Forgotten Voices of Empire: The Battle of Maiwand 27th July 1880 Part 1

The Battle of Maiwand was one of the principal battles of the 2nd Afghan War (1878-1880).  A British force consisting of  two Brigades of British and Indian troops under the command of Brigadier General Burrows (1827–1917) was defeated by an Afghan force under the leadership of Ayub Khan.

On the afternoon of 26 July information was received that the Afghan force was making for the Maiwand Pass a few miles away (half-dozen km). Burrows decided to move early the following day to break-up the Afghan advance guard.

As Afghan horsemen appeared the Burrows mistaken believed that they were the advance guard but it was Ayub Khan’s main force of 25,000 regular troops and five batteries of Artillery.

In the ensuing battle the British left flank, consisting of Indian regiments was rolled up and crashed into the British right and 66th Regiment was swept away.

Most of the regiment was caught up in the rout. Some 140 of them made a stand at the Mundabad Ravine, which ran along the south side of the battlefield, but were forced back with heavy losses. Eventually 56 survivors made it to the shelter of a walled garden and made a further stand. Eventually the 56 were whittled down to only 11 men—two officers and nine other ranks. An Afghan artillery officer described their end:

“These men charged from the shelter of a garden and died with their faces to the enemy, fighting to the death. So fierce was their charge, and so brave their actions, no Afghan dared to approach to cut them down. So, standing in the open, back to back, firing steadily, every shot counting, surrounded by thousands, these British soldiers died. It was not until the last man was shot down that the Afghans dared to advance on them. The behaviour of those last eleven was the wonder of all who saw it”

queen-vic

Queen Victoria awarding the Afghan War Medal to Bobbie the dog, survivor of the Battle of Maiwand, and other members of the 66th Foot at Osborne House

The British Force was routed but in part by the ferocious  efforts of the British survivors and in part by apathy of the Afghans they managed to withdraw towards the relief force heading out from Kandahar.  The British and Indian force lost 21 officers and 948 soldiers killed, and eight officers and 169 men were wounded and the 66th lost 62% of their strength. Its believed that the Afghans lost up to 3000 men.

A medical officer who was present describes the the battle and the retreat to Kandahar.

 

Candahar (sic) August 21

On the morning of the fight we made a march of seven miles to Maiwand for the sole purpose of attacking a force of 1000 Ghaisais (Afghan fanatics), who were said to have occupied the place; but when we got within two miles of Maiwand we came across the whole force of Ayoob Khan _ I suppose between 15,000 and 20,000 troops, with 30 guns, occupying a very strong position.

Our force was a little over 3,000 strong, with six guns of the Royal Horse Artillery and four guns we had taken from the mutinous army of Shere Ali at Giriakh. The order was given to attack at once. The battle commenced about 11am and there was hard fighting up to about three pm, when our two native infantry regiments broke. This caused the retirement of the 66th, who I hear, fought splendidly.

Victory_day_at_Kandahar_1880

Afghan commanders after their victory at the Battle of Maiwand.

In the opinion of everyone all might yet have been well had the cavalry charged, but they refused to obey orders. They did not cover our retreat or protect the guns at all. The cavalry loss was very very small compared with the losses of all the other regiments and there is a very bitter feeling against them as they might have done so much to save the force.

When once the retreat commenced all the horrors of fighting savage nations began. Most of our wounded, poor fellows had to be left on the ground, and their fate, of course was sealed. It makes one’s blood run cold to think of the sad fate of such a number of gallant men.

That day we lost 20 officers killed and missing, and five were wounded, who I’m thankful to say, were all brought in here. The retreat from Maiwand to Candahar (sic) – close upon sixty miles – is an event that was never be forgotten by anyone who participated in it. We left Maiwand just a little after three pm and we reached Candahar at 3.30 pm on the following day.

During the whole of our march, up to within five miles of Candahar, there was not a drop of water to be obtained anywhere. This is one of the reasons why we lost so man men. They simply dropped on account of great thirst. In addition to this the inhabitants, of every village en route turned out and had shots at us. In fact many of the forces were under fire more or less, the whole way. 

19225289_1281335645308769_1588340586603056807_n

Lord Roberts (L), first Baron of Kandahar and Waterford and endeared to Tommy Atkins as ‘Bobs’ is one of our most distinguished Generals and established his fame in the Afghan War of 1880.

Our total loss was I believe :- 20 officers killed and missing, five wounded (and doing well) about 950, both native and European killed and missing, about 200 wounded, and about 550 camp followers killed and missing. Besides this the colours of the 66th and 1st Bombay native infantry were taken, and six guns- two of the Royal Horse Artillery, and the four we took from Shere Ali.

For a week before the battle I had been suffering badly from fever and was on the sick list, having been carried in a dooley on the 27th July. When the fight was going on I got upon my legs and tried to get a look at what was passing. I went to the rear and attended to one or two of the 66th who were wounded. 

I soon found that our force kept retreating and at last the general retreat took place. All the dooley walis had bolted and there was nothing left for me to do but to walk, which I did, I suppose for about a mile. I could not find my horse although I had given strong instructions to my ayse to keep close to me..

