplete information in a matter of seconds, and afterwards the experts can sit down at leisure, with all the facts before them, and argue about what he might, could or should have done.  Lucky the soldier if, as in Jellicoe’s case, the tactical experts decide after twenty years’ profound consideration, that what he did in three minutes was right. As for the enemies of the Government, it does not much matter what he has done. They will twist, misinterpret, falsify or invent any fact as evidence that he is an inhuman monster wallowing in innocent blood.[xxix]


   That many lives were not lost, as they might otherwise have been, due to the restraint that stemmed from these fears, and that we possess today a doctrine for internal security operations which is effective in a modern democratic state, can to some degree be attributed to Reginald Dyer and the lives he took in the Jallianwala Bagh.




[i] For the full account of the events at Amritsar and their aftermath, see: Nigel Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar (London: Hambledon & London, 2005).


[ii] Quotations from Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson’s papers are taken from: Major-General Sir Charles.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson: His Life and Diaries (London: Cassell, 1927), p. 237; Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson papers in the Imperial War Museum, HHW2/36-43; and microfilm of his diary, DS/MISC/80, reels 8 and 9.


[iii] Philip Woodruff, The Men Who Ruled India: The Guardians (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954), p. 242, gives this view, here on the part of the Indian Civil Service.


[iv] David M. Anderson and David Killingray, eds, Policing the Empire: Government, Authority and Control, 1830-1940 (Manchester: Manchester University Press), p. 9.


[v] Charles E. Callwell, Small Wars. Their Principle and Practice (London: HMSO, 1896), pp. 21-28, 41, 72-78; quoted in Brian Bond, Victorian Military Campaigns (London: Tom Donovan, 1994), pp. 17-24.


[vi] For the application of the Common Law, see: Charles Townshend, Britain’s Civil Wars: Counterinsurgency in the Twentieth Century (London: Faber & Faber, 1986), pp. 19-21, quoting A.V. Dicey’s Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885); see also the definition of martial law in Encyclopaedia Britannica (London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1926), pp. 790-92.


[vii] Manual of Military Law (London: HMSO, 1914), chapter xiii, pp. 216-33.


[viii] India Office, L/MILITARY/7/556; Army Regulations, India, vol. ii, Regulations and Orders for the Army (Calcutta: the Government of India Army Department, 1918), p. 121.


[ix] Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (Hansard), 5th series, vol. 131 – Second Session of the Thirty-First Parliament - House of Commons – Seventh Volume of Session, London 1920, p. 1743.


[x] Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds papers, in the Liddell Hart Centre, King’s College London, 3/2/20.


[xi] Winston Churchill papers, Churchill collection, Churchill College, Cambridge.


[xii] Ethel Winifred Savi, Rulers of Men (London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1925), p. 327.


[xiii] Field-Marshal Lord Birdwood, Khaki and Gown (London: Ward, Lock & Co, 1941), p. 378; discussed in Stephen P Cohen, The Indian Army; Its Contribution to the Development of a Nation (Delhi: 1971 and 1990), pp. 98, 126..


[xiv] Field-Marshal Viscount Slim, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., G.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., Unofficial History (London: Cassell, 1959), p. 77.


[xv] For the Moplah campaign, see: Alan J. Guy and Peter B. Boyden, eds, Soldiers of the Raj: The Indian Army, 1600-1947 (London: National Army Museum, 1997), p. 95.


[xvi] Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer, India as I Knew It, 1885-1925 (London: Constable, 1925), pp. 306-08; Philip Woodruff, The Men Who Ruled India: The Guardians (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954), p. 243.


[xvii] David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army 1860-1946 (London: University of Hull, 1994), pp. 24-29.


[xviii] T.A Heathcote, The Indian Army: The Garrison of British Imperial India, 1822-1922 (Newton Abbott: David & Charles, 1974), p. 33.


[xix] Thomas R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, 1919-60 (London: Macmillan, 1990), p. 24.


[xx] Major-General Sir Charles W. Gwynn, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Imperial Policing (London: Macmillan, 1934).


[xxi] For examples of adverse expert commentators, see: Sir Charles W. Gwynn, Imperial Policing (London: Macmillan, 1934), pp. 3-37, 60-63; A.A. Mains, ‘General Dyer and Amritsar’, 9th Gurkha Rifles Newsletter, 58 (1992), p. 15; Thomas R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, 1919-60 (London: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 21-27; David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860-1946 (London: University of Hull, 1994), p. 217; Charles Townshend, Britain’s Civil Wars: Counterinsurgency in the Twentieth Century (London: Faber & Faber, 1986), pp. 13-21, 137-38.


[xxii] Major-General Sir Charles W. Gwynn, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Imperial Policing (Macmillan: London, 1934), pp. 34-63.


[xxiii] Major-General Sir Charles W. Gwynn, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., Imperial Policing (London: Macmillan, 1934), pp. 13-15, 26-27, 30-32.


[xxiv] H. Simson, British Rule, and Rebellion (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1937), p. 33.


[xxv] For descriptions by participants in crowd control operations in India in the 1930s and 1940s, see: Alan J. Guy and Peter B. Boyden, eds, Soldiers of the Raj: The Indian Army 1600-1947 (London: National Army Museum, 1997), p. 170; Field-Marshal Viscount Slim, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., G.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., Unofficial History (London: Cassell, 1959), pp. 73-85; Philip Woodruff, The Men Who Ruled India: The Guardians (London: Jonathan Cape, 1954), pp. 258-65, who gives an account from the Indian Civil Service’s point of view.


[xxvi] Thomas R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, 1919-60 (London: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 24-25.


[xxvii] Alan J. Guy and Peter B. Boyden, eds, Soldiers of the Raj: The Indian Army 1600-1947 (London: National Army Museum, 1997), p. 170.


[xxviii] Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 5th series, vol. 131 – Second Session of the Thirty-First Parliament - House of Commons – Seventh Volume of Session, London 1920, pp1719-34; quoted in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. IV, 1916-1922 (Heinemann: London, 1975), pp 401ff.


[xxix] Field-Marshal Viscount Slim, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., G.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., Unofficial History (London: Cassell, 1959), p. 85.



By Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Nigel A. Collett MA (Oxon) MA (Bucks) FRAS

late 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles


U.S.I. Journal, the journal of the United Services Institute of India, Part I - April-June 2006; Part II - July-September 2006.



The O’Dwyer v Nair Libel Case


In 1923, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who had been Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab until 1919, sued Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair, also until that year a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, for libel.  In his book, Gandhi and Anarchy, Nair had written: ‘Before the reforms it was in the power of the Lieutenant-Governor, a single individual, to commit the atrocities in the Punjab which we know only too well.’[i]  The book had been written to attack Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-co-operation movement, but Nair, who was a moderate, had not resisted the opportunity to take a swipe at a man whose oppressive policies he, and much of India, regarded as the real cause of the Punjab Disturbances of 1919 and the repression under Martial Law which had followed them.[ii]


   The case was heard before Mr Justice McCardie in the Court of King’s Bench in London over five weeks from 30 April 1924, and, apart from being one of the longest civil hearings in legal history, was notable for being the only court to air in England any of the matters arising from the Punjab Disturbances of 1919.  The case was seen, and particularly so by the plaintiff, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, as a method by which to vindicate the actions of officials of the Punjab Government who had taken a hand in suppressing the disturbances, among them most notably Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, the perpetrator of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar.  It was accepted at the trial that two of the major points at issue were that:


1. On 13 April 1919, General Dyer committed an atrocity by ordering the shooting at Amritsar, and


2. That the plaintiff caused or was responsible for the commission of that alleged atrocity.[iii]    


   In preparation for the case, both sides gathered evidence from supporting witnesses.  For O'Dwyer, this was a relatively easy matter, as many key figures who had been involved in India in 1919 were by now back in, or close to, England and could appear in person.  These included the Viceroy of the time, Lord Chelmsford, by 1924 a Government Minister, First Lord of the Admiralty; his Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir George Carmichael Munro, by now Governor of Gibraltar; and Major-General Sir William Beynon, General Officer Commanding 16 Division in Lahore, Sir Michael O'Dwyer’s military equivalent in the Punjab and Martial Law Administrator during the Disturbances, who had by now retired.  So strong and impressive were these supporting witnesses that O'Dwyer felt the need to solicit testimony from only six men in India.   


   Nair found himself at a very great disadvantage.  In England in 1924 there were few who were prepared to support his view that Sir Michael O'Dwyer had been a repressive tyrant, and those who were had little public standing.  One of Nair’s key witnesses, for example, Mr Gerard Wathen, in 1919 Principal of the Khalsa College, Amritsar, was by 1924 running his own school in Hampstead.  Nair’s legal team was forced to fall back on depositions legally sworn by over 120 witnesses in India.  Justice McCardie made it plain that he attributed these far less weight than he did the evidence of those who appeared before the jury.  In the event the Indian depositions had little effect and have been forgotten since.  Sir Michael O'Dwyer won his case, and was able ever thereafter to maintain that he and Dyer had been vindicated in a British court of law. He could do so relying to a good degree upon Mr Justice McCardie’s highly partial summing up:


I express my view that General Dyer, under the grave and exceptional circumstances, acted rightly, and in my opinion, upon his evidence, he was wrongly punished by the Secretary of State for India.[iv]


The Depositions


The depositions of the Indian witnesses have lain untouched to this day in the Public Record Office (now the National Archive) at Kew, where they are filed under the reference and title J17/634, O’Dwyer v. Nair, Supreme Court of Judicature, Depositions – Exhibits Taken off the File, 16 January 1924. The information they contain is important, and represents in some cases the sole evidence for incidents and matters otherwise unknown.  This file of papers remains the only place in the English record where the voices of victims of the suppression of the Punjab Disturbances can be heard in their own words.  The depositions support and supplement the evidence published by the Indian National Congress Inquiry in 1920.[v]  The depositions, taken within just over four years of the events they describe, have an enormous wealth of detail elucidating and clarifying the history of the Disturbances.


   The depositions were taken in India between November and December 1923 by teams of lawyers representing each side.  For O'Dwyer, the plaintiff, acted Khan Bahadur Sheikh Abdul Qadir and Mr Obedulla.  The defendant, Sir C. Sankaran Nair, was present himself with his advocates Mr B. Tek Chand, Mr B.R. Puri and Mr. R.C. Soni.  Both sides were allowed to cross examine witnesses, and voluntary follow-up examinations were also permitted.  Statements were recorded in English (translated from the vernacular where necessary), the cross examinations and follow-ups in question and answer form, and all were signed.


   A reading of the full set of depositions quickly reveals why Nair lost his case.  His witnesses include many middle ranking figures, some of them Government officials, but at no point in their depositions do they come close to proving that Sir Michael O'Dwyer directly abused his power.  This is unfortunate, as the depositions clearly describe undoubted abuses, for instance in recruiting for the Army in the Punjab during the 1st World War.  All the abuses, though, are attributed to low ranking officials and at no point do the depositions reveal any abuse ordered or carried out by O’Dwyer himself.  They singularly fail to tie any abuse to an order made directly by him. On several occasions the depositions point out that during Martial Law public order was in the hands of the Army (despite O’Dwyer’s unsuccessful attempt to retain control even after the grant of the Martial Law he had demanded), and so abuses committed under Martial Law could not be directly attributed to him. This is notably the case regarding the Jallianwala Bagh. Nair’s team recognized that it had to prove Sir Michael O'Dwyer’ involvement in the massacre if it were to successfully defend the suit, but nowhere in the depositions did they manage to present evidence to prove the involvement of the Lieutenant-Governor prior to the event.  There was no smoking gun, and on the evidence presented it is difficult to see how Sir Michael O'Dwyer could have lost his case.


Recruiting Abuses in the Punjab, 1917-18


Sixty-eight of the defence’s 125 depositions concern abuses in the recruitment of Punjabi soldiers for the Indian Army during the last two years of the 1st World War.[vi]  Allegations of these abuses were prevalent in the Punjab at the time and have been often cited since, and in the depositions the story emerges very clearly of a gradually worsening situation after the civilian authorities took over responsibility for recruiting from the military in 1917.  The body of evidence in these depositions is compelling; of recruiting quotas fixed on rural areas as high as one third of the eligible male population; of rural headmen compelled to furnish recruits or losing their jobs as a result of their failure to conform to the policy or to meet targets; of young men fleeing in increasing numbers to the cities to escape recruitment; of misuse of the judicial process by the offerring of recruitment as an alternative to punishment, or worse by the bringing of false charges to secure this result; of growing rural resistance to recruitment, resulting in one case in the murder of a Tehsildar and in another of a riotous assault on the police; of a recognized price paid to enable recruiters to fill their quota by paying gangs kidnapping the poor in urban areas or purchasing men from other villages, a price which started at Rs250 a head in 1917 and which reached Rs1,300 by the end of the War.  The evidence is personal and compelling.  Rai Zada Bhagat Ram, Barrister-at-Law in Jullundur, and a Member of the Punjab Provincial Legislative Council from 1916, stated that he knew of suspensions of headmen and superior headmen for failure to fill quotas and of false cases brought to put pressure on them.  He knew a judge who had acquitted a man who had agreed to enlist.  Bhagat Ram also testified on the subject of enforced war loans.  As a leading member of the Punjab war loan movement, he had seen men pressured to pay by being handcuffed and stood in the sun, and as a result he had resigned his position.[vii]  Dr Mani Ram, a dental surgeon of Amritsar, had seen headmen handcuffed by Sardar Harbel Singh, the Recruiting Officer for his Tahsil in Multan, for refusing to provide recruits; all had paid to escape arrest.[viii]


   Interestingly, many of the six witnesses deposing for the plaintiff, all conservative supporters of the Punjab Government, also testified to these abuses.  Colonel Sir Malik Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, elected member of Council of State, stated that the recruiting quota was fixed at one third of villagers of military age. He recounted how Tahsildar Sayyad Nadir Hussain had been killed at Bahk Lurka in Lakk by villagers who objected to his recruiting methods.  He also described an attack by a mob of 1000 villagers on police sent to enforce warrants; the police were forced to open fire, killing some of the rioters.  After a very long cross examination on recruiting, he admitted that a system was in force involving a ‘white book’ listing headmen who met targets and a ‘black book’ listing those who failed.[ix] 



Events in Lahore


The depositions include much evidence of events across the province during the Punjab Disturbances in April 1919.  As one would expect, many (seventeen in all) concern the provincial capital, Lahore.  Depositions by the witnesses for the plaintiff cast some light on meetings held by Sir Michael O'Dwyer in the run up to, and early course of, the Disturbances.  Nawab Sir Bahram Khan Mazari, a Member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1919 and later of the Council of State, Umar Hayat Khan and Khan Bahadur Sayyad Mehdi Shah, President of the Municipal Committee of Gojra and Member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1919, described a farewell party held by the martial classes for Sir Michael O'Dwyer in the Lawrence Gardens on 10 April, the day of the first outbreak of violence in the city. They also described political consultations taken by the Lieutenant-Governor at Government House in the following days.  Interestingly, Umar Hayat Khan, despite being a supporter of Martial Law, stated that for seven or eight days it proved to be of little or no use in restoring order due to the cutting of telegraph wires, the burning of bhusa and strikes by railway staff.[x]  


   For the defendant, three of the staff of King Edward Medical College, Lahore: Dr Jiwan Lal, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Assistant Bacteriologist; Dr Yar Mohammad Khan, Assistant to the Professor of Physiology; and Dr Tilok Chand Nanda, Assistant to the Professor of Materia Medica, described how, in the days after the imposition of Martial Law, their students were required to march twice a day from the College two miles to the Punjab Club and back.[xi] Pandit Raghubar Dyal, Principal of the Sanatan Dharm College and Fellow of the Punjab University, recounted that his pupils were arrested, marched off with bedding and held in the fort as a reprisal for the removal of Martial Law posters from their school wall. They were kept at the fort without food overnight.[xii]  Pandit Hem Raj, Officiating Principal of Dyal Singh College, deposed that on 18 April the Martial Law Administrator, Colonel Frank Johnson, made an order requiring the compulsory roll call of his students four times a day near the Government telegraph office. This lasted some twenty days, though the frequency was later reduced to thrice then twice a day. Some of the students were slapped, and they were paraded in the sun. The school was ordered to find and punish the ring-leaders of ‘the movement’.  The school attempted to comply, listing and punishing some 225 boys, rusticating some, putting others back a year, fining others Rs25. They chose for punishment those who had absented themselves from an exam on 10 April, the day of the first firing in the city. All this was because the Martial Law Administrator had found one poster on the wall of the college portico.[xiii]


