THE STORY OF THE MALAKAND FIELD FORCE
AN EPISODE OF FRONTIER WAR
By Sir Winston S. Churchill
"They (Frontier Wars) are but the surf that marks the edge and the advance of the wave of civilisation."
LORD SALISBURY, Guildhall, 1892
Preface Chapter I: The Theatre of War Chapter II: The Malakand Camps Chapter III: The Outbreak Chapter IV: The Attack on the Malakand Chapter V: The Relief of Chakdara Chapter VI: The Defence of Chakdara Chapter VII: The Gate of Swat Chapter VIII: The Advance Against the Mohmands Chapter IX: Reconnaissance Chapter X: The March to Nawagai Chapter XI: The Action of the Mamund Valley, 16th September Chapter XII: At Inayat Kila Chapter XIII: Nawagai Chapter XIV: Back to the Mamund Valley Chapter XV: The Work of the Cavalry Chapter XVI: Submission Chapter XVII: Military Observations Chapter XVIII: The Riddle of the Frontier Appendix
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED TO MAJOR-GENERAL SIR BINDON BLOOD, K.C.B. UNDER WHOSE COMMAND THE OPERATIONS THEREIN RECORDED WERE CARRIED OUT; BY WHOSE GENERALSHIP THEY WERE BROUGHT TO A SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION; AND TO WHOSE KINDNESS THE AUTHOR IS INDEBTED FOR THE MOST VALUABLE AND FASCINATING EXPERIENCE OF HIS LIFE.
"According to the fair play of the world, Let me have an audience."
"King John," Act v., Sc. 2.
On general grounds I deprecate prefaces. I have always thought that if an author cannot make friends with the reader, and explain his objects, in two or three hundred pages, he is not likely to do so in fifty lines. And yet the temptation of speaking a few words behind the scenes, as it were, is so strong that few writers are able to resist it. I shall not try.
While I was attached to the Malakand Field Force I wrote a series of letters for the London Daily Telegraph. The favourable manner in which these letters were received, encouraged me to attempt a more substantial work. This volume is the result.
The original letters have been broken up, and I have freely availed myself of all passages, phrases, and facts, that seemed appropriate. The views they contained have not been altered, though several opinions and expressions, which seemed mild in the invigorating atmosphere of a camp, have been modified, to suit the more temperate climate of peace.
I have to thank many gallant officers for the assistance they have given me in the collection of material. They have all asked me not to mention their names, but to accede to this request would be to rob the story of the Malakand Field Force of all its bravest deeds and finest characters.
The book does not pretend to deal with the complications of the frontier question, nor to present a complete summary of its phases and features. In the opening chapter I have tried to describe the general character of the numerous and powerful tribes of the Indian Frontier. In the last chapter I have attempted to apply the intelligence of a plain man to the vast mass of expert evidence, which on this subject is so great that it baffles memory and exhausts patience. The rest is narrative, and in it I have only desired to show the reader what it looked like.
As I have not been able to describe in the text all the instances of conduct and courage which occurred, I have included in an appendix the official despatches.
The impartial critic will at least admit that I have not insulted the British public by writing a party pamphlet on a great Imperial question. I have recorded the facts as they occurred, and the impressions as they arose, without attempting to make a case against any person or any policy. Indeed, I fear that assailing none, I may have offended all. Neutrality may degenerate into an ignominious isolation. An honest and unprejudiced attempt to discern the truth is my sole defence, as the good opinion of the reader has been throughout my chief aspiration, and can be in the end my only support.
Winston S. Churchill
Cavalry Barracks, Bangalore, 30th December, 1897
CHAPTER I: THE THEATRE OF WAR
The Ghilzaie chief wrote answer: "Our paths are narrow and steep. The sun burns fierce in the valleys, and the snow-fed streams run deep; . . . . . . . . . .
So a stranger needs safe escort, and the oath of a valiant friend."
"The Amir's Message," SIR A. LYALL.
