Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
Even the longest journey must come to an end at last, and early in November I reached Peshawar. My father, who was then in his sixty-ninth year, had just been appointed to command the division with the temporary rank of Major-General. Old as this may appear at a period[Page 10] when Colonels are superannuated at fifty-seven, and Major-Generals must retire at sixty-two, my father did not consider himself particularly unlucky. As for the authorities, they evidently thought they were to be congratulated on having so young and active an officer to place in a position of responsibility upon the North-West Frontier, for amongst my father's papers I found letters from the Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General expressing high satisfaction at his appointment to this difficult command.
With my Father at Peshawar It was a great advantage as well as a great pleasure to me to be with my father at this time. I had left India an infant, and I had no recollection of him until I was twelve years old, at which time he came home on leave. Even then I saw very little of him, as I was at school during the greater part of his sojourn in England, thus we met at Peshawar almost as strangers. We did not, however, long remain so; his affectionate greeting soon put an end to any feeling of shyness on my part, and the genial and kindly spirit which enabled him to enter into and sympathize with the feelings and aspirations of men younger than himself, rendered the year I spent with him at Peshawar one of the brightest and happiest of my early life. In one respect particularly I benefited by the intercourse and confidence of the year in question. My father spoke to me freely of his experiences in Afghanistan, where he commanded during the Afghan war first a brigade, and then Shah Shuja's contingent. The information I in this way gathered regarding the characteristics of that peculiar country, and the best means of dealing with its still more peculiar people, was invaluable to me when I, in my turn, twenty-five years later, found myself in command of an army in Afghanistan.
Eleven years only had elapsed since the first Afghan war, when my father went to Peshawar and found himself again associated with several Afghan friends; some had altogether settled in the Peshawar district, for nearly all of those who had assisted us, or shown any friendly feeling towards us, had been forced by Dost Mahomed Khan, on his return as Amir to Kabul, to seek refuge in India. One of the chief of these unfortunate refugees was Mahomed Usman Khan, Shah Shuja's Wazir, or Prime Minister. He had been very intimate with my father, so it was pleasant for them to meet again and talk over events in which they had both played such prominent parts. Usman Khan died some years ago; but visitors to India who travel as far as Peshawar may still meet his sons, one of whom is the Commandant of the Khyber Rifles, Lieutenant-Colonel Aslam Khan, C.I.E., a fine specimen of a Native soldier and gentleman, who has proved his loyalty and done excellent service to the State on many trying occasions.
My father had also been on terms of intimacy with Dost Mahomed himself and many other men of influence in Kabul, from whom, while at Peshawar, he received most interesting letters, in which anxiety was[Page 11] often expressed as to whether the English were amicably disposed towards the Amir. To these communications my father was always careful to send courteous and conciliatory replies. The correspondence which took place confirmed him in his frequently expressed opinion that it would be greatly to the advantage of the Government, and obviate the necessity for keeping such large garrisons on the frontier, if friendly relations could be established with the Amir, and with the neighbouring tribes, who more or less looked to the Ruler of Kabul as their Chief. My father accordingly addressed the Secretary to the Government of India, and pointed out how successfully some of the most experienced Anglo-Indian officials had managed barbarous tribes by kindness and conciliation.
My father was prevented by ill-health from remaining long enough at Peshawar to see the result of his proposals, but it was a source of great satisfaction to him to learn before he left India1 that they were approved by Lord Dalhousie (the Governor-General), and that they were already bearing fruit. That the Amir was himself ready to respond to any overtures made to him was evident from a letter written by a brother of the Dost's, which was discovered amongst the papers of Colonel Mackeson (the Commissioner of Peshawar) after his death. It was still more gratifying to my father to find that the views of Mackeson's successor, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Edwardes, on this subject entirely coincided with his own. This distinguished officer and brilliant administrator zealously maintained this policy, and succeeded in establishing such a good understanding with the Ruler of Kabul that, when the Mutiny broke out, Afghanistan stood aloof, instead of, as might have been the case, turning the scale against us.