   Mr Manohar Lal, Barrister-at-Law, late Minto Professor of Economics at Calcutta University and a member of the Council of the National Liberal Federation of India, had been in 1919 a Trustee of the Tribune Newspaper Trust.  He testified that he had been arrested on 18 April, because, according to the statement made to the Hunter Committee by the Punjab Chief Secretary, Sir Edward Thompson, he was a trustee who took interest in the Tribune’s editorials, and because ‘I think there was some other idea that he was mixed up in the conspiracy’. He had been held in confinement for six weeks without trial. The Government of India had later stated in its white paper Command 705 that it ‘considered the arrest and detention for long periods of so many persons and particularly […] Dr Manohar Lal and six lawyers of Gurdaspur were a series of errors, and while they do not overlook the difficulties of the situation, they are constrained to express their disapproval of the action taken in these cases.’[xiv] On his arrest, Manohar Lal’s house was searched over the course of two days whilst his wife and children were forced to live in outhouses.[xv]


Events Across the Punjab


Other witnesses described similar roll calls of students and townspeople at Sangla, the imposition of Martial Law at Lyallpur and the outbreak of violence followed by the Royal Air Force’s bombing at Gujranwala.[xvi]  Feroze Din, son of Mian Karam Bux, who had been at school in the Kasur Municipal Board High School in 1919, described identity parades by Europeans unsuccessfully looking for culprits of a Martial Law offence.  His school was told eight days later to send twenty of its biggest, strongest boys to the Martial Law Administrator’s camp at the railway. Twenty boys were also sent from the Islamia school. The Martial Law Administrator selected three boys from each, in all cases the biggest and strongest, and had them flogged. Feroze Din was flogged, and later received Rs2,300 from the Government in compensation.[xvii]  


   Interesting sidelights illuminate events across the province.  Witness for the plaintiff, Khan Bahadur Sayyad Mehdi Shah, President of the Municipal Committee of Gojra, stated that the  Deputy-Commissioner of Gujrat had disagreed with the imposition by the Punjab Government of a Martial Law order on his district on the grounds that there had been no violence there, and had unsuccessfully tried to get it cancelled before imposing it.[xviii]  Rai Zada Bhagat Ram, Barrister-at-Law at Jullundur, Member of the Punjab Provincial Legislative Council from 1916 and a witness for the defence, stated that when Mr. Watson, Deputy-Commissioner of Jullundur, went on leave to England on 6 April, he left  Colonel Burlton as officiating Deputy-Commissioner. Bhagat Ram got on well with Burlton, though he found that officials in Jullundur were very nervous in the run up to the Disturbances.  On 10 April, after receiving a telegram from Lahore with news of riots in Amritsar, Colonel Burlton asked for his advice and discussed with him what was wrong in the Punjab.  Burlton told Bhagat Ram to go to Simla to lay the situation before the Viceroy. ‘His view was that so long as Sir Michael O’Dwyer was in the province no peace was possible.’  In the event, this trip did not happen, and O'Dwyer later made it plain to Burlton that he should cease meeting with local Indians like Bhagat Ram. The next Deputy-Commissioner, Hamilton, who arrived during the Disturbances, demanded that the leading local Indians draft a manifesto supporting Martial Law.  They all refused.[xix] 


   Random brutal British actions which were a part of the reimposition of order are indicated by the deposition of Mst. Rajan, widow of Mahna, a sweeper of Chuhar Kana in Sheikhupura.  Her husband was shot and killed from an armoured train which passed by as he was relieving himself by the railway line.  She received compensation for this from the Government.[xx]


Events in Amritsar Prior to the Shooting in the Jallianwala Bagh


Eight of the depositions for the defence touch upon the events in Amritsar in the lead up to the shooting in the Jallianwala Bagh, and include an important statement by Dr Satyapal, the political leader whose arrest sparked the violence which unleashed the Disturbances. Dr Satyapal’s testimony described the course of his education and career as a doctor, part of it spent as a Government Assistant Plague Medical Officer and one year as a volunteer in Aden during the War.  His deposition covered the history of his entry to politics and his career as a leader in Amritsar in the campaign against the Rowlatt Acts.  It showed that, on 29 March 1919, he was informed that he was prohibited from speaking or writing to the press under the Defence of India Act.  Dr Kitchlew, Pandit Dina Nath, Swami Annu Bhawanand and Pandit Kotoo Mal were similarly restricted and ordered not to move outside the municipal limits.  All obeyed the orders and none attended subsequent meetings. At 8 a.m. on 10 April, when he was visiting patients, Satyapal received a letter from the Deputy-Commissioner asking him to go to his bungalow at 10 o’clock.  He arrived at the bungalow at 9.55, Dr Kitchlew arriving soon afterwards. Miles Irving the Deputy-Commissioner and Rehill, the Superintendent of Police, were there with Assistant Commissioner Beckett and other Europeans.  Irving showed them warrants of arrest under Rule 3, clauses (b) and (c) of the Defence of India Act, ordering Satyapal to remain within the limits of Lower Dharamsala in Kangra and Kitchlew within those of Upper Dharamsala. Neither was given an opportunity to say anything.  Kitchlew asked to go home and get his things, but this was refused, and the drivers of their carriages were detained until after their departure.  Satyapal and Kitchlew were driven away in two cars under an escort of armed European soldiers and accompanied by Rehill.  They were driven at breakneck speed to Nurpur then on to Dharamsala where they were accommodated in the dak bungalows for twenty-eight days, after which they were arrested again under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. They were remanded by a court, held in the police station at Pathankot overnight, then driven in handcuffs to Lahore Central Jail. There they remained in solitary confinement and on 3 June were brought before the Martial Law tribunal charged with murder, dacoity, arson, theft, sedition, waging war against the King, being members of an unlawful assembly, and other offences. On 5 July 1919, they were sentenced to transportation for life, a sentence reduced later by the Government to two years in the European ward of Lahore Central Jail. Both were released on 26 December 1919 under the royal amnesty.  Satyapal’s sixty-five year old father was arrested a week after his own arrest and held for six weeks without charge.  As a result of all this, Satyapal joined the non-cooperation movement as ‘I lost all faith in British justice’.[xxi]  


   New evidence is found in the depositions of the events that unfolded in Amritsar after these arrests.  Lala Duni Chand, Vakil of the High Court of Amritsar and Member of Amritsar’s Municipal Committee, stated that on 10 April he was in court, which was functioning normally as people were not prepared for the events that were to unfold that day. After violence broke out, he met the Deputy-Commissioner on horseback on the Kutchery Road, and was asked by him to go towards city to persuade people to go back inside it.  So he and several others went to the footbridge over the railway, where they found Deputy-Superintendent of Police Plomer, who in turn asked them to go to the railway station to get the people there back to city. They did this, bringing the crowd to Aitchison Park, where the people asked for their dead to be returned so that they could go back to city.  Duni Chand had returned to the footbridge to accomplish this when there was a burst of unprovoked firing from the Telegraph Office. The people present blamed him for this, so Duni Chand and those with him told Plomer they would withdraw their help.[xxii]  


   A similar story is told by Maneck Ji Bhica Ji Dhaber, Inspecting Agent for Messrs Strauss & Company Ltd at Amritsar.  He had gone as usual to his office in a by lane off the Hall Bazar at 11.30 am on 10 April and heard the firing. He watched dead bodies being carried past his office, so decided to close it and go back home to the Cantonment across the railway. He walked to the footbridge, where he saw Plomer and Magistrate Seymour with some troops. Some of the people were still sitting on the bridge and Seymour told him that he wanted to take possession of it, saying that if the crowd didn’t move the troops would fire.  Maneck began to persuade people to move to Aitchison Park and troops then took possession of the bridge. At that point firing came from the area of the Telegraph House.  No one was hit by these shots, but he went to remonstrate with a nearby military officer, who said to him: ‘We want to kill as many damn swine as possible.’ At this, the people in Aitchison Park wanted to gather to protest, and asked him to petition the Deputy-Commissioner to allow a meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh, so he went to see the Deputy-Commissioner who was by then on the other side of footbridge. Irving said ‘that he had no intention of sending the military into the city and that the people were quite welcome to go and hold a meeting’ in the Bagh. The Deputy-Commissioner told him that it might be necessary to send the military only for the purpose of bringing out the European Bank Officials. He asked Maneck to go to the town and find out what the position at the Bank was. Maneck went into the town and met a crowd who accused him of playing false as firing had taken place since his intervention. He was told that the bank managers were dead.[xxiii] 


   Dr Kidar Nath Bhandari, a retired Senior Assistant Surgeon, stated that he attended twenty-five to thirty men with gunshot wounds at his home on 10 April.  He sent others not seriously wounded to Dr Bashir. He attended these patients in the street as there was no room in his consulting room. He saw Mrs Easdon, doctor in charge of the Municipal Female Hospital, on the roof of the hospital which was across the road in front of his house.  She was with Mrs Benjamin, Sub-charge. Mrs Easdon ‘ridiculed them [the wounded] and said that they had been well served. I asked her to give me some dressing materials but she refused to do so.’ Dr Bhandari heard later that people had gone after her, but that she escaped by a back door.[xxiv]


   Dr Bal Mokand, Sub-Assistant Surgeon at Amritsar, was a private practitioner who at the time of the Disturbances had been in Government service working in the City Hospital under the Civil Surgeon, Colonel Smith.  The latter was annoyed at the series of hartals which had led up to 10 April. Smith said that Kitchlew and Satyapal were not good men and called Gandhi a great badmash. Bal Mokand saw two bodies being carried back into the city on 10 April, and from his home saw smoke over the National Bank. In the evening, he attended a person wounded in the shooting in the Katra Mit Singh. People were panic stricken after the violence on the 10th, saying that all would suffer for the outrages committed by a few. He went to the Civil Hospital on 11 April. Two wounded had been admitted the night before by Dr Dhanpat Rai, the Assistant Surgeon. Colonel Smith arrived and found them, blamed Dr Rai and sent him to work at the railway hospital. Two persons with gunshot wounds came but no one attended them, so their relations took them back. ‘Colonel Smith said that General Dyer would come and bombard the city. He drew a plan and said how the bombardment would be carried out. I got frightened and asked Colonel Smith what I should do. He said that if I wanted to save my life I should come into the hospital.’ On 11 and 12 April, any Indian patients were told by Colonel Smith to ‘go to Mahatma Gandhi’. No gun shot cases were admitted after the two treated by Dr Dhanpat Rai on the night of 10 April.[xxv]


   Lala Sarab Dial, Vakil of the High Court at Amritsar, who had seen the Deputy-Commissioner at the Allahabad Bank verandah sitting peacefully watching the Ram Naumi procession on 9 April, not guarded by the police but sitting among a large number of Indian gentlemen, testified that he stayed indoors from 10-13 April as people were panic-stricken and thought that the Government would adopt severe measures.  The courts closed on 10 April and did not reopen till the 22nd. Free kitchens were started and operated in the city up to 13 April.[xxvi] But some movement was taking place; K. Rustum Ji an Export Import Agent, testified that on 11 and 12 April ‘my boys went into city on permits obtained from Plomer.  They were dressed in European clothes.’  Rustum had also seen the Ram Naumi procession acting very respectful to the Deputy-Commissioner on 9 April. On the 10th, he had gone to his office in the city at 9.45 a.m. He had stopped at the National Bank and had seen the two European managers working there. He also saw the Manager of the Alliance Bank drive into the city that morning in his car. He was the last to see them alive before the crowd gathered, the shops closed at 11.30 and the firing started at 12.30.[xxvii]


The Jallianwala Bagh


Fifteen depositions directly relate accounts of the shooting in the Jallianwala Bagh.  Some are accounts of the deaths of relatives, and how they came about.[xxviii]  Many of these are by witnesses who had lost children who were playing or loitering in the Bagh.  Most had received the going rate of Rs8362 in compensation, others less (Rs 6,000, 5,575, or as low as 1,394 for a death, and in one case Rs9,000 for a father and son).  Others are accounts from members of the crowd in the Bagh.  Sewa Ram, son of Lal Das, Brahman, resident of Katra Baghian Wala Amritsar, was in the Jallianwala Bagh, aged fifteen on that day. He was selling lemonade bottles from a hand cart outside the Bagh and went in with other boys. A bullet broke his shoulder bone and rendered his arm permanently useless, for which he got compensation of Rs3,300.[xxix]  Daulat Ram, son of Jagan Nath, Brahman, accountant to the firm of Kundan Lal Indar Jit, resident of Lohgarh Gate Amritsar, was also fifteen when he went into the Jallianwala Bagh. He went as his shop was closed and he had nothing to do. When the shooting started he tried to conceal himself behind a buffalo in the corner; ‘even then I was hit in the leg’. His relations took him home two hours later, and he was told he would get Rs300 compensation on reaching his majority.[xxx]


   Dr Mani Ram, a dental surgeon of Amritsar, heard on 13 April that there would be a meeting in Amritsar under the auspices of the Chief Khalsa Diwan. His house was 100 yards from the Jallianwala Bagh, and his stables adjoined it.  At 4.45 p.m. he went into the stables, saw a crowd which he estimated at between 20 and 22,000 and went in. After ten minutes the firing began. People around him asked him to lie down to save himself. Three or four were killed around him. A bullet knocked his cap off his head. During the interval of the second loading he jumped his wall and went into his stables to watch. He saw firing directed particularly at people fleeing to the exits. He found that his son Madan Mohan, aged twelve, was not at home. He usually played in the Jallianwala Bagh, so Mani Ram went to look for him in the Bagh; ‘I saw a dreadful sight. There were the wounded crying and lying in pools of blood. There were two cows which had been killed as a result of the firing.  The dead and wounded were heaped on one another and I had to look for my son among them. Some of the wounded were crying for water. There was nobody to give them water. I was unable to find my son there.’ He later returned with his wife and a servant with a large vessel of water, only to find his son dead under a mass of bodies. He received Rs8,362 in compensation.[xxxi] Shrimati Ratan Devi, who was immortalized in the Indian National Congress report by her harrowing statement describing her sojourn by the dead body of her husband, Lala Chhajju Mal, Khatri, made a similar deposition for the defence, adding detail of her failed attempt to secure help outside the Bagh after 8 p.m. due to the curfew by then in force.[xxxii] It is noteworthy that eleven witnesses specifically state that they were not aware of Dyer’s proclamation prohibiting  meetings, as they lived in different parts of the city or had stayed indoors before the meeting.[xxxiii]


   Significant detail of the course of the events in the Bagh is also found in the depositions. Hardial Mal, son of Daryana Mal, Shikarpuri, proprietor of N.D. Hardial Mal & Company, embroidery workers of Amritsar, stated that his office and house were at the entrance to the Jallianwala Bagh. He had a very good view from the top of his house, which overlooked the Bagh. After an aeroplane came over, he saw Head Constable Bhagwan Singh and Sub-Inspector Ibadullah C.I.D. going into the Jallianwala Bagh. Ibadullah returned alone a few minutes later. Some time later, 40-50 ‘Biluch sepoys with rifles’ came from the direction of the police station and passed on into the Lakkar Mandi.  A few minutes after, the Muhammedan City Inspector and Sub-Inspector Mir Singh arrived with 35-40 Gurkhas. Behind them came two motor cars carrying five to six European officers, and behind these came two armoured cars with an European soldier in each. Behind these came 30-40 constables on foot. The Inspector and Sub-Inspector stood at the entrance to the Jallianwala Bagh, the Gurkhas went in, followed by the European officers. He estimated there were about 15-20,000 in the Bagh listening to a lecture.  As soon as the Gurkhas went in, they fired, the people flew in all directions and firing didn’t stop when they dispersed. It went on for five to seven minutes. Mir Singh later came in front of his house and made a proclamation that ‘no one was to stir out of his house after 8 p.m.’[xxxiv]


