Forgotten Voices of Empire: Black Mountain Expedition 1891

The Hazara Expedition of 1888, also known as the Black Mountain Expedition or the First Hazara Expedition, was a military campaign by the British against the tribes of Kala Dhaka (then known as the Black Mountains of Hazara) in the Hazara region of what is now Pakistan.

On June 18, 1888 two British officers and four Gurkha soldiers were killed in an altercation between British reconnaissance patrols and antagonistic tribes. As a response, the Hazara Field Force was assembled and began its march on October 4, 1888, after an ultimatum had not been satisfied by the tribes by October 2, 1888. The first phase of the campaign ended with the Hassanzai and Akazai tribes requesting an armistice on October 19, 1888. The second phase of the campaign targeted the tribes that lived north of Black Mountain such as the Allaiwals. The campaign ended when the Allaiwal village of Pokal was occupied and destroyed by the British on November 2 and 3, 1888.

British and Indian Army forces who took part in the expedition received the India General Service Medal with the clasp Hazara 1888.

Concerns that the tribes were not honouring the agreements that ended the 1888 campaign led to a further two-month expedition by a Hazara Field Force in 1891.

In 1891 an officer serving with the Hazara Field Force under the command of General Ellis wrote a letter home detailing the fighting:

We are still moving on towards Thakot, which is the main village among the hills at which the different columns are expected to meet.

We have lately been coming into the country of some fellows called the Bunners; they seem to be a numerous and warlike tribe, and have been making things lively for us. Our guns were left behind at Ogi at first, but now have rejoined the force, just in time to see a little of the fun.

We encamped the other night at Bela Piazada on the way to Palosi, and had a rough time of it. There was a good deal of what our fellows call ‘Sniping’ going on which is the name for the practice these hill tribes have of stealing round us at night and firing into the camp.

At Bela Piazada they came half way down the hills after dark and fired across the river into our camp pretty freely, and also at such of our men as they could see by the light of their bivouac fires on the other side of the water. Through their shooting is vile, it is a most annoying business, as we had two men wounded and it keeps everyone awake, for we all have to sleep with our clothes on in case they try a rush on the camp.

Next day we were all moved on to Palosi as Bela Paizada was not considered safe. On the way of battery was ordered to shell the village of Bakrai; so we dropped two shells in front of the the chief house in the place, which caused the entire population to bolt like rabbits out on to the hill.

They hung about the crest for sometime in a threatening manner, but another shell broke up the meeting and they skedaddled in all directions. Our mounted guns were then sent off to take possession of a deserted fort on a tremendously steep hill, commanding the village of Bakrai and the the Thal Nullah, the pass leading to Darbundrai. 

It was an awful business getting the guns up. I believe it is officially known as Pichet Hill, but we christened it Fort Juggins as we didn’t like the situation because it put us out of the fighting as usual. However, we got a fine view of the surrounding hills with the passes and villages, and couldn’t have had a better position for seeing the fight next day.

It was a pretty sight in its way, though with the exception of a few long shots, we felt as if we were in reserved seats with nothing to do. It began early next day by the 4th Sikhs being ordered to take the village of Deliari; and we could watch them creeping up the opposite hill. 

It took them nearly all day to get there, and when they did they apparently found the place deserted. However, as they were coming down again to take up their quarters for the night at Palosi, we suddenly saw the enemy come swarming back into the village like ants.

As usual they seemed to spring out of the ground and the top of the hill was soon covered with clusters of natives and waving banners. Each banner represents 50 men, so they gave us an idea of the force against us, and this time must have been in considerable strength. They came down after the retreating Sikhs, and we soon heard the rattle of our volleys, while the hill was covered with puffs of smoke from the scattered shots of the enemy.

Cease Firing', No. 1 British Mountain Battery, Black Mountain Expedition, 1891.

Cease Firing’, No. 1 British Mountain Battery, Black Mountain Expedition, 1891.                           NAM. 1993-08-106-100

About 200 of the enemy came down a spur to get a flanking fire on the Sikhs; so at 6.30 we opened on them from Fort Juggins at 2300 yards, and rather took that lot by surprise as they didn’t understand our range, and couldn’t make out where the ‘fire devils’ were coming from.