Peshawar in 1852 The Peshawar division in 1852 was not only the most important, but the largest, in India. It included besides Attock, Rawal Pindi, and Jhelum, the hill-station of Murree, which had only been recently occupied. The cantonment of Peshawar had been laid out by Sir Colin Campbell (afterwards Lord Clyde), who commanded there when we first occupied that place in 1849. He crowded the troops, European and Native, into as small a space as possible in order that the station[Page 12] might be the more easily protected from the raids of the Afridis and other robber tribes, who had their homes in the neighbouring mountains, and constantly descended into the valley for the sake of plunder. To resist these marauders it was necessary to place guards all round the cantonment. The smaller the enclosure, the fewer guards would be required. From this point of view alone was Sir Colin's action excusable; but the result of this overcrowding was what it always is, especially in a tropical climate like that of India, and for long years Peshawar was a name of terror to the English soldier from its proverbial unhealthiness. The water-supply for the first five-and-twenty years of our occupation was extremely bad, and sanitary arrangements, particularly as regards Natives, were apparently considered unnecessary.
In addition to the cordon of sentries round the cantonment, strong piquets were posted on all the principal roads leading towards the hills; and every house had to be guarded by a chokidar, or watchman, belonging to one of the robber tribes. The maintaining this watchman was a sort of blackmail, without consenting to which no one's horses or other property were safe. The watchmen were armed with all sorts of quaint old firearms, which, on an alarm being given, they discharged in the most reckless manner, making it quite a work of danger to pass along a Peshawar road after dark. No one was allowed to venture beyond the line of sentries when the sun had set, and even in broad daylight it was not safe to go any distance from the station.
Excitements of a Frontier Station In the autumn of 1851 an officer—Captain Frank Grantham, of the 98th Foot—was riding with a young lady on the Michni road, not far from the Artillery quarter-guard, when he was attacked by five hill-men. Grantham was wounded so severely that he died in a few days, the horses were carried off, but the girl was allowed to escape. She ran as fast as she could to the nearest guard, and told her story; the alarm was given, and the wounded man was brought in. The young lady was called upon shortly afterwards to identify one of the supposed murderers, but she could not recognize the man as being of the party who made the attack; nevertheless, the murderer's friends were afraid of what she might remember, and made an attempt one night to carry her off. Fortunately, it was frustrated, but from that time, until she left Peshawar, it was considered necessary to keep a guard over the house in which she lived.
From all this my readers may probably think that Peshawar, as I first knew it, was not a desirable place of residence; but I was very happy there. There was a good deal of excitement and adventure; I made many friends; and, above all, I had, to me, the novel pleasure of being with my father.
There was a separate mess for all the staff officers, and I remember a curious circumstance in connexion with that mess which, unless the exception proves the rule, is strong evidence against the superstition that thirteen is an unlucky number to sit down to dinner. On the 1st January, 1853, thirteen of us dined together; eleven years after we were all alive, nearly the whole of the party having taken part in the suppression of the Mutiny, and five or six having been wounded.
From the time of my arrival until the autumn of 1853, nothing of much importance occurred. I lived with my father, and acted as his Aide-de-camp, while, at the same time, I did duty with the Artillery. The 2nd Company, 2nd Battalion, to which I belonged, was composed of a fine body of men, who had a grand reputation in the field, but, being somewhat troublesome in quarters, had acquired the nickname of 'The Devil's Own.' Because of the unusually good physique of the men, this company was selected for conversion into a Mountain Battery, which it was thought advisable to raise at that time. I was the only subaltern with this battery for several months, and though my commanding officer had no objection to my acting as A.D.C. to my father, he took good care that I did my regimental duty strictly and regularly.