   More detail of the shooting is found in the deposition of Lala Rup Lal Puri, son of Lala Nand Lal, Khatri, merchant and resident of Amritsar, who was a Member of the Executive Committee of the Amritsar District Congress Committee in 1919. He attended the meeting at the Hindu Sabha School on 12 April at which Dr Gurbaksh Rai announced that there would be a meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April to protest against the Rowlatt Acts.  Hans Raj was also on the platform. Rup Lal attended the Jallianwala Bagh meeting, arriving at about 4 p.m. to find Gurbaksh Rai and Hans Raj there and a crowd of over 20,000. Some country people who usually carried sticks did so there but there were no weapons.  He was asked to preside by Hans Raj, Gurbaksh and others. ‘I suggested that Dr Kitchlew’s photo be placed on the presidential chair. He was highly respected by the people.’ This was done, Gurbaksh proposing it in a speech.  Rup Lal sat on the platform.  The audience was quite orderly, and the meeting considered the resolutions agreed at the meeting the night before.[xxxv]  At about 4.30, an aeroplane flew over from the west. ‘It did not hover over the meeting but turned back after taking a glimpse.  A few minutes later two police constables came. They left after two or three minutes. A few minutes later some Gurkha sepoys accompanied by Mr Plomer, Deputy Superintendent of Police, General Dyer and a number of policemen came in. General Dyer ordered the sepoys to fire. The sepoys were in line when they were ordered to fire. They were standing on a raised platform which was higher than the dais of the meeting. The first volley passed over our heads and struck the wall opposite. The sepoys then knelt down and fired. I then jumped down from the dais on to the floor and ran. I was hit in my back. I saw a large number of people killed and wounded.’  No warning or order to disperse was given. The sepoys kept firing for about ten minutes. Rup Lal jumped over a wall on the east side of the Bagh but later went back into it to find his son, who was aged 18 and a student at the Hindu Sabha High School.  He had been killed by three shots.  Rup Lal did not apply for any compensation as ‘I was not prepared to accept any.’[xxxvi]


   What is clear from the depositions is an absence of any evidence indicating any form of conspiracy involving Sir Michael O'Dwyer in the shooting at the Bagh. It was necessary for Sir Sankaran Nair to demonstrate that O'Dwyer was at least complicit in the shooting, but the evidence he collected failed completely to do so.  Not one piece of evidence was produced to indicate that Sir Michael O'Dwyer was even aware of the meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh or of Dyer’s actions there before they occurred.  The depositions do give colour to theories that the Police in Amritsar were aware of the meeting in time to have enabled them, had they wished, to suggest to Brigadier Dyer that he prevent it, and so give rise to the likely assumption that they were at the very least happy to see Dyer and his troops deploy to punish the townspeople.  However, they do not show that there was any coordinated conspiracy to bring the meeting and the subsequent shooting to pass.  That Hans Raj was at the meeting on 12 April at the Hindu Sabha School that organized the Jallianwala Bagh assembly is plain, as it is that he later turned approver. But there is not one scrap of evidence in the depositions or elsewhere to indicate that Hans Raj was being used by the British authorities to arrange a meeting which they intended to crush.  Hans Raj was a quixotic character of little brain and less probity, but he was himself present in the Jallianwala Bagh when the shooting began. He is hardly likely to have placed himself on the dais there had he known that the British were intriguing to set up the meeting to destroy it.  The fact that he survived to turn approver was his good fortune, and was not something that he would have been able to foresee before the shooting began. The simplest explanation of his behaviour is that, having survived the shooting by the skin of his teeth, he was either frightened into turning approver or saw that course as his only profitable escape from being treated as a rebel.[xxxvii]


Aftermath of the Shooting in the City


Several depositions cast interesting light on the events immediately after the shooting.  Dr Bal Mokand’s deposition states that on 13 April he was part of  the team of two doctors and compounders attending over 100 wounded in front of Dr Ishar Dass’s house, treating 50-60 of them himself. On the next day he attended two wounded persons at their houses. Both had serious fractures needing operations, and he advised them go to the civil hospital. They would not go there as Colonel Smith was not treating patients properly and was turning them out of the hospital.  Bal Mokand asked Smith’s favourite, Nur Illahi, to intercede for them, but Colonel Smith accused Bal Mokand of having been in the Jallianwala Bagh himself, and berated him for treating those wounded there. At the time, Smith was wearing uniform and carrying a gun (this was the time to which Brigadier Dyer referred at the Hunter Committee when he stated that the civilian hospitals were open to treat the wounded).  He sent Bal Mokand to the railway dispensary, threatening him with flogging if he left it. He remained there for a full week without going home even for one night.  Smith visited him once, and told him that the official casualty toll for the Jallianwala Bagh had been set at 1,800. He said a lesson would be taught the people and that for every European killed there would be 1,000 Indians killed. He also said that the trade of Amritsar would be ruined and that Martial Law would be prolonged for a year.[xxxviii] 


   Dr Ishar Dass Bhatia, Sub-Assistant Surgeon, Karman Deohri, Amritsar, heard firing at about 5 p.m. after which some 4-500 wounded were brought to his house by relatives. Most of the wounded had been shot in the back or the back of their legs or arms. He rendered first aid, helped by Sub-Assistant Surgeon Dr Ram Bakha Mall, Sub-Assistant Surgeon Dr Bal Mokand and some compounders.. ‘I had a man with me who was taking down the addresses of the wounded persons.’  He produced these to a Martial Law Summary Court in Amritsar but received no receipt and they were never returned.  Not less than 300 were recorded in the register.[xxxix]


   Dr Kidar Nath Bhandari, who had treated wounded on the 10th, did so again on the 13th, when he called on four or five people at their houses, finding them shot in their arms and legs. He was unable to attend all those who needed him due to the curfew, and on the next day he saw about fifteen or twenty, also wounded in the arm or leg, generally on the back parts or on the soles of their feet.[xl]  


   Lala Duni Chand, Vakil in the High Court of Amritsar, Member of the Municipal Committee of Amritsar, stated that he attended the meeting of city notables called on 14 April. Commissioner Kitchin, Deputy-Commissioner Irving, Brigadier Dyer and many police were there. All the speeches were ‘very insulting in tone and were very offensive.’ Dyer asked them to end the hartal. After the meeting, those attending went round and persuaded people to open their shops, which they did. He was enrolled as a special constable before General Dyer in the Rambagh and witnessed flogging there. It was ‘very severe and cruel.’[xli]


   Lala Sarab Dial, Vakil in the High Court of Amritsar, testified that on 22 April he was ordered to enroll as a special constable. With other lawyers, he reported to the Rambagh Gardens where ‘the General addressed us in a very insulting manner and enrolled us as special constables.  Rai Bahadur (later Sir) Gopal Dass Bhandari, Mr Toddar Mall, Barrister-at-Law, and Lala Duni Chand, MA, were told to divide Amritsar up into wards and allocate members of the bar to them. Whilst these were preparing the scheme, we were called upon to witness two men being flogged. They were flogged in public and were fastened to a triangle with arms stretched. The men who were being flogged cried and wept and we could hardly bear the sight.’ They were ordered to present themselves three times a day in the Rambagh for roll call and patrol, a procedure which lasted up to 12 May. Some were very old and suffered greatly. ‘Pandit Mul Raj, Barrister-at-Law, fell down, broke his nose and fainted.’ The lawyers were treated like coolies; they were made to lift chairs and tables and do other menial work.[xlii] 


Dyer’s Tours to Pacify the Country Districts of the Manjha


The depositions illustrate the events which took place in the country areas around Amritsar as Dyer progressed through them in the weeks following the shooting. Ganda Singh Soni, Vakil of the High Court of Lahore, who practised at Gurdaspur, stated that a hartal was held in Gurdaspur on 14 April to protest at Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest. There was no violence in Gurdaspur on that day. One week later, the Deputy-Commissioner, Harcourt, wrote to all respectable people to meet General Dyer at the railway station.  Almost all the legal profession was invited, and went to the station where they stood for two hours until Dyer’s special train arrived with a moveable column. General Dyer did not get down. The assembled notables were instructed to wait for General Dyer in the hall of the Government school.  A display of military force was in place around the school, many soldiers with fixed bayonets were stationed in the hall, a soldier behind every lawyer. General Dyer ‘arrived in a very furious and excited mood and rushed to the dais.’ The Deputy-Commissioner was there too. The General ordered the assembly to stand ‘in a very contemptuous manner’ and said: ‘You are badmashes. The Government has given you honours and means of livelihood and you are going against the Government. The British Government is very strong and defeated Germany. If there is anyone who wants to fight the British Government let him come out. If you realize the situation well and good otherwise I will come again and trample you all under foot.’ He then departed. The assembly was surprised by this insulting treatment as nothing had happened in Gurdaspur.[xliii]


   Lala Sant Ram Agarwal, Pleader of the High Court of Lahore, practising in Batala, Gurdaspur, described a similar meeting. On 22 April or thereabouts, General Dyer came to Batala with a moving column, accompanied by the Deputy-Commissioner and some police. All Pleaders were called to the railway station, then told to attend a darbar near the Court building. Mounted men went into the city to bring people to attend. They found a machine gun pointed at the assembly and many military around it. A line of soldiers with fixed bayonets stood behind the Pleaders. General Dyer spoke. He started with the English ‘Gentlemen’ but then said he did not know if he should call them that, and switched to vernacular. ‘You people are badmashes. If you want to fight against the Government come on. We have crushed the German Government, what can you people do. If there is anyone willing to fight let him come out […] I have come to teach you what the Rowlatt act is, you should read the Rowlatt Act and learn it. I will come again to test your knowledge of the Act, if I find you have not learnt the Rowlatt Act I will come with Martial Law.’ He sat down while all stood. General Dyer asked the Deputy-Commissioner if he wanted any badmashes presented before him. ‘We felt highly insulted. The General then left Batala.’ [xliv]


Attempts by the Government to Uncover a Conspiracy and to Coerce Witnesses


After the imposition of Martial Law, it is clear from the depositions that the Government made strenuous efforts to uncover what it believed was a conspiracy to bring British rule to an end, and that it resorted to coercion in an attempt to force witnesses to testify against those it suspected of leading this conspiracy.  It also seems that the authorities were determined to gain convictions in the cases of the murder and assault of Europeans during the Disturbances.  Dr Kidar Nath Bhandari, who was aged 64 and a retired Senior Assistant Surgeon, and who had treated casualties on both 10 and 13 April, was asked on 20 April by Sub-Inspector Sewak Ram for a list of the wounded he had treated. C.I.D. Inspector Jawahar Lal took him and his assistant to a police station where he found Deputy-Superintendent Plomer, Inspector Marshal, Sardar Sukha Singh, and other Police Officers with the City-Inspector of Police. He was told to give the names of the wounded, and gave one, taking them to the man’s house. He was asked for the names of those who had attacked Mrs Easdon, and when he denied knowledge of this, he was arrested and held for eight days. He was told he would be released if he named two assailants of Mrs Easdon. He was handcuffed and made to march a mile to jail in chains with 60 men. He fainted on arrival at the next place he was held. He had no spare clothes, and became filthy and lice-ridden. Deputy-Commissioner Irving came in front of his cell on one occasion and asked him why he was here, saying that ‘I had made no efforts to save Mrs Easdon.’ He was not produced before a magistrate till 13 May.[xlv]  


   Ganda Singh Soni, Vakil of the High Court of Lahore, who was practising at Gurdaspur, was called before Commissioner Kitchin and the Deputy Inspector General of Police on 21 April.  They came with the Deputy-Commissioner and addressed 10-12 members of the bar. Kitchin said he had come to arrest them all but would defer this if they gave evidence of conspiracy, and that, if they did, they would be pardoned. Ganda Singh did not give evidence and was arrested a few days later, remaining in jail from 4 May to 7 July 1919. He was then released without charge and threatened with the loss of his lawyer’s licence, though this didn’t happen.[xlvi]


   Lala Sant Ram Agarwal, Pleader in the High Court of Lahore, who practised at Batala, Gurdaspur, was ordered to see Commissioner Kitchin at Gurdaspur.  Kitchin told him he was to be arrested but gave him the opportunity to make statements about the conspiracy ‘to overthrow the British Government.’ He refused, and was jailed. Later he was marched off in handcuffs to Lahore, where he was released without trial on 7 or 8 July.[xlvii]


Alienation of the Professional Classes


The depositions make clear the huge extent to which the Punjab Government had alienated the Indian professional classes by its actions in the suppression of the Punjab Disturbances.  Statement after statement describes the insults, abuse and judicial malpractice to which men who had hitherto been loyal citizens of the Raj were subjected.  Lawyers, doctors, professors, teachers, newspaper magnates and businessmen, many of them educated at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and other bastions of British liberal education, had it rubbed in their faces that the British considered them little better than the lowest sweeper.  Their faith in British justice was destroyed.  Many had undergone the indignity and physical suffering of jail, and thus had been inoculated, so to speak, against the terrors of these in the future.  The loss of the support among this educated middle class, and in many cases the creation of virulent opposition amongst it, was to be crucial in the national struggles of the decades to come.  The depositions make nicely clear the divisions which the suppression of the Disturbances cut. Sir Michael O'Dwyer’s supporting witnesses were drawn solely from the old landed and privileged class. Their names and titles alone speak volumes. His six witnesses proudly declared themselves as:


Colonel Sir Malik Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana KCIE CBE MVO, Zamindar of 48,000 bighas at Shapur, Rawalpindi, Honorary Magistrate 1st Class.  This was the same who, in his earlier rank of Major, had given evidence on behalf of the Punjab Government to the Hunter Committee.[xlviii]


The Honorable Nawab Sir Bahram Khan Mazari KCIE KBE of Rojhan, Dera Ghazi Khan. Jagirdar of the Mazari tribe, Member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1919 and now Member of the Council of State.  


Rai Bahadur Lala Amar Nath MBE, Kaisar-i-Hind Medallist, Sub-Registrar, Lahore, Jagirdar, Secretary of the Punjab Branch of the Imperial Relief Fund Committee.


Rao Bahadur Chowdri Lal Chand, Vakil of the High Court of Rohtak, Member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1919.


Khan Bahadur Sayyad Mehdi Shah OBE CIE, President of the Municipal Committee of Gojra, Zamindar, Honorary Magistrate 1st Class, Honorary Civil Judge 2nd Class, Khan Bahadur, Lambardar, Zaildar, Member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1919.


Honorary Major Nawab Sir Khuda Baksh OBE, KCIE, Vice President of the Council of Regency, Bahawalpur State.


   Sir Sankaran Nair’s witnesses could not have been more different. Apart from many men and women of lowly status, they included fifteen lawyers, eleven medical men (doctors, surgeons and a dentist), three educators (professors or teachers) and six prominent businessmen.  Some of their testimonies make it very clear why these men no longer felt it possible to offer allegiance to the Raj.  Sardar Sant Singh, Vakil at Lyallpur, found himself arrested on 22 April 1919. After a series of abuses during the handling of the case that was brought against him by a Martial Law tribunal, he decided to take no further part in the proceedings and was convicted, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and fined Rs1,000.  On appeal, all the proceedings were set aside as illegal and he was released. He was re-arrested in October after he started to practise again, but that case was eventually withdrawn.[xlix]  Lala Kanhaya Lal, Vakil in the High Court of Amritsar, who was 78 years old and had been a lawyer for 57 years, and the man who, unbeknownst to him, was advertised as president of the 13 April meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh (which he did not attend), was appointed special constable on 22 April and made to work like a coolie, lifting chairs and tables for Europeans under the command of a military officer. The authorities thought he was an agitator against the Rowlatt Acts.  He attempted to get exemption but was told he was still young and strong looking. Though he was later released from roll call he was forced to go on patrol.[l]   Sardar Labh Singh MA, Barrister-at-Law in Gujranwala, and President of the Municipality from 1921, was arrested on 14 April, handcuffed, chained to others and sent to jail in Lahore. At a Martial Law tribunal he was sentenced on the evidence of an approver, another lawyer, but pardoned.[li]  Sardar Habib-Ullah Khan, Barrister-at-Law in Lahore, was arrested and interned on 5 May, brought before a Martial Law tribunal on 15 May, and after a trial of two months, acquitted.[lii] Rai Zada Bhagat Ram, Barrister-at-Law in Jullundur, Member of the Punjab Provincial Legislative Council since 1916, renounced his title of Rai Bahadur as a result of disappointment he felt in the Government of India.  His brother, Hans Raj, also a Barrister-at-Law and Member of the Provincial Assembly, was prosecuted but discharged after it was proved that he had acted to disperse an illegal assembly.[liii]


Sir Michael O'Dwyer’s Farewell to the Punjab


On his departure from office, O’Dwyer was proud of the subscription raised by ‘the Princes and people of the Province’ to build a memorial in his name, but in reality he had so severely embarrassed his supporters in the Punjab that only a minority of them were prepared to support laudatory addresses in farewell to him.[liv] 


   The depositions make it plain that this was the case for both Muslims and Hindus.  The Honorable Sir Muhammad Shafi, KCSI, CIE, Law Member and Vice President of the Executive Council of the Government of India, swore a deposition for the defence.  Shafi was a very prominent politician, earlier Education Member of the Imperial Legislative Council and its non-official member representing Punjab Muhammadans. He was Honorary General Secretary of the All India Muslim Association and Chairman of the Council of the Punjab Provincial Muslim Association. In 1919 he was a Member of the Punjab Legislative Council and President of the India High Court Bar Association. He had practised law in Lahore under O’Dwyer’s rule. He had been tasked to deliver the Muslim community’s farewell address in the Punjab Legislative Council. In his deposition, Shafi states that the published copy of his address contained an encomium to O’Dwyer of which he had not been made aware and which he had not intended to deliver.  He alleged that this had been interpolated by Malik Sir Umar Hayat Khan.[lv] Raja Narendra Nath of the Punjab Hindu Sabha gave a similar deposition.  He was tasked to produce a Hindu farewell address, but after the events in Amritsar and Lahore he initially refused to do so. He stated that some prominent Hindus in the Punjab felt that it would be highly disadvantageous to the Hindu community were they not to deliver an address as the Muslims and Sikhs were intending to do so. As a result, he presented an address on 12 May 1919. He and others had to coerce many prominent co-religionists to sign the address, and in the event many refused to do so.[lvi]


   When Sir Michael O'Dwyer left the Punjab he believed he had stamped out a rebellion, had removed from the political scene all those who had opposed him, and left his supporters firmly in control politically. In fact, he had so blotted his and their record that he made almost inevitable the opposition which would fight his successors for the next two and a half decades. 




