Book Review – The First Anglosikh War by Amarpal Singh Sidhu
During the eighteenth and early years of the nineteenth century, the red tide of British expansion had covered almost the entire Indian subcontinent, stretching to the borders of the Punjab. There the great Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh had developed his military forces to thwart any British advance into his kingdom north of the River Sutlej. Yet on the death of Ranjit Singh, unworthy successors and disparate forces fought over his legacy while the British East India Company seized the opportunity and prepared for battle. In the winter of 1845, the First Anglo-Sikh War broke out. From the start, the two-month campaign was married by Victorian arrogance and bluster on the British side and personal ambition, intrigue and treason in the Sikh camp. Five keenly fought contests ensued; including the great battle of Ferozeshah where the British force found itself caught between two powerful Sikh armies and came close to destruction. Declining to retreat, the British Commander-in-Chief Sir Hugh Gough told his second in command: ‘My mind is made up. If we must perish, it is better that our bones should bleach honorably at Ferozeshah than rot at Ferozepore: but they shall do neither the one nor the other.’ The fate of the British Empire in India would be decided that day.
B Amarpal Sidhu writes a warts and all tale of a conflict characterized by treachery, tragedy and incredible bravery on both sides. In an innovative approach to history writing, the narrative of the campaign is accompanied by battlefield guides that draw on eyewitness accounts and invite the reader to take a tour themselves of the battlefields, either physically or virtually. Fully illustrated with period drawings, modern-day photographs and new maps, The First Anglo-Sikh War gives a forgotten conflict the meticulous attention it deserves.
The book is a complete and comprehensive narration of the campaign including many new firsthand accounts and details that have surfaced since the last major book on the subject by Gough and Innes was published around a hundred years ago. The book also includes for the first time a detailed analysis of the battlefield sites of Mudki, Ferozeshah, Bhudowal, Aliwal and Sabraon and covers their history immediately after the battles and through the years, their current condition and what there is to see and explore for battlefield tourists and enthusiasts.
The book has already received advance praise from both Military historians and battlefield archaeologists. Amongst others John Keay, author of the monumental work “India: A History” writes “‘The First Anglo-Sikh War’ unearths a wealth of rarely studied sources and marries them to exhaustive field research to produce a detailed study of an important but largely forgotten campaign”. Dr. Tony Pollard, Battlefield archaeologist (BBC series presenter “Two men in a trench”) says of the book “The sections on the battlefields today, which include vivid descriptions of the aftermath of combat by eyewitnesses, so often overlooked in works of military history, will help to make this a key work for a long time to come”. Dilip Sarkar MBE, Military historian, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and author of numerous books describes the book as “An extremely detailed study providing as definitive a narrative as is possible so many years later”.
The book was launched at the Royal Geographic Society, London on 7th September 2010.
Available from all good bookshops and direct from Amberley Publishing
“Traces of the great battle are still perceptible in skulls and bones and rags and fragments of red jackets strewed about the plains”
James Coley, Ferozeshah, 20th Jan 1847 (one year after the end of the war)
A comprehensive new narrative of the first great clash between the British and Sikh Empires in the mid-nineteenth century, including innovative battlefield guides that explore the bloodied terrain where the terrible combat occured.
“With this book in hand, the battlefields of the Punjab come alive once again.”
Professor Peter Doyle BSc PhD Ggeol FGS Battlefield Archaeologist Co-Secretary, all Party War Graves and Battlefield Heritage Group