The Butcher of Amritsar: General of Reginald Dyer by Nigel Collet - review by Frank Fairfield

Frank Fairfield

The Day the Raj Died

The Butcher of Amritsar: General of Reginald Dyer


Hambledon & London 575pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Amritsar Massacre was the biggest and bloodiest blot on the generally benign record of British rule in India, and by its long-term results effectively doomed that rule - indeed, arguably, the British Empire itself. Amritsar was a watershed: before it, imperialism was broadly regarded as a good thing by the British public, and even by many Indians - and, of course, by the rulers themselves. After it, confidence in the moral legitimacy, as well as the practical efficacy, of empire slowly ebbed away. The thirteenth of April 1919 was a momentous day: 379 men, women and children died, and it is astonishing that this book, published on the eighty-first anniversary of the slaughter, is only the second biography of the massacre's architect, General Reginald 'Rex' Dyer. 

Nigel Collett, in a praiseworthy first book, has undertaken a monumental task of historical research and reconstruction. An ex-officer of the Gurkhas, he knows India and the background to his subject at first hand. Without disguising his distaste for Dyer, his book is exemplary in its even-handed fairness

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