All along the north and north-west frontiers of India lie the Himalayas, the greatest disturbance of the earth's surface that the convulsions of chaotic periods have produced. Nearly four hundred miles in breadth and more than sixteen hundred in length, this mountainous region divides the great plains of the south from those of Central Asia, and parts as a channel separates opposing shores, the Eastern Empire of Great Britain from that of Russia. The western end of this tumult of ground is formed by the peaks of the Hindu Kush, to the south of which is the scene of the story these pages contain. The Himalayas are not a line, but a great country of mountains. By one who stands on some lofty pass or commanding point in Dir, Swat or Bajaur, range after range is seen as the long surges of an Atlantic swell, and in the distance some glittering snow peak suggests a white-crested roller, higher than the rest. The drenching rains which fall each year have washed the soil from the sides of the hills until they have become strangely grooved by numberless water-courses, and the black primeval rock is everywhere exposed. The silt and sediment have filled the valleys which lie between, and made their surface sandy, level and broad. Again the rain has cut wide, deep and constantly-changing channels through this soft deposit; great gutters, which are sometimes seventy feet deep and two or three hundred yards across. These are the nullahs. Usually the smaller ones are dry, and the larger occupied only by streams; but in the season of the rains, abundant water pours down all, and in a few hours the brook has become an impassable torrent, and the river swelled into a rolling flood which caves the banks round which it swirls, and cuts the channel deeper year by year.
From the level plain of the valleys the hills rise abruptly. Their steep and rugged slopes are thickly strewn with great rocks, and covered with coarse, rank grass. Scattered pines grow on the higher ridges. In the water-courses the chenar, the beautiful eastern variety of the plane tree of the London squares and Paris boulevards, is occasionally found, and when found, is, for its pleasant shade, regarded with grateful respect. Reaching far up the sides of the hills are tiers of narrow terraces, chiefly the work of long-forgotten peoples, which catch the soil that the rain brings down, and support crops of barley and maize. The rice fields along both banks of the stream display a broad, winding strip of vivid green, which gives the eye its only relief from the sombre colours of the mountains.
In the spring, indeed, the valleys are brightened by many flowers—wild tulips, peonies, crocuses and several kinds of polyanthus; and among the fruits the water melon, some small grapes and mulberries are excellent, although in their production, nature is unaided by culture. But during the campaign, which these pages describe, the hot sun of the summer had burnt up all the flowers, and only a few splendid butterflies, whose wings of blue and green change colour in the light, like shot silk, contrasted with the sternness of the landscape.
The valleys are nevertheless by no means barren. The soil is fertile, the rains plentiful, and a considerable proportion of ground is occupied by cultivation, and amply supplies the wants of the inhabitants.
The streams are full of fish, both trout and mahseer. By the banks teal, widgeon and wild duck, and in some places, snipe, are plentiful. Chikor, a variety of partridge, and several sorts of pheasants, are to be obtained on the hills.
Among the wild animals of the region the hunter may pursue the black or brown mountain bear, an occasional leopard, markhor, and several varieties of wild goat, sheep and antelope. The smaller quadrupeds include hares and red foxes, not unlike the British breed, only with much brighter coats, and several kinds of rats, some of which are very curious and rare. Destitute of beauty but not without use, the scaly ant-eater is frequently seen; but the most common of all the beasts is an odious species of large lizard, nearly three feet long, which resembles a flabby-skinned crocodile and feeds on carrion. Domestic fowls, goats, sheep and oxen, with the inevitable vulture, and an occasional eagle, complete the fauna.
Over all is a bright blue sky and powerful sun. Such is the scenery of the theatre of war.
The inhabitants of these wild but wealthy valleys are of many tribes, but of similar character and condition. The abundant crops which a warm sun and copious rains raise from a fertile soil, support a numerous population in a state of warlike leisure. Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land. Tribe wars with tribe. The people of one valley fight with those of the next. To the quarrels of communities are added the combats of individuals. Khan assails khan, each supported by his retainers. Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man's hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.
Nor are these struggles conducted with the weapons which usually belong to the races of such development. To the ferocity of the Zulu are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer. The world is presented with that grim spectacle, "the strength of civilisation without its mercy." At a thousand yards the traveller falls wounded by the well-aimed bullet of a breech-loading rifle. His assailant, approaching, hacks him to death with the ferocity of a South-Sea Islander. The weapons of the nineteenth century are in the hands of the savages of the Stone Age.
Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherit in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword—the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men—stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism. The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display. A code of honour not less punctilious than that of old Spain, is supported by vendettas as implacable as those of Corsica.
