Birthday: October 9, 1864
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, Reginald Edward Harry Dyer
Born Country: India
Born in: Murree, Punjab, British India (present-day Pakistan)
Famous as: Military Leader
Spouse/Ex-: Frances Anne Trevor Ommaney (m. 1888)
father: Edward Abraham Dyer
mother: Mary Passmore
children: Geoffrey Edward MacLeod, Gladys Mary, Ivon Reginald
Died on: July 24, 1927
place of death: Long Ashton, Somerset, England, United Kingdom
Cause of Death: Stroke
Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, CB, was an Indian-born British officer who served in the Bengal Army and later the newly constituted Indian Army in colonial India. Known as the “Butcher of Amritsar”, he led the troops that committed the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, Punjab, on April 13, 1919. Serving as a temporary brigadier-general, he ordered the men under him to fire at a group of peaceful protestors. At least 379 people were killed and more than a thousand were injured. Dyer received his training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and began his career with the regular British Army before becoming part of the Presidency armies of India. He served in India and Hong Kong and was made lieutenant-colonel in 1910. During World War I, he led the Seistan Force and was promoted to colonel in 1915 and temporary brigadier-general in 1916. After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, he was taken out of duty and received widespread condemnation in both India and Britain. However, many celebrated him as a hero of the British Raj. According to several prolific historians, the episode was incredibly significant in a sequence of events that led to the end of the British Raj.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on October 9, 1864, in Murree, Punjab, British India (present-day Pakistan), Reginald Dyer was the son of Edward Abraham Dyer and Mary Passmore. His father was a brewer and served as a manager at the Murree Brewery.
He grew up in Murree and Shimla and obtained his initial education at Bishop Cotton School in Shimla and the Lawrence College Ghora Gali, Murree. In 1875, he enrolled at Midleton College in County Cork, Ireland, graduating in 1881.
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Reginald Dyer graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1885 and joined the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) as a lieutenant. He was posted in Belfast in 1886, serving as part of a riot control unit.
At the advent of the Third Burmese War (1886-87), he served with the Bengal Army, initially as a lieutenant in the Bengal Staff Corps. After his tenure with the 39th Bengal Infantry, he joined the 29th Punjabis.
In 1888, he was active in the Black Mountain Campaign. In 1895, he served in the Chitral Expedition. A year later, he was made a captain. At some point around the Mahsud blockade (1901–02), he was promoted to deputy assistant adjutant general.
In August 1903, Dyer was made a major and was placed with the Landi Kotal Expedition (1908). He headed the 25th Punjabis in India and Hong Kong. In 1910, he was appointed lieutenant-colonel.
After the First World War (1914-18) broke out, he was put in command of the Seistan Force. His name appeared in the official report, and he became a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). In 1915, he was made colonel. A year later, he was appointed temporary brigadier general.
In May 1919, he fought in the Third Anglo-Afghan War. His brigade travelled to Thal, relieving the garrison posted there. Because of his actions during this campaign, his name once more appeared in the official report.
He served with the 5th Brigade at Jamrud for a few months in 1919. On July 17, 1920, he left the military service, keeping his rank of colonel.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
In the months leading up to the massacre, the entire region of Punjab was in political turmoil, and the European population was afraid that the locals would depose the British rule.
Indian nationalist Mahatma Gandhi initiated a nationwide hartal (strike action) on 30 March 1919 (later shifted to 6 April) which became violent in some areas. The British authorities were also troubled by the exhibitions of Hindu-Muslim unity. They decided to expel major agitators from the province, including Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew.
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On 10 April 1919, a protest was organised before the residence of Miles Irving, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. A military picket fired at the people there, killing several protestors. This led to immediate violent backlash. A mob formed, and they torched government buildings and assaulted Europeans in the city. Three European bank officials were killed by the mob. A female teacher almost suffered the same fate, but she was saved by the locals.
Dyer, who was posted in Jalandhar as the head of the city’s infantry brigade, came to Amritsar to take over the command on 11 April. The authorities’ early claims of the massacre being the result of the assault on Marcella Sherwood, the teacher, later turned out to be only a pretext. Dyer and Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab from 1912 to 1919, were worried of an imminent mutiny in Punjab.
On April 13, 1919, civilians had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh to participate in the annual Baisakhi celebrations and peacefully protest against the arrests. Most came from outside of the city and did not know that a curfew had been imposed in Amritsar.
Dyer arrived with 50 troops, including 25 Gurkhas of 1/9 Gurkha Rifles (1st battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles), 25 Pathans and Baluch, 54th Sikhs and 59th Sindh Rifles, and ordered his men to block all the main exits and fire their .303 Lee–Enfield rifles at the assembled crowd.
According to the estimate of the Hunter Commission, 379 people, including 41 boys and a six-week-old baby, died and over 1,100 people were injured. The real numbers were likely a lot higher than that. Some sources claim that over a thousand people were killed that day and more than 1,800 were injured.
On 14 April, Dyer issued a statement in Urdu, threatening the local population with dire consequences if they refused to let things return to normalcy. The spot where Sherwood was attacked was proclaimed sacred by Dyer, and the locals wishing to go forward in the street from 6 am to 8 pm were forced to crawl the 200 yards on all fours.
Indian & British Response
Dyer remained vehemently unrepentant throughout his life. However, he was condemned by people like Winston Churchill, Edwin Samuel Montagu, and Charles Freer Andrews in Britain.
In India, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood in protest. The incident made Mahatma Gandhi realize that the pursuit of complete freedom for Indian people was the only logical way forward. The episode also deeply influenced several next-generation Indian revolutionaries, including Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh.
Family & Personal Life
On April 4, 1888, Dyer exchanged wedding vows with Frances Annie Ommaney, the daughter of Edmund Piper Ommaney, in St Martin's Church, Jhansi, India. The couple had three children together, Gladys Mary (born 1889), Ivon Reginald (1895), and Geoffrey Edward MacLeod (1896).
Death & Legacy
After his retirement, Reginald Dyer received a gift of £26,000 sterling from a fund organised on his behest by the ‘Morning Post.’ In the last years of his life, Dyer had several strokes.
On July 24, 1927, he passed away at his cottage in Somerset, St Martin's, Long Ashton, near Bristol, after suffering cerebral haemorrhage and arteriosclerosis.
Following his death, the reactions in Britain were mixed. The ‘Morning Post’ hailed him as the “man who saved India”, while the ‘Westminster Gazette’ held the opinion that "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”.
Surprisingly, despite his involvement in the massacre and no apparent remorse for it, no attempt on his life was made by Indian insurgents. However, that was not the case with O'Dwyer, who, according to many historians, was the man who ordered the massacre. In 1940, he was killed by the revolutionary Udham Singh.