Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
By the 15th November my column1 (consisting of 1,345 British and 3,990 Native soldiers, with 13 guns) was concentrated at Thal, and on the 20th—the limit of time given to the Amir—no reply having been vouchsafed to the Viceroy's ultimatum, orders were issued to the three columns to advance the next day.2
The Kuram Valley The Kuram valley, from which my force received its designation, is[Page 352] about 60 miles long, and from 3 to 10 miles wide. On every side rise high and magnificently-wooded mountains, those on the north and east being the most lofty and precipitous, while on the north-west projects the spur which runs down from Sika Bam, the highest peak of the Sufed Koh range, upwards of 14,000 feet high. This spur forms the[Page 353] boundary between Kuram and Afghanistan, and is crossed by the Peiwar Kotal. A river, which varies from 100 to 500 yards in width, flows through the valley, and the road, or, rather, track, which existed in 1878, ran for the most part along its rocky bed. In the winter months the depth of the water nowhere exceeded three feet, except after heavy rain, and although the stream was rather swift, it could usually be forded with very little risk. The valley itself had a bleak and deserted appearance, save in the immediate vicinity of the few and widely-scattered villages, around which were clustered fruit trees and patches of cultivation.
For six weeks the thoughts of every one in the force had been turned towards Kuram, consequently there was considerable excitement when at 3 a.m. on the 21st November the leading troops crossed the river into Afghan territory and encamped eight miles from Thal. The next morning we marched fifteen miles farther up the valley to Hazir Pir, where we halted for one day to improve the road (in some places impracticable for guns and transport) and to allow of the rear part of the column closing up. As we proceeded on our way, the headmen from the different villages came out to welcome us, and on arriving at Hazir Pir we found a plentiful repast awaiting us spread under the shade of some trees. Knives and forks were evidently considered unnecessary adjuncts by our entertainers, so I unhesitatingly took my first lesson in eating roast kid and pillaued chicken without their aid.
On the 24th we marched to the Darwazai defile, and the next day proceeded through it to Kuram, forty-eight miles from Thal. We found the fort evacuated by the Afghans, who had left behind one 6-pounder gun.
Conflicting News of the Enemy Notwithstanding the proffers of assistance I had received, I could get no reliable information as to the whereabouts of the enemy; from one account I was led to believe that they were in full retreat, from another that they were being strongly reinforced. So, to find out the truth, I reconnoitred as far as the cantonment of Habib Kila, fifteen miles ahead, and there ascertained that the Afghan army, consisting (it was[Page 354] said) of 18,000 men and eleven guns, had left the place only a short time before, and was then moving into position on the Peiwar Kotal.
Depot hospitals were formed at Kuram, and all our surplus stores and baggage were left there with the following garrison: Two guns of F/A, Royal Horse Artillery, half of G/3, R.A., the squadron 10th Hussars, one squadron 12th Bengal Cavalry, and the company of Bengal Sappers and Miners, besides all the sick and weakly men of the column.
At 5 a.m. on the 28th the remainder of the force, with the exception of the troops who had been dropped at the several halting-places to keep open our line of communication, marched towards the Peiwar.
The stars were still shining when we started, but it was very dark, and we were chilled to the bone by a breeze blowing straight off the snows of the Sufed Koh; towards sunrise it died away, and was followed by oppressive heat and clouds of dust. Our progress was slow, for the banks of the numerous nullas which intersect the valleys had to be ramped before the guns and baggage could pass over them.
On reaching Habib Kila, intelligence was again brought that the Amir's troops were in disorderly retreat, and had abandoned their guns at the foot of the pass. I at once pushed a reconnaissance in force up the south-eastern slopes of the mountain under the command of Colonel Gordon,3 of the 29th Punjab Infantry, who discovered that, so far from the enemy having abandoned their guns, they had taken up an extremely strong position on the pass, from which they fired on the reconnaissance party as it advanced, wounding one British, one Native officer4 and nine men.
