Complete Books

Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief










































































Affairs at Kandahar For more than six months rumours had been afloat of Ayub Khan's determination to advance on Kandahar; but little attention was paid to them by the authorities at that place until towards the end of May, when a Sirdar, named Sher Ali,1 who had been a few days before formally installed as Wali, or Ruler, of Kandahar, informed the political officer, Lieutenant-Colonel St. John, that the British occupation of Kabul had had the effect of bringing about a reconciliation between the various chiefs at Herat, who had placed themselves under the leadership of Ayub Khan and induced him to proclaim a jahad. Sher Ali, who evidently considered this news authentic, declared his belief that his own troops,2 who were then engaged in collecting revenue in Zamindawar, would desert to Ayub Khan as he approached Kandahar,[Page 469] and he begged that a brigade of British soldiers might be sent to Girishk to support him.

On General Primrose communicating this information to the Commander-in-Chief in India, he recommended to the Government that the Bombay reserve division, located at Jacobabad, Hyderabad, and Karachi, should be mobilized so soon as it became certain that Ayub Khan really contemplated this move, as in his opinion the garrison at Kandahar would be left dangerously weak after a brigade had been detached for Girishk.

Ayub Khan's movements, however, were not ascertained until the 27th June, when he had advanced halfway to the Helmand; it was too late then to mobilize troops so far off as Jacobabad, Hyderabad, and Karachi with any chance of their being in time to check his onward march. The news of his approach spread rapidly, and had the most disturbing effect in Kandahar and its neighbourhood. The Governor's authority daily diminished, and many of the inhabitants left the city.

Ayub Khan had with him, when he started from Herat on the 15th June, 7,500 men and ten guns as the nucleus of an army, which he calculated, as he moved forward, would be strongly reinforced by tribesmen, levies, and ghazis.

On the 4th July a brigade, under the command of Brigadier-General Burrows, started from Kandahar, and reached the Helmand on the 11th, encamping on the near bank of the river opposite Girishk. On the further bank Sirdar Sher Ali's troops were located, having with them six guns. Two days afterwards these troops deserted in a body to the enemy, but did not succeed in taking their Artillery with them, as Burrows, on perceiving their intention, crossed the river and captured the guns.

Brigadier-General Burrows's position had now entirely changed; instead of there being a loyal force under the Wali, with which to co-operate and prevent Ayub Khan crossing the Helmand, he found himself with an inadequate number of troops, the Wali's men gone over to the enemy, and the Wali himself a fugitive in the British camp. The Helmand was fordable everywhere at that season, making it easy for Ayub to cut off Burrows's retreat; the first twenty-five of the eighty miles by which he was separated from Kandahar was a desert, and no supplies were forthcoming owing to the hostile attitude of the people. Burrows therefore determined to retire to Khushk-i-Nakhud, an important position half-way to Kandahar, covering the road from Girishk, and where supplies and water were plentiful.

Burrows reached Khushk-i-Nakhud on the 16th July. On the 22nd the Commander-in-Chief in India, who had been inquiring from General Primrose whether there were 'any routes from the Helmand passing by the north to Ghazni, by which Ayub Khan might move with his guns,' telegraphed to Primrose: 'You will understand that you[Page 470] have full liberty to attack Ayub, if you consider you are strong enough to do so. Government consider it of the highest political importance that his force should be dispersed, and prevented by all possible means from passing on to Ghazni.'

On the afternoon of the 26th information was received by Brigadier-General Burrows that 2,000 of the enemy's Cavalry and a large body of ghazis had arrived at Maiwand, eleven miles off, and that Ayub Khan was about to follow with the main body of his army.

To prevent Ayub Khan getting to Ghazni, General Burrows had to do one of two things, either await him at Khushk-i-Nakhud, or intercept him at Maiwand. After consulting with Colonel St. John, he determined to adopt the latter course, as he hoped thus to be able to deal with the ghazis before they were joined by Ayub Khan.

The brigade started soon after 6 a.m. on the 27th. It was encumbered by a large number of baggage animals, which Burrows considered could not be left behind because of the hostile state of the country, and the impossibility of detaching any part of his already too small force for their protection.

