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Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer CB (October 9, 1864 – July 23, 1927) was a British Indian Army officer responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsarmarker (in the British India province of Punjab).

Early life and assignments

Dyer was born in Murreemarker, in British India, now in Pakistanmarker. He spent his childhood in Shimlamarker and received his early education at the Bishop Cotton School in Shimlamarker. He attended Midleton College, Co. Cork between 1875 and 1881. In 1885, following attendance at the Royal Military College, Sandhurstmarker he was commissioned into the Queen's Royal Regiment as a Lieutenant, and served in riot control duties in Belfastmarker (1886) and the Third Burmese War (1886–87). He was then transferred to the Indian Army, initially joining the Bengal Staff Corps as a Lieutenant in 1887 and being attached to the 39th Bengal Infantry, later transferring to 29th Punjabis. He served in the latter in the Black Mountain campaign (1888), the relief of Chitralmarker (1895) (being promoted Captain in 1896) and the Mahsud blockade (1901–02). In 1901 he was appointed a Deputy Assistant Adjutant General. He was then transferred to 25th Punjabis where he served in the Zakha Khelmarker Expedition (1908). He commanded the 25th Punjabis in India and Hong Kongmarker and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1910. During World War I (1914–18), he commanded the Seistan Force, for which he was Mentioned in Despatches and made a Companion of the Bath (CB). He was promoted Colonel in 1915, and was made a temporary Brigadier-General in 1916. In 1919, about a month after the Amritsar incident, in the Third Anglo-Afghan War, his Brigade relieved the garrison of Thal, for which he was again mentioned in dispatches. 5th Brigade at Jamrudmarker was his last command posting for a few months in 1919. He retired on 17 July 1920, retaining the rank of Colonel.


The white population in Punjab in 1919 feared a plot to overthrow British rule. There was talk of mutiny and of death threats to Europeans. Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, decided to deport leading agitators from the province. One person who was targeted was Dr. Satyapal, who was in the Army Medical Services during World War I. He advocated non-violent civil disobedience and was prevented from speaking in public. Another person was Dr. Kitchlew, a Muslim barrister who wanted political change and was non-violent. The Deputy Commissioner, Miles Irving, did not know the background of these two people and suspected some deeper conspiracy resulting in the arrest of the two men. This event led to a burst of events in Punjab. Crowds gathered in all public places demanding a release of the two men. The troops panicked and opened fire on a bridge across a railway line, causing several deaths. This resulted in a mob which returned to the city centre. Reinforcements were brought in for the army.

The mobs sought out Europeans in the city. On April 9, 1919, Miss Marcella Sherwood, who supervised the Mission Day School for Girls was bicycling round the city to close her schools when she was assaulted by the mob in a narrow street, the Kucha Kurrichhan, was beaten and left wounded. She was rescued by local Indians who hid her from the mob and moved her to the fort. This attack on a lady incensed Dyer, who was the commandant of the infantry brigade in Jullundurmarker, who instructed the troops of the garrison regarding reprisals against Indians.

Amritsar Massacre

Brigadier Dyer is infamous for the orders which he gave on April 13, 1919 in Amritsarmarker. It was under his command that 90 troops, including 25 Gurkhas of 1st/9th Gurkha Rifles, 25 Pathans and Baluch of 54th Sikhs and 59th Sindh Rifles, all armed with .303 Lee-Enfield rifles (and the Gurkhas additionally armed with khukris) opened fire on a gathering of unarmed civilians, including women and children gathered at the Jallianwalla Bagh in what came to be later known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

The civilians had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to participate in the annual Baisakhi celebrations which are both a religious as well as a cultural festival of the Punjabis. Being from outside the city,they were unaware of the martial law that had been imposed.The Bagh-space comprised 6 to and was walled on all sides except for five entrances. Four of these entrances were very narrow, admitting only a few people at a time. The fifth entrance was blocked by the armed soldiers, as well as by two armoured cars armed with machine guns. (These vehicles were unable to pass through the entrance.) Upon entering the park, the General ordered the troops to fire directly into the assembled gathering. Firing continued until his troops' supply of 1650 rounds of ammunition was exhausted.See: Report of Commissioners,Vol I, II, Bombay, 1920, Reprint New Delhi, 1976, p 56. The firing continued unabated for about 10 minutes.