As the Afghans seemed inclined to press Gordon, two guns were brought into action, and, to cover his retirement, I sent out the 5th Gurkhas, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fitz-Hugh, who skilfully effected this object with the loss of only one Gurkha wounded.
Gordon brought me back the valuable piece of information that no further advance in that direction was possible, save in single file—valuable because, had I attempted a front attack, the sacrifice of life must have been enormous, even if the attack had proved successful, the[Page 355] possibility of which I still greatly doubt.
Our tents not having arrived, the force prepared to bivouac; but our position proving untenable, from being within range of the Afghan shells, we moved a mile to the rear. Strong piquets were posted on the neighbouring heights, and the night passed without further interruption.
We halted the two following days. Men and cattle were exhausted from their fatiguing marches, and supplies had to be brought up before we could advance further; besides, I required time to look about me before making up my mind how the Peiwar Kotal could most advantageously be attacked.
It was, indeed, a formidable position—a great deal more formidable than I had expected—on the summit of a mountain rising abruptly 2,000 feet above us, and only approachable by a narrow, steep, and rugged path, flanked on either side by precipitous spurs jutting out like huge bastions, from which an overwhelming fire could be brought to bear on the assailants. The mountain on the enemy's right did not look much more promising for moving troops, and I could only hope that a way might be found on their left by which their flank could be turned. The country, however, in that direction was screened from view by spurs covered with dense forests of deodar.
An Apparently Impregnable Position I confess to a feeling very nearly akin to despair when I gazed at the apparently impregnable position towering above us, occupied, as I could discern through my telescope, by crowds of soldiers and a large number of guns.
My Chief Engineer, Colonel Perkins,5 made a reconnaissance, which only too surely confirmed Gordon's opinion; and he further ascertained that a deep ravine lay between the ground occupied by our piquets on the north and the kotal, so that an attack on the enemy's immediate left seemed as hopeless as on his right, or to his front.
On the afternoon of the 29th I sent my Quartermaster-General, Major Collett, with his assistant, Captain Carr, and a small escort, to the top of a hill, which lay to the right rear of our camp, from which they were able to get a fairly good view of the surrounding country. Collett reported that, so far as he could judge, it seemed likely that, as I had hoped, the enemy's left might be turned by a route over what was known as the Spingawi Kotal, where it had been ascertained that some Afghan troops were posted. This was encouraging, but before I could finally decide on adopting this line of attack, it was expedient to find out whether it was practicable for troops, and whether the kotal itself was held in great strength. Accordingly, early next morning, Collett was again despatched to make a closer reconnaissance of the Spingawi approaches.
While all this was going on, I did everything I could think of to[Page 356] prevent what was in my mind being suspected by the enemy or, indeed, by my own troops. Each day more than once, accompanied by an imposing number of officers and a considerable escort, I climbed the lofty spur by which a direct attack would have to be covered, and everyone in camp was made to believe that an attack in this direction was being prepared for. I was particularly careful to have this idea impressed on the Turis and the Afghan camel-drivers, by whom the enemy were pretty sure to be informed of what was going on; and also on the Mahomedan sepoys, whom I suspected of being half-hearted. I confided my real plan to only three people, my two senior staff-officers, Galbraith and Collett, and my A.D.C., Pretyman, for I knew, from the nature of the country, that, under the most favourable circumstances, the way must be difficult and circuitous, and its passage must occupy several hours; and that if the Afghans got wind of the contemplated movement, and should attack my small force while on the march and divided, defeat if not annihilation would be inevitable, for the surrounding tribes would be certain to join against us if once they believed us to be in difficulties.