It was getting late by them, and it was almost a battle in the dark, as we could see little except the long flashes of our men’s volleys, and a glimpse of the clumps of the enemy as our shrapnel burst among them. However, we broke them up pretty considerably, through we heard next day some of our shots were dangerously near our own men; and about midnight, long after we had ceased firing, the Sikhs flashed down to us by heliograph that they had retaken the village at the point of the bayonet, with the loss of one officer and three men wounded. Next day we were ordered up with our guns to join the Sikhs and now have our mess with them on top of some of the best houses in the village.

We are now on the left flank of General Hammond’s column and from this elevated position watched them advancing up the Thal Nullah to Darbundrai. Here we saw our men being fired at by the enemy, but as the main column moved up, the village was taken by assault.

Bhiao, another village further on, is strongly held, and the hills all round are getting thick with banners, so if we hang about much longer they will get confidence for a great attack. This expedition has been out for some time now, and we seem to do nothing but potter about and take a few villages. With the force we have and our superiority in arms, we ought to have swept these tribesmen away long ago, if we were allowed to do more than march a few miles and then halt for days. 

The general no doubt, has instructions from headquarters for this delay, but it is trying for the troops, as the hot weather is coming on now, and the sun will soon be doing more damage then the enemy. 

The Globe. Thursday 7th May 1891.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC

For Valour.

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC Essex Regiment.

Lieutenant Parsonwon his Victoria Cross on the 18th February 1900 at Paardeberg by going to the assistance of a private of his regiment who was badly wounded.

He dressed his wound under heavy fire, went down twice to the bank of the river to get water, and then carried him to a place of safety.

Lieutenant Parsons was unfortunately killed a few weeks later on the 10th March during the engagement at Driefontein, where he again showed great gallantry.

He was born in 1873 and joined his regiment in 1898.

Parson

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC Essex Regiment.

 

He was recommended by Lieutenant-General Kelly-Kenny, C.B.. for the award and the citation was published in the London Gazette of 20 November 1900

On the morning of the 15th February, 1900, at Paardeberg, on the south bank of the River Modder, Private Ferguson, 1st Battalion Essex Regiment, was wounded and fell in a place devoid of cover. While trying to crawl under cover, he was again wounded, in the stomach, Lieutenant Parsons at once went to his assistance, dressed his wound under heavy fire, went down twice (still under heavy fire) to the bank of the river to get water for Private Ferguson, and subsequently carried him to a place of safety.

Parsons also received a posthumous Mention in Despatches on 8 February 1901.

The Amritsar Massacre

On the morning of Sunday 13th April 1919 thousands of protesters had gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh garden in the holy city Amritsar, Punjab. Mingled with the protesters were Sikh pilgrims celebrating the festival of Baishakhi.

Numbering about 15,000 the crowds was largely peaceful and demanded the release of two protest leaders who had been arrested earlier in the week and moved to a secret location.

Ignoring the curfew, ordered by the Indian Government after various violent acts across the PunJab, the crowd were determined to have their demands met. On hearing of this illegal gathering and fearing the start of a major rebellion, the local military commander Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer gathered 50+ Gurkhas from the garrison and led them to the gardens.

On arrival at the gardens the vast crowd shocked Dyer and he immediately ordered his men into position on a bank overlooking the crowd. As the situation dawned on him, Dyer came to believe he was about to save the Raj from rebellion.

The gardens were surrounded by large walls and buildings and the few exits were narrow and many were also locked or blocked by Dyer’s men.

Dyer was determined to punish the crowd and prevent it spreading further so without warning he gave his men the order to fire.

Brigadier-General Dyer. Military Commander Amritsar 1919

Brigadier-General Dyer. Military Commander Amritsar 1919

With the Gurkhas firing indiscriminately the crowd began to panic and move towards the exits. In the following stampede many women and children were crushed underfoot. The protesters now began to crowd around the blocked and locked exits and the soldiers started to target these large groups of protesters.

