La Martiniere College for boys in Lucknow, India, has a unique distinction. While a number of schools around the world have been awarded battle colours in recognition of their alumni serving in armies, La Martiniere is the only school in the world to have won Battle Honours.
Founded by the French adventurer Major-General Claud Martin in 1845, La Martiniere got this honour for the courage displayed by its students during the Siege of Lucknow in the Indian revolution of 1857. 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 other staff were inside the Residency compound. Since the British were short of troops, the boys were assigned military duties and acquitted themselves gallantly.
Two of the boys died of dysentery and two others were wounded in action. The Martinière contingent took part in the secret evacuation of the Residency, and the rambling journey of six weeks across India which followed, until finally arriving by boat at Benares. After the siege the college was temporarily moved to Benares.
The Martinière contribution was officially recognised in Queen Victoria’s (1858) proclamation. The staff and the boys who served during the Mutiny were all awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal, inscribed with the words “Defence of Lucknow”, in recognition of their courage and steadfastness.
The awards were notified to the principal on 5 February 1861 by a letter from the chief commissioner of Oudh. However, it was not until 1932, following a request by the College, that the British Government recognised Martinière’s role in 1857. The school was granted the right, on ceremonial occasions, 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 “Defence of Lucknow, 1857”. It thus became the only school in the world to be awarded a British battle honour. McGill University in Canada is the only other educational institution in the British Empire to be awarded the same honour for its role in World War I.
Besides La Martiniere College for boys, La Martiniere Girls’ College was established in Lucknow in 1869. There is also La Martiniere for Boys and La Martiniere for Girls in Calcutta, India, and La Martiniere Lyon in France.