H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

The second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) online

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was found to be impracticable for laden camels and mules, and the
latter, which debouches at Drekulla, was, in part, only thirty to forty
yards wide and flanked by lofty precipices. On the 10th and 12th,
the hills lying to the south of the Harriab valley were surveyed by
Captain Clarke. On the 17th, Captain Woodthorpe succeeded in
tracing the Hazardarakht stream to its junction with the Kuram
river.

The wild inhabitants of these solitary regions saw, with intense
dislike and suspicion, strangers scaling their mountams and pene-
trating into their most secluded ravines. Their acts of hostility
might be few — a little firing into the camps at night, an attempt,
nearly successful, to cut off Captain G. W. Martin's survey party, the
murder of one or two camp-followers — but, at bottom, every man
among them was ^he enemy of the invaders, and from the Shutargardan
to the Peiwar Kotal, as Jrom the Peiwar Kotal to Thai, and from Thai
to Kohat, the price of safety, for reconnoitring parties and convoys
alike, was perpetual vigilance. 1 Still, there was no objection to

1 The reconnaissance to the Shutargardan plateau nearly provoked a fresh



312 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

profit by the needs of the Force ; poultry and vegetables, the latter
specially welcome, were freely brought into camp, and the Jajis
of the Harriab Valley showed themselves as ready as their kinsfolk
in the Kuram, to make money by working on the roads ; though, at
one moment, the reduction of their wages, from four annas a day
to three, nearly provoked a strike among the Alikhel labourers/
The Hassan and Alimed Khels, more distant sections of the tribe,
held aloof throughout April ; but the former attended a Durbar held
by the General on the 3rd of May for the purpose of announcing
to all concerned that the Kuram and the Harriab Valley were now
definitely severed from Afghanistan and united to the British Empire ; ^
and the latter, alarmed by Roberts's threat that, if they did not come
to visit him, he would go to visit them, came in on the 21st, in time
for their leaders to accompany the General when, reconnoitring to
the south-west of Alikhel, he reached a point from which he could
look down upon their villages.

As the belief gained ground that the negotiations in progress at
Gandamak would be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, life in
the camps became a little easier — sports and parades occasionally
taking the place of work on roads and fortifications. The news that

Qhilzai rising, and drew from the chief of the tribe, Padshah Khan, who hurried
back to his own territory from Yaliub Iran's camp at Bhut Khak on hearing of it,
a strongly worded protest. — H.B.H.

^ Thelwall had paid his labourers four annas a day ; Roberts reduced their
wages to three, and threatened to make them work for notliing, if they would
not work for what he declared to be the recognized rate of wages. — H.B.H.

2 General Roberts must have been conscious of a certain mu-eality in the
threats and promises which he addressed to his audience at this Diu'bar. The
conviction of the worthlessness to India of this barren and nearly inaccessible
region, later expressed by him, may already have been growing in his mind ;
and he knew that Colonel Colley, who had visited the Kuram in April and ridden
with him to the mouth of the Hazardarakht defile, had come for the purpose
of fitting himself to advise the Viceroy on the vexed question of which route
to Kabul — that by the Shutargardan or that by the Khyber — should be re-
tained in British hands, at the close of the war. — H.B.H.



COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF IN THE KURAM 313

Yakub Khan had accepted the British terms was telegraphed to
General Roberts at Alil^hel on the 20th, and after a grand review
held on the 24th, in honour of the Queen's birthday,^ the orders for
the return of the troops to the Kuram Valley were published. The
following day the backward movement began with the march of the
12th and 14tli Bengal Cavalry from ByanKhel to Ibrahamzai ; and, on
the 26tli, Headquarters moved to Shaluzan, a village in the upper part
of the Kuram Valley, which had been selected as the site for a per-
manent British cantonment. Here a feast had been prepared by the
Punjab Chiefs to celebrate the first occasion on which their troops
had been employed in the service of the Empire ; ^ and here, in the
midst of festivities, the news of the signature of the treaty of peace
was received by the Commander of the Kuram Field Force, and
communicated by him to his hosts and fellow-guests.