The Maiwand Disaster At 10 a.m., when about half-way to Maiwand, a spy brought in information that Ayub Khan had arrived at that place, and was occupying it in force; General Burrows, however, considered it then too late to turn back, and decided to advance. At a quarter to twelve the forces came into collision, and the fight lasted until past three o'clock. The Afghans, who, Burrows reported, numbered 25,000, soon outflanked the British. Our Artillery expended their ammunition, and the Native portion of the brigade got out of hand, and pressed back on the few British Infantry, who were unable to hold their own against the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Our troops were completely routed, and had to thank the apathy of the Afghans in not following them up for escaping total annihilation.

Of the 2,476 men engaged at Maiwand, 934 were killed and 175 were wounded and missing;3 the remnant struggled on throughout the night to Kandahar, where the first of the fugitives arrived early on[Page 471] the morning of the 28th. Brigadier-General Burrows, who had two horses shot under him during the engagement, was amongst the last to reach Kandahar.

This lamentable story imparted to me by Stewart almost took my breath away, and we eagerly discussed the situation as we rode back together to Sherpur. It was impossible to predict how the news would affect the recent arrangements entered into with Abdur Rahman, or what the attitude of the tribesmen would be; but we agreed that, whatever might happen in our immediate neighbourhood, the only means of affording speedy relief to the Kandahar garrison was by sending a force from Kabul.

It soon, however, became apparent, by telegrams received from Simla, that the Government were in doubt as to the best course to pursue, and looked to Quetta rather than Kabul as the place from which Kandahar could be most conveniently and rapidly succoured. This was not altogether surprising, for the authorities naturally hesitated to weaken Kabul until matters had been finally settled with Abdur Rahman, and it was only to be expected that, after what had occurred at Maiwand, they should be alarmed at the idea of a force being cut off from all communication with India during the four weeks, or thereabouts, it would take to reach Kandahar. But there was really no alternative, for, as Major-General Phayre4 (commanding in Baluchistan) reported,5 the troops available for Field Service were but few in number, it would require at least fifteen days to equip them, and there was no organized transport at hand, the animals having been sent to distant grazing grounds on account of the scarcity of water and forage.

I knew nothing as to the actual condition of the troops in Baluchistan, except that, as belonging to the Bombay Presidency, they could not be composed of the best fighting races, and I had a strong feeling that it would be extremely unwise to make use of any but the most proved Native soldiers against Ayub Khan's superior numbers, elated as his men must be with their victory at Maiwand.

The disaster to our arms caused, as was to be expected, considerable excitement all along the border; indeed, throughout India the announcement produced a certain feeling of uneasiness—a mere surface ripple—but enough to make those who remembered the days[Page 472] of the Mutiny anxious for better news from the north.

To me it seemed of such supreme importance that Kandahar should be relieved without delay, and the reverse to our arms retrieved, that I made up my mind to communicate my views to the Viceroy through the Commander-in-Chief, in the hope that, when he realized that a thoroughly efficient force was ready and willing to start from Kabul, he would no longer hesitate as to what was best to do.

On the 30th July, I dined with Stewart, and, leaving his mess-tent at an early hour, I retired to my own quarters, and wrote out the following telegram in cipher, but, before despatching it, I showed it to Stewart, for, although I knew that his views were in accord with mine, I could not with propriety have sent it without his knowledge:

Relief from Kabul suggested 'To Major-General Greaves,6 Adjutant-General in India, Simla.

'30th July, 1880.

'Personal and secret. I strongly recommend that a force be sent from this to Kandahar. Stewart has organized a very complete one consisting of nine regiments of Infantry, three of Cavalry, and three Mountain batteries. This will suffice to overcome all opposition en route; it will have the best possible effect on the country, and will be ready to go anywhere on reaching Kandahar, being fully equipped in all respects. He proposes sending me in command.

'I am sure that but few Bombay regiments are able to cope with Afghans, and once the Kabul Field Force leaves this country, the chance of sending a thoroughly reliable and well-equipped column will be lost. The movement of the remainder of the Kabul troops towards India should be simultaneous with the advance of my division towards Kandahar, it being most desirable to limit the area of our responsibilities as soon as possible; at the same time, it is imperative that we should now show our strength throughout Afghanistan. The withdrawal, under existing circumstances, of the whole force from Kabul to India would certainly be misunderstood, both in Afghanistan and elsewhere. You need have no fears about my division. It can take care of itself, and will reach Kandahar under the month. I will answer for the loyalty and good feeling of the Native portion, and would propose to inform them that, as soon as matters have been satisfactorily settled at Kandahar, they will be sent straight back to India. Show this to Lyall.'