I had heard that the smallness of the column was being freely commented on and discussed; indeed, people in Kuram did not care to disguise their belief that we were hastening to our destruction. Even the women taunted us. When they saw the little Gurkhas for the first time, they exclaimed: 'Is it possible that these beardless boys think they can fight Afghan warriors?' They little suspected that the brave spirits which animated those small forms made them more than a match for the most stalwart Afghan. There was no hiding from ourselves, however, that the force was terribly inadequate for the work to be done. But done it must be. A retirement was not to be thought of, and delay would only add to our difficulties, as the Afghans were daily being reinforced from Kabul, and we heard of still further additions of both Artillery and Infantry being on their way.
Spingawi Route Decided On Collett returned soon after noon on the 30th; he had done admirably and brought me most useful information, the result of which was that I determined to adopt the Spingawi route. The nights were long, and I calculated that by starting at 10 p.m., and allowing for unforeseen delays, we should reach the foot of the pass while it was still dark.
Fresh efforts were now made to distract the enemy's attention from the real point of attack. In addition to the reconnoitring parties which were ostentatiously moved towards the Peiwar, batteries were marked out at points commanding the kotal, and a great display was made of the arrival of the two Horse and three Field Artillery guns, which I had left at Kuram till the last moment on account of scarcity of forage at the front, and of the two squadrons of Bengal Cavalry, which for the same reason I had sent back to Habib Kila. Even with these additions the total strength of the force in camp, including British[Page 357] officers, amounted to only 889 Europeans and 2,415 Natives, with 13 guns.
These attempts to mislead the enemy were entirely successful, for the Afghans shelled the working parties in the batteries, and placed additional guns in position on the south side of the pass, showing distinctly that they were preparing for a front attack, while in our camp also it was generally believed that this was the movement which would be carried out the next morning.
When it became sufficiently dark to conceal our proceedings, all the commanding and staff officers assembled in my tent, and I disclosed to them my scheme for the attack, impressing upon them that success depended upon our being able to surprise the enemy, and begging of them not even to whisper the word 'Spingawi' to each other.
I had had sufficient time since I took over the command to test the capabilities of the officers and regiments upon whom I had to depend, so that I had now no difficulty in disposing the troops in the manner most likely to ensure success.
For the turning movement I selected:
4 guns F/A, R.H.A.,
and I determined to command the attack myself, with Brigadier-General Thelwall as second in command.
For the feint and for the defence of our camp I left under the command of Brigadier-General Cobbe:
2 guns F/A, R.H.A.,
In all, a little more than 1,000 men with 5 guns.
At 10 p.m. on Sunday, the 1st December, the little column fell in, in absolute silence, and began its hazardous march. Tents were left standing and camp-fires burning; and so noiselessly were orders carried out that our departure remained unsuspected even by those of our own people who were left in camp.
The track (for there was no road) led for two miles due east, and then, turning sharp to the north, entered a wide gorge and ran along the bed of a mountain stream. The moonlight lit up the cliffs on the[Page 358] eastern side of the ravine, but made the darkness only the more dense in the shadow of the steep hills on the west, underneath which our path lay, over piles of stones and heaps of glacier débris. A bitterly cold wind rushed down the gorge, extremely trying to all, lightly clad as we were in anticipation of the climb before us. Onward and upwards we slowly toiled, stumbling over great boulders of rock, dropping into old water-channels, splashing through icy streams, and halting frequently to allow the troops in the rear to close up.
In spite of the danger incurred, I was obliged every now and then to strike a match and look at my watch to see how the time was going. I had calculated that, by starting as early as ten o'clock, there would be an hour or two to spare for rest. The distance, however, proved rather greater than was expected and the road much rougher, but these facts were, to my mind, not sufficient to account for the slowness of our progress, and I proceeded to the head of the column, anxious to discover the true cause of the delay.
I had chosen the 29th Punjab Infantry to lead the way, on account of the high reputation of Colonel John Gordon, who commanded it, and because of the excellent character the regiment had always borne; but on overtaking it my suspicions were excited by the unnecessarily straggling manner in which the men were marching, and to which I called Gordon's attention. No sooner had I done so than a shot was fired from one of the Pathan companies, followed in a few seconds by another. The Sikh companies of the regiment immediately closed up, and Gordon's Sikh orderly whispered in his ear that there was treachery amongst the Pathans.
