Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwalla massacre, had a very sad end to his life. Dyer’s military career began serving briefly in the regular British army before transferring to serve with the Presidency armies of India. As a temporary brigadier-general he was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. Condemned as “the Butcher of Amritsar”, Dyer was removed from duty; he was criticised both in Britain and India, but he became a celebrated hero among people with connections to the British Raj. Some historians argue the episode was a decisive step towards the end of British rule in India.
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Eight years after the massacre, Dyer suffered 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 in 1927. On his deathbed, Dyer 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.
A UK Daily, The Morning Post remembered him in an article titled “The Man Who Saved India” and “He Did His Duty” but the (Liberal) Westminster Gazette wrote a contrary opinion: “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.”
Historian Gordon Johnson commented that “…Dyer’s actions ran counter to Army regulations. These required that force should be constrained by what was reasonable to achieve an immediate objective; minimum, not maximum, force should be deployed. Moreover, proper warning had to be given.
On April 13, 1919, as demonstrated by Collett, Dyer ignored this. While he may have believed the Raj was threatened, and may have thought the mob was out to attack him and his soldiers, this does not justify his cavalier abuse of procedure and his indifference to Indian suffering. In so behaving, he brought not only death to the innocent but also destroyed himself and undermined the empire in which he took so much pride
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