William George Laurence Beynon.

With Kelly to Chitral online

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object to cow-killing, and therefore the law runs that no cows are to be
slaughtered; hence none of us since crossing the bridge at Kohalla had
tasted fresh beef. But now we were in Chitral territory, and a Mussulman
country, so we were free to kill cows, but did so unostentatiously, as
nearly all our force were Hindus. The dark deed was accomplished thus:
on the houses being searched on the arrival of the first party at
Laspur, an innocent little calf was found in one of the houses, and
quick as thought then and there despatched. I will not reveal the
murderer's name, because I do not know it. All traces were removed, and
for the next few days we enjoyed hot roast beef.

We were a merry party, but what a set of ruffians we looked! Stewart and
Gough were both suffering from snow blindness, owing to their generous
action in giving their goggles to sepoys, and passed most of their spare
time with their heads over a basin of hot water, dabbing their aching
eyes; none of us had much skin on our faces, and what little remained
was of a patchwork description; none of us had shaved for days - we
couldn't have stood the torture; and our clothes, too, were showing
signs of wear and tear. We all now slept in our clothes, partly for the
sake of warmth, and also to be in readiness in case of emergency. There
we were, sitting or lying on our bedding, which was spread on the floor
round the room, the latter divided, like all Chitrali houses, into loose
stalls by low partitions, a small fire burning in the centre of the
room, from which a thick pillar of smoke rose and hung like a cloud from
the roof, through a hole in which part of it escaped. Our swords and
revolvers were hanging on the walls or from pegs in the beams, the whole
scene dimly lit by one or two candles. It might look very picturesque,
but I always consider the best hotel is good enough for me.

As there was not space enough in the stalls for all of us, Colonel Kelly
and I, as the last comers, slept in a little room off the main one; here
was evidently the winter store of fodder for the cattle as it was half
full of bhoosa (chopped straw). This we spread evenly over the floor to
the depth of some two feet, and then laid our blankets on top. There was
just room enough for us to lie out straight, the Colonel taking one side
and I the other, and a softer or more luxurious bed could hardly be
imagined. We had to be careful, though, not to drop matches about, and
to put out our pipes before going to sleep. A halt had been ordered for
the following day, to give the men suffering from snow blindness and
frostbite a chance to recover, so we turned in with the blissful
consciousness of not having to turn out at dawn, and slept like the
dead.

The next day, April 7, was spent in hurrying forward all arrangements
for an advance on the morrow. We also sent round messengers to all the
villagers to come in and make their submission, on pain of having their
villages burned; and seeing that we now had the upper hand, at any rate
in their valley, the inhabitants came in without much hesitation, and
also brought in a certain amount of supplies; consequently by night we
had sufficient local coolies to carry all our baggage, supplies,
ammunition, and, most important of all, the two guns. About noon on this
day, Raja Akbar Khan of Punyal, whom I have before mentioned as meeting
us on the march from Shoroh to Suigal, came into camp with fifty Levies,
bringing in a convoy of ninety Balti coolies with supplies. We were
getting along famously now, so Colonel Kelly decided to advance the next
day without waiting for Peterson's detachment, as our first object was
to open communication with Mastuj.

We had a political tea that afternoon: all the leaders of the Levies,
old Raja Akbar Khan, Humayun, Taifu, the Nagar Wazir, Shah Mirza, and
one or two princelings who had come up to see some fighting, all
squatted round our little room on the straw, swigging sweet tea and
munching biscuits, quite a friendly gathering; in fact, so much tea was
consumed that the mess president swore he would send in a bill.

We always got our earliest and most reliable information from the
Levies, as most of them had blood relations among the Chitralis. They
also knew just where to look for hidden grain and supplies of all sorts.
As a rule there was generally a cache under or near the fireplace in the
main room, but I have also seen the Levies find them in the most
unlikely places, and very queer odds and ends they sometimes pulled out
of these under-ground storerooms.