It was a moment of intense anxiety, for it was impossible to tell how far we were from the Spingawi Kotal, or whether the shots could be heard by the enemy; it was equally impossible to discover by whom the shots had been fired without delaying the advance, and this I was loath to risk. So, grieved though I was to take any steps likely to discredit a regiment with such admirable traditions, I decided to change the order of the march by bringing one company of the 72nd Highlanders and the 5th Gurkhas to the front, and I warned Lieutenant-Colonel Brownlow, in command of the 72nd, to keep a watch over the Pathans with his three remaining companies, for I felt that our enterprise had already been sufficiently imperilled by the Pathans, and that hesitation would be culpable; for, unless we could reach the kotal while our approach was still concealed by the darkness, the turning movement would in all probability end in disaster.
On the Gurkhas coming up, I told Major Fitz-Hugh, who commanded them, that the moment he reached the foot of the kotal, he must front form company, fix bayonets, and charge up the slope without waiting for further orders.
A Night Attack Soon afterwards, and just as the first streak of dawn proclaimed the[Page 359] approach of day, the enemy became aware of our presence, and fired into us, when instantly I heard Fitz-Hugh give the word to charge. Brownlow, at the head of his Highlanders, dashed forward in support, and two guns of the Mountain battery coming up at the moment, I ordered its Commandant, Captain Kelso, to come into action as soon as he could find a position.
I was struck by the smile of satisfied pride and pleasure with which he received the order. He was delighted, no doubt, that the opportunity had arrived to prove what the battery—to perfect which he had spared neither time nor labour—could do; but it was the last time that gallant soldier smiled, for a few seconds later he was shot dead.
The Gurkhas, forgetting their fatigue, rapidly climbed the steep side of the mountain, and, swarming into the first entrenchment, quickly cleared it of the enemy; then, guided by the flashes of the Afghan rifles, they pressed on, and, being joined by the leading company of the 72nd, took possession of a second and larger entrenchment 200 yards higher up. Without a perceptible pause, the Highlanders and Gurkhas together rushed a third position, the most important of all, as it commanded the head of the pass.
The Spingawi Kotal was won; but we were surrounded by woods, which were crowded with Afghans, some 400 of whom made a dashing but ineffectual attempt to carry off their guns, left behind in the first scare of our sudden attack. These men were dressed so exactly like some of our own Native soldiers that they were not recognized until they got within 100 yards of the entrenchment, and they would doubtless have succeeded in accomplishing their purpose—as the Highlanders and Gurkhas were busy pursuing the fugitives—had not Galbraith, whom I had sent with an order to the front, hurriedly collected a certain number of stragglers and met the Afghans with such a murderous fire that they broke and fled, leaving seventy dead in a space of about fifty yards square.
As the rising sun lighted up the scene of the conflict, the advantages of a night attack became more apparent. The pass lay across the shoulder of a mountain (9,400 feet above the sea), and through a magnificent pine forest. Its approaches were commanded by precipitous heights, defended by breastworks of felled trees, which completely screened the defenders, who were quite comfortably placed in wide ditches, from which they could fire deadly volleys without being in the least exposed themselves. Had we not been able to surprise the enemy before the day dawned, I doubt whether, any of us could have reached the first entrenchment. As it was, the regiment holding it fled in such a hurry that a sheepskin coat and from sixty to a hundred rounds of ammunition were left behind on the spot where each man had lain.
We had gained our object so far, but we were still a considerable distance [Page 360] from the body of the Afghan army on the Peiwar Kotal.
