British Army General. He is remembered as the “Amritsar Butcher” of British India. At 5:15 PM on April 13, 1919, he, a British officer, gave the order to his soldiers to fire indiscriminately without warming on a crowd of more than 2,000 Indians holding a political-religious meeting; they were in a walled-in area without a way to exit. Some of the victims were killed as they fell in the escape stampede, while others drown seeking cover in a well from the spraying bullets. The gun fire lasted for 10 minutes stopping when the ammunition was nearly exhausted. At least 379, maybe closer to a thousand, of unarmed civilian man, women and children were killed along with wounding at least 1,200 victims. Since a curfew was called at sunset, many of the wounded died while waiting for help to come at sunrise. World-wide, he had many supporters of his actions as he “just did his job”, while others, including British Secretary of State for War Winston Church, were outraged. On the morning of July 8, 1920, when the debate on Dyer’s action opened in the House of Commons, Churchill used the word “monstrous” to describe the massacre and wanting Dyer to receive punishment. Knowing his orders were in question and having self-doubt, Dyer changed his story of the events leading to many not believing him. A huge sum of money was collected from around the world for his defense but in the end, the money looked like an award for his actions. On July 17, 1920, Dyer resigned from duty for a retirement in England with no formal punishment. If Dyer was “just doing his job”, who gave him the order for this massacre? There were several candidates, but in the end, no one was formally held responsible. Although he was widely known as “General Dyer”, in reality he was not so. He was only a temporary Brigadier-General and when he lost command of the Fifth Brigade in India, the rank went too. He was actually a colonel and would receive the pension for that rank. With his health failing, on January 25, 1921, he petitioned to the War Office asking to keep his honorary rank, but would remain a colonel. After retirement, several strokes had left him speechless and immobile; he died at home after having another stroke caused from arteriosclerosis. His self-doubt stayed with him till the end. One of his final statements was “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.” His funeral was held at All Saints Church in Long Ashton, which was his parish church being less than a mile from the Dyer cottage. A military funeral was held as well at St Martin's in the Fields in London, and directly after this funeral service, his body was cremated in Golders Green in London. With no memorial stone, the final resting place for his ashes is only known to the family. Careful not to leave anything behind, his wife, Annie, destroyed all his papers. His cottage, which has a new owner, is now isolated from the public with only the postman allowed to come to the door. Born in British India to a brew master, he was educated in Ireland. With his mathematical and linguistic talents, he obtained a military commission but was slow to advance in rank as he was never in the right place at the right time. The role of Dyer’s character was performed by actor Edward Fox in the 1982 film “Gandhi. Dyer's actions in Amritsar are in the 1981 novel “Midnight's Children”, by Salman Rushdie, in the 1989 novel "The Great Indian Novel” by Shashi Tharoor and in the 2005 historical biography “The Butcher of Amritsar” by Nigel Collett.
Bio by: Linda Davis