A Flogging Parade One very painful circumstance stamped itself on my memory. I was obliged to be present at a flogging parade—the only one, I am glad to say, I have ever had to attend, although the barbarous and degrading custom of flogging in the army was not done away with until nearly thirty years later.5 A few years before I joined the service, the number of lashes which might be given was limited to[Page 14] fifty, but even under this restriction the sight was a horrible one to witness. The parade to which I refer was ordered for the punishment of two men who had been sentenced to fifty lashes each for selling their kits, and to a certain term of imprisonment in addition. They were fine, handsome young Horse Artillerymen, and it was hateful to see them thus treated. Besides, one felt it was productive of harm rather than good, for it tended to destroy the men's self-respect, and to make them completely reckless. In this instance, no sooner had the two men been released from prison than they committed the same offence again. They were a second time tried by Court-Martial, and sentenced as before. How I longed to have the power to remit the fifty lashes, for I felt that selling their kits on this occasion was their way of showing their resentment at the ignominious treatment they had been subjected to, and of proving that flogging was powerless to prevent their repeating the offence. A parade was ordered, as on the previous occasion. One man was stripped to the waist, and tied to the wheel of a gun. The finding and sentence of the Court-Martial were read out—a trumpeter standing ready the while to inflict the punishment—when the commanding officer, Major Robert Waller, instead of ordering him to begin, to the intense relief of, I believe, every officer present, addressed the prisoners, telling them of his distress at finding two soldiers belonging to his troop brought up for corporal punishment twice in a little more than six weeks, and adding that, however little they deserved such leniency, if they would promise not to commit the same offence again, and to behave better for the future, he would remit the flogging part of the sentence. If the prisoners were not happy, I was; but the clemency was evidently appreciated by them, for they promised, and kept their words. I did not lose sight of these two men for some years, and was always gratified to learn that their conduct was uniformly satisfactory, and that they had become good, steady soldiers.
The Commissioner, or chief civil authority, when I arrived at Peshawar, was Colonel Mackeson, a well-known frontier officer who had greatly distinguished himself during the first Afghan war by his work among the Afridis and other border tribes, by whom he was liked and respected as much as he was feared. During Shah Shuja's brief reign at Kabul, Mackeson was continually employed on political duty in the Khyber Pass and at Peshawar. On the breaking out of the insurrection at Kabul, he was indefatigable in forwarding supplies and money to Sir Robert Sale at Jalalabad, hastening up the reinforcements, and maintaining British influence in the Khyber, a task of no small magnitude when we remember that a religious war had been proclaimed, and all true believers had been called upon to exterminate the Feringhis. While at Peshawar, as Commissioner, his duties were arduous and his responsibilities heavy—the more so as at that time[Page 15] the Afghan inhabitants of the city were in a dangerous and excited state.
Mackeson's Assassination On the 10th September, 1853, we were horrified to learn that Mackeson had been murdered by a religious fanatic. He was sitting in the verandah of his house listening to appeals from the decisions of his subordinates, when, towards evening, a man—who had been remarked by many during the day earnestly engaged in his devotions, his prayer-carpet being spread within sight of the house—came up and, making a low salaam to Mackeson, presented him with a paper. The Commissioner, supposing it to be a petition, stretched out his hand to take it, when the man instantly plunged a dagger into his breast. The noise consequent on the struggle attracted the attention of some of the domestic servants and one of the Native officials. The latter threw himself between Mackeson and the fanatic, and was himself slightly wounded in his efforts to rescue his Chief.
Mackeson lingered until the 14th September. His death caused considerable excitement in the city and along the border, increasing to an alarming extent when it became known that the murderer had been hanged and his body burnt. This mode of disposing of one of their dead is considered by Mahomedans as the greatest insult that can be offered to their religion, for in thus treating the corpse, as if it were that of (by them) a hated and despised Hindu, the dead man is supposed to be deprived of every chance of paradise. It was not without careful and deliberate consideration that this course was decided upon, and it was only adopted on account of the deterrent effect it would have upon fanatical Mahomedans, who count it all gain to sacrifice their lives by the murder of a heretic, and thereby secure, as they firmly believe, eternal happiness, but loathe the idea of being burned, which effectually prevents the murderer being raised to the dignity of a martyr, and revered as a saint ever after.
It being rumoured that the Pathans intended to retaliate by desecrating the late Commissioner's grave, it was arranged that he should be buried within cantonment limits. A monument was raised to his memory by public subscription, and his epitaph6 was written by the Governor-General himself.
