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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Ever read of 'siege of Arrah' - may know 'siege of Calais' though !!

 Ajadi ka Amrit mahotsav - celebrate Indian freedom.  Learn about the great martyrs who gave us the fresh air to breathe and live freely.  Yet another instance of injustice - Indian History read about clemency of British and how they were kind ! but never knew of this place ‘Arrah’ and its importance in our freedom struggle 

Ara Junction railway station (station code: ARA), is a railway station serving the city of Arrah in the Bhojpur district in  Bihar.  It lies in between Buxar and Patna on Patna-Mughalsarai section of Howrah-Patna-Delhi main line which serves it with numerous trains. According to our scriptures,  "Ara" is derived from the Sanskrit word Aranya, which means forest. Sage Vishwamitra, the Guru of Rama, had his 'Ashram' in this region & Sree Rama killed the demon Taraka  near Arrah.  It was later known as  Shahabad, a name given to it by Babur in 1529, when he camped here after his victory against the Afghans of Bihar.   

This post is about history ! - about the siege that occurred here .. .. in fact today some read on ‘siege of Calais’ took me here and the fact that the kindly endowed Britishwere fighting for land and killing people even 676 years ago. 

The siege of Arrah (27 July – 3 August 1857) was the eight-day defence of a fortified outbuilding, occupied by a combination of 18 civilians and 50 members of the Bengal Military Police Battalion, against 2,500 to 3,000 mutinying Bengal Native Infantry sepoys from three regiments and an estimated 8,000 men from irregular forces commanded by Kunwar Singh, the local zamindar or chieftain who controlled the Jagdishpur estate. An attempt to break the siege failed, with around 290 casualties out of around 415 men in the relief party. Shortly afterwards, a second relief effort consisting of 225 men and three artillery guns—carried out despite specific orders that it should not take place—dispersed the forces surrounding the building, suffering two casualties, and the besieged party escaped. Only one member of the besieged group was injured. 

On 10 May 1857, a mutiny by the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry, a Bengal Army unit stationed in Meerut, triggered a full-fledged Indian Independence war, that quickly spread through the Bengal Presidency. The town of Arrah, headquarters of Shahabad district, besides its local inhabitants, had a population at the time that included British and European employees of the East India Company and the East Indian Railway Company, and their respective families.  At the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny there were native forces serving East India company and those here had been loyal to Kunwar Singh. Mr Singh, was around 80 years of age, nursed grievances against the East India Company regarding deprivation of his lands and income, and was described as "the high-souled chief of a warlike tribe, who had been reduced to a nonentity by the yoke of a foreign invader" by George Trevelyan in his 1864 book The Competition Wallah.  

Around 25 mi (40 km) east of Arrah, the 7th, 8th and 40th Regiments of Bengal Native Infantry were stationed in Dinapore, alongside the British Army's 10th and 37th Regiments of Foot. Throughout June, Tayler received anonymous letters warning him about the conduct of the sepoys, and he was informed that large sums of money were being distributed to the sepoys for unknown reasons.  Tayler also ordered the interception of all mail being sent to and from the three regiments, leading to the discovery of plotters within Dinapore and nearby Patna who were then jailed. The 10th and 37th Regiments of Foot, also stationed in Dinapore, then opened fire on the mutineers. The 40th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry, who had begun to comply with Lloyd's order, were also fired on in the confusion.  All three regiments of Bengal Native Infantry then left Dinapore heading toward Arrah.   Throughout the entire siege Wake kept a diary by writing on the walls of the building so there would be a record of events if the besieged party did not survive.   On the morning of 27 July the mutineers, joined by Kunwar Singh and his forces, arrived in Arrah, released the prisoners from the jail and, joined by its guards, looted the treasury of 85,000 rupees. Over the following seven days the besieged party faced constant musket fire, with fire from two artillery pieces.     

Major Vincent Eyre, a Bengal Artillery officer in command of the East India Company's Number 1 Company, and other units was stationed in Buxar, and was under orders to head to Cawnpore with his battery.  Eyre felt so confident of victory that he dismissed the men from the 78th Foot and went ahead without them. Unable to locate horses to move his battery's guns, Eyre used bullocks instead and was able to procure two elephants to move the party's baggage. On 30 July, at about 4:00 pm, Eyre's expedition started for Arrah. Eyre's force encountered an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 mutinying sepoys accompanied by Kunwar Singh's forces—including Kunwar Singh himself. Against gun fire, mutinying sepoys had to retreat, with an estimated 600 casualties.         

According to Wake's official report about the siege, "Nothing but cowardice, want of unanimity, and only the ignorance of our enemies, prevented our fortification being brought down about our ears."  For their actions during the siege, Wake was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath,  and Boyle was made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India after the 1861 creation of the order.  A few days after the relief of Arrah, the 50 besieged members of the Bengal Military Police Battalion received a gratuity of 12 months' pay as a reward for their loyalty and Jemadar Singh was promoted to Subedar upon Wake's recommendation.  Eyre's force destroyed most of the town of Jagdispur including the palace and temple.  Eyre was publicly censured by Governor General Canning in The London Gazette for the temple's destruction.

The Siege of Arrah marked the beginning of Singh's fight against the East India Company. Following Arrah he fought on, first leading his irregular forces to Lucknow, then keeping them together during an organised retreat back to Jagdispur. Singh died in April 1858. His irregular forces continued to fight, repelling an expedition sent to destroy them, until they finally laid down their arms in November 1858 as part of the general amnesty.  The besieged building still stands on the grounds of Maharaja College, Arrah, where it now houses a museum commemorating the life of Kunwar Singh. 

Thousands of miles away, occurred the siege of Calais (4 September 1346 – 3 August 1347) at the conclusion of the Crécy campaign, when an English army under the command of King Edward III of England successfully besieged the French town of Calais during the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War. 

The English army of some 10,000 men had landed in northern Normandy on 12 July 1346. They embarked on a large-scale raid, or chevauchée, devastating large parts of northern France. On 26 August 1346, fighting on ground of their own choosing, the English inflicted a heavy defeat on a large French army led by their king Philip VI at the Battle of Crécy.  Confronted with a well-entrenched English and Flemish force of more than 50,000, French withdrew and on 3rd  August Calais capitulated. It provided the English with an important strategic lodgement for the remainder of the Hundred Years' War and beyond. The port was not recaptured by the French until 1558.  Edward granted Calais numerous trade concessions or privileges and it became the main port of entry for English exports to the continent, a position which it still holds.  Calais was finally lost by the English monarch Mary I, following the 1558 siege of Calais. The fall of Calais marked the loss of England's last possession in mainland France.
With regards - S. Sampathkumar
3rd Aug 2022
Pic of siege of Arrah taken from wiki commons.

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