All this time I was feeling far from well and most awfully faint. I had only had a cup of tea and a biscuit in the early morning. Luckily I managed to get hold of a mule, and on this animal I got into Candahar. How I ever got in here alive I do not know. I have much to be thankful for.

I used to have to get off the mule every two miles and lie down and have about ten minutes sleep. On these occasions I always managed to get hold of someone to stay by me to help me on the mule again, for to have mounted without help would have been an utter impossibility, considering how fearfully weak and exhausted I was. 

How I got in will always be the greatest mystery to me, I lost all my kit, my horse and my salary. The first fortnight after this terrible affair I was laid up again with the fever.

Such a nice lot of officers have been taken away by this calamity – young fellows, mere boys, full of pluck. It is dreadfully sad and sickening when one thinks of how many good and valuable lives have been lost and of the number of homes that have been desolated. 

If there had only been water on our road back from Maiwand we should not have lost one half of the men. It is very slow and dull work being boxed up in Candahar. The enemy have as yet made no assualt upon the place, and the general opinion is that they will not do so. Generals Roberts and Phayre must soon be up. It is astonishing how all the fellows keep up their spirits. 

 

Part two is coming soon…

 

Forgotten Voices of Empire: A letter from Burma 1887

In 1885 The British Empire invaded Burma, starting the third Anglo-Burmese War. The British claimed that King Thibaw Min (ruled 1878–1885) was a tyrant intending to side with the French, that he had lost control of the country, thus allowing for disorder at the frontiers, and that he was reneging on a treaty signed by his father.

The war lasted a little over two weeks with only sporadic resistance by the Royal army after intrigue at the Burmese court lead to conflicting orders being issued. The War ended with the British marching into Mandalay and the capture of King Thibaw Min.

The British immediately organised the looting of the palace and city of Mandalay. The proceeds were sold off at a profit of 900,000 of rupees.

King Thibaw being escorted to captivity by British soldiers, Burma, 1885

King Thibaw being escorted to captivity by British soldiers, Burma, 1885 NAM. 1974-03-148-5

Burma was annexed by the British on 1 January 1886 but an ongoing insurgency carried on until 1896. With the end of the war came the men of the Royal Engineers whose job it was to build roads, bridges and fortified posts to help pacify the country and allow easy transport not only of troops but also the vast resources so converted by the British merchants.

An officer with the Royal Engineers wrote on the 29th December 1886:

To say that I am worked off my legs is putting it mildly. I have just completed this post, and have three more to make at the same time, and about twenty miles of hill roads, with bridges innumerable, and I find no work goes on without my personal superintendence. I have occasionally to do twenty miles in a day and then work at the other end – and this in a country where roads are not even decent bridle-paths over rocks.

This morning I was up at dawn and out in the road superintending coolies, then  up the hill about 900ft higher than this to see arrangements for clearing jungle and preparing a site for a post; then down again for breakfast, after which I had to pay some men, and then went out to experiment with some dynamite upon rocks – work I did not much like as I had never touched the infernal stuff before. 

Minhla, after its capture by the British, mid-November 1885, showing death and devastation

Minhla, after its capture by the British, mid-November 1885, showing death and devastation. Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837–1912).

Then I had to wander about looking for timber for a bridge. After this I wrote some officials, had a bath, and out open the road again some two miles out to see how the work was getting on, and explore a stream for a suitable place for a bridge. Then I came in and handed over some money and orders to an overseer, who had come out to assist me and make arrangements for marching out tomorrow morning for a six days trip (Not a pleasure one) to posts further out and arrange for carpenters and tools to come out with me. By that time dinner was ready, and I had a cheroot before a jolly log before sitting down to write. This is much the way I spend my days. Tomorrow I’m off to a post twelve miles further in the hills, about 1,200ft higher than this; and then on next day, or as soon as I can get the work into order, to a post further on at the end of the line.

792px-British_soldiers_dismantling_cannons_ava1885

British soldiers dismantling cannons 1885 Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)

I got into Mandalay on Christmas day by riding six marches in three days to bring in a report on a position, and had a good dinner at the mess, which was a relief after living on compressed beef and tinned things for a fortnight. Sometimes we can get beef out here- i.e, a calf, costing about 6s. English Money; but often, as is the case now, we can’t get fresh meat for love or money. However, I like the place, and plenty of work suits me. Of course I have had my goes of fever; but then I have seen two doctors carried out of the post in doolies quite unable to stand. About 300 men have gone down sick (since I have been here) into Mandalay- some to die, others to be invalided to India. We have only buried about six of them here. Many a day I have dined alone, the doctor and officer commanding both down with this blessed fever. However, the bad times are over, the weather is jolly and cool and thanks to five grains of quinine a day, I keep the fever off, and feel up to any amount of work. It is a lovely view from from here over Mandalay and the valley of the Irrawaddy, and the jungles are pretty in their way,

St James Gazette February 2nd 1887

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Churchill: Man of Empire

Today is Empire day! Every year on the 24th of May throughout the Empire the achievements of this Little Island in the Atlantic Ocean were celebrated. In honour of this day I thought I would do a quick post on one of the Empires favourite sons, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

One of the things I have noticed as I have researched for this blog is the amount of times you come across Churchill in the Empire. He seems to appear in pictures from the Sudan, India and South Africa and this is all before his greatest moment in World war 2.

