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The ROYAL GLOUCESTERSHIRE, BERKSHIRE and WILTSHIRE REGIMENT
Ferozeshah
21st December 1845
Unit Awarded Battle Honour Subsequent designation
62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment Merged with 2n Bn 1948
  1st Bn D.E.R.R. 1959
  Now 1st Bn R.G.B.W.

 

The lead up to the battle
In December, 1844 the 62nd were relieved by the 39th Foot, and started their march to the Punjab . In February 1845 they reached Delhi , and they arrived at Ferozepore, in March. The 62nd's barracks were still in the process of building, as a British Regiment was not normally stationed there; the aggressive attitude of the Sikhs beyond the River Sutlej determining the change in policy. For two months the Regiment camped out, and when they moved into ten barrack blocks in May, there were still no doors to the buildings and no officers' quarters. By now the hot weather had come, and once again cholera struck the Regiment. They always seem fated to be in a part of India rife with the disease, and there was much of it in the Punjab during that month of June. In this Asiatic variety the victims turned black and suffered cramp in the limbs, but stood every chance of recovery if they survived the first forty-eight hours. The Regimental hospital was not ready till July, and the sick had to be accommodated in one belonging to the Native Infantry. In September there were 170 men in hospital, and, by the outbreak of the First Sikh War in December, 126 men had died from cholera and apoplexy. Ferozepore was just South-East of the River Sutlej, which formed the boundary between that part of the Punjab ruled by the Sikhs and the territory governed by the British. The 62nd's barracks lay in a great sandy plain without a tree or a blade of grass. A mile away was the old city, with the Frontier Treasury and Military Headquarters. 

It was against this background that the 62nd approached the forthcoming battle

 

The Battle of Ferozeshah (Conquest of the Punjab, 1st Sikh War)
At eight o'clock on the morning of 21st December Littler's Division marched. The 62nd, in full kit, red coats and stocks, numbered just under 600, including many convalescents from cholera and fever just out of hospital. By 12.30 p.m. they had covered the twelve miles without incident, and joined the other British force about five miles South-west of Ferozeshah. General Gough's total force was now about 18,000 with sixty-three guns, mostly of small calibre, and a preponderance of native troops. The exact position of the enemy was not discovered until three in the afternoon, when they were found strongly entrenched around Ferozeshah village. This Sikh force was the one commanded by Lal Singh; reinforced since fighting at Moodkee, it now totalled over 30,000 men with more than 100 guns, many of large calibre. Tej Singh, with at least an equivalent force, was still encamped some ten miles away near the Sutlej . The village of Ferozeshah lay behind a high embankment, along which the Sikhs were positioned. In front of them the ground was flat and completely open for 300 yards, then came brushwood and jungle through which the British advanced to the attack at four in the afternoon. On the British left flank Major-General Littler ordered Acting Brigadier Reed's Brigade to take station next to the main body, with Acting-Brigadier Ashburnham's Brigade on his left. Deployment was from the right, which meant that Ashburnham's three Regiments needed longer to get into position than Reed's. However, once Reed's Brigade was deployed, Littler placed himself behind them and ordered the advance. As a result Reed's left flank was exposed, as Ashburnham had not had time to get into position, and his right flank was equally unprotected, as a gap of a quarter of a mile was opened up between his Brigade and the main body. It also brought Reed's men under fire well before anyone else, and the Sikh artillery could concentrate on them alone. The 62nd, led by Major Shortt, were on the right, the 12th Native Infantry on their left, and the 14th Native Infantry in support. Under tremendous fire the two Native Regiments hung back except for a few files. Ashburnham was having similar trouble on the left, only managing to get one-third of his men into action. The 62nd, having advanced through the trees and brushwood with round shot and shell dropping among them, came into the open entirely unsupported opposite the strongest part of the Sikh fieldworks. A storm of grape-shot and canister met them at short range, and masses of enemy cavalry threatened their left flank. 

The 62nd at Ferozeshah

A Modern Painting depicting the actions of the 62nd on the 21st December 1845

For twenty minutes they struggled slowly forward, by which time half of them were casualties. The Regiment then halted and commenced firing. Reed, seeing them exposed to certain destruction right under the muzzles of the Sikh guns, ordered a charge. This they were quite unable to do, having been on the move for nine hours in the sun without food or water, and having advanced rapidly through jungle and over heavy ground. Many of the convalescents among them had doubled through out most of the attack in order to keep up, and the survivors were exhausted. In Reed's own words, "Unable to urge them on, they declaring they would stay there as long as I wished but had not the strength to charge, which was true, seeing the fire to which they were exposed, I took the responsibility of ordering them to retire, which they did in good order."

