from 'Deeds That Thrill the Empire'
'How Lieutenant Smyth, of the 15th Sikhs,
Won the V.C.'

Decorated for Bravery


'How Lieutenant Smyth, of the 15th Sikhs, Won the V.C.

and Ten Brave Indians the Indian Distinguished Service Medal, at the Ferme du Bois

There are no finer fighting men in our Indian Army than the Sikhs, the descendants of those fierce long haired warriors who fought so stubbornly against us at Firozshah and Chilianwala, and afterwards stood so loyally by the British Raj in the dark days of the Mutiny. And there are no finer officers in the world than the men who lead them, for no youngster stands a chance of being gazetted to a Sikh regiment who has not shown that he possesses in a marked degree all the qualities which are likely to ensure the confidence and devotion of those whom he aspires to command.

When the first Indian contingent disembarked at Marseilles in the early autumn of 1914 there were some arm-chair critics who expressed doubts as to whether, under, conditions of warfare so totally different from those with which he was familiar, the native soldier might not be found wanting. But these sceptics were speedily confounded; for, however strange and terrifying might be the sight of the destruction wrought by hand-grenades and high-explosive shells, however trying the long vigils in trenches knee-deep in mud and water, the Sepoy accepted it all with Oriental stoicism, and wherever his officer led, he cheerfully followed, though it was into the very jaws of death.

And on many a desperate enterprise, on many a forlorn hope, did these officers lead him, but surely on none more so than that on which Lieutenant Smyth, of the 15th Sikhs, led his little band of dark-skinned heroes on May 18th, 1915!

On the previous night a company of the 15th, under Captain Hyde Cates, had relieved a part of the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry in a section of a trench known as the "Glory Hole," near the Ferme du Bois, on the right front of the Indian Army Corps. Here for some time fighting of a peculiarly fierce and sanguinary character had been in progress; and the position of affairs at the moment when the Sikhs replaced the Highlanders was that our men were in occupation of a section of a German trench, the remaining portion being still held by the enemy, who had succeeded in erecting a strong barricade between themselves and the British.

Towards dawn Captain Cates observed that the Germans were endeavouring to reinforce their comrades in the trench, as numbers of men were seen" doubling across the open towards its further extremity. He immediately ordered the Sikhs to fire upon them, but in the dim light they presented exceedingly difficult targets; and when morning broke it was ascertained that the German trench was packed with men, who were evidently meditating an attack. Shortly afterwards, in fact, a perfect hail of bombs began to fall among the Indians, who replied vigorously and, to judge from the shrieks and curses which came from the other side of the barricade, with considerable effect, until towards noon their supply of bombs began to fail, many of them having been so damaged by the rain which had fallen during the night as to be quite useless. The situation was a critical one; only the speedy arrival of a bombing- party from the reserve trenches could enable them to hold out.

The reserve trenches were some 250 yards distant, and the ground between so exposed to the fire of the enemy as to render the dispatch of reinforcements a most desperate undertaking. Twice had the Highland Light Infantry made the attempt, and on both occasions the officer in command had been killed and the party practically wiped out. Nevertheless, the Sikhs were resolved to take their chance, and on volunteers being called for such was the magnificent spirit of the regiment that every man stepped forward, though no one doubted that, if his services were accepted, almost certain death awaited him. Ten men were selected and placed under the command of Lieutenant Smyth, a young officer of one-and-twenty, who had already distinguished himself on more than one occasion by his dashing courage. The names of these ten heroes deserve to be remembered. They were: Sepoys Fatteh Singh, Ganda Singh, Harnam Singh, Lai Singh, Naik Mangal Singh; Sarain Singh, Sapooram Singh, Sucha Singh, Sunder Singh, and Ujagar Singh.

At two- o'clock in the afternoon Lieutenant Smyth and his little band set out on their perilous enterprise, taking with them two boxes containing ninety-six bombs. The ground which they had to traverse was absolutely devoid of all natural cover. The only approach to shelter from the terrific fire which greeted them the moment.they showed their heads above the parapet of our reserve trenches was an old partially demolished trench, which at the best of times was hardly knee-deep, but was now in places literally choked with the corpses of Highland Light Infantry, Worcesters, Indians and Germans. Dropping over the parapet, they threw themselves flat on the ground and painfully wriggled their way through the mud, pulling and pushing the boxes along with them, until they reached the scanty shelter afforded by the old trench, where they commenced a progress which for sheer horror can seldom have been surpassed.

By means of pagris attached to the boxes the men in front pulled them along over and through the dead bodies that encumbered the trench, while those behind pushed with all their might. The danger was enough to have appalled the stoutest heart. Rifle and machine-gun bullets ripped up the ground all around them, while the air above was white with the puffs of shrapnel. If a single bullet, a single fragment of shell, penetrated one of the boxes of explosives, the men propelling it would infallibly be blown to pieces.

Before they had advanced a score of yards on their terrible journey Fatteh Singh fell, severely wounded; in another hundred, Sucha Singh, Ujagar Singh and Sunder Singh were down, thus leaving only Lieutenant Smyth and six men to get the boxes along. However, spurred on by the thought of the dire necessity of their comrades ahead, they, by superhuman efforts, succeeded in dragging them nearly to the end of the trench, when, in quick succession, Sarain Singh and Sapooram Singh were shot dead, while Ganda Singh, Harnam Singh and Naik Mangal Singh were wounded. The second box of bombs had therefore to be abandoned, and for the two remaining men to haul even one box along in the face of such difficulties appeared an impossible task. But nothing was impossible to the young lieutenant and the heroic Lai Singh, and presently the anxious watchers in the trench ahead saw them wriggling their way yard by yard into the open, dragging with them the box upon the safe arrival of which so much depended.

As they emerged from the comparative shelter of the trench a veritable hail of lead burst upon them; but, escaping it as though by a miracle, they crawled on until they found themselves confronted by a small stream, which at this point was too deep to wade. They had, therefore, to turn aside and crawl along the bank of the stream until they came to a place which was just fordable. Across this they struggled with their precious burden, the water all about them churned into foam by the storm of bullets, clambered up the further bank, and in a minute more were amongst their cheering comrades. Both were unhurt, though their clothes were perforated by bullet-holes; but it is sad to relate that scarcely had they reached the trench than the gallant Lai Singh was struck by a bullet and killed instantly.

For his "most conspicuous bravery" Lieutenant Smyth received the Victoria Cross, and each of the brave men who accompanied him the Indian Distinguished Service Medal, and we may be very certain that "ne'er will their glory fade" from the proud records of our Indian Army.

It is, we may mention, the universal opinion of the men of the 15th Sikhs that Smyth Sahib bears a charmed life, since again and again he has escaped death by a hair's- breadth, on one occasion a match with which he was lighting a cigarette being taken out of his fingers by a bullet.


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