The cache of depositions in the O’Dwyer v Nair case placed on the record the voices of Indians of many walks of life. It is fitting that they should now be placed similarly in the historical record.  It is ironic that the case which Sir Michael O'Dwyer brought to vindicate his rule in the Punjab should now be one of the principal sources for exposing it for the tyranny which both his own regime and the Martial Law which he instigated actually were.





[i] Sir C. Sankaran Nair, Gandhi and Anarchy (Indore: Holkar State (Electric) Printing Press, 1922), p. 47.

[ii] The case is discussed in its context in Nigel A. Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar (London: Hambledon & London, 2005), pp. 414-18.

[iii] For Justice McCardie and the case, see George Pollock, Mr Justice McCardie: A Biography  (London: John Lane, 1934), pp. 132-6.

[iv] Pollock, Mr Justice McCardie, p. 135.

[v] Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report of the Commissioners Appointed by the Punjab Sub-committee of the Indian National Congress, 2 vols (Bombay: Karnatak Press, 1920).

[vi] J17/634, D.W.1-49, 55-60, 64-67, 76-82, 86-87, 114, 118, and six depositions for the plaintiff, in the National Archive, Kew, O’Dwyer v. Nair, Supreme Court of Judicature, Depositions – Exhibits Taken off the File, 16 January 1924.

[vii] J17/634, D.W. 114.

[viii] J17/634, D.W. 115.

[ix] J17/634, Depositions for the Plaintiff.

[x] J17/634, Depositions for the Plaintiff.

[xi] J17/634, D.W. 69-72.

[xii] J17/634, D.W. 78.

[xiii] J17/634, D.W. 89.

[xiv] Command 705: Parliamentary Papers (Commons), 1920, vol. 14, Reports, vol. 6, ‘East India (Disturbances in the Punjab, etc)’. ‘Correspondence between the Government of India and the Secretary of State for India on the Report of Lord Hunter’s Committee’, p.19.

[xv] J17/634, D.W. 113.

[xvi] J17/634, D.W. 83, 85, 117, 118.

[xvii] J17/634, D.W. 61.

[xviii] J17/634, Depositions for the plaintiff.

[xix] J17/634, D.W. 114.

[xx] J17/634, D.W. 50.

[xxi] J17/634, D.W. 119.

[xxii] J17/634, D.W. 116. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Duni Chand to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 93.

[xxiii] J17/634, D.W. 107. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Maneck Dhaber to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 18.

[xxiv] J17/634, D.W. 110. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Dr Kidar Nath to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 13.

[xxv] J17/634, D.W. 112. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Dr Bal Mokand (Mukund) to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 20.

[xxvi] J17/634, D.W. 105. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Lala Sarab Dial (Dayal) to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 91.

[xxvii] J17/634, D.W. 111.

[xxviii] J17/634, D.W. 90, Karam Chand, son of Ishar Das, Brahman, resident of Amritsar, uncle of Nand Lal, student, killed in the Jallianwala Bagh; D.W. 91, Arjan Singh, son of  Hakam Singh, Ahluwalia, resident of Amritsar, elder brother of Mewa Singh, aged 20, killed in the Jallianwala Bagh (this is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Sardar Arjan Singh to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 37); D.W. 92 – Shiv Dial, son of Jai Ram, Brahman, resident of Nimak Mandi, Amritsar, father of 8 year old Nand Lal, killed in the Jallianwala Bagh; D.W. 93, Gian Singh, son of Taba Singh, carpenter, resident of Kaserianwala Bazaar, Amritsar, father of 15-16 year old Sunder Singh, student at Baij Nath High School, killed in the Jallianwala Bagh; D.W. 95, Jaggat Singh, son of Attra, carpenter, resident of Hall Bazaar, Amritsar, father of 12 year old Hukma, killed in the Jallianwala Bagh; D.W. 96, Dass Mall, son of Kirpa Ram, Khatri, piece goods broker, resident of Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar, father of 8 year old Sohan Lall, also known as Ram Nath, killed in the Jallianwala Bagh; D.W. 97, Mangtoo, son of Miran Bux, Teli, resident of Ghee Mandi, Amritsar, father of Khair Din, aged 25, killed with his son Abdul Rahim, aged about 1 year, in the Jallianwala Bagh; D.W. 99, Lal Mohammad, son of Faiz Ullah, Lohar, resident of Amritsar Katra Karam Singh, father of 17 year old Abdul Karim, Student of the Islamia School, shot 3 times and killed in the Jallianwala Bagh.

[xxix] J17/634, D.W. 100.

[xxx] J17/634, D.W. 102.

[xxxi] J17/634, D.W. 115. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Dr Mani Ram to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 60.

[xxxii] J17/634, D.W. 123. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Ratan Devi to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 75.

[xxxiii] J17/634, D.W 90-93, 95-99, 102, 106.

[xxxiv] J17/634, D.W. 108. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Hardial Mal (Lala Hardyal Mal) to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 36.

[xxxv] These were produced before Mr Seymour, Magistrate, and signed by him on 23 April 1919.  They were presented to the courts as exhibits 7,8,9, 10 (D-24, 25, 26, 27). Resolutions 9 & 10 (exhibits 26 & 27) were passed by the Jallianwala Bagh meeting in the vernacular.  The resolutions have not survived with the court depositions but are recorded by The Times law reports in April and May 1924. The existence of these resolutions is important as proving the political reasons behind the calling of the meeting in the Bagh.

[xxxvi] J17/634, D.W. 104.

[xxxvii] J17/634, D.W.104 is the only place where Hans Raj figures in the depositions.  Lala Rup Lal Puri, General Secretary of the City Congress Committee, Amritsar, stated that Hans Raj disappeared soon after the Martial Law trials. He characterises him as ‘a man of very little education and no character.’

[xxxviii] J17/634, D.W. 112.  See note 25.

[xxxix] J17/634, D.W. 109. This is a much more extensive testimony than that in the statement given by Dr Ishar Das Bhatia to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 10.

[xl] J17/634, D.W. 110. See note 24.

[xli] J17/634, D.W. 106. See note 22.

[xlii] J17/634, D.W. 105. See note 26.

[xliii] J17/634, D.W. 53.  See Collett, Butcher of Amritsar, p. 286.

[xliv] J17/634, D.W. 54. See Collett, Butcher of Amritsar, p. 286.

[xlv] J17/634, D.W. 110.  See note 24.

[xlvi] J17/634, D.W. 53.

[xlvii] J17/634, D.W. 54.

[xlviii] V.N. Datta, New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919: Volumes VI and VII of Disorders Inquiry Committee Evidence (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1975), i, pp. 836-882.  Umar Hayat Khan’s evidence on that occasion was included in the secret volumes which were not published at the time, but in themselves contained no classified material.  The Hunter Committee did not manage to pin him down about recruiting abuses as successfully as did Sir Sankaran Nair’s lawyers.

[xlix] J17/634, D.W. 83. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Sardar Sant Singh to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 516.

[l] J17/634, D.W. 98. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Lala Kanhaya Lal (Lala Kanhyalal Bhatia) to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 29.

[li] J17/634, D.W. 118.

[lii] J17/634, D.W. 122. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Sardar Habib-Ullah Khan (Sardar Habib Ullah Khan) to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 242A.

[liii] J17/634, D.W. 114. This is similar to, and adds additional information to, the statement given by Rai Zada Bhagat Ram (Hon’ble Rai Bahadur Raizada Bhagat Ram) to the Indian National Congress Subcommittee, Report, vol. 2, statement 650.

[liv] See Sir Michael O'Dwyer, India as I Knew It (London: Constable, 1925), p. 317.

[lv] J17/634, D.W. 120.

[lvi] J17/634, D.W. 125



By Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel Collett MA (Oxon) MA (Bucks) FRAS


Talk to the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, June 2005



On 13 April 1919. Brigadier Reginald Dyer marched fifty Baluch, Pathan and Gurkha soldiers into the Jallianwala Bagh, a public space in the centre of Amritsar in the Punjab, to confront a crowd of twenty thousand men, women and children which had assembled there in defiance of his ban on meetings.


Without any warning, he ordered his troops to fire. For fifteen minutes his men poured continuous rifle fire into the panic-stricken crowd. The Jallianwala Bagh was a walled enclosure and people could not escape.  Hundreds were killed, perhaps over 500, and thousands were wounded.  When the troops had gone, they left behind them mounds of bodies of those they had shot.  There was little opportunity to rescue survivors lying amongst the corpses until the next morning due to the curfew imposed on the city. Many died in the night in the Bagh. 


   Dyer’s deed, along with other ill-treatment meted out to Indians during the Punjab Disturbances of which Amritsar was a part, alienated India. The British Government’s failure to punish or fully disown him, and the huge support he received from much of the British public, who believed he had prevented another Indian Mutiny and called him ‘the Saviour of India,’ transformed Indian leaders, in particular Gandhi, from loyal subjects of the crown into implacable nationalists who rejected every connection with the British.  The massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh led directly to the bitterness and bloodshed of the struggle for Indian independence over the next thirty years.


   Dyer acted alone, without order and against all the rules.  To understand what drove him to perpetrate what remains the worst atrocity in British history since the Mutiny of 1857, we must turn to the story of his life.   Dyer was a man of many contrasts. His violent temper made him feared at times by those it was visited upon, yet his extraordinary rapport with his Indian soldiers led them, long after his disgrace, to venerate his name and to visit his son to shake his hand. He was an able regimental soldier possessed of unique talents as an inventor.  But he was also an officer so lacking in judgment and political skill that his disastrous command in Persia in the First World War forced the Government of India to decide to recall him.   In the Jallianwala Bagh, Dyer confronted what he, and many others at the time, mistakenly believed was a rebellion.  Fears for the future of British India played upon Dyer’s character and misunderstanding to bring him to a horribly misplaced conception of his duty. 


   I believe that the demon driving Dyer was a deep seated fear that his entire world was under threat.  In Amritsar he found himself facing what he believed was a challenge to his way of life and everything he thought it stood for.  He let this slip, deliberately perhaps, on just one occasion, when he drafted his written report on the massacre on 25 August 1919. In it he inserted words which stand out as unique in a military report:


We cannot be very brave unless we be possessed of a greater fear […] My duty and my military instincts told me to fire.


   What was it that had formed this fear?  Behind it all lay the ever-consuming fear which lurked in British minds of a recurrence of the 1857 Mutiny.  Insecurity arising from family conflicts and childhood experience played their part, as did his exile to school in Midleton College,Cork, where he witnessed at close hand the dissolution off the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, the consequent decline of his school and the collapse in the fortunes of the families of his fellow pupils.  He saw this process at work again a few years later in his first exposure to danger, in Belfast in the riots of 1886.  In later service, he experienced the fear generated by the revolutionary outrages which began across India after Curzon’s partition of Bengal in 1905, and encountered disturbances which erupted around him in the Punjab before the 1st World War. Dyer was in England when Sir William Curzon Wyllie, Political ADC to the Secretary of State for India, was assassinated in London by an Indian revolutionary.  


   In the 1st World War he struggled with revolutionary intrigue on the borders of Persia and Afghanistan.  As a senior staff officer in the Punjab he was peripherally part of the suppression of violent revolutionary movements seeking to overthrow British rule. When violence broke out in there in 1919, he, with most of British India at that stage, mistakenly believed it was the work of the same revolutionaries he had been fighting for years, men linked in the British mind of the time by an ‘axis of evil’ with rebels in Egypt and India.  In Amritsar, he believed, he faced the core of an organised rebellion.  He was determined to stop it.


   The pattern that emerges throughout Dyer’s life is thus one of continual insecurity and of periods of direct combat against revolutionaries who threatened his entire way of life.  This is, in my view, the key to his motivation at the Jallianwala Bagh. It is therefore remarkable that the time he spent in Hong Kong between 1912 and 1914 served only to repeat and reinforce this pattern.  When he reached Hong Kong, the Chinese Revolution was underway across the border in Kwangtung, and in Hong Kong the colony was both fearful of the spill over from this, and nervous of the internal instability it might create.


   Dyer would not have known when he arrived, though he is very likely to have discovered it during his tour, that Hong Kong had been a centre of revolutionary Chinese activity since at least 1905, when the T’ung-men Hui, the United League, a revolutionary alliance established that year in Tokyo by Dr Sun Yat-sen, set up a branch here.   The branch became the focal point for revolutionary activity in south China and, despite the outward disapproval of Governor Sir Frederick Lugard and his Chief Secretary, Sir Henry May,  had been allowed a fairly free hand, establishing bomb factories, using the colony to enlist recruits, collecting arms and ammunition, and planning the six coups mounted unsuccessfully in Canton and Kuangsi up to 1911. The last attempt to be mounted from Hong Kong had been as late as the April prior to Dyer’s arrival. When, some six months later, in October 1911, troops stationed at Wuhan initiated the rebellion which was to overthrow the Manchu dynasty, the situation in Kwantung was sufficiently unstable for Sir Frederick Lugard to anticipate that the colony might be swamped by people fleeing over the border and that fighting might follow them into the New Territories.  Lugard passed on a request from his garrison commander, Major-General Anderson, the General Officer Commanding Troops, South China, to the Colonial Office in London to send out reinforcements, specifically requesting two Indian infantry battalions and a battery of mountain artillery.  A force consisting of the 25th and 26th Punjabis and the 24th Hazara Mountain Battery was ordered to Hong Kong from India.    


   Dyer was commanding the 25th Punjabis in Multan in the Punjab. Within nine days the 25th entrained for Karachi, where they boarded the troopship RIMS Hardinge for the voyage to China.  Their arrival in Hong Kong was reported in the press on February the 8th, 1912, the Hong Kong Daily Press informing its readers that 850 men of the 25th Punjabis accompanied by some of the officers’ families and thirty-three soldiers of the Supply and Transport Corps had arrived at Holt’s Wharf.  The battalion was given temporary accommodation under canvas on reclaimed land near the Kowloon railway terminus.  They were to stay here for three months.  


   In the event, they were not required to defend the frontier. One of the few places in China in which something like a peaceful transfer of power between civilian hands had occurred during the Revolution had been Kwangtung.  In Canton, the provincial assembly established  by the Manchus in 1909, the guilds, the charitable associations and the General Commercial Association joined to petition the last Imperial Viceroy, Chang Ming-ch’i, to declare his provinces  of Kwangtung and Fujian independent.  He acquiesced, and managed to avert military rule in city.  Sun Yat-sen’s T’ung-men Hui took power peacefully in November 1911, its local leader, Hu Han-min, becoming head of the provincial government.  Although feeling in the province generally favoured the establishment of a federal republic along the lines of the United States of America, the inclusion of Hu in the national government which Dr Sun Yat-sen established  in Shanghai, with himself as President in January 1912, meant that there was no breach at that stage between Kwangtung and any central authority. 