On the morning of April 8th the column was formed up and ready to start
by 9 A.M. Poor Gough was being left behind at Laspur in command of the
garrison, which consisted of some twenty-five Kashmir troops, and the
Nagar and Punyal Levies, in all about a hundred. The Levies were to come
on as soon as the second party arrived. Our force, therefore, consisted
of two hundred Pioneers, two guns, forty Kashmir Sappers, and fifty
Hunza Levies. Our order of march was as follows: first of all went the
Levies; then, with an interval of some five hundred yards, came the
advance guard of a half company of Pioneers; the main body consisted of
Kashmir Sappers, guns, one company of Pioneers, ammunition, hospital
baggage, and rearguard of half company Pioneers. Both advance and
rear-guards were commanded by British officers. It was a lovely, fine
morning, and we were all in the best of spirits, and looking forward to
leaving behind the detestable snow, and therewith our chief source of
discomfort.

Poor old Gough looked awfully dismal at being left behind, but it was
the fortune of war. At Gurkuch, at Gupis, at Ghizr, there was only one
cry from officers and men - British and Native - "For Heaven's sake take
us on with you!" The natives always added that they would never be able
to face their womenfolk again if there had been fighting and they not in
it. The Britisher expressed his disgust at what he called "his bally
luck" in more forcible terms, but it meant the same thing, and we are
all the same colour under the skin.

Off we went, through the village and across the stream by a rickety
bridge, then down the left bank for about a mile, when we came to a
small hamlet, - I forget its name, - and here I fell out and paid a visit
to the house of Mahomed Rafi, the Hakim of the Laspur district. This
hoary-headed old rascal had been playing fast and loose for a long time,
but had at last cast in his lot openly with the enemy; he had a long
list of offences to answer for, and is believed to be one of the actual
murderers of Hayward about 1872.

Hayward was globe-trotting up Yasin way when these ruffians rushed his
camp, seized him, and carried him into a wood with the intention of
killing him. He asked them to defer the performance until daylight, as
he should like to look on the world once more. This they agreed to, and
soon after dawn made him kneel down and hacked off his head. Such is the
story. Poor Hayward's body was brought into Gilgit, and he lies in an
orchard close to the British Agency. I can quite imagine Hayward, or any
man who has any appreciation of the grandeur of Nature in her wilder
moods, wishing to see the sun rise once again over these tumbled masses
of snow peaks and bare cliffs. The startling sensation of the immensity
of these hills in comparison with man's minuteness strikes home with
almost the stunning effect of a sudden blow.

It is said that the calm pluck of Hayward touched even his murderers,
callous as they are to bloodshed It makes a sensational picture: a
solitary figure in the foreground standing alone on the edge of a pine
wood high up in the lonely grandeur of the everlasting hills, the first
flush of dawn reddening the snow on peak after peak, changing the pure
white to pink, the cold blue to purple, the tumbled sea of mountain
summits gradually growing in distinctness, the soft mist rising from the
valleys, and the group of wild figures standing within the shade of the
pines. Hayward takes one long look on all this loveliness, and turns
towards his executioners - men say that even they hesitated.

Mahomed Rafi, who was supposed to have actually killed Hayward, was now
Hakim of Laspur, and, as I have said, had joined the enemy.

When I had travelled through Laspur in November last, the old ruffian
had come to pay his respects, and accompanied me part of the way to
Mastuj, and while doing so, had stopped at a house to give some orders,
and had informed me that this was one of his houses. On passing it now,
I thought a visit might be useful, so, getting Shah Mirza and his
Levies, I got permission to search the house. It had evidently only
recently been occupied for on bursting in the door we found the cooking
pots in the fireplace and fresh meat hanging in one of the rooms. After
a short search we found the grain store, with several mounds of grain,
which was afterwards taken into Laspur. There was nothing much more that
we could find in our hasty search, but I picked up an empty
spectacle-case, astonished at finding it in such a place, as Mahomed
Rafi never wore spectacles in his life. I showed it to Colonel Kelly,
who promptly annexed it, as he was in want of one, having mislaid his
own. Shah Mirza also collared a fowl, which no doubt formed his next
meal.

I caught up the column before they had gone much more than a mile, just
as they were crossing a stream. After that we had some level marching
into the village of Rahman, and by this time the snow was only lying in
patches. Here we made a short halt. From Rahman there is a path across
the hills to Chitral, by means of a nullah called the Goland Gol, of
which mention will be made hereafter but at this time of year it was
impossible to use this path, owing to the snow.

