Military Literature Festival

How he ‘taught rebels a lesson’

The Tribune reported, on November 26 , 1919, General Reginald Dyer’s deposition before the Hunter Committee

How he ‘taught rebels a lesson’

Of Trial & error: The firing point inside the Jallianwala Bagh,1919; General Dyer lands at Southampton, 3 May 1920. Photos taken from Butcher of Amritsar by Nigel Collett; courtesy Rupa Publications

Book Excerpt

By Our Special Representative

‘Vini, Vidi, Vici,’ said Julius Caesar, describing his conquest of England. I went, I saw and I shot, said General Dyer today describing his performance at Jallianwala Bagh before the Disorders Enquiry Committee. It was a ghastly tale that he told — a tale of premeditated, cold-blooded and deliberate shooting of several hundreds of people.

The General’s fame had drawn in a very large crowd as it had got abroad that he was to appear before the Committee today. The hall was packed to its utmost capacity before 10 and many had to go away for want of room, even the side-entrances to the hall being occupied. A pretty large number of European ladies had assembled to hear the hero of Jallianwala Bagh and they seemed to follow his evidence with keen interest.

The hall was packed to its utmost capacity before 10 and many had to go away for want of room, even the side-entrances to the hall being occupied. A pretty large number of European ladies had assembled to hear the hero of Jallianwala Bagh .

As soon as the members took their seats, General Dyer stepped into the witness’ chair. Every eye was at once turned on him. Somewhere between 50 and 55, of medium height, with a very red face, a short snub nose, small eyes, dressed in military uniform, booted and spurred, the General looked like any ordinary British officer.

In giving evidence General Dyer affected a frankness, provoking in its cynicism and repulsive in its brutality. He was thoroughly unrepentant of his conduct and seemed to be glorying in his deed.

With a callousness which would have been difficult to believe had not one seen it, he went on with his tale of restoring peace and order in the Punjab by flogging, by making people crawl on all fours, by compelling them to salaam every British officer, by arresting them wholesale, by heaping all sorts of indignities on their heads and lastly by firing on an unarmed gathering of several thousands of people and killing hundreds of them. And how were these people shot down? Without any warning, without any notice. When firing continued people began to run for their lives towards the narrow exits, some tried to jump over the walls, others lay down on the ground but they could hardly escape the eyes of the General, who, as he very gallantly said, himself directed the fire. There were children and boys, there were young men and old men but all this made no difference.

Such was the story in short which the General told amidst grim silence today. The feelings of pain and agony of Indians present can better be imagined than described. Of the members of the Committee, Lord Hunter was visibly distressed and Mr Rankin was not a little sore, as his questions showed, over the crawling transaction and to use his own expression, the ‘frightfulness’ indulged in at Jallianwala Bagh, while all the Indian members were evidently much pained and none gave greater expression to it than Pandit Jagat Narayan.

A word about the demeanour of the witness before the Committee. Deeply respectful to the president and other European members of the Committee who examined him, his manner towards the Indian members, particularly Pandit Jagat Narayan, was, to say the least, distinctly discourteous and at times almost offensive. He seemed to resent the Pandit’s probing questions and showed it openly.

Examination by Lord Hunter:

Lord Hunter (LH): Did you ascertain whether the military forces had been sent from

Jullundur to Amritsar?

General Dyer (GD): Yes.

LH: When was that?

GD: On the night of the 10th and 11th. It was 1 o’clock in the morning of the 11th as a matter of fact.

LH: Prior to that a small force had been sent?

GD: Yes.

LH: On the 10th did you receive a telegram from Lahore that trouble had arisen in Amritsar?

GD: Yes, sir.

LH: In consequence of that a force was sent?

GD: A force was sent.

LH: That force consisted of one hundred British and two hundred Indians?

GD: Yes.

LH: Is that somewhat in excess of what had been asked for?

GD: As far as I remember a hundred in excess.

LH: One hundred more Indian troops?

GD: Yes.

LH: Why was it sent in excess?

GD: I had a large force at Jullundur which could be spared easily and I thought there would be no harm in sending more than was asked for. Amritsar was also under my command at the time.

LH: A little after 5 did you get a further telegram explaining the situation at Amritsar and informing you of the murder of certain Europeans?

GD: Yes.

LH: After that I think troops left at 1 o’clock in the morning?

GD: I think it was 1 o’clock the morning.

LH: That was after both the telegrams were received?

GD: Yes, after both.

LH: At the time the troops left in what state was the communication between Amritsar and Jullundur?

GD: We had to go in roundabout way. As far as I remember, the ordinary telegraph line was out and we had to go in a roundabout way.

LH: On the 11th at 2 p.m. you received a telegram asking you to proceed personally to Amritsar?

GD: Yes.

LH: With what object?

GD: It was under my command and the Divisional Commander thought that perhaps I ought to be there.

LH: Did you see the Commissioner at Jullundur?

GD: Yes, I consulted him.

LH: After consultation you came to the conclusion that you ought to be there?

GD: Yes.

LH: Did you go by cart?

GD: Yes.

LH: When did you arrive there?

GD: I think at about 8.30 night time anyway.

LH: That time the headquarters of the Amritsar garrison was at the railway station?

GD: Yes, sir.

LH: Did you see Mr Irving and Mr Plomer?

GD: They were all at the railway station.

LH: Did you have conference with them?

GD: Yes, at the railway station.

LH: What information did you receive from Mr Irving?

GD: He said he could not deal with the situation any longer, that it was beyond all civil control and that I should take matters in hand.

LH: I would like you to explain what you understood your position to be in consequence of Mr Irving’s statement?

GD: Roughly civil law was at an end and that military law would have to take its place for the time being.

(General Dyer had deposed before the Hunter Commission on November 19, 1919)

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