From time to time, Dyer "checked his fire and directed it upon places where the crowd was thickest" ; he did this not because the crowd was slow to disperse, but because he (the General) "had made up his mind to punish them for having assembled there." Some of the soldiers initially fired in the air, at which General Dyer shouted: "Fire low. What have you been brought here for?" Later, Dyer's own testimony revealed that the crowd was not given any warning to disperse and he felt no remorse for having ordered his troops to fire.

The official reports quote 379 dead and over 1,000 injured. However, public enquiry estimates, figures from Government Civil Servants in the city as well as counts from the Home Political cite numbers well over a thousand dead. According to a Home Political Deposit report, the number was over 1,000, with more than 1,200 wounded. Dr. Smith, a British civil surgeon at Amritsar, indicated over 1800 casualties. The deliberate infliction of these massive casualties earned general Dyer the infamous epitaph of the "Butcher of Amritsar" in India. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the actual figures were deliberately suppressed by the government for political reasons.

Threatening language

On the day following the massacre, Mr. Kitchin, the Commissioner of Lahoremarker as well as General Dyer, both used threatening language. The following is the English translation of Dyer's Urdu Statement directed at the local residents of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 14, 1919, a day after the Amritsar massacre:

"You people know well that I am a Sepoy and soldier. Do you want war or peace? If you wish for a war, the Government is prepared for it, and if you want peace, then obey my orders and open all your shops; else I will shoot. For me the battle-field of France or Amritsar is the same. I am a military man and I will go straight. Neither shall I move to the right nor to the left. Speak up, if you want war? In case there is to be peace, my order is to open all shops at once. You people talk against the Government and persons educated in Germany and Bengal talk sedition. I shall report all these. Obey my orders. I do not wish to have anything else. I have served in the military for over 30 years. I understand the Indian Sepoy and Sikh people very well. You will have to obey my orders and observe peace. Otherwise the shops will be opened by force and Rifles. You will have to report to me of the Badmash. I will shoot them. Obey my orders and open shops. Speak up if you want war? You have committed a bad act in killing the English. The revenge will be taken upon you and upon your children."

Crawling Order

Brigadier Dyer designated the spot where Miss Marcella Sherwood was assaulted sacred and daytime pickets were placed at either end of the street. This street was located in Amritsarmarker, Punjabmarker, Indiamarker. Anyone wishing to proceed in the street between 6am and 8pm was made to crawl the on all fours, lying flat on their bellies. The order was not required at night due to a curfew. The humiliation of the order struck the Indians deeply. Most importantly, the order effectively closed the street. The houses had no back doors and the inhabitants could not go out without climbing down from their roofs. This order was in effect from April 19 until April 25, 1919. No doctor or supplier was allowed in, resulting in the sick being untended.

Reaction in India and Britain

Reaction to the massacre varied. A large section of the white population in India condoned it while Indians were outraged. A Committee of Inquiry, chaired by Lord William Hunter, was set up to investigate the massacre. The committee's report condemned Dyer, arguing that in "continuing firing as long as he did, it appears to us that General Dyer committed a grave error." Dissenting members argued that the martial law regime's use of force was wholly unjustified. "General Dyer thought he had crushed the rebellion and Sir Michael O'Dwyer was of the same view," they wrote, "(but) there was no rebellion which required to be crushed." The committee reported
  • lack of notice to disperse from the Bagh in the beginning was an error
  • length of firing showed a grave error
  • Dyer's motive of producing a sufficient moral effect was to be condemned
  • lack of attention to the wounded was not acceptable
He was met by Lieutenant-General Sir Havelock Hudson, who told him that he was relieved of his command. He was later told by the Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir Charles Carmichael Monro, to resign his post and that he would not be reemployed.