Exaggerated reports of the Maiwand affair being rife in the Kabul bazaars, which were daily becoming crowded with armed Afghans from Abdur Rahman's camp, and the prospect of troops having to leave at once for Kandahar, made it more than ever necessary to bring the negotiations with the new Amir to a speedy conclusion. It was accordingly arranged that Mr. Griffin should meet him at Zimma, about sixteen miles from Kabul. This interview had the happiest results, and must have been extremely gratifying to Mr. Griffin, whom we all heartily congratulated on the successful ending to the very delicate and difficult negotiations which he had carried on with so[Page 473] much skill and patience.

In taking leave of His Highness, Mr. Griffin invited him to come to the British camp the following day to be received by Sir Donald Stewart. Abdur Rahman himself was quite willing to come, and some of his supporters were in favour of his doing so, but others vehemently opposed the idea, and 'swore by their faith they would leave him if he persisted.' After a stormy meeting with his Chiefs, the Amir wrote to Mr. Griffin as follows: 'If you really wish me to come to you, irrespective of the opinion of the people, I am quite ready to do so. Please write and let me know your wishes. I am in the hands of ignorant fools, who do not know their own interests, good or bad. What can I do? I am most anxious to meet you.'

Upon receipt of this note Stewart decided that it would be impolitic to press for an interview, for instead of strengthening the Amir, as had been the intention, it was evident it would have the opposite effect, so the meeting was given up.

A force ordered from Kabul On the morning of the 3rd August the telegram arrived from Lord Ripon, which I had been so anxiously expecting, authorizing the despatch of a force to Kandahar, and directing that I should be placed in command.

I heard afterwards that my message to the Adjutant-General was received at Simla at a most opportune moment. Lyall took it without delay to Lord Ripon, who from the first had been in favour of a force being sent from Kabul, but had refrained from ordering the movement in deference to the views held by some members of his Council, whose longer experience of India, His Excellency considered, entitled their opinions to be treated with respect.

I set to work at once to organize the column which I was to have the great honour of commanding. In this most congenial duty I received every possible assistance and encouragement from Stewart; he gave me carte-blanche, and I should only have had myself to blame if every unit had not been as efficiently equipped as circumstances would admit.

I wished that the force should be composed, as far as possible, of those who had served with me throughout the campaign; but as some of the regiments (more especially Native corps) had been away from their homes for two years, and had had more than their share of fighting, besides having suffered heavy losses in action and through sickness, I considered it right to consult their commanders before detailing the troops. With the exception of three, who thought that their regiments had been long enough away from India, all, to my great delight, eagerly responded to my call, and I took upon myself to promise the men that they should not be left to garrison Kandahar, but should be sent back to India as soon as the fighting ceased.

When the several regiments were decided upon, every man not[Page 474] likely to stand the strain of prolonged forced marches was weeded out, and the scale of baggage, tents, and impedimenta was reduced to a minimum.7

I had no fear as to the officers and men ably and cheerfully performing their part of the task; we had been long enough together to enable us thoroughly to understand and trust each other, and I felt that I could depend upon each and all to respond heartily to whatever call I might make upon them.

The question of supplies was my greatest anxiety, and I had many consultations with my experienced Commissariat officer, Major Badcock, before I could feel satisfied in this respect.

The transport, as I have already recorded, was in good order; it was fortunate that the soldiers had been practised in loading, leading, and tending the animals, for the Afghan drivers deserted to a man a march or two from Kabul, and the Hazaras followed their example on reaching their own country. Sir Donald Stewart's account of the troubles he had encountered during his march from Kandahar was not very encouraging, and I should have been glad if I could have taken a larger amount of supplies;8 but on this point I had to be guided by the number of animals that could be allotted to the column, which[Page 475] was necessarily limited, as carriage had to be provided simultaneously for the withdrawal of the rest of the army of occupation.

The strength of the force placed at my disposal consisted of 9,986 men of all ranks and eighteen guns, divided into three brigades of Infantry, one brigade of Cavalry, and three batteries of Mountain Artillery. There were, besides, over 8,000 followers9 and 2,300 horses and gun-mules.