Observation

A single general action, half a dozen skirmishes, would have
exhausted the hundred rounds per man for Infantry, the fifty rounds
for Cavalry to which General Roberts was prepared to limit his troops,
and, apparently, the bayonet and the sabre were to be relied on in all
subsequent engagements.

To diminish the camp equipage of the British and Native soldier may
have been a disagreeable necessity, but to expect the camp-follower
to cross the Shutargardan without any, was to condemn him to intense
suffering and, in many cases, to death. Half-clothed camel-drivers

^ At this Parade, Captain John Cook was decorated with the Victoria Cross
for saving Major Galbraith's Ufe in the attack on the Spin Gawai Kotal, and the
Third Class Order of Merit was conferred on a Native officer and several men
of the 3rd Gurkhas.

^ Throughout the advance great hospitality had been exercised by tlie
officers of the Native Contingents. The Chief of the Nabha Contingent, wliose
troops occupied Badish Khel, had a mess tent pitched in the shade of a great
chunar tree " which many a weary, hungry, and thirsty traveller " had cause
to remember with gratitude. — See Major W. C. Anderson's Report.



314 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

and doolie-bearers feel cold more than men in uniform, and, apart
from all humane considerations, a prudent commander, recognizing
that the efficiency of his Force depends largely on their capacity for
work, would be equally solicitous for their well-being.^

^ The tendency to reduce baggage for officers and men to a point at which
health cannot be maintained, commented on by Sir Donald Stewart (see his
Life, p. 229) is, at all tunes, greatly exaggerated in the case of camp-followers.
I have known an officer's servant die of cold outside Ids master's tent, and
numbers of servants perished on the march to Kandahar for lack of shelter and
proper clothing ; whilst warm coats and blankets and a tiny tent, just big enough
to creep under, weighing less than fifteen pounds, kept others in perfect health ;
but to give them these necessaries, their master had to cut down his own allowance
of baggage. — H.B.H.

Note to Whole Chapter.

This chapter is based upon one authority only, viz., Major Colquhoun's TTi^fe
the Kuram Field Force, a most valuable and painstaking work, enriched with
many extracts from Divisional Orders. Since the war, no other writer has
given his impressions of this particular period, and no contemporary in-
formation of any importance bearing upon it, is to be foimd in English or Indian
newspapei'S, an omission explained by the fact that, on the 7th of February
General Roberts had summarily ordered Mr. McPherson, of the London Standard,
the only independent Special Correspondent with the Kuram Field Force, back
to India, on the ground that in his letters he had made " statements which kept
the English public in a state of constant apprehension regarding the safety of
the Kuram Force, which in the General's opinion had never been in peril," and
" had been guilty of adding to a telegram after it had been approved of, and
countersigned."

As regards the first of these accusations, no one who has read the accounts of
the Peiwar episode given in chapters vii. ,ix. andx., can believe that, in "mak-
ing statements which kept the English public in a state of apprehension regard-
ing the safety of the Kuram Field Force," Mr. McPherson sinned against truth ;
and, as regards the second — the offence had been committed and condoned, on
a promise being given that it should not be repeated, before the Khost Expedi-
tion, in which the offender was allowed to take part.

In Forty-One Years in India Lord Roberts charges McPherson with having
broken that promise, telegrams having appeared in the Standard which he, the
General, had not seen before despatch, and which were most misleading to the
British public ; but the letter of the Assistant Quarter-Mastcr-General, ordering
the Correspondent to leave the Kuram, alludes only to the one telegram, and it



COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF IN THE KURAM 315

was impossible that others should have been sent off without Roberts's knowledge,
since they would not have been passed by the Telegraph Master unless signed
by himself oi- by one of his StafT Oflficers.