Shortly before Mackeson's murder my father had found it necessary[Page 16] to go to the hill-station of Murree; the hot weather had tried him very much, and he required a change. He had scarcely arrived there, when he was startled by the news of the tragedy which had occurred, and at once determined to return, notwithstanding its being the most sickly season of the year at Peshawar, for he felt that at a time of such dangerous excitement it was his duty to be present. As a precautionary measure, he ordered the 22nd Foot from Rawal Pindi to Peshawar. This and other steps which he deemed prudent to take soon put an end to the disturbances.
The Jowaki Expedition No sooner had matters quieted down at Peshawar than the Jowaki Afridis, who inhabit the country immediately to the east of the Kohat Pass, began to give trouble, and we went out into camp to select a site for a post which would serve to cover the northern entrance to the pass and keep the tribesmen under surveillance. The great change of temperature, from the intense heat he had undergone in the summer to the bitter cold of November nights in tents, was too severe a trial for my father. He was then close on seventy, and though apparently active as ever, he was far from well, consequently the doctors strongly urged him not to risk another hot weather in India. It was accordingly settled that he should return to England without delay.
A Strange Dream Shortly before his departure, an incident occurred which I will relate for the benefit of psychological students; they may, perhaps, be able to explain it, I never could. My father had some time before issued invitations for a dance which was to take place in two days' time—on Monday, the 17th October, 1853. On the Saturday morning he appeared disturbed and unhappy, and during breakfast he was silent and despondent—very different from his usual bright and cheery self. On my questioning him as to the cause, he told me he had had an unpleasant dream—one which he had dreamt several times before, and which had always been followed by the death of a near relation. As[Page 17] the day advanced, in spite of my efforts to cheer him, he became more and more depressed, and even said he should like to put off the dance. I dissuaded him from taking this step for the time being; but that night he had the same dream again, and the next morning he insisted on the dance being postponed. It seemed to me rather absurd to have to disappoint our friends because of a dream; there was, however, nothing for it but to carry out my father's wishes, and intimation was accordingly sent to the invited guests. The following morning the post brought news of the sudden death of the half-sister at Lahore with whom I had stayed on my way to Peshawar.
As my father was really very unwell, it was not thought advisable for him to travel alone, so it was arranged that I should accompany him to Rawal Pindi. We started from Peshawar on the 27th November, and drove as far as Nowshera. The next day we went on to Attock. I found the invalid had benefited so much by the change that it was quite safe for him to continue the journey alone, and I consented the more readily to leave him, as I was anxious to get back to my battery, which had been ordered on service, and was then with the force assembled at Bazidkhel for an expedition against the Bori villages of the Jowaki Afridis.
A Typical Frontier Fight Having said farewell to my father, I started for Bazidkhel early on the 29th November. At that time there was no direct road to that place from Nowshera, nor was it considered safe to travel alone along the slopes of the lower Afridi hills. I had, therefore, to go all the way back to Peshawar to get to my destination. I rode as fast as relays of horses could carry me, in the hope that I should reach Bazidkhel in time for the fun; but soon after passing Nowshera I heard guns in the direction of the Kohat Pass, and realized that I should be too late. I was very disappointed at missing this, my first chance of active service, and not accompanying the newly raised Mountain Train (as it was then called) on the first occasion of its being employed in the field.
The object of this expedition was to punish the Jowaki section of the Afridis for their many delinquencies during the three previous years. Numerous murders and raids on the Kohat and Peshawar districts, the plunder of boats on the Indus, and the murder of a European apothecary, were all traced to this tribe. They had been blockaded, and their resort to the salt-mines near Bahadurkhel and to the markets of Kohat and Peshawar had been interdicted, but these measures produced no effect on the recalcitrant tribesmen. John (afterwards Lord) Lawrence, who had come to Peshawar for the purpose of taking over frontier affairs with Edwardes, the new Commissioner, held a conference with the maliks7 of the villages connected with the Jowaki Pass, and being anxious to avoid hostilities, offered to condone all past offences if the tribes would agree to certain conditions,[Page 18] which, briefly, were that no further crimes should be committed in British territory; that such criminals as had taken refuge in their villages should be given up; and that for the future criminals and outlaws flying from justice should not be afforded an asylum in Jowaki lands. To the second condition the whole tribe absolutely refused to agree. They stated, with truth, that from time immemorial it was their custom to afford an asylum to anyone demanding it, and that to surrender a man who had sought and found shelter with them would be a disgrace which they could not endure.