During the halt, the headman of the village came up to make his salaams,
and also told me that a man of Ghizr had passed through that morning,
escaping from the enemy. He was reported to be one of Gough's
messengers, captured when taking letters to Moberly at Mastuj. I told
the headman that he had better show his goodwill by bringing in the man,
which he promised to do, and sent him in that night to our camp at
Gasht. We learned little from him, except that the enemy were going to
fight us between Gasht and Mastuj, and that the latter place was all
right. This man had no idea of numbers, and when asked the strength of
the enemy, replied invariably that there were very many men, but seemed
equally uncertain if there were five hundred or five thousand collected
in the sangar before us, and yet he had been a prisoner in their camp
for some fifteen days.

I found the best way of getting information out of the prisoners was to
set Shah Mirza or Humayun on the job. They used to squat down over the
fire with the prisoners and engage them in conversation gradually
getting what they knew out of them by simple-looking questions. Of
course I couldn't do this as I didn't know their language, and the
presence of a British officer put them on their guard at once.

Between Rahman and Mastuj the country is pretty much the same, a narrow
valley running between high, stony hills, their tops covered with snow
and their feet with boulders; then the bed of the valley more or less
rocky, and the river winding from side to side, and below the main level
of the valley, at depths varying from fifty to two hundred feet, the
sides nearly always sheer cliff; at intervals were nullahs, down which
ran streams of snow water from the hills to the river, or fans of
alluvial deposit brought down by floods in previous years. On the flank
of one such fan we found the village of Gasht, which we reached by 3.30
P.M. The Levies had already occupied the knoll at the lower end of the
village from whence the enemy had before been seen; so, after fixing on
a camping ground and giving the necessary orders, the officers all went
forward to have a look.

From the top of the knoll there was an extended view of the valley, and
I was able to point out the position of Mastuj, which was hidden by some
rising ground, and also the general direction of the road. About three
miles ahead we could distinctly see a sangar filled with men on the left
bank of the river. That sangar was, as far as we could judge, on the
right flank of the enemy's line. A few men could also be seen climbing a
steep stone shoot on the right bank of the river, so evidently the enemy
were going to try the effect of a stone avalanche as we went underneath.
A good deal of discussion went on as to whether the enemy's main defence
was on the left bank, in which case we should have to attack across the
river, or on the right bank, in which case the present visible sangar
was a flanking bastion.

At last someone suggested tea, so the meeting broke up. Colonel Kelly
and I stayed behind. I asked Colonel Kelly for permission to take some
of the Levies and have a cast forward. I took the Hunza men and my
shikaree, Faquir, as he could translate my orders to the Levies. Off we
trotted, and by the time the other officers were having tea, I was well
up the hillside. It was impossible to be rushed, as the ground was
pretty bad, so I extended my men, - when it comes to sniping, one man is
a smaller target than two, - and we skirmished up and forward, so as to
bring us well above the enemy's line. In half an hour we were high
enough to see all the valley below, and the enemy's position was spread
out like a map. I sent the Levies on about a hundred yards, and then
made them line a ridge, while I sat myself comfortably down and sketched
the whole show.

With my glasses I could count the men in each sangar. They were
evidently cooking their evening meal, as thin columns of smoke rose from
each sangar in the still evening air. I could also make out the paths
leading up the cliffs from the river, and saw men going down to fetch
water. I sat and watched long after I had got all the information I
wanted, as I might perhaps get some useful tips that I had overlooked.
It was very peaceful sitting there, but presently the sun dropped behind
the hills, and it got too chilly for comfort. A whistle to the Levies
and a wave of the hand brought them back, and we scrambled down the hill
again, and were back in camp before dark. Here I heard that the Punyal
Levies had been sent for from Laspur to come along at once.

As soon as I had explained the enemy's position to Colonel Kelly, orders
were issued for the attack next day. They were short and simple. On the
arrival of the Punyal Levies, they were to start, with a guide we had
procured, to turn out the men above the stone shoot on the right bank of
the river. I, with the Hunza Levies, was to start at 6 A.M. and work
through the hills to the right rear of the enemy's position. The main
body would start at 9 A.M. and attack in front. The baggage to remain in
camp under a guard commanded by Sergt. Reeves, Commissariat. Then we had
dinner and went to bed.