It would seem, therefore, that McPhorson's expulsion was solely due, as he
himself asserted, to the severity with which he had criticized General Roberts's
strategy m his letters, the newspapers containing whichhad reached theKuram,
just before the Khost Expeditionary Force got back to Hazir Pir. — H.B.H.



CHAPTER XXVII

The Retirement of Biddulph's Division

ACTION AT BAGHAO

Though nearly a third of Stewart's Forces were employed in keeping
open his communications, the poverty and physical difficulties of the
country rendered it impossible to maintain more than four posts
between Kandahar and Quetta. The first of these, at Mundi Hissar,
eleven miles from Kandahar, was held by the wing of the 1st Gurkhas
which subsequently joined the troops returning from Khelat-i-Ghilza
by the Arghassan Valley ; the second, at Deh-i-Haji, the point where,
twenty-one miles from Kandahar, the road via Kushab joins that
via Mundi-Hissar, by 6-11 Royal Artillery and a company of the
59th Foot ; the third, at Chaman, seventy-two miles from Kandahar
by-

Peshawar Mountain Battery, 2 guns,
Bombay „ „ „ >,

8th Bengal Cavalry,
1st Punjab Infantry,
26th Punjab Infantry ;

and the fourth, at Haikalzai, a hundred and six miles from Kandahar
by a detachment of the 29th Bombay Infantry, whilst Quetta itself
originally garrisoned by —

Bombay Mountain Battery, 2 guns,
2nd Sikh Infantry,
Wing 19th Punjab Infantry,
Wing 30th Bombay Infantry,



RETIREMENT OF BIDDULPH'S DIVISION 317

was strengthened, towards the end of January, by the arrival of the
1st Gurkhas from India. In the wide gaps between Deh-i-Haji and
Chaman, Chaman and Haikalzai, the Achakzais roamed at will ;
and hardly had Biddulph's Division quitted Chaman than, abandon-
ing their friendly attitude, they waylaid and murdered two native
soldiers and a camp-follower, and attacked a convoy which had
halted for the night at Killa Abdulla. Fortunately, Subadar
Faiz Tullah, in charge of the escort of forty men of the 1st Punjab
Infantry, was warned of their approach in time to throw up an
entrenchment, from behind which, with the advantage of superior
weapons, he beat off his assailants, though they outnumbered his
Force ten times over, and advanced with such boldness that the
Sepoys had, m the end, to have recourse to their bayonets. News of
this affair was carried to Chaman, and Major F. J. Keen started at
once for Arambi Karez, to which village some of the persons impli-
cated in it, were believed to belong ; but the culprits, as was usual m
such cases, had made good their escape, and Keen wisely abstained
from punishing the villagers, as a whole, for the misdeeds of some of
their number. Later, the Kadani plain — the great desert tract
lying between Takt-i-Pul and the Khwaja Amran mountains, where
the Achakzais make their winter home — became the scene of their
predatory activity ; and to the very end of the war, the crossing of
this particular district was never free from danger, though Lukhan
Khan, a chief who had long been the terror of the Kafilas trading
between Kandahar and India, pursued by a force under Major A.
Tullock, was brought to bay by Lieutenant Wells and Surgeon O. T.
Duke, at the head of a small body of Cavalry, and shot, with nine of his
men, on refusing to surrender.