   On 11 February 1912, four days after Dyer’s battalion landed, the Manchu Emperor Hsuan-t’ung, P’uyi, formally abdicated.  The next month, General Yuan Shih-k’ai was inaugurated as President of the republic in Peking, replacing Dr Sun Yat-sen, who now yielded power peacefully to Yuan.  Despite this, the situation in Kwangtung remained tense, and violence broke out when army garrisons across the province mutinied in April and May 1912.  They were suppressed by local T’ung-men Hui forces.


   At this point, in May 1912, Dyer’s battalion moved by sea up the west coast of the Kowloon Peninsula as far as the small fishing village of Lai Chi Kok, where they were given temporary barracks next to the Standard Company Oil godowns, which had plenty of space and which their presence could serve to protect.  This time the 25th was accommodated in corrugated iron sheds built, though never used, for the large amounts of Chinese indentured labour it had been planned to send to the gold and diamond mines in South Africa after the Boer War.  In June, a month before Sir Frederick Lugard was relieved by Sir Henry May, the administration established a cordon of military posts along the frontier to protect the New Territories against bands of robbers raiding out of China.  Dyer’s battalion took turn to man these.


   But by the summer, the security situation in Kwangtung was no longer giving the Hong Kong Government grounds for concern, and Dyer took the opportunity to take local leave in Japan in July 1912.  He returned in August to find that the security situation had been less stable than had been hoped.  Pirates had attacked shipping off Lantau Island, within the colony’s waters, on 1 July.  Three days later, Sir Henry and Lady May disembarked from their ship at the central pier on Hong Kong Island for their official welcome to the colony.  Just after they had entered their official chairs for the short journey to the City Hall, a Chinese revolutionary stepped from the crowd and fired a single revolver shot.  Both the intended victims were unharmed, but the bullet buried itself in Lady May’s chair.  Just over a month later, on 21 August, there was a very provocative raid by a pirate gang from the Pearl River delta which attacked the police station on the island of Cheung Chau and killed the three Indian police constables stationed there. They then overran the island, terrorizing the defenceless islanders and looting their property.  The Governor determined that this outrage could not go unanswered.  With the cooperation of the Portuguese administration in Macao, and with the consent of the powerless Chinese administration in Canton, Sir Henry ordered a punitive raid to destroy the gang. 


   Once these alarums and excursions were passed, the situation for a while reverted to something more peaceful. The Revolution seemed to be taking hold over the border, and few refugees entered the Colony.  It was announced that elections would be held at the end of the year for a national parliament in Peking. The Kuomintang was formed in August 1912 to group the earlier revolutionary organizations, particularly the T’ung-men Hui, to fight the election. On 25 September 1912, Sun Yat-sen was among a group of the most influential men in China signing a document giving Yuan Shi-k’ai power for 10 years, and in turn he was made the Director for the Construction of all Railways in China.  From revolutionary plotting, the Doctor could now divert his attention to touring the country by train. The election was duly held in December 1912, and although there was only a limited franchise, it remains the only legitimate election ever held in China. The result was to take two months to emerge; when it did it would cause immediate trouble, but in December 1912, all looked well.


   As a result, Dyer took long leave in England from December 1912 to October 1913.  The period in which he was absent from the colony was one of increased disturbance in China and revolutionary outrages in India, where Dyer’s interest no doubt remained.  Just as he departed, news arrived of the attempt by a Bengali revolutionary, Rash Behari Bose, to assassinate the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, as he entered Delhi on an elephant with his wife. It was also again a turbulent time in China.


   In February 1913, the results of the election were announced and the Kuomintang was found to have won the largest share of the vote, with 269 of the 596 seats in the lower house, and 123 of the 274 in the upper. Yuan Shih-k’ai was not interested in democratic political systems or in handing over power. He arranged the successful assassination of the Kuomintang political leader, Song Jiaoren, who had created the parliamentary party. Sun Yat-sen joined the remaining opposition criticizing Yuan for taking a foreign loan without parliamentary agreement, leading Yuan to ban the Kuomintang, surround then dissolve the parliament, and sack three provincial governors, including that of Kwangtung, who sympathized with the Kuomintang. Seven provinces declared their independence from Peking in the summer of 1913 in what became known as the Second Revolution.  


   The Second Revolution of 1913 was welcomed in Hong Kong as the performance of the revolutionaries in Canton had been seen to be largely ineffectual.  In common with the rest of China since 1912, across the border in Kwangtung brigandage, kidnapping, looting, murders had increased, and went on increasing every year after that.  The Governor of Kwangtung resisted his dismissal, but forces loyal to Yuan Shih-k’ai suppressed the provincial rebels by September 1913.  The Second Revolution of 1913, like that of 1911, did not spill over into Hong Kong. 


   The situation in Kwangtung was once again quiet enough to permit Dyer to take local leave in Japan in the summer of 1914. While he was there, the 1st World War broke out and he hastened back to his battalion. When he reached the colony, he found the 25th Punjabis in tented accommodation at Happy Valley, less one double company stationed in Victoria Barracks. The battalion was now earmarked as part of General Reserve for Hong Kong.  As time passed, it became clear that the 25th could not stay camped out on the racecourse for the duration of the war, and in September they were assigned Murray Barracks, and A, B and H Blocks of Whitfield Barracks, both across the harbour in Kowloon.  The battalion duly crossed over from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon by ferry on 6 October. Sometime at the end of November 1914, Dyer handed over the battalion and returned to India.


   Before he did so, he had himself probably forwarded a report to his garrison commander, Major-General Kelly, General Officer Commanding Troops in China, of seditious activities affecting the Sikh community in Hong Kong, and of attempts to suborn his own and other Sikh troops. Kelly informed the Hong Kong Government of these reports in October 1914.  Kelly had received complaints that local Indians were spreading sedition and that ‘those travelling from America […] propagate seditious teaching amongst the troops on outpost.’ He had taken the precaution of warning all his Commanding Officers.  He added ‘I also heard of sedition being talked in the Gurdwara’, the Sikh temple in Hong Kong.


   This was Dyer’s first exposure to the Ghadr conspiracy which was to erupt across the eastern parts of the Empire in the following year and which was linked to a series of attempts by the Germans to ignite revolution in British territories in the East.  Dyer was to spend almost a year countering one of these conspiracies in Persia a year and a half later. But it was in Hong Kong that he first met these opponents.


   The conspiracy was an attempt to cause an armed uprising in the Punjab and Kashmir and had its roots in the Indian, largely Sikh, community in the United States.  16,000 Indians had settled in California and 4,000 in Canada by the outbreak of the 1st World War. They formed a large pool of potentially anti-British recruits for the Indian intellectuals gathered around an academic named Lala Har Dayal.  He had set up an organization named the Hindustani Workers of the Pacific Coast and began to publish a newspaper, the Ghadr (Revolution), in November 1913. His anti-British movement soon became known by the name of his paper, which was circulated as wherever Indians had settled in the Empire, principally in the East but as far afield as Africa.  The Ghadr movement was influenced by Sun Yat-sen’s revolution as well as by the growing success of Japan, which, since its defeat of Russia in 1904 had become a model for Asian revolutionaries everywhere.  Japan had also taken in many political refugees, including both Chinese and Indian, but the Ghadr movement’s hopes of support from Japan were dashed by that country’s alliance with Britain at the start of the 1st World war. Ghadr cells were very successfully infiltrated worldwide by the British.


   In the midst of all this, a very public affair brought the Ghadr movement to Hong Kong’s notice.  A Sikh attempt to breach new Canadian immigration rules, which barred Indian immigration for six months, caused an international incident which rumbled on from the Spring of 1914, and which later picked up revolutionary overtones.   A certain Gurdit Singh, a wealthy Sikh trader of Singapore, who was in the business of taking immigrants to America, set out to test or challenge the Canadian ruling. He set up the Guru Nainak Navigation Company in Hong Kong and chartered a Japanese ship, the Komagata Maru. The Hong Kong Government failed to prevent her sailing from Hong Kong in April 1914, a time when Dyer was still in Hong Kong. She took some Hong Kong-based Sikhs with her, and went on to pick up other Sikh passengers in Shanghai, Kobe and Yokohama, before heading for Vancouver.  The ship arrived in Vancouver on 23 May 1914 with 376 passengers, overwhelmingly Sikh. She was moored by the port authorities in the roads rather than in the port itself due to fear of the passengers escaping. In a statement made to the press on their arrival, Gurdit Singh seemed to threaten trouble in India if the party was not admitted to Canada, but the Canadian Government refused to accept all but a few of the immigrants.  A stand off lasting two months ensued, with the Canadian port authorities and police attempting at one point to board but being driven off by the passengers, who pelted them with everything to hand. The Canadian Government was forced to bring a mothballed cruiser back into service and ordered the Komagata Maru back to sea.  She headed back across the Pacific to Yokohama, but heard there that she was not to be allowed to return to Shanghai, Hong Kong or Singapore, so was forced to proceed with her passengers from those places to Calcutta, where the Indian Government was waiting for them.  By then, evidence of revolutionary tendencies were emerging. Onboard, anti-British lectures were given and Ghadr literature circulated.  It seems that some pistols and ammunition were loaded at Yokohama.  The ship docked at Baj Baj in the Hooghly on 27 September 1914 and was immediately boarded and searched by the waiting authorities.  The weapons had been concealed and were not found, and when the passengers were ordered off to be entrained to the Punjab, a melee ensued on the gangway. Pistol shots killed several Sikh policemen and wounded some British officers.  In the return fire, 18 passengers were killed and 25 wounded. Gurdit Singh and a party of 30 escaped. The rest were interned.


   Back in America, Har Dayal had fled to Germany, having been charged by the American Government with being an anarchist. In Berlin, he formed an ‘Indian Independence Committee’ under German Foreign Ministry guidance.  His successor in California was a man named Ram Chandra who was to be killed three years later in a shoot out in an American court room.  The Ghadr movement was galvanized by the Komagata Maru incident and began openly to call for volunteers to return to India to take up arms against the British.  At the outbreak of war, Ram Chandra sent envoys to Indian communities in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Swatow, Canton, Bangkok and Rangoon, using temples, in the Sikh faith gurdwaras, as focal points.  Ram Chandra also organised, with the help of Franz von Papen, the German Consul in San Francisco, the first group of revolutionaries to return. These left California onboard the Korea in August 1914 and sailed for China.  Calling at Canton, they picked up ninety local Ghadr members, presumably many of them from Hong Kong, then went on to Calcutta.  There, police had long before been tipped off about the movements of the ship, and boarded her and arrested the party and their leader, Jwala Singh, a rich Sikh who had financed much of the Ghadr activities in California.  Over the next year, the Korea was to be followed by others, some of which managed to land their passengers in India. It is estimated that in the year following October 1914, between 6,000 and 8,000 Sikhs poured into the Punjab in this way.


   The Ghadr planned to start a rising in the Punjab on 15 November 1914 and aimed to set up a ‘Free State of Kashmir’ using 8,080 rifles, 2,400 carbines, 400 repeating rifles and 500 revolvers purchased with German funds and smuggled by sea on the SS Maverick.  Another $5m worth of arms was to be brought in from a rebel group in southern China, the Ho Kuo Chuen, the National Protection Party.  In the event neither consignment of arms was to arrive, but their non-arrival delayed the outbreak of the revolt till February 1915.  Revolutionary outrages started, though, with an attack on a Government treasury at Moga in the Punjab on 27 November 1914.  Forty-five outrages occurred by February 1915.


   The Ghadr planned to start risings outside India to coincide with the main revolt in the Punjab. To this end they began to work to cause disaffection amongst Sikh and Muslim troops in stations outside India, particularly in the East, where Sikhs formed an important element in British military and police forces.  Ghadr agents infiltrated unit lines and local gurdwaras in Hong Kong (and this is what Dyer picked up and passed on to his General Officer Commanding), Singapore, Penang and Rangoon.  In Hong Kong, Dyer’s battalion’s sister unit, the 26th Punjabis, like Dyer’s, a largely Sikh unit, was contacted and for a time gave the revolutionaries cause to believe that it would revolt. In the event it remained loyal, though when it was back in the Punjab the following year, it gave the authorities much cause for concern, and Ghadr agents were reported as having contacted it again seeking its participation in the military mutiny they planned for 21 February 1915. That the danger to the British involved in this conspiracy was serious is shown by the chaos unleashed in Singapore when another unit which the Ghadr had succeeded in disaffecting, the largely Muslim 5th Light Infantry, mutinied on 15 February 1915. They attacked their own officers and killed the Commandant and 13 members of the Singapore Volunteers Corps, which had been mobilised to deal with the outbreak.  Men of the 5th Light Infantry killed all the Europeans they encountered, a total of 32. The mutineers were joined by eleven Sikhs of the Malay States Guides Battery. The Government declared martial law and only with difficulty managed to get together ad hoc forces including sailors to round up the 420 mutineers, killing 46 of them in the process. 202 soldiers were subsequently tried, and 37 were shot.  There were simultaneous mutinies, less serious, amongst the Malay States Guides in Penang and 130th Baluch in Rangoon.    The Ghadr conspiracy in the Punjab was not squashed until August 1915, and German plots against British positions in the East, for instance involving German officers in Yunnan linking with Ghadr revolutionaries in Burma, and a joint German-Ghadr attack planned on the Andaman Islands, went on until May 1915.


   So, as he left Hong Kong, Dyer had been touched directly by the growing threat of German-assisted Indian revolutionary movements, a threat he was to spend the next two years combatting in the Punjab and in Persia. Quite how much he would have been aware of the detail of the Ghadr conspiracy it is difficult to say. Undoubtedly, though, it was the subject of discussion at the General Officer Commanding’s conferences; General Kelly himself stated that he had warned his Commanding Officers. It is indeed very likely that it was Dyer who had picked up the information in the gurdwara that led to Kelly’s report. His was the other of only two Indian battalions in the garrison, and the other, the 26th, was the one disaffected. Dyer’s links with his men, and his development of intelligence from them, were extraordinary. At the least, we can safely say that he would have been aware of the outline of the Ghadr threat.


   Whilst it is unlikely that Dyer had, during his two years in Hong Kong, taken much notice of the detail of Chinese politics, he would, in his position as Commanding Officer of a Hong Kong battalion, have been made regularly aware of the general political situation across the border and the implications which it had for Hong Kong’s security. From all we know of Dyer, he would have noted the difference in the security and prosperity on both sides of the Frontier, and would have remarked the chaos into which a country racked by revolution could descend. There could have been little in his time in Hong Kong that did not serve to reinforce his beliefs in the merits of British imperial government and the danger which the anarchy of revolution posed to the lives and livelihoods of its subjects.


   It was these fears which led him, I believe, to act as he did in Amritsar some four and a half years later. In a very real sense, it can be said that Hong Kong played a part in forming the motivation for the man who was to unleash the tragedy that that was to be enacted at the Jallianwala Bagh.




Government Records


British Government, in the Public Record Office, Kew, War Office, WO/32/5345, Hong Kong. Report on the Operations from the Outbreak of War to the End of 1914.


Report by F.H. Kelly, CB, Major General, Commanding H.B.M.’s Troops in China, 3rd February 1915, to Secretary, War Office.  Transmitted by the Governor H.E. Sir F.H. May KCMG, 15 January 1915, to Lord Kitchener.


Government of India, in the National Archives of India, Delhi, Foreign and Political Department, External B, March 1912, nos 690-93: Despatch of Indian troops to Hong Kong.


External B, October 1912, no.118: Expedition from the Hong Kong Garrison against a gang of pirates in the vicinity of Macao.




Brown, Emily C., Har Dayal: Hindu Revolutionary and Rationalist (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1975), pp. 194-98.


Chan  Lau Kit-ching, Anglo-Chinese Diplomacy, 1906-1920, in the Careers of Sir John Jordan and Yuan Shih-kai (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1978), pp. 21, 116 n. 59.


Colvin, Ian, The Life of General Dyer (London: Blackwood, 1929; second edn, London: Blackwood, 1931), pp. 55-9.