While many in Britain and India supported General Dyer, there were a number of exceptions:
  • During the Dyer debates in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commonsmarker censured his role and action in the Jallianwala Bagh.
  • British Labour Party Conference at Scarborough unanimously passed a resolution on 24 June 1920 denouncing the Amritsar massacre as "cruel and barbarous action" of British officers in Punjab and called for their trial, recall of Michael O’Dwyer and Mr. Chemsford and repeal repressive legislation.
  • Mr C. F. Andrews termed the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre as "cold-blooded massacre and inhumane." Home Political, K. W., A, June 20, 1920, Nos 126-194, National Archives of India, New Delhi.
  • Brigadier General Surtees said in the Dyer debate that "we hold India by force -undoubtedly by force."
  • Mr Montagu, the Secretary of State in India, called it "a grave error in judgement."
  • Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War at the time of the debate in the British Parliament the House of Commons, called it "an episode without precedent or parallel in the modern history of British Empire…an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation."
  • Herbert Asquith observed: "There has never been such an incident in the whole annals of Anglo-Indian History nor I believe in the history of our empire since its very inception down to present day….it is one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history."
  • B. G. Horniman observed: "No event within living memory, probably, has made so deep and painful impression on the mind of the public in this country (England) as what came to be known as the Amritsar massacre."
  • Pandit Motilal Nehru, father of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, called the massacre the "saddest and most revealing of all."
  • Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate and distinguished Indian educator said, "a great crime has been done in the name of law in the Punjab."
  • Sir Shankaran Nair resigned his membership of the Viceroy's Executive Council in the Legislative Council of Punjab. Nawab Din Murad and Kartar Singh called it "neither just nor humane."
  • The era of Michael O’Dwyer and Dyer has been deemed "an era of misdeeds of British administration in India."

Return to Britain

On his return to Britain, Brigadier Dyer was presented with a purse of 26,000 pounds sterling, a huge sum in those days, which emerged from a collection on his behalf by the Morning Post, a conservative, pro-Imperialistic newspaper, which later merged with the Daily Telegraph. A Thirteen Women Committee was constituted to present "the Saviour of the Punjab with sword of honour and a purse." This single incident incensed the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore so much that he renounced his knighthood in protest. The Morning Post had supported Dyer’s action on grounds stating that the massacre was necessary to "Protect the honour of European Women." The Morning Post curiously blamed Mr Montagu, Secretary of State (India), and not General Dyer for the massacre and asked for his court trial. Mr Montagu, on the other hand, in a long letter to the Viceroy, passed the blame on to Michael O'Dwyer and admitted "I feel that O’Dwyer represents a regime that is doomed."

General Dyer was oblivious of the events that he was responsible for. He wrote an article in the Globe of 21 January 1921, titled, "The Peril to the Empire." It commenced with "India does not want self-government. She does not understand it." He went on to write
  • It is only to an enlightened people that free speech and a free press can be extended. The Indian people want no such enlightenment.
  • There should be an eleventh commandment in India, "Thou shalt not agitate."
  • The time will come to India when a strong hand will be exerted against malice and 'perversion' of good order.
  • Gandhi will not lead India to capable self-government. The British Raj must continue, firm and unshaken in its administration of justice to all men.


He became paralysed by a stroke in 1921 and never recovered, dying at Long Ashton near Bristol in England on July 23, 1927.

The Morning Post remembered him in an article titled "The Man Who Saved India" and "He Did His Duty" but the Westminster Gazette wrote a contrary opinion, "No British action, during the whole course of our history in India, has struck a severer blow to Indian faith in British justice than the massacre at Amritsar."