To the east of Quetta, where the responsibility for Stewart's
communications lay with General Phayre and the Bombay troops,
the nature of the road placed them in constant jeopardy. In the
narrow Bolan, convoys, full and empty, were perpetually jostling



3i8 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

and impeding each other ; and, day by day, the task of accumulating
enough supplies above the pass to ensure the troops in Southern
Afghanistan against starvation, whilst they waited for the harvest
to renew the sources of local supply, became harder and, at the same
time, more pressing, for the time was not far off when all intercourse
with India must cease. To relieve the congested traffic. Sir Richard
Temple opened up a second route to the Pishin valley, via the Mula
Pass, to guard which a wing of the 30th Bombay Infantry was placed
at Khelat ; but this circuitous road was never sufficiently used to serve
as an antidote to a continually increasing evil the magnitude of
which— impressed upon him from all quarters— at last, extorted from
Lord Lytton a reluctant consent to that reduction of the troops in
Southern Afghanistan which their commander had early seen to be
imperative. Yet, the Viceroy seems not to have grasped the meaning
and consequences of the step he sanctioned, for, whilst directing
Stewart to bring down the forces under his command to seventeen
thousand five hundred men — a number barely sufficient to hold the
Kandahar Line — he allowed the Siege Tram, of which the first section
was still at Dadar, the second at Jacobabad, and the third at Sukkur,^
to go on to Quetta, though that reduction destroyed all chance of
its ever being used against Herat, and its presence in the Bolan
added enormously to the difficulties of the convoys, struggling to
push through to relieve the straits to which the army of occupation
had been reduced.^

^ Each Section consisted of a Battery —

Section I. 13-8 Royal Artillery.
„ II. 8-11
„ III. 16-8
Section II. never reached Quetta.
2 " Ever since we left Pishin we have been living on the country ; two small
convoys have reached us, and that is all I have heard of."— Letter of Sir D.
Stewart, dated 26tli January, 1879. See p. 249 of his Life.

" Depending on the Commissariat for a daily ration is a farce ; one day



RETIREMENT OF BIDDULPH'S DIVISION 319

The Viceroy's orders, as embodied by the Commander-in-Chief in a
telegram despatched early in February, 1879, directed General Stewart
to retain for disposal at Kandahar and on his line of communications,
the following troops belonging to the Bengal Presidency : Three Field
Batteries, two Mountain Batteries, two Heavy Batteries, one of
which was to be broken up to complete the carriage of the other,
and its guns placed in position on the walls of Kandahar, two
British Infantry Regiments, three Native Cavalry Regiments, seven
Native Infantry Regiments, and two companies of Sappers and Miners.
The Corps selected, in obedience to this order, together with the troops
belonging to the Bombay Presidency, were distributed as follows :—

KOKERAN.

11-11 Royal Artillery (Mountain Guns).
2nd Punjab Cavalry.
29th Bombay Infantry.

Kandahar.
A-B Royal Horse Artillery.
D-2 Royal Artillery.
G-4 „ „

5-11
6-11

1 9th Bengal Lancers.
1st Punjab Cavalry.
59th Foot.
2-60tli Rifles.
15th Siklis.
3rd Gxu^khas.
25th Punjab Infantry.
10th Company of Sappers and Miners.

you can get a httle wood ; another day you can get rice instead of flour ; other
days you can get nothing, and if barley is issued for the horses, ten to one whether
the bhoosa or dried lucerne is not withheld. The prices one has to pay are
startling, and the forage of dried lucerne for one horse costs as much aa
Rs. 2 per day" — equivalent in 1879 to 35. id. — Major Le Messurier's Kandahar
in 1679, p. 72.



320 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

PiSHIN.

Wing 3rd Sind Horse.

2nd Sikhs.

1 Company 19th Punjab Infantry.

QUETTA

13-8, Royal Artillery ) c<- rr, •
16-8 ", „ 1 ^^^® ^^^""

19th Punjab Infantry (7 Companies).
Wing 30th Bombay Infantry.

Khelat.
Wing 30th Bombay Infantry.

Between Quetta and Sukkub.
1st Sind Horse.
1st Bombay Infantry.
19th „
Nos. 2 and 5 Companies Bombay Sappers.

Approximate strength, 17,500 of all ranks, and 40 guns.