Corr, Gerard H., The War of the Springing Tigers (London: Osprey, 1975), pp. 1-50. 


Fenby, Jonathan, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the China He Lost (London: The Free Press, 2003), pp. 30-7.


Landau, Captain Henry, The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America  (London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1937), pp.28-9.


Menezes, Lt Gen SL, Fidelity and Honour: The Indian Army from the Seventeenth to the Twenty-first Century (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 265-71.


O’Dwyer, Sir Michael, India as I Knew It, 1885-1925 (London, Constable & Company, 1926), pp. 192-207.


Sayer, Geoffrey Robley, Hong Kong, 1862-1919 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1975), pp. 112-14.


Shearer, J.E., A History of the 1st Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment, 1857-1937 (Aldershot: Gale and Polden, 1937), pp. 41, 93.


Sheridan, James, China in Disintegration (New York: The Free Press, 1977), pp. 40-56.


Welsh Frank, A History of Hong Kong (London: Harper Collins, 1997), pp. 352-60.




Hong Kong Daily Press, 24 January, 8 February, 23 March, 3 April 1912; 1, 7, 13, 21 and

24 May, 5 and 27 June, 1 and 4 July, 1 and 22 August, 23 December 1912; 18 and 19 August 1914.


Hong Kong Telegraph, 7 and 14 January, 17 and 24 April, 19, 27 and 30 May, 3 June, 25 July, 1, 8, 18 and 28 August, 9, 12 and 19 September, 29 October 1913.



The Politicising of the History of the Amritsar Massacre


By Nigel Collett


A Review of Nick Lloyd's Amritsar: The Untold Story - The Asian Review of Books, 17 July 2012


The abuses by occupying forces that have come to light over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan can be interpreted as the unpredictable mistakes of misguided individuals. In one light, of course, this is true, for individual responsibility has to be invoked to differentiate between the vast majority who keep the rules and the few who break them. In another light, though, it is irrefutable that such abuses would not have occurred had there been no involvement of outside powers. This may seem simplistic, an echo, even, of the unchanging Chinese argument against interference in sovereignty, but it is as well to remind politicians who are advocating such interference that abuses are inevitable.


   The Amritsar massacre of 1919, perpetrated by British forces in India, became one of the seminal events of modern Indian history and, as it teaches this lesson clearly, it is therefore more relevant to contemporary considerations than it might at first appear. Both those who would evade recognition of the inevitable dark side of foreign intervention, and those who would emphasise it, have interpreted this massacre to suit their own views, so there is a very large range of published opinions about culpability for the massacre and its significance.


   The emergence of Nick Lloyd’s The Amritsar Massacre: The Untold Story of a Fateful Day[i] makes a review of the vast literature on the subject, as well of the political uses and abuses to which its history has been put, timely. The historiography of the massacre is a perfect example of how history is often shaped to a political end and Lloyd’s new book is an illustration of how that is done.


   Firstly, though, I should explain what the Amritsar massacre was and why it has such historical significance.  In 1919, the year after the 1st World War ended, a wave of civil unrest broke out in British India, mostly in the northern province of the Punjab, which gave its name to what became known as the “Punjab Disturbances”. Riots in several major cities and some smaller towns caused many deaths and the destruction of a good deal of property. There was no coordinated revolt, though at the time the British feared there was.  India at the time was suffering from a multitude of old grievances and new discontents and Gandhi’s first national campaign set them alight.  Gandhi was fighting two new pieces of security legislation (the Rowlatt Bills) by which the British Government of India planned to extend the emergency powers of arrest, trial and internment that had been in force during the War. The bills seemed to many educated Indians to be both draconian and an insult to India’s aspirations for self-government within the Empire. Gandhi intended a campaign of peaceful non-cooperation, but this soon turned into violence. Amritsar, one of the principal cities of the Punjab and the site of the Sikh’s Golden Temple, was one of the places most badly affected.


   In rioting there on 10 April, some five Europeans and many more Indians lost their lives. Three days later, the area military commander, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, personally commanded a military force that opened fire without warning on a peaceful crowd of some 20,000 or more people gathered in an enclosed public space (the Jallianwala Bagh[ii]) from which easy escape was impossible. For between 10 and 15 minutes Dyer ordered his troops to continue to fire into the crowd, which contained unarmed men, women and children, all of whom attempted to flee but many of whom became trapped in the confined space of the Bagh. The dead and wounded piled up around the few narrow exits and the lowest places on the surrounding walls. When Dyer finally ordered a ceasefire, he made no attempt to count or succour the casualties. After he marched away, the curfew he had imposed on the city prevented aid being given those lying in the Bagh until the next day. No one knows how many he killed or wounded as neither he nor the Punjab Government made any attempt at the time to make a count. Estimates of the dead run to over 500 and, of the wounded, to many thousands. In the days following the massacre, with martial law imposed on the city, Dyer closed a street where a female British missionary had been assaulted by a mob and left for dead, ordering that any Indian wishing to traverse it must crawl down it on their stomachs. This was regarded by most Indians as a racial insult and became notorious as ‘the crawling order’; Gandhi called it more shameful to India than the shooting.


   Dyer made a series of three conflicting sets of statements about his motives and actions, which have been the subject of historical debate ever since. At first, immediately after he carried out the massacre, he made a series of partial explanations to those with whom he spoke, all giving slightly different reasons for his actions, but all with the common aim of exonerating him from any blame. One claim he made at this time, one taken up by the Punjab authorities, was that he had been forced to fire to prevent his small force being overwhelmed in a confined space.


   Later, after he had received approval for his actions from all his superiors in India, both civil and military, Dyer allowed a second set of explanations to emerge, making plain that his actions in firing without warning and for so long had not been caused by any fear for his force. They had, he now stated, been a deliberate attempt to punish people he believed were rebels and to make an example for the rest of the Punjab that would stop what he regarded as a rebellion. In his written report submitted to the Hunter Commission (which was appointed by the British Government to investigate the Punjab Disturbances), and in his verbal evidence before it, he maintained this line, and would continue to do so until he died in 1927.


   Finally, on his return to England in disgrace in 1920, Dyer’s lawyers drafted a statement for Parliament, repeating that his actions had been deliberate but justifying them on his belief that he was facing an insurrection and that, on those grounds, any amount of firing was permissible. This third interpretation did not, though, alter his claim that what he had done had been premeditated and deliberate.


   In the aftermath of the massacre, many British in India and at home claimed that Dyer’s actions saved India from revolution. When the Hunter Commission reported in 1920, it rejected this entirely and censured Dyer and many others in the military and civilian administration of the Punjab. It found no hidden ‘antecedent conspiracy’ or insurrection, no plot to bring down the British Government in India. However, its members split on national lines over the issue of how to classify the disturbances. British members, the majority, called them ‘an open rebellion’.[iii] Indian members, the minority, found that ‘there was no rebellion in the sense we have mentioned nor any organisation for that purpose’.[iv] This disagreement was by far from merely a quibble for the word ‘rebellion’ was used my many to justify what had happened, including subsequently Dyer’s lawyers.


   The British authorities in India concurred with the censure of Dyer. He lost his post and was sent to England, where he was publicly censured by the Government. The issue was debated in the House of Commons, where Winston Churchill, who believed Dyer a murderer, made a stirring and persuasive speech decrying Dyer’s acts as un-British ‘frightfulness’, the word used most recently for German atrocities in the 1st World War. Dyer, though, was protected by the Army and suffered no form of disciplinary proceeding. He was allowed to retire. His actions were supported by the House of Lords, by much of the press and by many on the right wing. Members of the Diehards, right wing figures seeking to retain British control of India, continued to maintain that there had been a conspiracy to overthrow the Raj, that Dyer had saved India and that he and the others censured with him had been betrayed by the Government to pander to Indian rebels.


   To many Indians, on the other hand, Dyer was a murderer who escaped punishment and the handling of his case indicated racial prejudice and the falseness of British declarations of intent to grant India increasing self-rule. The massacre and the martial law that followed the disturbances of 1919 turned hitherto loyal reformers like Gandhi and the Nehrus into outright opponents of everything British. By 1920, the British had managed to alienate almost the entire Indian middle class and had created the support for the Indian National Congress that was, some twenty-seven years later, to end the Raj.


*     *     *


The earliest writing about the massacre was, as one might expect, political in motive and published in India. First to appear was Kapil Deva Malaviya’s Open Rebellion in the Punjab, which was rushed out within five months of the disturbances in September 1919.[v] Malaviya was a government servant working in Amritsar and his book is edited versions of his letters from there. His is neither a full nor a judicious account, but it is one that has the advantage of its immediacy. He went to see the Jallianwala Bagh, counting 167 bullet holes he could see in its walls and describing it more vividly than anyone since. Malaviya was not at that stage aware of any explanation for the massacre given by Dyer, but his conclusion that the massacre was a ‘cold-blooded disregard at the sanctity of human life amounting to butchery’ was an opinion from which almost no Indian has deviated since.[vi]


   The following year, but before the publication of the report of the Hunter Commission, B.G. Horniman published Amritsar and Our Duty to India.[vii] Horniman had been editor of the Bombay Chronicle and had been deported from India for the critical attacks his paper had made on the policies adopted during the disturbances. He was a supporter of Gandhi so his book is also not a balanced account. He, too, was unaware then of any explanation given by Dyer, but his work includes useful analyses of the Rowlatt bills and of Gandhi’s satygraha [soul force] opposition to them. His description of this opposition makes it clear that there was no organised rebellion. The following will give the flavour of his polemic, one that nevertheless puts succinctly the major accusations against Dyer made at the time:


It is impossible to believe that the people of England could ever be persuaded that a British General was justified in, or could be excused for, marching up to a great crowd of unarmed and wholly defenceless people and, without a word of warning or order to disperse, shooting them down until his ammunition was exhausted and then leaving them without medical aid.[viii]


   Pandit Pearay Mohan’s The Punjab ‘Rebellion’ of 1919 and How It Was Suppressed appeared in the same year.[ix] Mohan was a young lawyer who, until he conducted research for his book, had been a ‘liberal-moderate’. Despite the anger evident in his book, it succeeds in being a comprehensive account of most of the events of the disturbances accompanied with a mass of supporting statistics. His account suggested that the Amritsar police informer, Hans Raj, had been used to set up the meeting in the Bagh to lure a crowd there in order for it to be fired upon. The evidence for this was only circumstantial and contradicts all that is known of the events, but Mohan’s suggestion began a fashion for conspiracy theory that has continued to this day.  Mohan was the first to write after Dyer’s appearance at the Hunter Commission and so became the first writer to focus on Dyer’s admission of responsibility there, unaware seemingly of the explanations Dyer had also given immediately after the massacre. In his view, Dyer was motivated by revenge:


Ever since General Dyer arrived at Amritsar, he was preparing his forces for the great hour of vengeance […] The massacre […] was the outcome of a deliberate desire to teach the inhabitants of Amritsar a terrible lesson for having killed Europeans.[x]


   The publication which most turned Indian public opinion against the British after the massacre was the report of The Congress Punjab Inquiry 1919-1920.[xi] This was authored by a team of five Congress lawyers led by Gandhi, who conducted extensive interviews of victims of the disorders who had not been interviewed by the Hunter Commission. Their extremely harrowing testimony was translated and published in Volume 2 of the report. Included in their report was testimony heard before Lord Justice Hunter, and on that basis, they condemned Dyer from his own mouth, writing that: “The meeting of the 13th furnished a ready chance and General Dyer seized it.”[xii] As had Pandit Mohan, the Congress Commission reported on events across the Punjab and like him they ignored Dyer’s earliest explanations for his actions.  It is noteworthy that, whilst writing this report, Gandhi specifically rejected inclusion of any conspiracy theory as a cause for the shooting in the Bagh.


   Early English writing about the massacre was from the pens of the Diehards. First among these was Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab in 1919, who was blamed by many in India for at least some of the ills that affected his province and who had certainly lit the fuse that led to the violence by ordering the arrests of Gandhi and his chief supporters. O’Dwyer maintained until he died that there had been a rebellion, that Dyer had acted rightly in Amritsar and that his actions had saved the province. He was in print in 1925 with his version of events, India as I Knew It, 1885-1925.[xiii] This was a highly partisan account of self-justification. O’Dwyer relies solely on Dyer’s initial justifications for his actions and discounts the explanations he made subsequently. His view was that:


In giving his evidence before the Hunter Committee in November, Dyer, a blunt, honest soldier, under stress of a hostile cross-examination, appeared as having made statements which he, like many other witnesses, was given no opportunity of correcting and which, when he saw in print, he did not recognise as his own.[xiv]


Here is the first appearance of the Dyer myth, that of the simple soldier who did his duty and saved the Raj.


   Four years later, this was a line brought to perfection by Ian Colvin in his Life of General Dyer.[xv] Colvin was a professional writer, one of the Diehards’ principal polemicists and a leader writer for the right wing London newspaper, the Morning Post. His life of Dyer was a justification for his actions in Amritsar, and one quote from his book will suffice to give its tone:


General Dyer was a humane man. I will go a step farther and say that his motive, even as he expressed it, was a motive of humanity.[xvi]


Colvin followed O’Dwyer’s line exactly, that based upon Dyer’s early explanation that he had fired to protect his soldiers. He ignores or explains away Dyer’s subsequent changes to that position, and Dyer, the man of “a horrible, dirty duty”, the bluff, unsophisticated but honest saviour of British India, was the hero he very successfully created in his book.


   General Sir George Barrow also wrote at this time from a position of partiality but from the other side of the fence. He had been the sole military member of the Hunter Commission and had heard Dyer’s testimony. He was also a man who idolized the officer who subsequently removed Dyer from his post, the Commander-in-Chief India, General Sir Charles Carmichael Monro. Barrow was dismayed at the criticism made of Monro’s dismissal of Dyer and in 1931 wrote a life of his hero in part to exonerate him from the Diehards’ attacks.[xvii] In this biography, Barrow was the first to carefully dissect all Dyer’s actions, his initial explanations for them and his statements before the Hunter Commission, and he damns him. Barrow focused on Dyer’s changes of tune:


If we are to accept the view that, as he told General Beynon, he killed so many because his force was in danger of being rushed and of a portion of the crowd getting behind him, all one can say is that in the excitement of the moment he became unduly alarmed and failed to appreciate the situation correctly. But, since he did not put this view before the Hunter Committee or in his report of August 25th, 1919, we are bound to accept the other reason, viz. that he fired with the object of making an impression. These apprehensions regarding the safety of his force appear to have been an afterthought.[xviii]


   Barrow’s conclusions, though, did not muster much support in the decades that followed, and there the matter rested, with the Dyer legend almost intact in England and the belief in his criminality firm in India, until the Raj had passed into history and had become, by the Sixties, a phenomenon to be explained and excused rather than of which to be proud. In 1963 appeared the first of what was to be a series of books by non-academic writers seeking to bring the tale to the attention of a generation that had heard of neither Dyer nor Amritsar. Rupert Furneaux’s Massacre at Amritsar began a reassessment.[xix] Furneaux was a competent writer of popular history who reviewed all the evidence known to him from the (largely English) sources he consulted, and took note of all three stages of Dyer’s explanations. He could not bring himself to justify what Dyer had done, but he found it difficult to condemn him either, and so suggested the theory that Dyer’s behaviour was caused by illness. The fact that Dyer, he suggested, made


a mistake, and committed such a terrible error, is supported by evidence that suggests that he was a man of poor judgment, which may have been impaired by the onset of the disease that struck him down finally. Arterio sclerosis has a retrograde effect, and it may have been creeping up on him in 1919. If that was so, his judgment, at times of extreme mental stress, may have been so impaired as to diminish his responsibility.[xx]


The problem with this theory, alas, was that there was nothing to support it. Dyer did suffer later from arterio-sclerosis, but there is no evidence that it had affected his behaviour in 1919.


   In 1965, Arthur Swinson, a writer both more popular and prolific than Furneaux, came to Dyer’s defence in his Six Minutes to Sunset: The Story of General Dyer and the Amritsar Affair.[xxi] Swinson had served in the East as a British Army officer in the 2nd World War. Unlike Richard Attenborough, for whom he worked at the BBC, he had a conservative bent, which he displayed in his biographies, which included lives of Brigadier Orde Wingate and Lord Louis Mountbatten. In Six Minutes to Sunset he set out to justify Dyer and, like O’Dwyer and Colvin before him, based his interpretation of events solely upon Dyer’s early claim that he had feared being overwhelmed.