Immediately in rear of the last of the three positions on the Spingawi Kotal was a murg, or open grassy plateau, upon which I re-formed the troops who had carried the assault. The 2nd Punjab Infantry, the 23rd Pioneers, and the battery of Royal Horse Artillery were still behind; but as the guns were being transported on elephants, I knew the progress of this part of the force must be slow, and thinking it unwise to allow the Afghans time to recover from their defeat, I determined to push on with the troops at hand.
A field hospital was formed on the murg, and placed under a guard, ammunition-pouches were re-filled, and off we started again, choosing as our route the left of two hog-backed, thickly-wooded heights running almost longitudinally in the direction of the Peiwar Kotal, in the hope that from this route communication might be established with our camp below. I was not disappointed, for very soon Captain Wynne, in charge of the signalling, was able to inform Brigadier-General Cobbe of our progress, and convey to him the order to co-operate with me so far as his very limited numbers would permit.
Our advance was at first unopposed, but very slow, owing to the density of the forest, which prevented our seeing any distance, and made it difficult to keep the troops together.
At the end of two hours we arrived at the edge of a deep hollow, on the further side of which, 150 yards off, the enemy were strongly posted, and they at once opened fire upon us.
Fancy my dismay at this critical moment on discovering that the Highlanders, Gurkhas, and the Mountain battery, had not come up! They had evidently taken a wrong turn in the almost impenetrable forest, and I found myself alone with the 29th Punjab Infantry. Knowing that the missing troops could not be far off, I hoped that they would hear the firing, which was each moment becoming heavier; but some time passed, and there were no signs of their approach. I sent staff officer after staff officer to search for them, until one only remained, the Rev. J.W. Adams, who had begged to be allowed to accompany me as Aide-de-camp for this occasion, and him I also despatched in quest of the missing troops. After some time, which seemed to me an age, he returned to report that no trace could he find of them; so again I started him off in another direction. Feeling the situation was becoming serious, and expecting that the Afghans, encouraged by our inaction, would certainly attack us, I thought it advisable to make a forward movement; but the attitude of the 29th was not encouraging. I addressed them, and expressed a hope that they would now by their behaviour wipe out the slur of disloyalty which the firing of the signal shots had cast upon the regiment, upon which Captain Channer,7 who was just then in command, stepped[Page 361] forward, and said he would answer for the Sikhs; but amongst the Pathans there was an ominous silence, and Channer agreed with me that they did not intend to fight. I therefore ordered Channer and his subaltern, Picot, to advance cautiously down the slope with the Sikhs of the regiment, following myself near enough to keep the party in sight. I had not gone far, however, before I found that the enemy were much too strongly placed to be attacked successfully by so few men; accordingly I recalled Channer, and we returned to the position at the top of the hill.
Devotion of my Orderlies My orderlies8 during this little episode displayed such touching devotion that it is with feelings of the most profound admiration and gratitude I call to mind their self-sacrificing courage. On this (as on many other occasions) they kept close round me, determined that no shot should reach me if they could prevent it; and on my being hit in the hand by a spent bullet, and turning to look round in the direction it came from, I beheld one of the Sikhs standing with his arms stretched out trying to screen me from the enemy, which he could easily do, for he was a grand specimen of a man, a head and shoulders taller than myself.
To my great relief, on my return to the edge of the hollow, Adams met me with the good tidings that he had found not only the lost troops, but the Native Infantry of the rear portion of the column, and had ascertained that the elephants with the guns were close at hand.
Their arrival was most opportune, for the enemy had been reinforced, and, having discovered our numerical weakness, were becoming bolder; they charged down the hill, and were now trying to force their way up to our position, but our Mountain guns were quickly brought into action, and under their cover another attempt was made to drive the Afghans from their position. The 23rd Pioneers, under the command of Colonel Currie, the two front companies led by Captain Anderson, moved down the slope, and were soon lost to view in the thick wood at the bottom of the dell; when they reappeared it was, to my great disappointment, on the wrong side of the hollow: they had failed in the attack, and Anderson and some men had been killed. The[Page 362] enemy's position, it was found, could only be reached by a narrow causeway, which was swept by direct and cross fires, and obstructed by trunks of trees and a series of barricades.
