45th Rattray Sikhs
Principal Campaigns and Battles
Defence of Arrah
- 1878 – 80 Afghanistan
- 1878 Ali Masjid
- Punjab Frontier
- Bengal Military Police Battalion
(1856 – 1858)
- 1st Bengal Military Police Battalion
(1858 – 1861)
- Bengal Military Police Battalion
(1861 – 1864)
- 45th (Rattray’s Sikh) Bengal Native Infantry
(1864 – 1885)
- 45th (Rattray’s Sikh) Bengal Infantry
(1885 – 1901)
- 45th (Rattray’s) Sikh Infantry
(1901 – 1903)
3rd/11th Sikh Regiment
(1922 – 1947)
The Bengal Military Police Battalion raised in January 1856, by Capt T Rattray consisted of 500 cavalry and 1000 infantry. It is said that Captain Thomas Rattray, who founded the regiment went through the villages challenging men to wrestle with him. The Sikhs couldn’t resist the offer but the condition was that they had to join up.
They were serving in Bihar in May 1857, when the Dinapore Brigade mutinied. Rattray’s were the only troops loyal to the British, apart from the 10th Foot (later the Lincolnshire Regiment), between Calcutta and Benares. They were taken into the Bengal Line as the 45th in 1864.
The Indian Mutiny
The commissioner of Patna asked that the regiment to provide a strong guard on Mr Boyle’s house at Arrah. Fifty men of the Bengal Military Police Battalion, as it was then called, defended the house along with eleven civilians for 5 days at the end of July 1857. The enemy numbered about 2,000 and tried ceaselessly to persuade the Sikhs to defect, at first with offers of a share in the plunder and then with threats of torture if captured. They remained loyal and brave throughout. In this action VCs were won by Lt. Daunt and Lt. Baker.
In March 1879 a detachment of the 45th under Lt. Barclay was providing a protective escort for Capt. Leach RE who was carrying out a survey recce when they were attacked on a hill by large numbers of Shinwari tribesmen. The party began an orderly withdrawal, but Barclay was hit. Some of the Sikhs started to carry him downhill while Leach organised a skirmishing line to cover the retreat. As the tribesmen closed in for a rush, Leach called the troops together and led them in a sudden bayonet charge. After a fierce fight he was able to continue the withdrawal, although the outnumbered Sikhs had to charge twice more before Barclay could be got away. Leach was awarded the VC.
Officers and men of the 45th Sikhs looking surprisingly fit after the gruelling battles at Malakand and Chakdara. Lt Rattray is on the left with a bandage over his neck wound. Standing 3rd from left is Lt Wheatley. The commanding officer, Lt-Col McRae is third from the right.
In July 1897 the garrison in the Malakand was alerted to a mass attack led by the Mad Mullah. The commander of the garrison ordered the 45th under Lt-Col McRae together with 2 companies of the 31st Punjabis, a squadron of the 11th Bengal Lancers and two mountain guns to march out at midnight and secure the Amandra Pass 5 miles to the north-east. But events overtook them and they never left. The enemy was expected to come from that direction. Two companies of the 45th were already in residence in Chakdara Fort which was in the area of the Amandara Pass and sent messages back when they saw the horde approach Malakand on 26th July.
Although there was a fort at Malakand, many of the men were in camps outside. When the alarm sounded McRae and Major Taylor ran out with some Sikhs and engaged in a fight in a narrow defile in which Taylor was killed. This action prevented the enemy from encircling the camp and cutting it off from the fort. They held the right of the position against repeated day and night attacks between 26th and 30th July. Having had very little sleep they were required to make a desperate bayonet charge during the storm-laden night of 30th which scattered the tribesmen. It was all over by that time and reinforcements arrived the next day.
Chakdara, ten miles away, was commanded by Lieutenant H B Rattray, the 27 year old son of Colonel Thomas Rattray founder of the regiment. He had 180 men of the 45th and 20 sowars of the 11th Bengal Lancers. There was a 9 pounder and 2 Maxims. The only other British officer of the 45th was 2nd Lt L L Wheatley. Two other officers, Surgeon-Captain Hogo and Assistant Political Agent Lt Minchin were also there. On the 26th the army of Swatis threw themselves at the west side of the fort and were driven back. They tried again from the north-east, then the east, then the south. This continued all day and night until 4am. The fort was surrounded by mountains that enabled the Swati marksmen to pick off anyone inside who didn’t move carefully enough. Later in the morning a 40-strong party of 11th Bengal Lancers managed to fight their way into Chakdara. There were two British officers in this party, Captain Wright of the 11th and a staff officer called Captain Baker, and although they outranked Lt Rattray they left the handling of the defence to him.
A drawing by an artillery officer showing the view looking north-east. This was the scene of a continuous 7 day battle between 180 men of 45th Rattray’s Sikhs plus 60 men of the 11th Bengal Lancers and 10,000 or more Swati tribesmen. The suspension bridge was built over the Swat River after the Chitral campaign.
Soon after their arrival there was a mass attack that was beaten off. Small groups of suicidal tribesmen continued to rush at the fort after this, convinced that dying in this way would give them a place in paradise. The fighting continued like this, mass attacks coming and going and continuous sniping, for three days and nights, but the enemy never managed to get in. Apart from the sepoys and sowars in Chakdara itself, there was a detachment of 16 men of the 45th led by Lance-Naik Vir Singh in a blockhouse tower located on a spur of one of the mountains 500 yards from the fort. The blockhouse was used as a signalling post so that Chakdara could keep in contact with Malakand using heliograph. As it turned out, signalling proved to be almost impossible as the heliograph needs to be operated out in the open, in this case, exposed to sniper-fire. But the men had to remain there as it was the only chance for Rattray and his men to have any kind of contact with the outside world. One message was received by the sentries at Malakand on 1st August; it simply said “Help us.” This message was bravely sent by Sepoy Prem Singh. Luckily the blockhouse was easily defendable, even when the enemy tried to set fire to it but it depended on the fort for supplies, and shortage of water was a big problem for 16 men at the hieght of summer. Towards the end of the 7 day siege the tribesmen were reinforced by more and more men so that, whereas the garrison was outnumbered about 8-1 on the 26th, by the 1st August they were outnumbered 50-1. Another outpost situated between the fort and the blockhouse was used as a hospital, but abandoned since the attacks began. This was occupied now by the tribesmen thus cutting of any supplies reaching the signallers. The final and most unnerving part of the siege occured at daybreak on the 2nd August when a mass attack of between 10,000 and 14,000 tribesmen bore down on the fort in a last ditch effort to overcome the defenders. This battle lasted two desperate hours until they were literally saved by the cavalry, the main force of the 11th Bengal Lancers arrived and the Swatis fled. The final act of the drama was the extraction of the tribesmen inside the hospital mostly with the use of the bayonet. Rattray led this foray and was wounded in the neck by a bullet, but he killed the man who shot him with his sword. The battle at Chakdara must surely go down in history as one of the bravest fights carried out by any unit anywhere in the world.
World War I and II
In WW1 they served in India and Mesopotamia. In WW2 they served as the 3rd battalion 11th Sikhs in India , Iraq, Persia and Lebanon.
courtesy: The British Empire