All other Regiments and Corps were to return to India —
E-4 Royal Artillery ,i
I-l „ „ '

12th Khelat-i-Ghilzais,
26th Pmijab Infantry,
326 Sick,

vid the Bolan Pass ; and the

Peshawar Mountain Battery,

Jacobabad ,, ,,

1.5th Hussars,

8th Bengal Cavalry,

70th Foot,

32nd Pioneers,

1st Gurkhas,

1st Punjab Infantry,

9tli Company Sappers and Miners,

by the Thal-Chotiali route ; these latter joining hands in the Leghari

Barklian Valley with a force consisting of —

^ These Batteries were to park their guns, ammunition and equipment at
Quetta.



RETIREMENT OF BIDDULPH'S DIVISION 321

15th Bengal Cavalry,
Detachment 21st Madras Infantry,^
30th „ „ ^

„ Bhawalpur Contingent,

which, under Colonel Prendergast, was to advance to meet them

from Multan.

As the object of the march through the Kakar country was to

ascertain its fitness to serve as an alternative route from India to

Pishin, to pave the way for the construction of a military road and

railway, and to select a site for a future British Cantonment — Captain

W. J. Heaviside, R.E., and Captain T. H. Holdich, R.E., were

attached to the retiring Force ; the former, to connect the territory

now to be explored, with the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India ;

the latter, to fill in the topographical details. The command fell

naturally to Biddulph, but all the arrangements for the march were

made by Stewart, in consultation with Sandeman, before that General's

return from the Helmand. There were to be three columns, all of

which were to rendezvous at Khushdil Khan-ka-Killa, at the upper

end of the Pishin Valley"; but the first of them, accompanied by

Sandeman, was to start so long before the other two as to be entirely

independent of them.

FIRST COLUMN OF FORCE RETIRING BY THAL-CHOTIALI ROUTE.

Commanding, Major F. J. Keen.

Staff, Major G. V. Prior.
Artillery.

2 guns Jacobabad Mountain Battery.

2 „ Peshawar ,, ,,

Cavalry.

1 Squadron 8th Bengal Cavalry.

1 „ 2nd Sind Horse.

Infantry.

1st Punjab Infantry.

Strength, 775 men of all ranks, and 2 guns.

During a whole month, the troops under orders to return to

^ These two regiments had been ordered up from the Madras Presidency
to strengthen Multan, which had been entirely denuded of its ordinary garrison.

Y



322 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

India, were slowly making their way to the appointed rendezvous ;
how slowly and with what difficulty can best be shown by taking a
single case, that of the 15th Hussars. So sudden and violent were
the floods which poured down from the Khwaja Amran Mountains
and filled to overflowing the streams and watercourses on their
western side, that this regiment was nine days in marchmg from
Mand-i-Hissar to Chaman. Here it was detained by the state of the
Khojak Pass, which, blocked by snow when its foot was reached, was
swept on the third day by a heavy flood, foUowing on a rapid thaw.
On the 4th of March, the Hussars crossed the Pass, the men carrying
their kilts and blankets on their horses, and halted at Abdul Khan-ka-
Killa to rest the baggage animals. On the 7th, a fearful duststorm
occurred, foUowed, in the evening, by heavy rain. In heavy rain, the
march was continued for three consecutive days, the bad weather
culminating, on the night of the 10th, in a terrific thunderstorm,
which left the camp knee deep in mud ; and it was not till the 14th
of March that the regiment arrived at Khushdil Khan-ka-KiUa,
having taken twenty-two days to accomplish nine marches.^

The troops that started later, fared no better. Biddulph and his
Staff, who left Kandahar on the 7th of March and reached Khushdil
Khan-ka-Killa on the 20th, were as much hampered as the 15th Hussars
by the swollen state of the rivers and drainage lines, in trying to ford
one of which Captain Macgregor Stewart narrowly escaped drowning ;
and the heaviest flood of the season occurred about the middle of
March, sweeping, in a single hour, from the top of the Khojak to the
bottom.2 But the worst feature of the journey for all concerned,
especially for those who came last, was the terribly insanitary state
of the camping grounds, and the stench from the dead camels that
strewed the entire road, and blocked a portion of the Khojak.^ So

