Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer is infamous for the orders that he gave on 13 April 1919 in Amritsar. It was by his command that 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, all armed with .303 Lee-Enfield rifles, opened fire on a non-violent gathering of unarmed civilians, men, women and children, at the Jallianwalla Bagh.
Some of the soldiers initially shot into the air, at which Dyer shouted: “Fire low. What have you been brought here for?” Later, Dyer’s own testimony revealed that the crowd was not given any warning to disperse and he was not remorseful for having ordered his troops to shoot.
Subsequently Dyer was removed from duty and widely condemned both in Britain and India, but he became a celebrated hero among some with connections to the British Raj.
According to hunter comission, “Colonel Dyer thought he had crushed the rebellion and Sir Michael O’Dwyer was of the same view,” but there was no rebellion which required to be crushed.”
Dyer made three conflicting sets of statements about his motives and actions but after receiving approval for his actions from all his superiors in India, both civil and military, he stated that his actions were a deliberate attempt to punish people he believed were rebels, and to make an example for the rest of the Punjab that would stop what he regarded as a rebellion.
Dyer suffered from a series of strokes during the last years of his life and he became increasingly isolated due to the paralysis and speechlessness inflicted by his strokes. He died of cerebral haemorrhage and arteriosclerosis on 23 July 1927.
On his deathbed, he reportedly said:
So many people who knew the condition of Amritsar say I did right…but so many others say I did wrong. I only want to die and know from my Maker whether I did right or wrong.
In India, the deliberate infliction of these casualties earned him the epithet of the “Butcher of Amritsar” and era of O’Dwyer and Dyer has been deemed “an era of misdeeds of British administration in India”.
Extra Fact – Dyer’s father founded the first successful brewery in India, in Kasauli on the way to Simla. As the company would come to known as Dyer Meakin, it started distilling as well and eventually started producing Old Monk rum.