Anyone who has faced an eastern mob will know just what Dyer meant. By sheer weight of numbers, the crowd, had it so chosen, could have surged at him, broken his ranks, turned his flank and engulfed him.[xxii]


With O’Dwyer, Swinson alleged that Dyer had saved the Punjab and had then been sacrificed by the politicians and senior Army officers to save their own skins. Dyer had been, he said:


Condemned because his motives (or at least as they were later formulated) were wrong. [But he] should be judged by what he did, not by what he said […] The Army […] submitted to political pressure and betrayed him.[xxiii]


Clearly, like the Diehards before him, Swinson did not consider that the action of killing hundreds of Indian civilians in cold blood was itself a matter that needed condemnation.


   The Indian historian V. N. Datta was the first professional historian to address the subject in his Jallianwala Bagh of 1969.[xxiv] Datta was to establish a position as the pre-eminent historian of the massacre, and from his first book onwards he was clear and consistent in his view that both Dyer and the system that he was part of were jointly responsible for it. His interpretation, like Pearay Mohan’s before him, of Dyer’s motivation was that he was driven by a desire for revenge.[xxv] Also following Pearay Mohan, he also believed that Dyer had planned the massacre beforehand, using the police informant Hans Raj to set up the meeting in the Jallianawala Bagh.[xxvi] There is, though, as with Raja Ram’s later theory of a wider conspiracy, no evidence to support this.[xxvii]


   Datta’s cool analyses were followed in 1969 by the more lurid conspiracy theories of historian Raja Ram, whose The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: A Premeditated Plan made the unsubstantiated claim that the Amritsar massacre had been planned by Sir Michael O’Dwyer and that Dyer was but his obedient agent and chosen scapegoat.[xxviii] He writes:


The real cause [was], namely, the pursuance of the policy of Imperialism followed by the Britishers in India […] General Dyer performed his duty with thoroughness, according to the direction given by his superiors.[xxix]


   Both Datta’s and Ram’s conclusion that at its root the massacre was the fault of the system was elaborated by the American academic Helen Fein in 1977. In her theoretical review of the case, Imperial Crime and Punishment: The Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh and British Judgment, 1919-1920 [xxx] she blamed the system rather than its agents. She was sure (a thesis much in tune with the post-colonialism of the time) that:


Dyer reacted at Jallianwala Bagh to express the rage of his class.[xxxi]


These interpretations echoed that of another American academic, Stanley Wolpert, who in 1970 turned novelist to dramatise events in his Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh.[xxxii] Wolpert, a renowned scholar of India, he gave full rein in his novel to the anti-British and anti-imperialist reactions in his gut. His Dyer is a pantomime villain, a caricature of the bigoted imperialist. Here he puts thoughts into Dyer’s mind as he makes his way to the Bagh:


Life meant nothing to Orientals, it was cheap, meaningless as the dirt of this disgusting ‘garden’, a filthy field filled with rebellious natives. He’d made up his mind, during the drive over here, to open fire without further warning. He’d given them all the notice any of them could ask for. Much more, in fact, than they deserved. He’d been patient as Job with these vermin. They were a pestilence, a blight defacing God’s earth. They had to be crushed, ground under heel of boot into oblivion. Exterminated.[xxxiii]


   Greater common sense was shown by another popular writer, Alfred Draper. Like Swinson, he had served in the 2nd World War, but his time as a Sub -Lieutenant in the RNVR had contributed to his very different outlook. After the war he became a journalist and a prolific writer of popular history. In 1981, in his The Amritsar Massacre: Twilight of the Raj, he turned his attention to Dyer.[xxxiv] Draper took account of all of Dyer’s three sets of explanations for his deeds and he had no doubt of Dyer’s guilt. He was sure of the premeditated nature of his massacre in the Bagh and his book is an exposé of Dyer as a man who had calmly planned to kill. Dyer had, Draper said: ‘acted with incredible callousness’.[xxxv]


   Draper was the first popular English writer to write critically of Dyer.   Writers in India continued to do so.  Prolific historian of the freedom struggle S.R. Bakshi’s Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy of 1982 was typical of these, as it was of the vituperative style that Indian historians had developed since Datta’s calmer era. [xxxvi] The massacre was, he wrote:


 Unwarranted prejudice of highest degree […] It was a heinous crime, nay immoral as well as illegal.[xxxvii]


In 1989, ex-Royal Air Force serviceman and military writer Roger Perkins published The Amritsar Legacy: Golden Temple to Caxton Hall, the Story of a Killing, a lively account that assessed all the old evidence and uncovered some new.[xxxviii] To Perkins’s mind, Dyer’s guilt, based on the evidence of his own words, was clear:


Dyer concluded that the time had come for a showdown. Without consulting [he] took it upon himself to use rifle fire against an unarmed civilian assembly. As he later freely admitted, he decided that he must: ‘punish the naughty boys…teach them a lesson…make a widespread impression.’ This decision was reached early in the afternoon, while he was still at the Ram Bagh [Dyer’s base] and before he or any of his officers had seen for themselves what was happening at the Jallianwala Bagh.[xxxix]


Subsequent writing added little of substance to the debate. In 1998, Savita Narain reviewed writing on the massacre in her The Historiography of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, a bibliographical account.[xl] Her opinions harked back to Datta and Fein and her style echoed Bakshi’s:


The massacre was an example of the most cruel and discriminatory aspects of British rule.[xli]


Documents relevant to the events in Amritsar appeared in the London Stationery Office list in 2002; Tim Coates’s The Amritsar Massacre: General Dyer in the Punjab 1919 presented an edited set of extracts from the record, but did not add to the debate.[xlii]


   At the turn of the 21st Century, there was, it seemed, little more to say about culpability for the massacre. Earlier divisions of opinion had largely submerged since Draper’s book of 1981, with writers in England tending towards a view of Dyer’s personal responsibility and those in India blaming both him and the Raj he represented. The final major question remaining to be answered appeared to be what exactly Dyer’s motivations had been, and this I set out to answer by looking at his whole life in my biography of Dyer, The Butcher of Amritsar, published in 2005.[xliii] My analysis established chronologically that the massacre had not stopped violence in the Punjab but had stimulated it to spread widely. I clarified the sequence of the three sets of explanations that Dyer had given. I postulated that he had acted (as he himself had said in his written report) out of “a greater fear”, not of being rushed by any crowd in the Bagh, but of the loss of his whole way of life that he thought would result from the ‘rebellion’ he believed was all around him.


*     *     *


The debate about the Amritsar massacre was, though, far from settled and a reaction to the generally accepted positions ensued. The first to enter the field was Andrew Roberts. In 2006, he published A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900, continuing the story that Winston Churchill had left off in 1914, but, unlike Churchill, whose mantle he was assuming, Roberts maintained that Dyer’s actions had saved the Punjab and stopped the violence there.[xliv] His book became immediately popular on the right, James Delingpole, for instance, congratulating him “for tearing apart the apologetic, self-loathing theories of liberal English historians”. Others thought differently: Tim Gardam of the Guardian, for instance, neatly skewering the book as “1066 and All That, without the jokes”.


   Roberts’s book was too general an account to have much effect on the Amritsar discourse, but the next book to appear, in 2011, Nick Lloyd’s implausibly named The Amritsar Massacre: The Untold Story of One Fateful Day, was a more direct effort at revision, in effect resurrecting the case the Diehards had made some ninety years before. Lloyd is an academic of King’s College London and the author of a book on the Battle of Loos.


   Lloyd set out to place the Amritsar massacre in the context of wider events across the Punjab, a useful approach that had not been attempted since the early writing in India, but his book remains focused on Amritsar and on the culpability, or lack of it as Lloyd would see it, for the massacre. He gives us fair warning in his preface that he is out to make a case:


The conclusions of The Amritsar Massacre; The Untold Story of One Fateful Day may surprise some readers, particularly its reappraisal of Dyer’s motives, and its defence of Sir Michael O’Dwyer [...] It does present a more balanced view of the British response to the violence of 1919 than has been commonly accepted, and argues that to vilify the officials who were tasked with restoring order during such difficult times as nothing more than vindictive and brutal imperial oppressors is to misunderstand their motives and perpetuate an historical injustice.[xlv]


Lloyd makes this case by a selective use of evidence. Denis Judd, the hugely reputable historian of the Empire, has been much criticized for his comment, reproduced on its cover, that Lloyd’s book is “A brilliant piece of almost forensic history”, but he is closer to the truth in his use of the word ‘forensic’ than any idea of dispassionate scientific inquiry might cause one to imagine. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘forensic’ as: “A speech or written thesis setting out one side of a question”; Judd’s is thus an exactly apt description of this book.


   Lloyd’s was in many ways a strange work to come from the pen of the only professional English historian to have written a book dedicated to this subject. It is an unusual fusion of the academic and the popular.  For example, Lloyd fictionalizes his tale in places, perhaps to arouse our sympathy:


Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer confidently made his way up the steps and into the foyer of the railway station. Dyer, known as ‘Rex’ to his friends, was tired and stiff from the journey but tried not to show it.[xlvi]


Well, perhaps he did, but we have no way of knowing it.


   Lloyd adopts a political rather than a historical method of setting up windmills at which to tilt, attacking the most extreme or peripheral viewpoints as if they were the standard views of reputable historians. His Introduction has a whole list of these[xlvii]. Here is an example of his technique:


From reading many accounts of this period, one could believe that the British responded to the growing calls for power-sharing and more representative government with only repression and ‘imperial terrorism’.[xlviii]


He should, perhaps, have read better accounts.


   Lloyd is a historian not yet entirely at home in India. His use and translations of key Indian words in the text is erratic.  His glossary has serious holes, for instance in his definitions of:


Baluchi – ‘nomadic people from southern Afghanistan’. He means the Baluch from the region of Baluchistan, which then lay in Persia, Afghanistan and British India. ‘Baluchi’ is their language.  The Baluch are not nomadic.

Danda fauj – ‘rebel army’ is an army armed with clubs, the ‘club army’.

Sahib – ‘title given to Europeans’ is the general Indian honorific given to people

to whom respect is owed.[xlix]


The text contains similar solecisms. Somewhat uniquely, he describes Bengal as “a vast expanse of scattered habitation and jungle, home to poisonous snakes and tigers,” omitting to mention that it was the home of much of India’s commerce, a province full of cities and towns and the seat of a deep culture that had produced among many others the internationally renowned sage, Rabindranath Tagore, who was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913.[l]


   More seriously, Lloyd scarcely acknowledges the intellectual currents that dominated the British debates on India from the 19th to the 20th Centuries nor the long-standing Liberal views on the need to slowly bring India towards self-governance. To Lloyd, the reforms of Indian governance introduced by Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, were just a reaction to unrest.[li] This leads him classify as appeasers those who believed that British principles meant that India had to be nurtured towards self-rule:


The decision to treat the Home Rule movement not as ‘seditious’ or ‘revolutionary’ and only to act when those advocating it actually broke existing laws marked an important change in British policy … Indian politicians, of whatever stamp, would now be appeased as much as possible.[lii]


   Lloyd omits to quote from important sources which contain the views and rulings of the British authorities which considered the case.  One cannot help feeling that Lloyd does this as these sources invalidate his line that all criticism of Dyer and the Punjab administration derives from the political propaganda of the Indian National Congress.  An examination of the records of advice provided the Viceroy by his key officials would have shown that they were almost unanimous in recoiling from what Dyer had done and in recommending his dismissal. A reading of the records in the Cabinet Conclusions (minutes), Memoranda and Papers series would have shown that the British cabinet committee that examined the issue was similarly appalled by Dyer’s actions and sought to have him punished. The rulings of both the British Governments at home and in India that censured Dyer were published in parliamentary papers that Lloyd does not cite.[liii] The papers of the British Minister responsible, Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, make it quite clear that he, that ardent imperialist, believed that Dyer had behaved in a way unbefitting a British officer and was guilty of murder. These officials were not moved by any Indian nationalist propaganda. Lloyd passes over them in silence.


   Instead, Lloyd treats us to the Diehard case down to its silliest innuendo. He repeats, for instance, the gossip picked up by Dyer’s niece that the death of her fiancé, Dyer’s Brigade Major, Captain Briggs, had been caused by ground glass, presumably administered to him by nationalists, rather than by the peritonitis of which he in fact died:


Briggs died on the operating table three days after Dyer had appeared before the Hunter Committee […] Whether or not this was the case is impossible to say, but his sudden and untimely death is strange given that he had previously been in good health and was only 29 years of age.[liv]


So the omission of much of the official British view allows Lloyd both to continue to tilt at his windmill of Indian nationalist propaganda and to exonerate almost all the figures censured by the Government for their roles in the Punjab, chief among them O’Dwyer. His book has the tone of an apologetic throughout.  A few examples will suffice as illustration:


His [O’Dwyer’s] call for the suspension of recruitment in 1918 (which unfortunately could not be heeded) reflects well upon him; a call, incidentally, which is never mentioned in nationalist accounts.[lv]


Lloyd omits to mention the abuses of Army recruiting that occurred on O’Dwyer’s watch in the Punjab, abuses which included press ganging, the use of threats and force accompanied by blackmail, and which at times resulted in violence and murder. Again:


Although some historians continue to view these arrests [of the leaders of the political movement in Amritsar, Kitchlew and Satyapal] with indignation and scorn, they were not necessarily unjustified.[lvi]


These arrests were the immediate cause of the civil disturbances in the Punjab.  They were of political leaders who were guilty of no crime and were the immediate cause of the violence in Amritsar, a city that had hitherto been peaceful. Concerning the loss of control by the civil authorities in Amritsar before Dyer’s arrival there, Lloyd writes:


It was this, so the story goes, that allowed Dyer to take such drastic action in the Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April.[lvii]


As ‘the story’ really went, after the disturbances, the Government of India ended the career of Commissioner Kitchin for his failure to maintain control in Amritsar and to hand the city over properly to the military. Discussing the failure of the Amritsar police to prevent murder and destruction of property occurring only metres from where they were holed up inactive in their police station (kotwal), Lloyd says:


In many ways criticism of the handling of the police reserve at the Kotwal is unfair.[lviii]


Neither the Police nor the Government of India, both of which censured the police officers in charge, thought the criticism was unfair. Here is Lloyd again on Deputy Commissioner Miles Irving, the civilian supposedly in charge of Amritsar, who, when Dyer began to make it plain that he intended to march to the Jallianwala Bagh, absented himself and hid in the fort.


Irving […] was not someone who would panic in a crisis or advocate harsh repression.[lix]


The Government of India was forced to regret that Irving had found it necessary to absent himself from the operation at the Bagh. Some, myself among them, would consider that Irving’s behaviour then and throughout the disturbances exhibited signs of recurrent funk.


   Blame for the disturbances, in Lloyd’s version, lies outside India. All, it seems, was the fault of Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, whose introduction of political reforms started a process that unravelled the Raj.[lx] Poor Montagu, in this account, then destroyed remaining British prestige and brought about the end of the Empire by allowing the Hunter Commission to reveal what the British had done in the Punjab:


Had Montagu listened to those in the Government of India who had cautioned him against taking such a dangerous step, he would not have been in such a parlous position. There undoubtedly would have been an outcry against the Jallianwala Bagh, but it would have been manageable and easy to survive […] His failure either to understand or appreciate the implications of Hunter’s inquiry, meant that he was responsible for undermining support for the Raj in a period of acute difficulty. This was not the way to run an empire; it was, on the contrary, a recipe for complete and utter disaster.[lxi]


   Lloyd seems to hold the view that the Raj was beneficial to India and that what followed it has been worse. His most egregious illustration of this view is the inclusion as Epilogue to his book of the story of Indira Gandhi’s 1984 assault on the Sikh extremists in the Golden Temple. This is an event unconnected with the events of 1919 but one which goes to show, Lloyd thinks, what a mess the Indians have made of it all afterwards. His views are worth quoting at some length:


But looking at the violence in the Punjab in 1984, and at the scale of the action taken by the Indian Army, gives the lie to the accusation that the British ruled the Punjab with anything approaching the ‘iron fist’ of legend. It was not just the events of 1984 in and around the Golden Temple that showed the level of brutality that the Indian state was capable of […] Even if one considers the British response to have been disproportionate or overly brutal, the number of dead and wounded from the disorders remains tiny when compared with the vast numbers who became victims of the struggles in the 1980s […] This was the reality of democracy in India, a far more volatile and unstable type of rule than the British imposed, and which showed its dark side in dealing with the Khalistan [Sikh homeland] problem. But Congress won the battle of history and still distorts our view of the Punjab under British rule.[lxii]


Lloyd says in his introduction that he is trying “to separate myth from reality. Only then can nations truly understand the events of the past and attempt to move on from them.”[lxiii] Instead, the offensiveness to Indians of the political views he expresses seems more likely to set our two nations further apart.