Night camp at Ferozeshah 21st Dec 45

The night bivouac of the British army at Ferozeshah on the night of the 21st December 1845
 
Ferozeshah - The Ground 21st/22nd December 1845

Ferozeshah - The Ground

The Sikh view of the Battle of Ferozeshah
The Sikh Army, consisting of five divisions numbering 50,000 men and 108 guns was assembled on the right bank of the Sutlej . They were to invest Ferozepur, where Maj. Gen. Littler was caught unawares with 7500 men and 35 heavy guns. Two divisions under the command of Lal Singh, a Brahmin from the Gandhara Valley and the Sikh Army C-in-C, took position at Ferozeshahr village/ ten miles above, to intercept the main British Army marching from Ambala to relieve Ferozepur. The other commander was Tej Singh, again neither a Sikh nor a Punjabi, nor true to his adopted country, which was Ranjit Singh's Punjab . He was a Gour Brahmin from Sardhana, Meerut , and had been placed in the position in 1845 during the infant Dalip Singh's rule. Before moving onto Ferozepur - as he should have done - Tej Singh secretly informed the British Agent at Ferozepur, John Nicholson: "I have crossed with the Sikh Army. You know my friendship with the British. Tell me what to do?" Nicholson advised him not to attack Ferozepur and "to halt as many days as you can and then march towards the Governor General".The other player in this sordid tale of treachery was Lal Singh. On 13 November 1845 , a sketch map was sent by him to Sir Henry Hardinge, the Governor General, and Gen. Hugh Gough the C-in-C who joined him at Ambala Cantonment. It showed the entire battle plan of the Sikh Army under Gen. Lal Singh. It included the proposed deployment of forces for the attack and the cavalry charge, the position of the foot soldiers for accuracy of fire, the placement of guns, and finally the method of attack. The stratagem had a touch of the late Maharaja Ranjit Singh's French generals including shades of some of Napoleon's battle plans. There could have been no worse treachery in history.

After the Mudki setback the Sikhs moved to and entrenched themselves around the village of Ferozeshahr , ten miles from Mudki. Sir John Littler who had affected a junction with the main body of the British Army four miles from the Sikh entrenchment, now decided upon an immediate attack.

The British artillery mounted a steady barrage of fire followed by an infantry attack, gaining a foothold in the Sikh entrenchment. The Sikh infantry drawn up behind its artillery guns retaliated with fierce musketry fire and the British were hurled back with heavy losses. The next British charge succeeded in wresting advantage from the Sikhs, the contest continuing with greater determination throughout the night earning it the appellation "night of terror". The position of the British grew graver as the night wore on.The British had suffered terrible casualties with every single member of the Governor General's staff either killed or wounded. That frosty night "the fate of British India trembled in the balance." Sir Hope Grant, one of the British Generals bloodied in the Anglo-Sikh Wars recorded: "Truly the night was one of gloom and foreboding and perhaps never in the annals of warfare has a British Army on so large a scale been nearer to a defeat which would have involved annihilation. The Sikhs had practically recovered the whole of their entrenched camp: our exhausted and decimated divisions bivouacked' without mutual cohesion over a wide area." Lord Hardinge sent his son back to Mudki with a sword awarded to him for services during the Napoleonic campaigns with instructions that in the event of a defeat, all his private papers were to be destroyed.

The Khalsa's muscle: 

Sikh gunners stand by their weapons as the British Army begins its near-suicidal advance at Ferozeshah. It is against these guns that the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment attacked

An entry in Robert Cust's diary reveals that the generals had decided to lay down arms: "News came from the Governor General that our attack of yesterday failed, that affairs were desperate, all state papers were be destroyed, and that if the morning attack failed would be over; this was kept secret by Mr. Currie and we were considering measures to make an unconditional surrender to save the wounded..."

However in the morning, the Sikh soldiers were again betrayed by their leaders. First Lal Singh fled battlefield. Then Tej Singh with a large force from the Sutlej did not even attempt to repulse the British. Having exhausted their men and munitions the British had neither fight in them nor were they a match for the Sikhs. Treacherously, after firing a few rounds Tej Singh retreated He had intentionally delayed his arrival and not appeared on the scene till he had seen Lal Singh's forces dispersed.

 

 

The Regiment Remembers
As a result of the actions of the 62nd on this day the Regiment has held an annual parade in appreciation of the services rendered by the Sergeants during the battle, when the officer casualties were so high they took over the responsibility of carrying the Regiments Colours. On that parade the Colours are handed over by the Commanding Officer to the custody of the Warrant Officers and Sergeants of the Battalion for the rest of the day.

Prior to handing over the Colours the Commanding Officer reads out the charge:

"Warrant Officers and Sergeants of the Wiltshire/Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment/RGBW I am about to hand over to your custody for a period, the Colours of the 1st Battalion. This high honour is bestowed on you in commemoration of the gallant services rendered by your predecessors at the battle of Ferozeshah, the anniversary of which we celebrate today. Safeguard and honour these Colours as your Officers have ever done and let the fact that our Colours are entrusted to your keeping be not only a reminder of past services but also a visible expression of the confidence and trust which today your Officers justly place in you."

 A Sergeants' Ball is held in the evening and the Colours are handed back to the officers at midnight . The Wiltshire Regiment, The Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment and the present day Regiment The Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment have all commemorated this battle in December, the size of which is dictated by the operational requirements of the day.

 

The Wiltshire's commemorate 'Ferozeshah' 21st December 1933 in India

Wiltshire Regiment 1933

 

The Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment commemorate 'Ferozeshah' in Northern Ireland 1986

DERR Northern Ireland 1986

 

The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment commemorate 'Ferozeshah' in 2001

RGBW 2001

 

OTHER UNITS ENTITLED TO THE BATTLE HONOUR
3rd Hussars
Royal Norfolk Regiment
Worcestershire Regiment
East Surry Regiment
South Staffordshire Regiment
Royal West Kent Regiment
Royal Munster Fusiliers (Then 1st Bengal European Light Infantry)
 
Sources Acknowledgements
The Wiltshire Regiment by Col Kenrick Sikh Heritage
The Dring Family Website The Dring Family
   
 
 
                             
 
                        
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                            Revised: 19 July 2006.