CHAPTER V


CHOKALWAT

At 5 A.M. the next morning, my orderly, Gammer Sing Gurung, woke me. It
was still dark, and I dressed as quickly as possible, so as not to
disturb the others, who were snoring peacefully around me. Dressing
consisted of putting on my coat, putties, and some canvas shoes with
rope soles. I knew the ground I should be going over would be pretty
bad, and with rope soles you can skip about rocks like a young lamb,
whereas shooting boots would send you flying over the cliffs. By the
time I had had some poached eggs and a cup of tea, the Hunza Levies were
waiting outside, so I got into my sword and trappings and went. As I
passed out, Colonel Kelly wished me good luck, and I said, "_Au revoir_
till twelve o'clock." The others snored peacefully.

Gammer Sing and the fifty Hunza Levies were ready, and I had put some
chupatties into my haversack overnight, so off we went. By the time we
were clear of the village, it was getting light, so, keeping close to
the edge of the hills, we struck up a side nullah, took a slant across
it, and then began the climb. By this time it was broad daylight. We
kept climbing and gradually working round the face of the hill to the
right, until we struck the snow line, and I calculated we were pretty
well as high as any sangar the enemy might have on the hill. My idea was
to get above them, and I didn't want my party swept into space by a
stone avalanche. Still, to make matters secure, I detached ten men to go
higher up still, and I had five minutes' halt to give them a start.

It was now about 7.30 A.M., and I wanted to push on, so as to be well on
the right rear of the enemy by nine o'clock. Once there, we could time
our attack at our leisure. Events, however, worked out somewhat
differently. The ground now got very bad, and presently we came to a
stone shoot which extended high up above us, while ending in a cliff a
little below. This we crossed carefully, one man going at a time. Each
step set the whole slide in motion and brought stones bounding down from
above. The best way was to take it at a rush. We got safely across that,
and the ground got worse and worse, and finally we were brought to a
halt. I sent men to find a path above and below, the remainder sat down
under cover, while I examined the ground in front with my glasses. It
was eight o'clock now, and I was congratulating myself in having got so
far, as another half-mile would bring us on to a spur which ran down on
the right flank of the enemy's line.

As I was looking at this spur, I noticed that there was a nice grassy
slope just about level with us, and below that the cliffs went almost
sheer down into the river. Once on that slope, we could pretty well play
skittles with the sangars below, as we could even now see clearly into
them. Unfortunately, the ground between looked frightful, a series of
ridges like the teeth of a saw, the northern faces being covered with
snow, which made the going particularly treacherous. I had hardly
noticed this when there was a puff of smoke and a report, and I saw to
my disgust that on the edge of my nice grassy slope were a few clusters
of innocent-looking rocks, which I now saw to be sangars, evidently
occupied. Just at this moment a man ran across the slope and began
waving his coat to someone below, and more men showed themselves among
the rocks.

The Levies were still looking for a path, and Humayun wanted to return
the enemy's fire; but as the Levies were armed only with carbines, and I
hadn't heard the whistle of the enemy's shot, I judged it would be a
waste of ammunition. To get the distance, I told Gammer Sing, who had
his Martini, to try a shot at the man waving his choga, with his sights
at eight hundred yards. I saw the bullet kick the dust to the right of
the man, who jumped for a rock, so I knew carbines were no good at that
distance.

A path was now found a little lower down, so I ordered an advance and on
we went. Our appearance was the signal for the enemy to open fire, but
as only one or two bullets sang over us, I knew they couldn't have many
rifles. We worked on steadily forward to about five hundred yards, when
shots began to drop among us, so under cover of a ridge I divided the
men into two groups, and sent the first group forward under cover of the
fire of the second, until the first group reached the next ridge, when
they covered the advance of the second group.

The ground was shocking bad, and what made it more annoying was that, as
we were attacking towards the north, and the snow lay on the northern
slopes, we had to test our way every step, and keep in single file just
when our advance was most exposed. I had to have a man in places to help
me along. I don't mind bad ground when after mahkor, as you can take
your own time, but I strongly object to taking the place of the mahkor.
Our advance never stopped, but by ten o'clock we had only gone some two
hundred yards, and I could see our force crossing the river on to the
plain below.