*     *     *


Selective use of evidence allows Lloyd to draw invalid conclusions in two crucial areas. The first arises from his examination of the suppression of the disorders. A few quotes will illustrate this:


What strikes one about these ‘fancy punishments’ is that although they may have been distasteful and irritating, they were, like the ‘crawling order’, on a very small scale and were in no way evidence of an attempt to terrorise the civilian population. Indeed, they were, in effect, a way of reducing punishment [emphasis in the original].’[lxiv]


The reaction of the British authorities to the crowds and mobs that gathered in April 1919 was, contrary to Congress propaganda, not marked by any great overreaction or indiscriminate violence.[lxv]


What Lloyd is omitting to recount here is that some of these “fancy punishments” were very vicious indeed and often aimed at humiliating those who suffered them. They included flogging untried suspects until they were unconscious. Some of those flogged were innocent schoolboys selected at random because persons unknown had placed anti-British leaflets on the property of their school. These ‘fancy punishments’ were condemned by the Hunter Commission and by the British Governments.


   Lloyd omits to recount that one of the principal reasons that martial law was introduced was to remove legal due process and its protection of suspects, and that as a result of the trials conducted under it many innocent men were incarcerated without trial for months, sentenced to imprisonment or even hanged. He does not recount that surrounding these legal abuses grew up an entire industry of extortion, blackmail and torture operated by the Police, who took the opportunity offered by the ability to make arbitrary arrests to get rich. It would indeed be difficult to overstate the effect all of this had upon the Indian lawyers, doctors, journalists and businessmen at whom many of the abuses were aimed.


   These omissions lead Lloyd to minimise the effect of what the British did in the Punjab. Rather than emphasising the effect of the suppression of the disorders upon the minds of Gandhi, Nehru and their like, who turned from advocates of British liberal principles and moderate reforms supportive of the Empire into implacable opponents of everything British, Lloyd prioritizes what he describes as a weakening of British resolve and strength. He concentrates his attention upon contemporary complaints that no soldier would fire in future for fear that the Government would fail to support him. He does not see it as important that, by what they had done in the Punjab, the British had alienated the entire educated Indian middle class and had soured relationships for the next forty years.


   At the heart of this book lies Lloyd’s attempt to exonerate Dyer. His Dyer is a man who panicked and made a mistake and was then let down by the system of which he was a part. Save for the panic (and no true blue Diehard would have dreamed of accusing Dyer of anything as demeaning) this is the Diehards’ case in its entirety. As with the rest of his thesis, Lloyd reaches this conclusion by ignoring much of the evidence. He manages to avoid consideration of the full extent of what Dyer had done, in particular the fact that he marched away his troops to leave the civilians they had shot to die slowly overnight. He passes over the fact that Dyer callously ignored the effect of the curfew he had himself imposed which prevented till the next day any help coming into the Bagh. He seems not to think it important enough to mention that neither Dyer nor the Punjab Government could even bother to find out how many had died.


   Lloyd seeks to excuse the length of firing ordered by Dyer using an argument that didn’t wash before the authorities of the day and doesn’t wash now. He writes approvingly, and rightly so, in other chapters of his book about the short bursts of controlled firing to which British officers resorted to disperse crowds elsewhere in the Punjab, but seems not to see that the rules these men followed were ones that should have been observed by Dyer. Lloyd excuses Dyer for firing for a full quarter of an hour on the ground that the rules called for firing to continue until a crowd had dispersed. This did not mean then, and has never meant in the British Army, that firing should continue after a crowd had turned its back and fled and until there were none of them left in sight. Dyer broke the rules and knew that he had done so.


   Here is what Lloyd says he believes that Dyer did:


Dyer did not enter the Jallianwala Bagh with a plan already hatched in his mind, but walked up that narrow entrance, alone and alert, unsure of what would confront him. It was only when he saw that vast space and the huge crowd that had gathered inside did he understand what had happened; it was only then, in those few precious seconds, that he allowed fear to grip him. There were thousands of them. There was no time for anything else. He had to open fire.[lxvi]


As an explanation this is inventive but unconvincing. There are five reasons why the idea that Dyer panicked will not work.


   First, as Lloyd points out, Dyer walked into the Bagh before his troops entered it. Had he panicked, it would have been then, before his troops were committed. Had he seen any ‘trap’ he would not have led his men into it. Instead, he ordered his men to deploy inside the Bagh then gave the order to open fire. This is made clear by the statement of Captain Briggs, his Brigade Major:


The General Officer Commanding, Colonel Morgan, Mr Rehill and myself, got out of the motor car and advanced up the alley, the troops following us. Coming to the end of the ally, we saw an immense crowd of men packed in a square, listening to a man on a platform who was gesticulating with his hands. It was very hard to estimate the size of the crowd […] The troops deployed to the right and left of the exit to the alley and laid down. The General Officer Commanding then ordered the men to open fire.[lxvii]


   Second, there is no evidence whatsoever that Dyer panicked in the Bagh. The crowd was peaceful. Dyer was a man renowned for his reckless courage in the face of the enemy. Lloyd cites evidence that Dyer was shaken up after the event, which is the case, as was to be expected after seeing at such close quarters the deaths and injuries he had inflicted. But there is no evidence that he was shaken before he ordered his men to fire. There were six other Englishmen present in the Bagh and we have statements from five of them. Those among them who commented on this point either say specifically or imply that Dyer was calm when he ordered the firing. Captain Briggs’s statement we have already examined. Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan, who was acting as second-in-command to Dyer, had nothing but admiration for him, not something that was likely had Dyer panicked and failed in his duty. Morgan wrote: “Dyer was a very fine fellow. He had saved the Government of India, he had saved India for the British for nearly another thirty years.”[lxviii] The clearest evidence is found in a letter to Arthur Swinson from Dyer’s bodyguard, Sgt William J. Anderson: “Dyer seemed quite calm and rational. Personally, I wasn’t afraid. I saw nothing to be afraid about. I’d no fear that the crowd would come at us.”[lxix]


   Third, Dyer continued to order fire for about a quarter of an hour. Such an action is not consonant with the idea that he fired because of a moment’s panic.


   Fourth, Dyer spent the remainder of his life wrestling the demons of his conscience, asking himself and all around him daily whether he had done the right thing.  He wanted to die to let his maker ease his anguish in this once and for all.  This dilemma was nothing to do with his having made a mistake; there would, in that case, have been no question to answer, merely guilt at having made an error. The dilemma was whether he had made the right deliberate choice.  By his death, the very prickings of his conscience must have made it abundantly clear to him that he had not.


   Fifth and finally, we return to what Dyer himself told the Hunter Commission. The Diehards and Lloyd write this off, saying that by the time he appeared before the Commission Dyer had changed his mind and was basking in the adulation of British India, which believed itself ‘saved’ by his actions. They also claim that he was badgered into indiscretions at the Inquiry by the aggressive Indian members of the Commission and that he did not say some of the things which he was recorded as saying. All these arguments are tendentious and the transcript of Dyer’s verbal evidence before Hunter, half of which was given in response to polite questioning by the British members of the Commission, makes it clear that Dyer did in fact verbally inform the Commission that he had formed the intention to fire without warning and at length, if he found a crowd present on his arrival in the Bagh. That aside, the major piece of evidence which Lloyd discounts and the Diehards that preceded him chose to ignore is Dyer’s statement, written for the Hunter Commission (which based their questioning upon it) two months before in the calm of the hill station of Dalhousie. This was on 25 August 1919, and Dyer submitted it to the General Staff, 16th (Indian) Division.[lxx]


   I shall quote this statement, Dyer’s own words, at length so that he may have the final say in this account of the historical writing about the massacre he perpetrated:


I personally had ample time to consider the nature of the painful duty I might be faced with […] There was no reason to further parley with the mutineers, evidently they were there to defy the arm of the law. The responsibility was very great. If I fired I must fire with good effect, a small amount of firing would be an act of criminal folly. I had the choice of carrying out a very distasteful and horrible duty or of neglecting to do my duty, of suppressing a mutiny or of becoming responsible for all future bloodshed. We cannot be very brave unless we be possessed of a greater fear. I had considered the matter from every point of view. My duty and my military instincts told me to fire. My conscience was also clear on that point. What faced me was, what on the morrow would be the “Danda Fauj.” The enemy had given me a fleeting opportunity of suppressing the mutiny there and then, and I must take advantage of it at once or lose it for ever. I fired and I continued to fire until the crowd dispersed and I consider this is the least amount of firing which would produce the necessary moral and widespread effect, it was my duty to produce if I was to justify my action. I would in any case have driven matters to their logical conclusion and continued to fire until the mutineers dispersed. If more troops had been at hand the casualties would have been greater in proportion. It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point of view, not only on those who were present but more specially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity. The mutineers had thrown out the challenge and the punishment, if administered at all, must be complete, unhesitating and immediate.[lxxi]


   No doubt others will try to make a better case for Dyer, O’Dwyer and what the British did in the Punjab in 1919 than Lloyd has made. I have to confess, though, to a total inability to understand why anyone should want to. The participants in these events are long dead, the politics that drove them long irrelevant. Save for the benefits to publication that controversy brings, this seems to me a barren furrow to plough. Must we continue to try to evade the fact that sometimes those who ran the Empire were capable of catastrophic failures of judgment? To do so in the Amritsar affair rights no historic wrongs but only embitters once more our relations with the descendants of those who were the real victims of this tragedy, the Indians Dyer killed.


   This is not just a matter of being right about the past. We need to understand the history of abuses like the Amritsar massacre so that if we follow political paths that put us in similar positions in the future, we shall go down them knowing not what may, but what will, transpire.




[i] Nick Lloyd, The Amritsar Massacre: The Untold Story of a Fateful Day (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011).

[ii] Bagh means garden, but the Jallianwala Bagh was a bare enclosure surrounded on all sides by high walls with only five narrow lanes leading into and out of it.

[iii] Paragraphs 8 and 9, p. 68, Command 681: Parliamentary Papers (Commons), 1920, vol. 14, Reports, vol. 6, ‘East India (Disturbances in the Punjab etc)’. ‘Report of the Committee Appointed by the Government of India to Investigate the Disturbances in the Punjab, etc.’ (Hunter Report).

[iv] Paragraph 9, p.93, Hunter Report.

[v] Kapil Deva Malaviya, Open Rebellion in the Punjab (with Special Reference to Amritsar) (Allahabad: Aludaya Press, 1919).

[vi] Ibid, pp. 4-5.

[vii] B.G. Horniman, Amritsar and Our Duty to India (T. Fisher Unwin: London, 1920).

[viii] Ibid, p. 8.

[ix] Pandit Pearay Dattatreya Mohan, The Punjab ‘Rebellion’ of 1919 and How It was Suppressed; An Account of the Punjab Disorders and the Working of Martial Law (1st edition 1920; 2nd edition ed. Ravi M. Bakaya, 2 vols (New Delhi: Gyan Publishers, 1999).

[x] Ibid, p. xvii,138,145.

[xi] The Congress Punjab Inquiry 1919-1920: Report of the Commissioners Appointed by the Punjab Sub-Committee of the Indian National Congress, Volume I: Report; Volume 2 Evidence (1st edition: 1920. 2nd edition New Delhi: National Book Trust, India: 1994).

[xii] Ibid, Volume I, p.53.

[xiii] Sir Michael O’Dwyer, India as I Knew It, 1885-1925 (London: Constable, 1925).

[xiv] Ibid, p. 322.

[xv] Ian Colvin, The Life of General Dyer (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood, 1929; second edition 1931).

[xvi] Ibid, p. 336, 2nd edition.

[xvii] General Sir George Barrow, The Life of General Sir Charles Carmichael Monro (London: Hutchinson & Co, 1931).

[xviii] Ibid, p. 198.

[xix] Rupert Furneaux, Massacre at Amritsar (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1963).

[xx] Ibid, p. 177.

[xxi] Arthur Swinson, Six Minutes to Sunset: The Story of General Dyer and the Amritsar Affair (London: Peter Davies, 1964).

[xxii] Ibid, p. 193.

[xxiii] Ibid, p. 202.

[xxiv] V. N. Datta, Jallianwala Bagh (Ludhiana: Lyall Book Depot 1969).

[xxv] Ibid, p. 168.

[xxvi] V.N. Datta and S. Satter, eds, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (Delhi: Pragati Publications, 2000), p. 13.

[xxvii] V.N. Datta’s other writings on Amritsar include: Amritsar Past and Present (Amritsar: Municipal Committee, 1967); New Light on the Punjab Disturbances in 1919: Volumes VI and VII of Disorders Inquiry Committee Evidence, 2 vols (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1975); Jallianwala Bagh: Commemoration Volume and Amritsar and our Duty to India (Patiala: Punjabi University Publication Bureau, 1994).

[xxviii] Raja Ram, The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: A Premeditated Plan (Chandigarh: Panjab University Press, 1969; second edition 1978).

[xxix] Ibid, p. 141.

[xxx] Helen Fein, Imperial Crime and Punishment: The Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh and British Judgment, 1919-1920 (Hawaii: The University Press of Hawaii, 1977).

[xxxi] Ibid, p.185.

[xxxii] Stanley Wolpert, Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh (Delhi, London, New York: Penguin 1970; first published as An Error of Judgment (New York: Little, Brown & Co, 1970).

[xxxiii] Ibid p. 210.

[xxxiv] Alfred Draper, Amritsar: The Massacre that Ended the Raj (London: Cassell, 1981).

[xxxv] Ibid, p.156.

[xxxvi] S.R. Bakshi, Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy (New Delhi: Capital Publishers, 1982).

[xxxvii] Ibid, p. 42.

[xxxviii] Roger Perkins, The Amritsar Legacy: Golden Temple to Caxton Hall, the Story of a Killing (Chippenham: Picton, 1989).

[xxxix] Ibid, p. 80.

[xl] Savita Narain, The Historiography of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919 (South Godstone, Surrey: Spantech and Lancer, 1998).

[xli] Ibid, p. 62.

[xlii] Tim Coates, ed., The Amritsar Massacre: General Dyer in the Punjab 1919 (London: The Stationery Office, 2002).

[xliii] Nigel Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar (London: Hambledon and London, 2005).

[xliv] Andrew Roberts, A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006).

[xlv] Lloyd, op cit, p. xxxiii.

[xlvi] Ibid, p. xvii.

[xlvii] Ibid, p. xxix.

[xlviii] Ibid, p. xxviii.

[xlix] Ibid, pp. 251-2.

[l] Ibid, p. 9.

[li] Ibid, pp.12-13.

[lii] Ibid, p. 21.

[liii] Correspondence between the Government of India and the Secretary of State for India on the Report of Lord Hunter’s Committee, Command 705.

[liv] Lloyd, op cit, p. 241, Note 23.

[lv] Ibid, p. 63.

[lvi] Ibid, p. 70.

[lvii] Ibid, p. 80.

[lviii] Ibid, p. 82.

[lix] Ibid, p.43.

[lx] Ibid, p. 23.

[lxi] Ibid, pp. 160-161.

[lxii] Ibid, p. 208.

[lxiii] Ibid, p. xxxiii.

[lxiv] Ibid, p.145.

[lxv] Ibid, p. 197.

[lxvi] Ibid, p. 203.

[lxvii] Report of Captain F.C. Briggs D.S.O. – Appendix A to Command 771, p 25.

[lxviii] Lieutenant-Colonel M.H.L. Morgan, The Truth About Amritsar: by An Eye Witness, in the Imperial War Museum, 72/22/1 T.

[lxix] Times Literary Supplement, 9 April 1964; Swinson, op cit, Postscript, p. 210.

[lxx] Brigadier-General Dyer’s Statement to the General Staff, 16th (Indian) Division, 25th August 1919, in the Dyer papers, National Army Museum.

[lxxi] Ibid, pp. 4-5.


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