As the bullets from the soldiers .303 rifles began to find their targets the dead and injured began to further block the exits, panic began to grow as the protesters realized they had no where to go or hide. Men, women and children started to fall to the accurate shots of the battle hardened Gurkhas.

The Jallianwala Bagh garden 1919. Taken after the Massacre.

The Jallianwala Bagh garden 1919. Taken after the Massacre.

For a full ten minutes the soldiers kept up this fire until their ammunition began to get low and Dyer gave the order to cease fire, A deathly silence settled over the gardens punctuated by the cries and groans of the injured.

As his men shouldered their arms, Dyer could look at the scene in front of him with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Aftermath

The official body count for the massacre was put by the British authorities as 379 killed and approximately 1000 wounded although the Indian National congress’s own investigation put the figure closer 1500 casualties including 1000 killed.

Brigadier General Dyer was lauded by conservative elements throughout the Empire as a hero and saviour of the Raj. After he reported to his superiors that he had been “confronted by a revolutionary army”, Lieutenant-Governor Michael O’Dwyer wrote in a telegram sent to Dyer: “Your action is correct and the Lieutenant Governor approves.”

Martial law was imposed on most of the Punjab and rigorously enforced by the Indian authorities.

Not everyone approved of his actions and the British government was ferocious in its condemnation of the action. Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill called it monstrous and former Prime Minister H H Asquith described it as “one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history“.

Churchill went even further during a debate in the House of Commons in July 1920.

“The crowd was unarmed, except with bludgeons. It was not attacking anybody or anything… When fire had been opened upon it to disperse it, it tried to run away. Pinned up in a narrow place considerably smaller than Trafalgar Square, with hardly any exits, and packed together so that one bullet would drive through three or four bodies, the people ran madly this way and the other. When the fire was directed upon the centre, they ran to the sides. The fire was then directed to the sides. Many threw themselves down on the ground, the fire was then directed down on the ground. This was continued to 8 to 10 minutes, and it stopped only when the ammunition had reached the point of exhaustion.”

Churchill urged the government to punish Dyer and succeeded in persuading the House of Commons to forcibly retire Dyer in 1920.

Despite this censure, Dyer was still seen as a hero in some eyes, the House of Lords passed a resolution praising his actions and in India he was seen as the saviour of the Raj by British society.

The Streets of Amritsar bearing the signs of Riots that broke out after the Massacre. 1919

The Streets of Amritsar bearing the signs of Riots that broke out after the Massacre. 1919

Dyer himself was unrepentant over his actions and during the Hunter Commission (set up to investigate the event) stated that:

“I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.”

and when asked if :

supposing the passage was sufficient to allow the armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?

He replied:

I think probably, yes.

He stated that he intended to strike fear into the Punjab and instill a fear of the British to deter further rebellions.

Brigadier General Reginald Dyer died in 1927 still believing he had acted with honour and had saved the jewel in the Crown with his actions.

The Amritsar Massacre shocked the world, already numb to the slaughter of the First world war. It was seen by many as the beginning of the end of British rule in India. Many in the Punjab felt betrayed by the action after the service and losses the Punjab had given during the war.

A relatively peaceful province became the center of Indian resistance to British rule and the people of the Punjab lead the way to Indian independence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Back To the Army Again” Rudyard Kipling

I’m ‘ere in a ticky ulster an’ a broken billycock ‘at,
A-layin’ on the sergeant I don’t know a gun from a bat;
My shirt’s doin’ duty for jacket, my sock’s stickin’ out o’ my boots,
An’ I’m learnin’ the damned old goose-step along o’ the new recruits!

Back to Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Don’t look so ‘ard, for I ‘aven’t no card,
I’m back to the Army again!

I done my six years’ service. ‘Er Majesty sez: “Good day —
You’ll please to come when you’re rung for, an’ ‘ere’s your ‘ole back-pay:
An’ fourpence a day for baccy — an’ bloomin’ gen’rous, too;
An’ now you can make your fortune — the same as your orf’cers do.”

