Lot Archive

Lot

№ 544

.

27 September 1994

Hammer Price:
£2,300

A relief of Chitral I.O.M. group of five awarded to Jemadar Sundar Singh, 14th Sikhs, for gallantry at the Koragh Defile, a disaster from which only 15 men emerged alive

INDIAN ORDER OF MERIT, 3rd class, Reward of Valour, silver and enamel with ribbon buckle; INDIA GENERAL SERVICE 1854-95, 1 clasp, Hazara 1888 (569 Naick, 14th Bl. Infy.); INDIA GENERAL SERVICE 1895-1902, 2 clasps, Relief of Chitral 1895, Punjab Frontier 1897-98 (569 Havdr., 14th Bl. Infy.); CHINA 1900, no clasp (Jemdr., 14th Sikhs); DELHI DURBAR 1911, unnamed, the second nearly very fine, remainder very fine (5)

l.O.M., G.G.O. 742 of 1895. 'The undermentioned non-commissioned officers and men of the 14th (Ferozepore Sikh) Regt. of Bengal Infantry, were granted the 3rd class, in recognition of the gallantry and devotion exhibited by them in the action at Koragh, in Chitral, on the 10th March 1895'.
There follows the names of 14 N.C.O's and men, the senior of whom is Havildar Sundar Singh.

Captain C.R. Ross, with Lieutenant H.J. Jones and a party of some 60 Sikhs, all of the 14th Bengal Infantry, became entrapped at Koragh on the 8 March 1895. On reaching the Koragh defile, half a mile further on from the hamlet itself, the Sepoys noted with suspicion some empty sangars close to the track, also several men scattered over the hillside, but their commander remained optimistic. The defile is the result of the river cutting its winding course through terrible cliffs. At the lower end of this frightful gorge the pathway begins to ascend from the river above some caves and then zig-zags upwards. There the 'point' of the advanced guard was fired upon, and hundreds of men disclosed themselves. Obviously the soldiers were in a trap. Everything depended on their getting out again, at whatever cost, before the exits were closed. The opposing force consisted entirely of Reshun villagers, poorly armed but incalculably favoured by their position. Nevertheless, many Chitralis are of the opinion that if Ross had pressed forward he might have got through to Lieutenant Edwards who was besieged at Reshun, though that is very doubtful, or if he had rushed back at once with all his men, he would certainly have got out. His losses in either case might have been heavy, but nothing like what they eventually became. What he did was to order Jones back with ten men to seize the Koragh end of the defile; but what was formerly an empty sangar by the side of the road was now full of men, and before Jones reached the last shoot down which the rocks were tumbling, only two Sikhs remained with him He sent back word of this to Ross, who thereupon withdrew his men into two caves beneath the path and close to the river, which at certain periods of the year submerges them Jones joined them there. During the night they made another attempt to get out and seemed on the point of success when they were ordered back again. All the next day the caves were occupied. A large number of Chitralis fortified themselves on the opposite bank in a sangar, whence a continuous fire was maintained against the Sikhs, who erected breastworks for protection.

That night the poor fellows tried to escape by scaling the hillside but were brought up short by a precipice where a Sikh was lost. Thus they returned to the caves once more and passed another miserable day without food. Then Ross perceived he must cut his way out at all cost. Starting at two o'clock in the morning they rushed along, losing heavily. Ross behaved with astounding gallantry. It is related that he charged a sangar a little off the track by himself, and killed two or three of its inmates with his revolver at close quarters. Then a stone partially stunned him and he was shot dead. Jones and seventeen sepoys got through to the plain on the Koragh side of the defile, where two consecutive masses of charging swordsmen withered up and melted before them, teaching the Chitralis their bitter mistake in attacking Sikhs shoulder to shoulder on open ground. But three more were killed, and the remaining fourteen, ten of whom, including Jones, were grievously wounded, crawled painfully into Buni at six o'clock in the morning. These fourteen men and one other were the sole survivors of the sixty soldiers who entered the Koragh defile. Lieutenant Jones was subsequently awarded the D.S.O. and each of the 14 surviving Sikhs received the Indian Order of Merit. Sundar Singh went on to see service in the Punjab Frontier campaign of 1897-98 and in China 1900, rising to the rank of Subadar. In the Indian Army List of 1910 he is shown as the Senior Subadar, and in that of 1913 he is shown on the retired list.