Popular culture

Dyer is played by Edward Fox in the 1982 film Gandhi.

Role of Michael O'Dwyer

Michael O'Dwyer, the then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, supported General Dyer for his actions and had termed the massacre as a "correct" action."

In his book, India as I Knew It, Michael O'Dwyer in 1925 wrote that "The Punjabis were quick to take to heart the lessons that the revolution is a dangerous thing." But his observation was contradicted fifteen years later: on March 13, 1940, in Caxton Hall in the heart of Londonmarker, O'Dwyer was shot dead by a Punjabi, Shaheed Udham Singh, in revenge for the Amritsar massacre in particular and for his rule of political repression in Punjab in general.


  1. Disorder Inquiry Committee Report, Vol II, p 191.
  2. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, A Premeditated Plan, Punjab University Chandigarh, 1969, p 89, Raja Ram; A Saga of Freedom Movement and Jallianwala Bagh, Udham Singh, 2002, p 141, Prof (Dr) Sikander Singh.
  3. See: Report of Commissioners, Vol I, II, Bombay, 1920, Reprint New Delhi, 1976, p 55-56.
  4. Home Political, Sept 1920, No 23, National Archive of India, New Delhi
  5. Report of Commissioners, appointed by the Punjab Sub-committee of Indian National Congress, Vol I, New Delhi, p 68
  6. Home Political Deposit, September, 1920, No 23, National Archives of India, New Delhi; Report of Commissioners, Vol I, New Delhi.
  7. Report of Commissioners, Vol I, New Delhi, p 105
  8. See: A Saga of Freedom Movement and Jallianwala Bagh, Udham Singh, 2002, p 149, Prof (Dr) Sikander Singh; Report of Commissioners,Vol I, II, Bombay, 1920, Reprint New Delhi, 1976, p 11.; for full text of Dyer's Statement
  9. The Times, London, June 25, 1920, cited in Sayer, British Reaction of Amritsar massacre, 1919-20, Reprint in Jallianwala Bagh Commemoration Volume, Patiala, 1997, p 41
  10. Arthur Swinson, Six Minutes of Sunset, London, 1964, p 210; cited in Psycho-Political compulsions of Jallinawala Bagh by Gurcaharan Singh, op cit, p 156.
  11. Hansard, 5th sec. Commons, quoted by Derek Sayer, British Commemoration of Amritsar Volume, Patiala, 1997, p 24.
  12. Amritsar and Our Duty to India, London, 1920, B. G. Horniman, p 7.
  13. Valentine Chitol, India Old and New, London, 1921, p 312
  14. Tribune, Lahore, 16th April, 1919, see Government of India, Home Department, Political Deposit, August, 1919, No 52, National Archieves of India, New Delhi.
  15. Punjab Legislative Council Proceedings, 23rd Feb, 1921, Vol I I.
  16. Government of India, External affairs Department, File No 1940, Newspapers (Secret), p 2
  17. Morning Post, cited in Derek Sayer, British Reaction of Amritsar massacre, 1919-20, reprinted in Jallianwala Bagh Commemoration Volume, Patiala, 1997, p 45.
  18. See: Michael O'Dwyer's telegram to Dyer: "Your action correct. Lieutenant Governor approves", See Disorder Inquiry Committee Report, Vol II, p 197
  19. India as I Knew It, 1925, p 225, Michael O'Dwyer
  20. A Saga of Freedom Movement and Jallianwala Massacre, Great Patriot and Martyr, Udham Singh, 2003, p 68, Prof. (Dr.) Sikanadr Singh

Further reading

  • Alfred Draper, The Massacre that Ended the Raj, London, 1981
  • Ian Duncan Colvin, The life of General Dyer, Edinburgh, London : W. Blackwood & Sons Ltd, 1929
  • Nigel Collett, The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer, London: Hambledon & London, 2005 ISBN 1-85285-457-X

See also

External links

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