The medal was authorised on 1st February 1905 for award to all who took part in the Tibet Mission and to the troops accompanying it who seerved at or beyond Silgari, 13th December 1903 – 23rd September 1904.
The british government sanctioned an expedition under Colonel Francis Younghusband (a political officer and explorer) to advance to the Tibetan fortress town of Gyantse to negotiate a trade deal as well as seek some reparation relative to a border incident which had unsettled the frontier. The expedition encountered the Tibetan Army at Tanu and requested the expedition to halt and return back. Younghusband refused and instead decided the Tibetans should be disarmed. After routing the Tibetans, the expedition proceeded to Gyantse but experienced opposition on the way. The Dalai Lama refused to negotiate and the Tibetans surrounded Gyantse and made repeated attacks. Britain then sent an expeditionary force of 4600 which defeated the Tibetans outside Gyantse. A treaty was eventually signed in the sacred city of Lhasa after which the mission left on 23rd September 1904.
Gyantse – 3rd may – 6th July 1904 – awarded to members of units who took part in the operations around Gyantse between these dates.
The massacre of Chumik Shenko
A military confrontation on 31 March 1904 became known as the Massacre of Chumik Shenko. Facing the vanguard of Macdonald’s army and blocking the road was a Tibetan force of 3,000 armed with primitive matchlock muskets, ensconced behind a 5-foot-high (1.5 m) rock wall. On the slope above, the Tibetans had placed seven or eight singers. The Commissioner, Younghusband, was asked to stop but replied that the advance must continue, and that he could not allow any Tibetan troops to remain on the road. The Tibetans would not fight, but nor would they vacate their positions. Younghusband and Macdonald agreed ‘the only thing to do was to disarm them and let them go’. This at least was the official version. The writer Charles Allen has also suggested that a dummy attack was played out in an effort to provoke the Tibetans into opening fire.
It seems then that scuffles between the Sikhs and Tibetan guards grouped around Tibetan generals sparked an action of the Lhasa General – he fired a pistol hitting a Sikh in the jaw. British accounts insist that the Tibetan general became angry at the sight of the brawl developing and shot the Sikh soldier in the face prompting a violent response from the soldier’s comrades which rapidly escalated the situation. Henry Newman, a reporter for Reuters, who described himself as an eye-witness, said that following this shot, the mass of Tibetans surged forward and their attack fell next on a correspondent for the Daily Mail, Edmund Candler, and that very soon after this, fire was directed from three sides on the Tibetans crowded behind the wall. In Doctor Austine Waddell’s account, “they poured a withering fire into the enemy, which, with the quick firing Maxims, mowed down the Tibetans in a few minutes with a terrific slaughter. “Second-hand accounts from the Tibetan side have asserted both that the British tricked the Tibetans into extinguishing the fuses for their matchlocks, and that the British opened fire without warning. However, no evidence exists to show such trickery took place and the likelihood is that the unwieldy weapons were of very limited use in the circumstances. Furthermore the British, Sikh and Gurkha soldiers closest to the Tibetans were nearly all protected by a high wall, and none were killed.
The Tibetans were mown down by the Maxim guns as they fled. “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,” wrote Lieutenant Arthur Hadow, commander of the Maxim guns detachment. “I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away.”
Half a mile from the battlefield the Tibetan forces reached shelter and were allowed to withdraw by Brigadier-General Macdonald. Behind them they left between 600 and 700 dead and 168 wounded, 148 of whom survived in British field hospitals as prisoners. British casualties were 12 wounded. During this battle and some to follow, the Tibetans wore amulets which their lamas had promised would magically protect them from any harm. After one battle, surviving Tibetans showed profound confusion over the ineffectiveness of these amulets. In a telegraph to his superior in India, the day after the massacre, Younghusband stated: “I trust the tremendous punishment they have received will prevent further fighting, and induce them at last to negotiate.”
Storming of Gyantse Dzong
The Gyantse Dzong was a massively protected fortress; defended by the best Tibetan troops and the country’s only artillery, it commanded a forbidding position high over the valley below. Macdonald engaged in a ‘demonstration’, a feint directed mainly against the western edges of Gyantse Jong which would draw Tibetan soldiers away from the southern side of the Jong which was to be the main object of the attack to come. An artillery bombardment with mountain guns would then create a breach, which would be stormed immediately by his main force. The ancient monastic complex at Tsechen, dating from the fourteenth century, was torched, to prevent its re-occupation by the Tibetans.
The eventual assault on 6 July did not happen as planned, as the Tibetan walls were stronger than expected. General Macdonald’s plan was for the infantry to advance in three columns, from the south-west, the south, and south-east. Yet at the opening of the attack there was a near disaster when two columns blundered into each other in the dark. It took eleven hours to break through. The breach was not completed until 4:00 pm, by which time the assault had little time to succeed before nightfall. As Gurkhas and Royal Fusiliers charged the broken wall, they came under heavy fire and suffered some casualties. Gurkha troops climbed the rock directly under the upper ramparts, scaling the rock face as rocks rained down on them and misdirected fire from one of the Maxims hit more of these Gurkhas than Tibetan defenders above them. After several failed attempts to gain the walls, two soldiers broke through a bottleneck under fire despite both being wounded. They gained a foothold which the following troops exploited, enabling the walls to be taken. The Tibetans retreated in good order, allowing the British control of the road to Lhasa, but denying Macdonald a route and thus remaining a constant threat (although never a serious problem) in the British rear for the remainder of the campaign.
The two soldiers who broke the wall at Gyantse Jong were both well rewarded. Lieutenant John Duncan Grant was given the only Victoria Cross awarded during the expedition, whilst Havildar Pun received the Indian Order of Merit first class (equivalent to the VC as Indian soldiers were not eligible for VCs until the First World War). Major Wimberley, one of the Medical Officers to the Mission, wrote that though he had seen the Gordons at Dargai he considered “the storming of the breach at Gyantse Jong by the Gurkhas a far finer performance.”
Considerable pillaging took place at Palkor Chode, Dongtse and other monasteries after the fall of Gyantse Jong. Whatever General Orders and the Hague Convention of 1899 may have dictated, looting seemed acceptable if the army felt it had been opposed in any way. According to Major William Beynon, in a letter to his wife of 7 July, some of the looting was officially approved – claims by Dr Waddell, Brigadier-General Macdonald and his chief of staff, Major Iggulden that monastic sites were ‘most religiously respected’ look hollow.