Afridis have curious ideas as to the laws of hospitality; it is no uncommon thing for them to murder their guests in cold blood, but it is contrary to their code of honour to surrender a fugitive who has claimed an asylum with them.
The sections of the tribe living nearest our territory agreed to the first and third of our conditions, no doubt because they felt they were in our power, and had suffered considerably from the blockade. But the Bori Afridis would make no atonement for the past and give no security for the future, although they admitted having robbed and murdered our subjects. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to send a force against them. This force consisted of rather more than 1,500 men, British and Native. The Afridis made no stand until we reached their main position, when they offered a stout resistance, which, however, proved of no avail against the gallantry of the Guides and 66th (now 1st) Gurkhas. The Bori villages were then destroyed, with a loss to us of eight men killed and thirty-one wounded.
Sufficient punishment having been inflicted, our force retired. The rear-guard was hotly pressed, and it was late in the evening before the troops got clear of the hills.
The tribesmen with whom we had just made friends sat in hundreds on the ridges watching the progress of the fight. It was no doubt a great temptation to them to attack the 'infidels' while they were at their mercy, and considerable anxiety was felt by Lawrence and Edwardes as to the part which our new allies would play; their relief was proportionate when it was found they intended to maintain a neutral attitude.
I shall not further describe the events of that day, more especially as I was not fortunate enough to be in time to take part in the proceedings. I have only referred to this expedition as being typical of many little frontier fights, and because I remember being much impressed at the time with the danger of trusting our communications in a difficult mountainous country to people closely allied to those against whom we were fighting. This over-confidence in the good faith of our frontier neighbours caused us serious embarrassments a few years later during the Umbeyla campaign.
The force remained in camp for some time for the protection of the[Page 19] men employed in building the post, which was called Fort Mackeson, after the murdered Commissioner. When it was completed we returned to Peshawar.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER III
[Footnote 1: Shortly before my father left Peshawar he received the following letter from Colonel Outram, dated Calcutta, the 23rd October, 1853: 'As I know that your views as to the policy that should be pursued towards Dost Mahomed must be in accordance with those of the Governor-General, I accordingly showed your letter to Grant, Courtney, and Colonel Low, all of whom were glad to learn that you entertained such sound views, opposed though they be with the general clamour for war with the Kabulese which appears to be the cry of the army. This, together with the wise forethought you displayed before the Kabul insurrection (which, though at the time it found no favour at Head-Quarters, was subsequently so mournfully established by the Kabul massacre, which would have been prevented had your warnings been attended to), shows how well you would combine the military and political control of the country beyond the Indus.']
[Footnote 2: The late General Sir Sydney Cotton, G.C.B.]
[Footnote 3: Now General Sir Henry Norman, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., lately Governor of Queensland.]
[Footnote 4: Now General Sir Peter Lumsden, G.C.B.]
[Footnote 5: 1881.]
'HERE LIES THE BODY
He was the beau-ideal of a soldier—cool to conceive, brave to dare, and strong to do. The Indian Army was proud of his noble presence in its ranks—not without cause. On the dark page of the Afghan war the name of "Mackeson" shines brightly out; the frontier was his post, and the future his field. The defiles of the Khyber and the peaks of the Black Mountain alike witness his exploits. Death still found him in front. Unconquered enemies felt safer when he fell. His own Government thus mourn the fall.
'The reputation of Lieutenant-Colonel Mackeson as a soldier is known to and honoured by all. His value as a political servant of the State is known to none better than to the Governor-General himself, who in a difficult and eventful time had cause to mark his great ability, and the admirable prudence, discretion, and temper, which added tenfold value to the high soldierly qualities of his public character.
'The loss of Colonel Mackeson's life would have dimmed a victory; to lose him thus, by the hand of a foul assassin, is a misfortune of the heaviest gloom for the Government, which counted him amongst its bravest and best.
'General orders of the Marquis Dalhousie, Governor-General of India, 3rd October, 1853.
'This monument was erected by his friends.']
[Footnote 7: Head men.]