He was born on the 30th November 1874 into one of the grandest families in Britain and was the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. A true son of the empire he born at the height of Imperial reach.

Churchill as a child.

Churchill as a child.

Destined for a career in the army he struggled to pass the entrance exam for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It took him three attempts and he only qualified for the cavalry and not the Infantry. Sandhurst was the making of him and in 1894 he passed out 2oth out of 130.

Upon passing out he joined the 4th Hussars as lowly Cornet (2nd Lieutenant). With his pay at £400 pa but by his own reckoning needing £900 pa to live up to the standards expected he turned to war correspondence to supplement his earning.

young winston

A young Winston in the Uniform of the 4th Hussars

Churchill was determined to see action where ever and whenever he could.

In 1895 he sailed to Cuba to see the Spanish fight Cuban guerrillas and he came under fire on his 21st birthday. It was while in Cuba that he first acquired the taste  for Havana cigars. Something that would acquire a fame of its own during WW2.

Churchill in India 1897

Churchill in polo kit. India 1897

In late 1896, Churchill transferrred to Bombay in India. A keen Polo player he soon established himself one of the best players in India. As always his aim was to see action, this time it was in Malakand in the North West Frontier to campaign against the Pashtun tribes.

Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherent in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword — the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men — stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism. The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display. A code of honour not less punctilious than that of old Spain, is supported by vendettas as implacable as those of Corsica.

Churchill’s description of the Tribes on the NWF

India had a profound effect on Churchill and he saw India as the jewel in the Crown and essential to the Empire.

His racism towards the Indians would effect is outlook on dealing with The Indian independence moment and he had a deep dislike for Gandhi. His actions during the Bengal famine where ineffectual if not down right negligent but he always believed that The British Empire was a force for good in India and that by bring civilization to millions of ordinary Indians it would improve their lives.

Churchill in the Sudan.

Churchill in the Sudan.

In 1898 Churchill was sent to the Egypt where he explored the sites of Cairo and the Pyramids before joining the 21st Lancers in the Sudan. During this time he was commanded by General Herbert Kitchener and Douglas Haig, both of whom he would work with during WW1.

At the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898 he would take part in what is know as the last meaningful charge by British Cavalry. His books on the Conquest of the Sudan became best sellers and he resigned from the army in 1899.

It is the habit of the boa constrictor to besmear the body of his victim with a foul slime before he devours it; and there are many people in England, and perhaps elsewhere, who seem to be unable to contemplate military operations for clear political objects, unless they can cajole themselves into the belief that their enemy are utterly and hopelessly vile. To this end the Dervishes, from the Mahdi and the Khalifa downwards, have been loaded with every variety of abuse and charged with all conceivable crimes. This may be very comforting to philanthropic persons at home; but when an army in the field becomes imbued with the idea that the enemy are vermin who cumber the earth, instances of barbarity may easily be the outcome. This unmeasured condemnation is moreover as unjust as it is dangerous and unnecessary.

From Churchill’s book Red River

Churchill as a prisoner of War. South Africa.

Churchill as a prisoner of War. South Africa.

In 1899 as the Boer War broke out in South Africa, Churchill obtained a commission to act as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. He was soon in the thick of the action. He was in a scouting expedition on an armoured train when it was ambushed. Captured and despite being a correspondent he was sent to Pretoria as a POW.

His escape and return to British lines turned him into a minor celebrity and this helped in securing his election to Parliament in the 1900 elections.

What is the true and original root of Dutch aversion to British rule? It is the abiding fear and hatred of the movement that seeks to place the native on a level with the white man … the Kaffir is to be declared the brother of the European, to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights

Churchill on the Boers

ww1 ch

Churchill in Command of the Royal Scots Fusiliers at Ploegsteert. 1916

Churchill had a mixed war. As first lord of the Admiralty his proposal for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign lead to his resignation and after leaving the cabinet he travelled to the Western Front where he was given command of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Correspondence with his wife shows that his intent in taking up active service was to rehabilitate his reputation, but this was balanced by the serious risk of being killed. As a commander he continued to exhibit the reckless daring which had been a hallmark of all his military actions, although he disapproved strongly of the mass slaughter.

I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.

Winston writing to a friend 1916

The Inter war years were some of the toughest Churchill would have to face. As an outspoken critic of disarmament and appeasement of Hitler’s Germany  he became something of a laughing stock. With the coming of war and Chamberlain’s resignation the country clamored for one man.

Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 and immediately galvanized the country.

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Winston’s speech to the House of Commons 13th May 1940

The second World War has been called Winston’s greatest hour so it is somewhat ironic that in winning the war he destroyed the Empire he adored.

Winston Churchill 1940

Winston Churchill 1940

Winston Churchill died on the 24th January 1965. He died known as the saviour of the free world and even in 2001 was voted the Greatest Britain of all time but in my eyes he will always be a son of the Empire.