It was evident to me that under these circumstances the enemy could not be cleared out of their entrenchment by direct attack without entailing heavy loss, which I could ill afford and was most anxious to avoid. I therefore reconnoitred both flanks to find, if possible, a way round the hill. On our left front was a sheer precipice; on the right, however, I discovered, to my infinite satisfaction, that we could not only avoid the hill which had defeated us, but could get almost in rear of the Peiwar Kotal itself, and threaten the enemy's retreat from that position.
At this juncture I was further cheered by the arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel Perkins and Major McQueen, who, with the 5th Punjab Infantry, had worked their way up the steep mountain-side, in the hope of getting near to the Peiwar Kotal and co-operating with me. They were, however, checked by the deep ravine I have before described, and, guided by the sound of firing, pushed higher up the hill. They brought me word that the Artillery left in camp had opened fire on the kotal soon after daybreak, and had succeeded in silencing two of the enemy's guns; that our Infantry had crept up within 1,400 yards of the kotal, but were met by such a destructive fire that they could not advance further; that Brigadier-General Cobbe had been severely wounded, and that Colonel Barry Drew had assumed the command. Perkins also gave me the useful information that he had observed on his way up a spur from which the kotal position could be fired upon at a distance of 1,100 yards. To this spot I ordered Lieutenant Sherries, who had succeeded poor Kelso in command of the Mountain battery, to take his guns, and I asked Perkins to return and tell Drew to press on to the kotal, in the hope that Sherries's fire and the turning movement I was about, to make would cause the enemy to retreat.
I sent the 29th Punjab Infantry back to the Spingawi to protect the wounded. I left the 2nd Punjab Infantry in the position we had up till now been occupying, and I took McQueen's regiment with me.
A few rounds from the Mountain battery, and the fact that their rear was threatened and their retreat about to be cut off, soon produced signs of wavering amongst the Afghans. Their Artillery fire slackened, their Infantry broke, and about 2 p.m. Drew and Hugh Gough found it possible to make a move towards the Peiwar Kotal. Gough was the first to reach the crest, closely followed by Lieutenant Brabazon, his orderly officer, and a fine plucky Dogra named Birbul. They were soon joined by some hundreds of Turi levies collected by Waterfield and by the 8th Foot. Another body of levies under Major Palmer,9 who had done good service by making a feint on the right of the[Page 363] Afghan position, arrived about the same time. Plunder was of course the sole object of the Turis, but their co-operation at the moment was useful, and helped to swell our small numbers. The enemy having evacuated their stronghold and retreated by the Alikhel road, abandoning in their headlong flight guns, waggons, and baggage, were pursued by Hugh Gough, whose Cavalry had by this time come up.
The Peiwar Kotal was not visible from the route we had taken, but just before daylight had quite gone I could make out with the aid of my telescope a large body of Afghans moving towards the Shutargardan, which made me feel quite satisfied that the enemy's position was in our possession.
Night overtook us before we could reach the kotal, and as everyone was thoroughly tired out, having been hard at work since 10 p.m. the night before, with but little food, I thought it better to bivouac where we were, on the southern slope of the Sika Ram mountain. It was hardly a pleasant experience lying on the ground without even cloaks at an elevation of 9,000 feet, and with the thermometer marking twenty degrees of frost; but spite of cold and hunger, thoroughly content with the day's work, and with my mind at rest, I slept as soundly as I had ever done in the most luxurious quarters, and I think others did the same. At any rate, no one that I could hear of suffered from that night's exposure.
We continued our march at daybreak, and reached the kotal in an hour.
