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Having informed the authorities of his intentions via messenger, Grant was soon again in motion, pushing on for Manipur under the moonlight of 30 March. Approaching Thobal, some 14 miles east of Manipur, the following morning, they saw a bridge, directly on their route, in flames. As Grant rushed to secure the bridge, the Manipuris opened fire at close range from covered positions on the other side, ‘Hurrying forward to put out fire when 200 yards from river met with heavy fire from opp. bank. Advanced by alternate rushes to 100 yds, losing one man, Mahd. Lyat shot thro’ the head by sniper rifle. I was grazed by a bullet, but no damage. Fire very severe and enemy entirely concealed, could only fire at puffs of smoke.’ (Grant’s Field Note Book refers)


Grant reformed his men and the order to advance was given, ‘they behaved beautifully. It was like a page out of the drill book. There was a volley from the right party, and a rush from the left, and vice versa... The enemy were firing through loopholes in walls, hidden by hedges. We got to within 100 yards of them, but a watercourse was between us, and I could not tell their numbers. We lay down and fired for ten minutes, but made no impression. I went back to the supports on each flank and ordered them to creep up wide of the first firing line, but like brave fellows, as they are, they jumped up, rushed forward right to the edge of the stream and began firing. The fighting line fixed bayonets and joined them. There was a cry from the left that the enemy were running, and then we plunged pell-mell into the watercourse. It was rather deep, and one little Gurkha disappeared altogether. For a second I myself got fast in weeds, and was ignominiously hauled out by a Jemadar, but we got across somehow. The Manipuris were seen in full flight, their white clothing making them excellent targets. On the enemy’s left was a line of rifle pits, and in these numbers were caught, like rats in a trap, and bayoneted. On the right were the compound walls giving good shelter, but behind them lay a number of dead, shot through the head. There was 800 Manipuris holding this position.’ (Ibid)


Twenty minutes after the firing of the first shot, the enemy’s trenches were captured. Grant then took up the position which he fortified as well as possible with the materials at his disposal.


The Defence of Thobal


The following day the Manipuris returned: ‘1 April 91, 6am. Enemy advancing in force. Sent out 30 men to meet them, we fired 3 shots only, dropped 2 of the enemy. I got one at 700 yards. Enemy retired behind hill. Measured ranges up to 500 yards in front of position, found blood all about from yesterday’s action.’ (Ibid)


Later that afternoon the Manipuris advanced to within 600 yards of Grant’s position before being repelled, ‘Then from hills 1,000 yards off, at 3.45pm, 2 guns opened fire and shelled us till 6.30pm with elongated common shell and shrapnel from two 9 pounder rifled guns. The enemies practice was very good till we got the exact range of the guns by “smoke and report” and then after 30 mins concentrated individual fire of 10 martinis we silenced one gun and the other retired to a higher hill 1500 yards off where they only ran the gun up to the crest to fire, retiring to load, and their firing was wilder, as they feared to lay the gun accurately.” (Ibid)


Whilst Grant was engaging the artillery the Manipuris had surrounded his position and from there kept up heavy rifle fire throughout the night. In an effort to maintain as much of their dwindling supply of ammunition as possible Grant ordered not a single shot to be fired in return during the night.


On 2 April the Manipuris showed no signs of renewing hostilities and Grant took the time to strengthen his position and also to pen the following summary, ‘Enemy appeared from 2,000 to 2,500 strong and at 6pm occupied an enveloping line 4 miles long. They were better armed than we are. I attribute our success chiefly to the fact that the enemy are nearly all in white coats and so distinctly visible. The men’s behaviour is wonderful; under the hottest fire they pay attention to all directions... I consider every sepoy deserves the Order of Merit.’ (Ibid)


Negotiations and Impersonations


At 3pm Grant was out with a party near the enemy lines when a man signalling with a flag came running forward and presented a letter from some prisoners at Manipur beseeching Grant to withdraw his force or they would all be put to death. Grant replied that he was quite willing to retire if the prisoners were set at liberty and suitable hostages were given for their safety but on no other conditions would he move a single step backwards. This suggestion did not please the Manipuris and with both sides remaining inflexible, the Manipuris sent forward a captured Telegraph Signaller named Mr Williams to act as an intermediary in the talks. At this point Lieutenant Grant realising a bluff would be required to succeed in holding off the enemy, decided to act the part of a Colonel: ‘He borrowed two stars from a jemadar’s shoulder-straps and placed them on his own. He was no longer a Subaltern commanding a small detachment, but a Colonel, with his regiment at his back. It was to this ruse that he unquestionably owed much of the respect with which he was afterwards treated by the Manipuris, who had no real idea of the strength of force with him, or that one solitary young officer was leading them. They had had a taste of the fighting quality of these bold intruders into their country, who continued to push forward, even when they knew that 500 Gurkhas had been beaten at Manipur itself and officers of high position killed.’ (Manipur, a narrative, refers)


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