31 March 1904
On 31 March 1904, an invading British army used maxim machine guns to massacre retreating Tibetan soldiers who had committed the crime of refusing to be disarmed of their antiquated matchlock muskets. In less than ten minutes between six and seven hundred Tibetans were slaughtered, against not even one British fatality. Lieutenant Arthur Hadow confessed in a letter to his mother
‘I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire though the general’s order was to make as big a bag as possible,’ adding ‘I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away.’1
The Press Association correspondent reported how ‘the Tibetans, though their retreat was still open, disdained to scatter and run. They tramped away slowly, steadily, sullen and solemn, followed by a perfect hail of bullets… A terrible trail of dead and dying marked their line of march.’2 General James Macdonald, commanding the British force, explained in his daily dispatch, which was printed in full in several newspapers, that the fault was not his and that the mass slaughter had been ’caused by the complete inability of the Tibetans, even when our troops absolutely surrounded them, to take in the seriousness of the situation.’3
The British press unhesitatingly approved of the general’s use of murderous force. An editorial in the Midland Daily Telegraph explained:
‘We do not care to dwell on the slaughter of the Tibetans. They were obstinate as men are liable to be obstinate when they find their country invaded… It was perhaps essential to give them a lesson… (and) we can only hope that the Tibetans have been taught to respect our arms, and that they will not again so pathetically and so needlessly expose themselves to modern death dealing instruments in skilful hands.’4
The Daily Mail concurred, declaring that
‘a British force has been compelled to… inflict a memorable and, considering all the circumstances, terrible chastisement upon an ignorant and turbulent people… and a race which all other efforts had failed to bring to reason has received its first hard lesson in the meaning of modern weapons.’5
- Quoted in Premen Addy, Tibet Pawn and Pivot of the Great Game, Academic Publishers, Kolkata, 2018, p. 78.
- ‘Without Parallel in War History,’ The Shrewsbury Chronicle, 8 April 1904, p. 3.
- ‘The Fight in Tibet,’ The London Evening Standard, 2 April 1904, p. 5
- ‘The Slaughter of Tibetans’, The Midland Daily Telegraph, 4 April 1904, p. 2
- The Daily Mail quoted in The Northern Times, 7 April 1904, p. 2.
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