The enemy in our front now began to get excited, and we saw several of
them run back and make signals to those below. There was now only one
ridge between us and the enemy, and we made for it. As we rose, the
enemy's fire became pretty warm, but we were soon under cover again, and
as our advanced men gained the ridge, they began firing and yelling as
hard as they could go. I thought something was up, so made a rush, a
slip, and a scramble, and I could see over the ridge as the rear party
came scrambling along. I soon saw the cause of the yelling. About a
hundred yards in front of us was the grassy ridge, and across this the
last of the enemy was bolting, and in a few minutes had disappeared amid
the most appalling yells from the Levies. That was the last our party
saw of them, for we now found our path again blocked up by a precipice
and again I had to send men above and below to find a practicable way. I
then called for a return of casualties, and found we had escaped scot
free (I expect the enemy had too). So thus ended our bloodless battle.

While a path was being looked for, Humayun and I sat down in a quiet
corner and shared chupatties, and watched the fight below, which was
just beginning. First we saw the advance guard get on to the plain and
extend, and presently they were joined by the main body, and the whole
formed up for attack; then the firing line extended and the advance
commenced. Presently we saw the sangars open fire, answered by volleys
from our men. Then came a larger puff of smoke and a murmur from the men
round me, as a shell pitched across the river and burst over a sangar.
It was as pretty a sight as one could wish for, and I felt as if I
should have been in a stall at Drury Lane. I could have stopped and
watched the show with pleasure. It was quite a treat to see how steadily
the 32nd Pioneers worked across the plain; but just then the men below
shouted that they had found a path, while I could see those above
working their way on to the grassy slope. These latter now shouted that
there were no enemy left on the hill, so we chose the lower road, and
gradually worked our way down, joining the grassy spur lower down - only
it wasn't grassy here at all, but chiefly precipice. We got down
somehow, chiefly on all fours, but by the time we had reached the
sangars, the enemy had bolted, and they were occupied by our men. It had
taken us nearly an hour to get down. Here I came across Colonel Kelly,
and after shaking hands, I looked at my watch and found it was just
twelve, so I had made a good shot at the time of our meeting when we
parted in the morning.

Now I will give you an account of the attack carried out by the main
body. It is the official account, so I can back its correctness.

The action at Chokalwat on the 9th April is thus described: "On the
morning of the ninth April I advanced to the attack of the enemy. In the
early morning Lieutenant Beynon, with the Hunza Levies, ascended the
high hills on the left bank of the river to turn the right of the
position and attack in rear. The Punyal Levies were sent up the hills on
the right bank to turn out the men above the stone shoots.

"I advanced in the following manner: -

Half Coy. 32nd Pioneers, advanced guard.
Kashmir Sappers and Miners -
Half Company 32nd Pioneers |
Two guns 1st Kashmir Mountain |= Main Body
Battery, carried by coolies |
One Company 32nd Pioneers -

"The baggage, under escort of the rearguard, remained in Gasht till
ordered forward after the action.

"An advance was made to the river, where the bridge had been broken, but
sufficiently repaired by the Sappers and Miners for the passage of the
infantry. The guns forded the river, and the force ascended to the fan
facing the right sangars of the enemy's position.

"The configuration of the ground was as follows: The road from the river
after leaving Gasht brought us on to an alluvial fan, the ascent to
which was short and steep; it was covered with boulders and intersected
with nullahs; the road led across this fan and then along the foot of
steep shale slopes and shoots, within five hundred yards of the line of
sangars crowning the opposite side of the river bank, and totally devoid
of any sort or description of cover for some two miles; it could also be
swept by avalanches of stones set in motion by a few men placed on the
heights above for that purpose.

"The enemy's position consisted of a line of sangars blocking the roads
from the river up to the alluvial fan on which they were placed. The
right of the position was protected by a snow glacier, which
descended into the river bed, and furthermore by sangars, which extended


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Online LibraryWilliam George Laurence BeynonWith Kelly to Chitral → online text (page 3 of 7)