1 Mr. T. C. Hamilton's Diary of the March of the I5th Hussars.

2 The Indian Borderland, by Sir T. H. Holdich, p. 15.

3 With the increasing heat the insanitary condition of the road grew worse-



RETIREMENT OF BIDDULPH'S DIVISION 323

many of these had belonged to the retiring force — the 15th Hussars
lost a hundred and eighty-seven in one march — that but for the
strenuous exertions of Mr. Bruce, the Assistant to the Governor-
General's Agent in Baluchistan, it would hardly have got further
than Pishin.

The first column of Biddulph's Force marched for India a
week before its nominal Commander arrived at Khushdil Khan-ka-
Killa. Its advance was slow, for the country was difficult, and one
of the duties assigned to it was the collecting of supplies, and
the establishing of depots for the use of the succeeding columns.
On the 23rd, a series of low hills, barring the way, were found to be
strongly occupied by the Damars of Smalan. A warning to disperse
sent to them by Sandeman, was disregarded, and Keen, with two
guns and a detachment of Infantry, was just on the point of dis-
lodging them, when a prisoner, captured the previous day under
curious circumstances,! shook himself free of the men in charge of
him, and, rushing up a hill, dashed among his clansmen, shouting :
" I have surrendered ; who are you to dare to oppose the British

Major Le Messurier, who'rode over it on the 6th of April, writes : " The road is
all fair to Mand-i-Hissar, but the stench from the dead camels along the line
was only just bearable. There are thirty sabres at Mand-i-Hissar, but all round
the camp are some forty dead camels, unburied and stinking enough to poison
the post. ... At Deh Haji there were the usual number of dead camels. . . . All
stages seem to have a fair stock of dead camels, and the men tell me that, althovigh
the beasts manage to get in with their loads, it is even betting that a large
percentage cannot get on their legs in the morning, and are left to die. Poor
beasts, what a tale they could tell of our want of care and forethought ; and
will the broad hint of their dead carcases have any effect on our future cam-
paigns ? " (pp. 149, 150).

1 " Just before we arrived at the crest of the Charri Momand plateau, I
received notice that it was held by one man, who, sword in hand, refused the
troops a passage. He had erected a small barricade, and there he stood alone,
apparently determined to oppose us — a veritable Roderick Dhu. . . . On nearing
him, the friendly headmen of the night before advanced rapidly on his position
and throwing their long chuddars, or shawls, over him succeeded in bringing
our opponent to the groimd. . . . When once captive the man soon became quite
quiet and docile." — See Thornton's Life of Sandeman, p. 130.



324 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

after I have submitted." The tribesmen's answer to this question was
to disperse; but, about 3 o'clock the next afternoon, the headmen of
Baghao, a village near which Keen had just pitched his camp, came
to teU him that a large body of tribesmen from the Zhob and Bori
valleys, under a certain Shah Jehan, a faithful adherent of the Amir
of Kabul, was about to fall upon him. Scouts having confirmed these
tidings, Keen left Major G. U. Prior, with the two guns of the Pesha-
war Mountain Battery, one squadron Sind Horse, and two hundred
and fifty men of the 1st Punjab Infantry, to fortify and defend the
camp against any attack from the Smalan direction, and saUied
forth with the two guns of the Jacobabad Mountain Battery, one
Squadron 8th Bengal Cavalry and the remaining two hundred and
fifty men of the 1st Punjab Infantry, to reconnoitre the enemy whom
he almost immediately discovered, moving forward in a line some
seven hundred yards long. Perceiving that his opponents were only
armed with swords and matchlocks, he determined to read them
such a lesson as would take from them all desire to interfere with
him again ; so, sending Major Chapman with his squadron to see to the



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 27 of 32)