When an army officer in Amritsar committed one of the most monstrous acts of barbarity in modern British history, the government of the day (under David Lloyd George) set a fine example by refusing to defend the indefensible.
ON 13th April 1919, thousands of Sikhs crowded into the Jallianwala Bagh [i.e. garden, park] in Amritsar, Punjab, on their harvest festival.
The Punjab had become a restless province during the Great War, and London, warned of terrorist ties to Germany and Russian revolutionaries, had imposed a crack-down. In defiance, public buildings in Amritsar had been fire-bombed, and just two days earlier Marcella Sherwood, a teacher, had been assaulted, stripped, and dumped in a back-street.
What happened next took a year to become public knowledge. But on 8th June, 1920, Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War, horrified the Commons with a graphic account.
Acting military commander Reginald Dyer had quietly closed the garden’s gates, and without warning ordered his men to fire at will on the panic-stricken, unarmed pilgrims trapped inside.* Providentially, narrow streets had kept out his armoured vehicles and machine-guns.
The Commons voted overwhelmingly to condemn Dyer, and the nine members of the official inquiry, the Hunter Commission, unanimously agreed.
* The death-toll is disputed. The British set it at 379, the Indian National Congress at about 1,000.