The Kabul-Kandahar Field Force It was designated the Kabul-Kandahar Field Force.

Major-General J. Ross, C.B., was given the command of the Infantry division, his three Brigadier-Generals being Herbert Macpherson, T.D. Baker, and Charles Macgregor. Brigadier-General Hugh Gough commanded the Cavalry brigade; Colonel Alured Johnson the Artillery; while Colonel Ζ. Perkins held the position of Commanding Royal Engineer; Deputy-Surgeon-General J. Hanbury that of Principal Medical Officer; and Lieutenant-Colonel E.F. Chapman, Chief of the Staff.

From the detail of the force given below,10 it will be seen that there was no wheeled Artillery, and that the number of guns was not in proportion [Page 476] to the strength of the other branches. This was my own doing; I was pressed to take more and heavier guns, but, after due consideration, I decided that I would only have Mountain batteries. We could not tell how long the Kandahar garrison would be able to hold out, so that our first object must be to reach that place with the least possible delay, and wheeled Artillery would, in a country where[Page 477] there were practically no roads, have only prevented our moving as rapidly as we might otherwise have done.

For the equipment of the force, inclusive of carriage for footsore soldiers11 and followers, and allowing ten per cent. spare, more than 8,00012 animals were required.

Fortunately, it turned out that a fair amount of Indian corn in the ear was almost everywhere procurable, which was so nutritious that a large majority of the Cavalry horses and transport animals reached Kandahar in excellent condition.

Commissariat and Transport Throughout the march great difficulties were experienced in procuring food, but they were always overcome, with the able assistance of Major Hastings and his political staff,13 and by means of the admirable arrangements made by the Commissariat14 and Transport15 officers, who were quite untiring, and after the longest march, and with the prospect of having to start again at an early hour the following morning, had often to work far into the night.

The want of fuel was our chief drawback. We had on many occasions to purchase houses and pull them to pieces for the sake of the wood to be got out of them, and frequently there was nothing to cook with save tiny roots of southernwood, which had to be dug out and [Page 478] collected after a long day's march before the men could prepare their food and satisfy their hunger.

One day's corn was carried by each animal in addition to the ordinary load, and as far as Ghazni grain was tolerably plentiful; beyond that we had to depend for forage on the crops still standing. At the end of the day's march, certain fields were told off to the several brigades; from these all that was required was cut and carried away, the fields were then measured and assessed, and compensation was awarded by the political officers, who also adjusted all claims on account of wrecked houses, and fruit, vegetables, etc., brought in for the troops.

On Sunday, the 8th August, the force moved into camp by brigades, my Head-Quarters being with the first and third Infantry brigades at Beni Hissar, on the way to the Logar valley, which route I had chosen instead of the slightly shorter line by Maidan, on account of the greater facility it afforded for supplies.

Sir Donald Stewart paid us a farewell visit in the afternoon, and at 6 a.m. the following morning we began the march to Kandahar.


[Footnote 1: Sirdar Sher Ali had been appointed Governor of Kandahar by the Amir Yakub Khan after the treaty of Gandamak, and had since assisted Sir Donald Stewart in the civil administration of the province.]

[Footnote 2: Local Native levies.]

[Footnote 3:-

  Killed Wounded and
British officers      20        9
British troops    290      48
Native troops    624    118
     —–    —–
     934    175
         Total, 1,109

Of the regimental followers 331 were killed and 7 were missing; 455 transport followers and drivers were reported as killed or missing, but a number of these, being Afghans, probably joined the enemy.

A large quantity of arms and ammunition was lost, including over 1,000 rifles and carbines, and 600 or 700 swords and bayonets.

201 horses were killed, and 1,676 camels, 355 ponies, 24 mules, 291 donkeys, and 79 bullocks, were not forthcoming.]

[Footnote 4: Afterwards General Sir Robert Phayre, G.C.B.]

[Footnote 5: General Phayre reported on the 28th July that there were only seven Native regiments in Baluchistan, three of which were required for the lines of communication, leaving only four available for Field Service; and that a battalion of British Infantry and a battery of Field Artillery required for his column were a long way off, being still in Sind.]

[Footnote 6: Now General Sir George Greaves, G.C.B., G.C.M.C.]