The Peiwar Kotal The examination of the enemy's position was very interesting. It was of enormous natural strength, the dispositions made for its defence were most complete and judicious, and the impossibility of taking it by other than a turning movement was proved beyond a doubt; it extended from the Spingawi to some commanding heights nearly a mile south of the Peiwar Kotal; thus having a front of about four miles facing due east. From right to left the position ran along a lofty and rugged range of mountains, clothed with dense pine-forests. Towards the eastern side the range was precipitous, but descended on the west by a succession of upland meadows to the valley of the Hariab; it was crossed by only two roads, viz., the Peiwar and Spingawi Kotals; at a few other points there were paths, but too narrow and precipitous for the passage of troops.
The Peiwar Kotal is a narrow depression in the ridge, commanded on each side by high pine-clad mountains. The approach to it from the Kuram valley was up a steep, narrow, zigzag path, commanded throughout its entire length from the adjacent heights, and difficult to ascend on account of the extreme roughness of the road, which was covered with large fragments of rocks and boulders. Every point of the ascent was exposed to fire from both guns and rifles, securely placed behind breastworks constructed of pine-logs and stones. At the top of[Page 364] the path was a narrow plateau, which was again commanded from the thickly-wooded heights on each side, rising to an elevation of 500 feet.
The Afghan Commander had been quite confident of success, and was only waiting for reinforcements to attack our camp; but these reinforcements did not arrive until the afternoon of the 1st December, just too late for him to carry out his intention. He had under his command eight Regular regiments of the Afghan army, and eighteen guns; while these numbers were augmented by hordes of neighbouring tribesmen, who were only too glad to respond to the cry of a jahad against the infidel, firmly believing that as true believers their cause would be victorious.
Our loss at the Peiwar was not great—2 officers and 18 men killed, and 3 officers and 75 men wounded. The Afghans suffered much more severely, besides leaving in our possession all their guns, with quantities of ammunition and other warlike stores.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XLVI
[Footnote 1: The details of the column are given in the Appendix*.
*See Appendix III.]
[Footnote 2: On the 30th November a subordinate officer of the Kabul Government reached Sir Samuel Browne's camp at Daka, and delivered the following letter from the Amir to the address of the Viceroy:
'FROM HIS HIGHNESS THE AMIR OF KABUL TO THE VICEROY OF INDIA.
'KABUL, 19th November, 1878.
'Be it known to your Excellency that I have received, and read from beginning to end, the friendly letter which your Excellency has sent, in reply to the letter I despatched by Nawab Ghulam Hussein Khan. With regard to the expressions used by your Excellency in the beginning of your letter, referring to the friendly character of the Mission and the goodwill of the British Government, I leave it to your Excellency, whose wisdom and justice are universally admitted, to decide whether any reliance can be placed upon goodwill, if it be evidenced by words only. But if, on the other hand, goodwill really consists of deeds and actions, then it has not been manifested by the various wishes that have been expressed, and the proposals that have been made by British officials during the last few years to officials of this God-granted Government—proposals which, from their nature, it was impossible for them to comply with.
'One of these proposals referred to my dutiful son, the ill-starred wretch, Mahomed Yakub Khan, and was contained in a letter addressed by the officials of the British Government to the British Agent then residing in Kabul. It was written in that letter that, "if the said Yakub Khan be released and set at liberty, our friendship with the Afghan Government will be firmly cemented, but that otherwise it will not."
'There are several other grounds of complaint of similar nature, which contain no evidence of goodwill, but which, on the contrary, were effective in increasing the aversion and apprehension already entertained by the subjects of this God-granted Government.
'With regard to my refusal to receive the British Mission, your Excellency has stated that it would appear from my conduct that I was actuated by feelings of direct hostility towards the British Government.
'I assure your Excellency that, on the contrary, the officials of this God-granted Government, in repulsing the Mission, were not influenced by any hostile or inimical feelings towards the British Government, nor did they intend that any insult or affront should be offered. But they were afraid that the independence of this Government might be affected by the arrival of the Mission, and that the friendship which has now existed between the two Governments for several years might be annihilated.