In such a state of society, all property is held directly by main force. Every man is a soldier. Either he is the retainer of some khan—the man-at-arms of some feudal baron as it were—or he is a unit in the armed force of his village—the burgher of mediaeval history. In such surroundings we may without difficulty trace the rise and fall of an ambitious Pathan. At first he toils with zeal and thrift as an agriculturist on that plot of ground which his family have held since they expelled some former owner. He accumulates in secret a sum of money. With this he buys a rifle from some daring thief, who has risked his life to snatch it from a frontier guard-house. He becomes a man to be feared. Then he builds a tower to his house and overawes those around him in the village. Gradually they submit to his authority. He might now rule the village; but he aspires still higher. He persuades or compels his neighbors to join him in an attack on the castle of a local khan. The attack succeeds. The khan flies or is killed; the castle captured. The retainers make terms with the conqueror. The land tenure is feudal. In return for their acres they follow their new chief to war. Were he to treat them worse than the other khans treated their servants, they would sell their strong arms elsewhere. He treats them well. Others resort to him. He buys more rifles. He conquers two or three neighboring khans. He has now become a power.
Many, perhaps all, states have been founded in a similar way, and it is by such steps that civilisation painfully stumbles through her earlier stages. But in these valleys the warlike nature of the people and their hatred of control, arrest the further progress of development. We have watched a man, able, thrifty, brave, fighting his way to power, absorbing, amalgamating, laying the foundations of a more complex and interdependent state of society. He has so far succeeded. But his success is now his ruin. A combination is formed against him. The surrounding chiefs and their adherents are assisted by the village populations. The ambitious Pathan, oppressed by numbers, is destroyed. The victors quarrel over the spoil, and the story closes, as it began, in bloodshed and strife.
The conditions of existence, that have been thus indicated, have naturally led to the dwelling-places of these tribes being fortified. If they are in the valley, they are protected by towers and walls loopholed for musketry. If in the hollows of the hills, they are strong by their natural position. In either case they are guarded by a hardy and martial people, well armed, brave, and trained by constant war.
This state of continual tumult has produced a habit of mind which recks little of injuries, holds life cheap and embarks on war with careless levity, and the tribesmen of the Afghan border afford the spectacle of a people, who fight without passion, and kill one another without loss of temper. Such a disposition, combined with an absolute lack of reverence for all forms of law and authority, and a complete assurance of equality, is the cause of their frequent quarrels with the British power. A trifle rouses their animosity. They make a sudden attack on some frontier post. They are repulsed. From their point of view the incident is closed. There has been a fair fight in which they have had the worst fortune. What puzzles them is that "the Sirkar" should regard so small an affair in a serious light. Thus the Mohmands cross the frontier and the action of Shabkadr is fought. They are surprised and aggrieved that the Government are not content with the victory, but must needs invade their territories, and impose punishment. Or again, the Mamunds, because a village has been burnt, assail the camp of the Second Brigade by night. It is a drawn game. They are astounded that the troops do not take it in good part.
They, when they fight among themselves, bear little malice, and the combatants not infrequently make friends over the corpses of their comrades or suspend operations for a festival or a horse race. At the end of the contest cordial relations are at once re-established. And yet so full of contradictions is their character, that all this is without prejudice to what has been written of their family vendettas and private blood feuds. Their system of ethics, which regards treachery and violence as virtues rather than vices, has produced a code of honour so strange and inconsistent, that it is incomprehensible to a logical mind. I have been told that if a white man could grasp it fully, and were to understand their mental impulses—if he knew, when it was their honour to stand by him, and when it was their honour to betray him; when they were bound to protect and when to kill him—he might, by judging his times and opportunities, pass safely from one end of the mountains to the other. But a civilised European is as little able to accomplish this, as to appreciate the feelings of those strange creatures, which, when a drop of water is examined under a microscope, are revealed amiably gobbling each other up, and being themselves complacently devoured.
