Military Prison Dagshai Postcard

This week’s postcard continues our look at some of the hill stations of India and we are back at Dagshai for a second week, this time with an image of the military prison:SKM_C284e18100110170We touched on the military prison at Dagshai last week, but it is worthy of closer inspection. The prison was constructed in 1849 and has 54 cells, each measuring 8’x12’ of which sixteen were reserved for prisoners in solitary confinement. The cost of the building was Rs 72,873. It was primarily used to house military prisoners, British, Ghurkha and Indian although occasionally other dissidents were housed here. The front of the building has two large blocks, that I assume are administration buildings:SKM_C284e18100110170 - CopyThese survive today, however the walls are now whitewashed and the roof of the right hand block is now an attractive shade of green! The main range of buildings behind holds the gaol proper:SKM_C284e18100110170 - Copy (2)The prison is today a museum so the building is little changed from the days of this photograph, and the interior is a forbidding place:dagshai1In 1914, a wealthy Sikh, Baba Gurdit Singh from Singapore, chartered a Japanese ship, Komagatamaru, to take some 350 Sikhs to Canada. They were all ex-Army men seeking re-settlement in British-ruled Canada. They were refused disembarkation. The ship had to return to Calcutta where 20 “ring leaders” were arrested on arrival and sent to the Dagshai jail. Four of them were hanged.

On May 13, 1915, the Sikh soldiers of 23 Risala (Cavalry) were being shipped from Nagaon Cantonment in Uttar Pradesh to the war front. At the railway station a piece of luggage belonging to Dafedar Wadhawa Singh fell down and a grenade kept in it exploded. When other bags were searched more grenades were found. He, along with others, was arrested and their links to the Ghadar Party were discovered. All soldiers of the regiment were arrested and a court martial was held in Dagshai. Twelve were sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad.

In 1920, the Irish Catholic soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Connaught Rangers mutinied against their officers. The mutineers were brought to the Dagshai jail, including their leader, James Daly. On the morning of November 2, 1920, 22-year-old Private James Daly was led out into the prison yard and was executed by a firing squad.

“It is all for Ireland. I am not afraid to die!” he wrote in his last letter to his mother. Apart from dying for his country, Daly also made history by becoming the last member of the British army to be executed for a military offence.

He was buried at the Dagshai Cemetery until 1970, when his remains were repatriated to Ireland and given a funeral with full military honours.

Mahatma Ghandi visited Dagshai to show his support for the Irishman’s cause and it is probably this link that resulted in the prison being turned into a museum once it was closed by the Indian Army in the 1970s. Today it remains a popular tourist destination, even if it is off the beaten path and many Indians and foreign visitors visit it every year.

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