The Wokingham Paper

Twyford author asks: ‘Is now the time to say sorry over Amritsar?’

Vanessa Holburn
Vanessa Holburn Picture: © Kathryn Fell Photography

A TWYFORD author hopes her book will throw new light on one of the darkest periods in British colonial history.

A hundred years ago this month, nearly 400 unarmed Indians attending a rally in the Jallianwala Bagh gardens in Amritsar were massacred after British troops opened fire.

More than 1,200 people were injured in the atrocity which galvanised the national independence movement and signalled the beginning of the end for the British Raj.

In her book, The Amritsar Massacre: The British Empire’s Worst Atrocity, Vanessa Holburn asks whether it is time for Britain to make a formal apology and what the tragedy says about modern Britain.

“With Brexit uppermost on the international agenda, never has the issue of how the British are perceived as a nation come into such sharp focus,” said Vanessa.

“Are we still a nation of the stiff upper lip or have we changed? What does that terrible event say about who we are today and why does it remain so controversial?”

Vanessa says her book differs from other accounts as she approaches the massacre from the point of view of a journalist and author rather than as an academic. This asks whether enough was done to investigate if General Robert Dyer acted alone or with the full support of his superiors and who was ultimately responsible for the 1,650 rounds of ammunition discharged that day?

“My book controversially asks if now is an appropriate time for an official apology,” she adds.

“Last week, MP Mark Field made an intervention in a Commons debate to raise the issue of an apology and while Theresa May did express regret, she has still stopped short of an official apology. Former Prime Minister David Cameron also side-stepped calls for an apology during an official visit to Amritsar. One hundred years on, is it time to say sorry?

“I don’t think an apology should be made just because it is what governments do today or to improve trade relations between Britain and India.

“I think an apology is necessary because there are people living today who may be British citizens, but their relatives suffered as a result of what happened in Amritsar and that still affects them today.”

The Amritsar Massacre: The British Empire’s Worst Atrocity is published by Pen and Sword History. With an RRP of £19.99, it is available from all good bookshops.

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