I remark with pleasure, as an agreeable trait in the character of the Pathans, the immunity, dictated by a rude spirit of chivalry, which in their ceaseless brawling, their women enjoy. Many forts are built at some distance from any pool or spring. When these are besieged, the women are allowed by the assailants to carry water to the foot of the walls by night. In the morning the defenders come out and fetch it—of course under fire—and are enabled to continue their resistance. But passing from the military to the social aspect of their lives, the picture assumes an even darker shade, and is unrelieved by any redeeming virtue. We see them in their squalid, loopholed hovels, amid dirt and ignorance, as degraded a race as any on the fringe of humanity: fierce as the tiger, but less cleanly; as dangerous, not so graceful. Those simple family virtues, which idealists usually ascribe to primitive peoples, are conspicuously absent. Their wives and their womenkind generally, have no position but that of animals. They are freely bought and sold, and are not infrequently bartered for rifles. Truth is unknown among them. A single typical incident displays the standpoint from which they regard an oath. In any dispute about a field boundary, it is customary for both claimants to walk round the boundary he claims, with a Koran in his hand, swearing that all the time he is walking on his own land. To meet the difficulty of a false oath, while he is walking over his neighbor's land, he puts a little dust from his own field into his shoes. As both sides are acquainted with the trick, the dismal farce of swearing is usually soon abandoned, in favor of an appeal to force.
All are held in the grip of miserable superstition. The power of the ziarat, or sacred tomb, is wonderful. Sick children are carried on the backs of buffaloes, sometimes sixty or seventy miles, to be deposited in front of such a shrine, after which they are carried back—if they survive the journey—in the same way. It is painful even to think of what the wretched child suffers in being thus jolted over the cattle tracks. But the tribesmen consider the treatment much more efficacious than any infidel prescription. To go to a ziarat and put a stick in the ground is sufficient to ensure the fulfillment of a wish. To sit swinging a stone or coloured glass ball, suspended by a string from a tree, and tied there by some fakir, is a sure method of securing a fine male heir. To make a cow give good milk, a little should be plastered on some favorite stone near the tomb of a holy man. These are but a few instances; but they may suffice to reveal a state of mental development at which civilisation hardly knows whether to laugh or weep.
Their superstition exposes them to the rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood—"Mullahs," "Sahibzadas," "Akhundzadas," "Fakirs,"—and a host of wandering Talib-ul-ilms, who correspond with the theological students in Turkey, and live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of "droit du seigneur," and no man's wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write. As Macaulay has said of Wycherley's plays, "they are protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the hunters." They are "safe, because they are too filthy to handle, and too noisome even to approach."
Yet the life even of these barbarous people is not without moments when the lover of the picturesque might sympathise with their hopes and fears. In the cool of the evening, when the sun has sunk behind the mountains of Afghanistan, and the valleys are filled with a delicious twilight, the elders of the village lead the way to the chenar trees by the water's side, and there, while the men are cleaning their rifles, or smoking their hookas, and the women are making rude ornaments from beads, and cloves, and nuts, the Mullah drones the evening prayer. Few white men have seen, and returned to tell the tale. But we may imagine the conversation passing from the prices of arms and cattle, the prospects of the harvest, or the village gossip, to the great Power, that lies to the southward, and comes nearer year by year. Perhaps some former Sepoy, of Beluchis or Pathans, will recount his adventures in the bazaars of Peshawar, or tell of the white officers he has followed and fought for in the past. He will speak of their careless bravery and their strange sports; of the far-reaching power of the Government, that never forgets to send his pension regularly as the months pass by; and he may even predict to the listening circle the day when their valleys will be involved in the comprehensive grasp of that great machine, and judges, collectors and commissioners shall ride to sessions at Ambeyla, or value the land tax on the soil of Nawagai. Then the Mullah will raise his voice and remind them of other days when the sons of the prophet drove the infidel from the plains of India, and ruled at Delhi, as wide an Empire as the Kafir holds to-day: when the true religion strode proudly through the earth and scorned to lie hidden and neglected among the hills: when mighty princes ruled in Bagdad, and all men knew that there was one God, and Mahomet was His prophet. And the young men hearing these things will grip their Martinis, and pray to Allah, that one day He will bring some Sahib—best prize of all—across their line of sight at seven hundred yards so that, at least, they may strike a blow for insulted and threatened Islam.
The general aspect of the country and character of its inhabitants have thus been briefly described. At this stage it is not necessary or desirable to descend to detail. As the account proceeds the reader may derive a more lively impression of the sombre mountains, and of the peoples who dwell beneath their shadow.
