Almost a decade back, I heard a friend talking about a British era cannon in a village near Chakwal, awarded to a soldier of first world war. The story always fascinated me and I longed to see the artifact myself one day. A couple of months back, while reading ‘The Salt range and Potohar Plateau’ by dear friend Salman Rashid, I turned a page and the photograph of a beautiful majestic Gun was before me. The book proved to be the final catalyst in making me decide that life is incomplete without my seeing this piece of history myself. So after a bit of more research, I was on my way to Dulmial in once peaceful Kahoon valley.
From Islamabad, one needs to get onto motorway and drive towards Kalarkahar in Salt range. The travel through potohar range is always a treat and one crosses a number of streams and rivers while driving though motorway is no more a country road so the beauty is half lost. After around 45 minutes drive, one can see a vast fresh water Dharab lake and dam. If you want to go to Dharab lake, you need to exit from Talalgang interchange and you will get to the lake in ten minutes. There is a nice Irrigation rest house and an under construction villa of late Governor Punjab Salman Taseer besides many picnic spots however few people come here as picnic or exploring new places is an alien concept for our food loving nation. The lake can be a paradise for anglers and water sports fans however it looks like a wishful thinking in near future.
So back on the motorway, at Kalarkahar, one needs to take an exit towards the famous town of Choa Saiden Shah. Once upon a time in history that is around eight years back, the road to Choa Saiden Shah was a beautiful country road winding through wheat and corn fields however now you need a proper four wheeler or a truck to negotiate the ditches on this 25 kilometers road patch besides continuously braving beelines of trucks carrying cement. The once peaceful and fresh Kahoon valley is now polluted excessively by three cement factories which may be making good profits at the expense of destroying the only main artery of the valley as well as its peace and fresh air. I remember Ayaz Amir yelling non stop for months when these factories were being established and now one understands why he was being that cynical. Another few years and this over industrialization would totally destroy the local flora and fauna besides potentially damaging the historic architecture of Ketas Raj and Malot temples. While these factories may have provided boost to local economy, it would have been better if the Government make these industries pay for the infrastructure and environmental damage caused by these factories and all such payments to be made to local development funds please.
Around 15 kilometers on this bumpy Kalarkahar – Choa Saiden Shah road, there is a small insignificant road on left pointing to Dulmial village. You are sure to miss it unless you keep confirming from some bystanders. Once on the road to Dulmial, it takes 10 minutes to reach the village. Some of the buildings in the village are testimony to a rich history and seems influenced by colonial era architecture however these are rapidly being replaced by typical modern haphazard structures. The main road winds through the village schools, houses and bazaars to reach the village centre and lo and behold, the majestic 12 pounder early nineteenth century artillery master piece stands proudly looking into the skies before a vast village pond. Mercifully, someone has taken care to ensure that the cannon is properly installed on a marble stage and a plaque tells us that the Gun was awarded in recognition of services by the village ranks before and during first world war and was brought here by one Honorary Captain Malik Ghulam Muhammad and other veterans from Jehlum in 1925. However my friend Salman Rasheed mentions it being awarded to one Captain Sartaj of the village along with Victoria cross. The fork lore also goes like when Captain came back from war with his Victoria cross, his wife proudly showed the medal to her friends and cousins who sarcastically said that why is she so proud, its just a medal and not a cannon. The matter was duly brought to the notice of the brave captain by his wife in the same vain who went back and told his military masters that they can keep the medal however if they really want to reward him, he needs a cannon to be taken back to his village as a symbol of pride. The request was granted. However to my disappointment, though Victoria Cross was awarded to around ten Indian soldiers in World War I including some belonging to Punjab, I was not able to connect anyone of those to Dulmial and especially none was awarded to any soldier by the name of Sartaj or Ghulam Muhammad.
While the exact circumstances around the arrival of the cannon are not clear, my eyes got fixated at engravings like Ubique’ , ‘Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt’ A. Broome, Cossipore and Carron. Some research was in order as there were a lot of puzzles. So it turns out that East India Company established a Gun carriage factory in Cossipore Calcutta in 1801 which used to manufacture and repair gun carriages. The gun carriage agency has now transformed into a full fledge ammunition factory making mortars, rocket launchers, anti air craft guns etc and it may be the reason the management did not bothered to reply an email inquiring about an antique nineteenth century gun especially as the email was from Pakistan.
Refusing to budge, I kept on knocking on other possible sources of information and one day got an email from Les Smith, Collections Manager of Royal Artillery Museum of London. The gentleman informed that ‘Ubique’ means ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt’ means ‘Where Right and Glory Lead’ and it is the insignia of Royal Artillery. From the information gathered, it appeared that the Gun was manufactured in 1816 by Carron Iron Works in Falkirk, Scotland, the factory was established in 1759 and closed in 1982 after churning thousands of guns for the colonial power. The gun may have been used in ships and forts before being mounted on the carriage built by A. Broome in 1847 in Cossipore, Calcutta, whether A.Broome was a person, entity or brand of the gun is not clear.
The timelines suggest that the Gun may have been used in 1857 war of independence however it may have been too old to be used in World War I. Les also suggested that ‘It is a Blomefield pattern gun and if you look on the top of the gun you will see what calibre the gun is, it should read something like a 24 Pr with the weight underneath it like 11-2-12, meaning 11 hundred weight, 2 quarts, 12 pound and you should see the cypher of George III higher up on the barrel.’, a suggestion I plan to follow on next trip to Dulmial once the Government makes cement factories pay for the shabby roads in the valley. In any case, while we have now some information on the Gun itself, someone needs to find out the exact story of this Gun and who it was awarded to and for what.
Right next to the Gun memorial is Government High School Dulmial and in the central veranda, their stands another monument in the memory of the boys of Dulmial who went to fight World War I, some of them came back, some did not. The plaque reads ‘ From this village, 60 men went to the great war 1914-1919. Of these 9 gave up their lives’.
Dulmial is a beautiful sleepy village and one is pleasantly surprised by the number of public and private schools in the village. The grapevine is that the village has given a number of Generals to Pakistan Army including a former Governor Punjab and the village has every reason to take pride in its martial history. Some road signs and a basic community facility at the Gun memorial site is all what is needed to convert the place into a heritage spot for local and foreigner tourists.