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Battle Honours or Battle colours are military honours presented to Army regiments and platoons for their bravery during war. Some schools have been awarded Regimental Honours in recognition of their alumni serving in armies, but La Martiniere Lucknow stands unique as the only institution in the world to have been awarded Battle Honours for its part in the First War of Indian Independence in 1857.

“Of all the buildings of old Lucknow, surely none has a stranger or more romantic history than that of La Martiniere.” This is how British scholar Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones described the institution.

credits: Ishan Kalhans for TJR

La Martiniere College for Boys in Lucknow, India, has a distinct place in History for a rare honor to its name. While a number of schools around the world have been awarded battle colors in recognition of their alumni serving in armies, La Martiniere is the only school in the world to have been awarded royal Battle Honors for the courage displayed by its students and staff during the First War of Independence, 1857.

La Martiniere College, Lucknow, was established in 1845, in accordance with the will of Major-General Claude Martin, a Frenchman in the East India Company.  Built at the end of the 18th century, Claude Martin gave the institution its name. He arrived at Pondicherry in 1751 as a common soldier of the French, but he threw in his lot with the English after the Siege of Pondicherry, 1778. Soon, Martin rose to the ranks of Major-General and amassed a vast fortune for himself. While in Awadh to prepare the first authentic and scientific maps of the region extending from Assam to Awadh, he attracted the attention of  Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud-Daula, and thereafter became his close confidante and a power behind the scenes. He advised the British as well as the Nawabs of Awadh on financial and political matters. During his remaining life in Lucknow, he designed and constructed several outstanding buildings, some of which, include Chattar Manzil and Bibiapur Kothi. The most distinguished of all the buildings designed by him is “Constantia”, which is now over 200 years old. Described as “a wedding cake in brick”, a “Gothic castle” and a “baroque folly”, Constantia is the focal point of La Martiniere, Lucknow.

La Martiniere College was deeply affected by the events of 1857. The College and its residents were evacuated to the Residency on 13 June, 1857, as per the orders of Sir Henry Lawrence-the Chief Commissioner of Awadh, even after the Principal, George Schilling, had fortified the school buildings and stocked provisions with the intention of defending La Martiniere. When the Lucknow Residency held by the British was besieged by Indian soldiers who had revolted against them, 67 students of the school along with the Principal and the other staff were inside the Residency compound. Since the British were short of troops, the students were assigned military, hospital and domestic duties and they acquitted themselves with it gallantly. They were housed in a building belonging to a Lucknow banker. The Martiniere Contingent was commanded by the Principal, Mr. George Schilling. Six students who were considered able of bearing arms had to do the duty of a  soldier, mounting guard in turns and standing to arms when the position was attacked. This post was renamed as the “Martiniere Post”. They defended an extremely exposed part of the southern perimeter of the Residency, withstood infantry and artillery attacks and were subjected to mining operations. The Martiniere Post was  thirty feet distant from Johannes House, held by the rebels, and as a consequence it was exposed to heavy shelling. On one occasion, a mine blew down the outer room of The Martiniere Post, but the boys defended the breach and after several days of gruesome fighting, they managed to drive off their enemies. In the face of great hardship they stood courageous and successfully defended The Martiniere Post for almost five months. Meanwhile, their studies continued. Two boys died due to illness and two others were wounded in action. The Residency was under siege for eighty-six days, until relieved by Sir Colin Campbell. The Martiniere Contingent also took part in the secret evacuation of the Residency. After the siege, the college was temporarily moved to Benares.

The Martiniere contribution was recognized in Queen Victoria’s Proclamation (1858). The staff and the boys who served during the Mutiny were all awarded with the ‘Indian Mutiny Medal’, inscribed with the words “Defense of Lucknow”, in recognition of their bravery and steadfastness. In 1938, La Martiniere College, Lucknow, was granted the right to carry a British Army regimental-style ‘colour’ or flag bearing its own coat of arms with a picture of the Residency and the words “Defense of Lucknow,1857”, on ceremonial occasions. It thus became the only school in the world to be awarded a British battle honour.

Ishan Kalhans is a student pursuing History from Jamia Millia Islamia.

edited by: Nuzhat Khan

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Ishan Kalhans

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