© IWM ARMY TRAINING 1636 Interior of a barrack room at Brock Barracks, Reading, the depot of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

Interior of a barrack room at Brock Barracks, Reading, the depot of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. (© IWM ARMY TRAINING 1636)

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Ow did I learn to do right-about-turn?
I’m back to the Army again!

A man o’ four-an’-twenty that ‘asn’t learned of a trade —
Beside “Reserve” agin’ him — ‘e’d better be never made.
I tried my luck for a quarter, an’ that was enough for me,
An’ I thought of ‘Er Majesty’s barricks, an’ I thought I’d go an’ see.

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Tisn’t my fault if I dress when I ‘alt —
I’m back to the Army again!

A Billiards Room at a Royal Artillery barracks.  © IWM ARMY TRAINING 163

A Billiards Room at a Royal Artillery barracks. © IWM ARMY TRAINING 163

The sergeant arst no questions, but ‘e winked the other eye,
‘E sez to me, ” ‘Shun!” an’ I shunted, the same as in days gone by;
For ‘e saw the set o’ my shoulders, an’ I couldn’t ‘elp ‘oldin’ straight
When me an’ the other rookies come under the barrik-gate.

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Oo would ha’ thought I could carry an’ port?
I’m back to the Army again!

I took my bath, an’ I wallered — for, Gawd, I needed it so!
I smelt the smell o’ the barricks, I ‘eard the bugles go.
I ‘eard the feet on the gravel — the feet o’ the men what drill —
An’ I sez to my flutterin’ ‘eart-strings, I sez to ’em, “Peace, be still!”

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
‘Oo said I knew when the troopship was due?
I’m back to the Army again!

Interior of a barrack room occupied by the Grenadier Guards in old Wellington Barracks, London. (© IWM ARMY TRAINING 19126 )

Interior of a barrack room occupied by the Grenadier Guards in old Wellington Barracks, London. (© IWM ARMY TRAINING 19126 )

I carried my slops to the tailor; I sez to ‘im, “None o’ your lip!
You tight ’em over the shoulders, an’ loose ’em over the ‘ip,
For the set o’ the tunic’s ‘orrid.” An’ ‘e sez to me, “Strike me dead,
But I thought you was used to the business!” an’ so ‘e done what I said.

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Rather too free with my fancies? Wot — me?
I’m back to the Army again!

Next week I’ll ‘ave ’em fitted; I’ll buy me a swagger-cane;
They’ll let me free o’ the barricks to walk on the Hoe again,
In the name o’ William Parsons, that used to be Edward Clay,
An’ — any pore beggar that wants it can draw my fourpence a day!

Back to the Army again, sergeant,
Back to the Army again.
Out o’ the cold an’ the rain, sergeant,
Out o’ the cold an’ the rain.
‘Oo’s there?

Detachtment of the 1st Welsh Guards on first arrival and in new uniform, at Chelsea Barracks. (© IWM (Q 67406) )

Detachtment of the 1st Welsh Guards on first arrival and in new uniform, at Chelsea Barracks. (© IWM (Q 67406) )

A man that’s too good to be lost you,
A man that is ‘andled an’ made —
A man that will pay what ‘e cost you
In learnin’ the others their trade — parade!
You’re droppin’ the pick o’ the Army
Because you don’t ‘elp ’em remain,
But drives ’em to cheat to get out o’ the street
An’ back to the Army again!

The Last man of the Raj

This is a touching story of a young soldier who went out to British India during WW2. He loved it show much he stayed and became an institution in Pakistan. Finally retiring at the age of 95. Major Geoffrey Langland is a cherished relic of the British Empire.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/9958980/Goodbye-to-Major-Geoffrey-Langlands-of-the-Hindu-Kush.html

‘Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain ’ by John Darwin

A book review in the Washington Post of John Darwin’s new book, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion  of Britain.

Washington Post link

Interesting piece and its a book I will be adding to the library!

The comments at the bottom of the carry the usual “I hate the British” and ” Britain made/saved the world” rubbish so ignore that section.