[Footnote 7:-

Each British soldier was allowed for kit and camp-equipage,
including great-coat and waterproof sheet
30 lbs.
Each Native soldier 20  "
Each public and private follower 10  "
Each European officer   1 mule.
Every eight officers for mess   1  "
Each staff-officer for office purposes 80 lbs.
Each Native officer 30  "

[Footnote 8: The amount of supplies taken with the force was as follows:

Bread-stuff   5 days.
Preserved vegetables 15  "
Tea, sugar, salt, and rum 30  "


Flour   5 days
Dal and salt 30  "
Rum for spirit-drinking men   8  "

Sheep, ten days' supply for British troops and four issues for Native troops, with 20 per cent. spare. Nearly 5,000 sheep were purchased on the march. N.B.—There are no horned cattle in Afghanistan, except those used for the plough or transport.

In addition to the above, a small reserve of lime-juice, pea-soup, and tinned meat was taken; these proved most useful, and might have been increased with advantage had carriage been available.

I gave strict orders that the reserve of bread-stuff, flour, and sheep was never to be used without my sanction, and that wherever possible food for the day's consumption was to be purchased. We had occasionally to trench upon the reserve, but we nearly made it up at other places, and we arrived at Kandahar with three days' supplies in hand.]

[Footnote 9: The followers consisted of:

Doolie-bearers 2,192
Transport and other departments 4,698
Private servants, and saices of Native Cavalry regiments 1,244
Total 8,134

[Footnote 10:-



  British. Native.
92nd Highlanders   651   —
23rd Pioneers   —   701
24th Punjab Native Infantry   —   575
2nd Gurkhas   —   501
   —–  ——
Total   651 1,777



  British. Native.
72nd Highlanders   787   —
2nd Sikh Infantry   —   612
3rd Sikh Infantry   —   570
5th Gurkhas   —   561
   —– ——
Total   787 1,743



  British Native.
60th Rifles, 2nd Battalion   616   —
15th Sikhs   —   650
25th Punjab Native Infantry   —   629
4th Gurkhas   —   637
   —–  —–
Total   616 1,916



  British Native.
9th Queen's Royal Lancers   318   —
3rd Bengal Cavalry   —   394
3rd Punjab Cavalry   —   408
Central India Horse   —   495
   —–  ——
Total   318 1,297



  British. Native. Guns.
6-8th Royal Artillery—screw guns     95   139      6
11-9th Royal Artillery     95   139      6
No. 2 Mountain Battery    —   140      6
    —–  —–     —
Total   190   418     18



British troops 2,562
Native     " 7,151
British officers   273
Guns     18
Cavalry horses 1,779
Artillery mules   450

Two hundred rounds of ammunition were taken for each Infantry soldier: seventy rounds were carried by each man, thirty rounds were in reserve with the regiment, and a hundred rounds in the Field Park.

Each Mountain battery had:

Common shell   264
Double shell     60
Shrapnel shell   144
Star shell     24
Case shot     48
Total   540 rounds.

And thirty rounds per gun in the Field Park.]

[Footnote 11: British troops were allowed ponies at the rate of 2 per cent, of strength. Native troops were allowed ponies at the rate of 2½ per cent. of strength. Followers were allowed ponies at the rate of 1½ per cent. of strength.]

[Footnote 12:-

Mules. Indian
Donkeys. Camels.
Number of animals
that left Kabul
Purchased during 
the march°
Number of animals
reached Kandahar
Casualties during
the march



















[Note*: With hospital equipment.]

[Note°: Only twice had animals to be taken against the will of the owners, and on both occasions the matter was amicably settled in the end.]

[Footnote 13: Major E. Hastings, Captain West Ridgeway, Major Euan Smith, C.S.I., and Major M. Prothero.]

[Footnote 14: Major A. Badcock, Captain A. Rind, and Lieutenants C. Fitzgerald, H. Hawkes, and H. Lyons Montgomery, all of the Bengal Staff Corps.]

[Footnote 15: Lieutenant-Colonel R. Low, Bengal Staff Corps; Captain W. Wynter, 33rd Foot; Captains G. H. Eliot and C. R. Macgregor, Bengal Staff Corps; Lieutenants L. Booth, 33rd Foot, H. Elverson, 2nd Foot, R. Fisher, 10th Hussars, R. Wilson, 10th Hussars, and C. Robertson, 8th Foot.]