'A paragraph in your Excellency's letter corroborates the statement which they have made to this Government. The feelings of apprehension which were aroused in the minds of the people of Afghanistan by the mere announcement of the intention of the British Government to send a Mission to Kabul, before the Mission itself had actually started or arrived at Peshawar, have subsequently been fully justified by the statement in your Excellency's letter, that I should be held responsible for any injury that might befall the tribes who acted as guides to the Mission, and that I should be called upon to pay compensation to them for any loss they might have suffered; and that if, at any time, these tribes should meet with ill-treatment at my hands, the British Government would at once take steps to protect them.
'Had these apprehensions proved groundless, and had the object of the Mission been really friendly, and no force or threats of violence used, the Mission would, as a matter of course, have been allowed a free passage, as such Missions are customary and of frequent occurrence between allied States. I am now sincerely stating my own feelings when I say that this Government has maintained, and always will maintain, the former friendship which existed between the two Governments, and cherishes no feelings of hostility and opposition towards the British Government.
'It is also incumbent upon the officials of the British Government that, out of respect and consideration for the greatness and eminence of their own Government, they should not consent to inflict any injury upon their well-disposed neighbours, and to impose the burden of grievous troubles upon the shoulders of their sincere friends. But, on the contrary, they should exert themselves to maintain the friendly feelings which have hitherto existed towards this God-granted Government, in order that the relations between the two Governments may remain on the same footing as before; and if, in accordance with the custom of allied States, the British Government should desire to send a purely friendly and temporary Mission to this country, with a small escort, not exceeding twenty or thirty men, similar to that which attended the Russian Mission, this servant of God will not oppose its progress.'
It was ascertained that this messenger had come to Basawal on the 22nd November, when, hearing of the capture of Ali Masjid by British troops, he immediately returned to Kabul. The Amir's letter, though dated the 19th November, was believed to have been re-written at Kabul after the news of the fall of Ali Masjid. The text of this letter was telegraphed to the Secretary of State on the 7th December; in reply Lord Cranbrook pointed out that the letter evaded all the requirements specified in the Viceroy's ultimatum, and could not have been accepted even if it had reached him before the 20th November.]
[Footnote 3: Now General J. Gordon, C.B., Assistant Military Secretary, Horse Guards.]
[Footnote 4: The Native officer was Subadar-Major Aziz Khan, a fine old soldier who had seen hard work with his regiment during the Mutiny, and in many a frontier expedition. He twice obtained the Order of Merit for bravery in the field, and for his marked gallantry on one occasion he had received a sword of honour and a khilat (a dress of honour or other present bestowed as a mark of distinction). Aziz Khan was shot through the knee, and after a few days the wound became so bad the Doctors told him that, unless he submitted to amputation, or consented to take some stimulants in the shape of wine, he would die of mortification. Aziz Khan, who was a strict and orthodox Mahomedan, replied that, as both remedies were contrary to the precepts of the religion by which he had guided his life, he would accept death rather than disobey them. He died accordingly.]
[Footnote 5: Now General Sir Æneas Perkins, K.C.B.]
[Footnote 6: The strength of this battalion had now dwindled down to 348 men.]
[Footnote 7: Now Major-General Channer, V.C., C.B.]
[Footnote 8: I had six orderlies attached to me—two Sikhs, two Gurkhas, and two Pathans. The Sikhs and Gurkhas never left me for a day during the two years I was in Afghanistan. The Pathans behaved equally well, but they fell sick, and had to be changed more than once. Whenever I emerged from my tent, two or more of the orderlies appeared and kept close by me. They had always good information as to what was going on, and I could generally tell whether there was likely to be trouble or not by the number in attendance; they put themselves on duty, and decided how many were required. One of the Gurkhas is since dead, but the other and the two Sikhs served with me afterwards in Burma, and all three now hold the high position of Subadar in their respective regiments.]
[Footnote 9: Now Major-General Sir Arthur Palmer, K.C.B.]