General Sir Walter Gilbert

General Sir Walter Gilbert Born in Bodmin in 1785, a descendant of the Elizabethan seaman Sir Humphry Gilbert.

At 15 he became a cadet in the Bengal Infantry. He rose to major-general and through his conquests in Northern India became a national hero. The army even issued a medal with his picture on it - only Wellington as an army officer has had the same honour. The Punjab Campaign medal - the obverse bears the diademed head of young Queen Victoria and the legend ‘VICTORIA REGINA’. The reverse depicts the Sikh army surrendering to Major General Sir Walter Gilbert while in the background can be seen troops of the East India Company

The citizens of Bodmin decided in 1854 to erect a memorial to him on the hill overlooking the town. A tall, slim granite obelisk was put up. 144 feet high with the story of his Sikh and Afghan campaigns written on the four sides of the base.

The Indian Empire has now gone, and those that fought there like Gilbert largely forgotten. Very little can be found of his service in India. The two major battles he took part in were one defeat and one victory.

Lord Gough fought the Battle of Chillianwala on 13 January 1849. Major-General Gilbert's 2nd Infantry Division (5,248 men) was placed on the right. The British lost this battle against the sikhs. The most serious disaster befell Gilbert's division which halted when a large body of Sikhs surrounded them. Gilbert's men had neither the cover of guns nor the support of cavalry. In the hand to hand fight, the brigade was driven back with heavy loss. The battle had lasted over three hours when Lord Gough ordered the whole army to retreat. British casualties in the action amounted to 2,446 men and 132 officers killed with four guns lost. The loss of British prestige at Chillianwala was one of the factors which contributed to the Indian Mutiny some nine years later

The Battle of Gujarat fought on 21 February 1849, gave the British victory. The Sikh army had regrouped on the banks of the Jehlum.The Battle of Gujarat was a large battle. The British army now consisted of 56,636 men four infantry divisions, 11,569 horse, 96 field-guns, and 67 siege-guns including ten 18-pounders and six 8-inch howitzers drawn by elephants. For this obvious reason the battle of Gujarat has often been described as "the battle of guns." Heavy artillery drove Sher Singh's troops from their position without resorting to the bayonet, and then turned their retreat into a rout with his cavalry and horse artillery. After the death of British wounded at Chillianwala, British troops at Gujarat were merciless.

With the decisive British victory at Gujarat the hostilities ended on 11 March 1849. The Second Sikh War ended with the annexation of the Punjab to British India. Sher Singh and Chatar Singh formally surrendered their swords to Major-General Gilbert near Rawalpindi.


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