The tale that I have to tell is one of frontier war. Neither the importance of the issues, nor the numbers of the combatants, are on an European scale. The fate of empires does not hang on the result. Yet the narrative may not be without interest, or material for reflection. In the quarrels of civilised nations, great armies, many thousands strong, collide. Brigades and battalions are hurried forward, and come perhaps within some fire zone, swept by concentrated batteries, or massed musketry. Hundreds or thousands fall killed and wounded. The survivors struggle on blindly, dazed and dumfoundered, to the nearest cover. Fresh troops are continuously poured on from behind. At length one side or the other gives way. In all this tumult, this wholesale slaughter, the individual and his feelings are utterly lost. Only the army has a tale to tell. With events on such a scale, the hopes and fears, the strength and weakness, of man are alike indistinguishable. Amid the din and dust little but destruction can be discerned. But on the frontier, in the clear light of morning, when the mountain side is dotted with smoke puffs, and every ridge sparkles with bright sword blades, the spectator may observe and accurately appreciate all grades of human courage—the wild fanaticism of the Ghazi, the composed fatalism of the Sikh, the stubbornness of the British soldier, and the jaunty daring of his officers. He may remark occasions of devotion and self-sacrifice, of cool cynicism and stern resolve. He may participate in moments of wild enthusiasm, or of savage anger and dismay. The skill of the general, the quality of the troops, the eternal principles of the art of war, will be as clearly displayed as on historic fields. Only the scale of the statistics is reduced.
A single glass of champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced, the imagination is agreeably stirred, the wits become more nimble. A bottle produces a contrary effect. Excess causes a comatose insensibility. So it is with war, and the quality of both is best discovered by sipping.
I propose to chronicle the military operations of the Malakand Field Force, to trace their political results, and to give, if possible, some picture of the scenery and people of the Indian Highlands. These pages may serve to record the actions of brave and skilful men. They may throw a sidelight on the great drama of frontier war. They may describe an episode in that ceaseless struggle for Empire which seems to be the perpetual inheritance of our race. They may amuse an idle hour. But the ambition I shall associate with them is, that in some measure, however small, they may stimulate that growing interest which the Imperial Democracy of England is beginning to take, in their great estates that lie beyond the seas.
CHAPTER II: THE MALAKAND CAMPS
Ibam forte via sacra.—HORACE.
The town and cantonment of Nowshera was the base from which all the operations of the Malakand Field Force were conducted. It is situated on the India side of the Cabul River and is six hours by rail from Rawal Pindi. In times of peace its garrison consists of one native cavalry regiment, one British, and one native infantry battalion. During the war these troops were employed at the front. The barracks became great hospitals. The whole place was crowded with transport and military stores; and only a slender force remained under the orders of Colonel Schalch, the Base Commandant.
The road from Nowshera to the Malakand Pass and camps is forty-seven miles long, and divided into four stages. Usually there is an excellent tonga service, and the distance is covered in about six hours; but while the Field Force was mobilised so much traffic and so many officers passed up and down the line, that the tonga ponies were soon reduced to a terrible condition of sores and emaciation, and could hardly drag the journey out in nine, ten, or even twelve hours. After leaving Nowshera, and crossing the Cabul River, a stage of fifteen miles brings the traveller to Mardan. This place—pronounced "Merdane"—is the permanent station of the Corps of Guides. It is shady and agreeable, though terribly hot in the summer months. It boasts an excellent polo ground and a comfortable rest-house. The passer-by should pause to see the Guides' cemetery, perhaps the only regimental cemetery in the world. To this last resting-place under the palm trees, close to the fields where they have played, and the barracks in which they lived, have been borne the bodies of successive generations of these wardens of the marches, killed in action across the frontier line. It is a green and pleasant spot. Nor is there any place in the world where a soldier might lie in braver company.
After Mardan the road becomes more dusty, and the surrounding country barren and arid. [This description applies to the autumn season. In the winter and spring the country for a time is green and the air cold.] The mountains are approached, and as the tonga advances their shapes and colours are more distinctly seen. A few knolls and ridges rising from the level plain, mark the outposts of that great array of hills. Crossing a shallow stream—a tributary of the Cabul River, Jalala, the second stage is reached. In peace time a small mud fort is the only indication, but this is expanded by the proximity of war to a considerable camp, with an entrenchment around it. Stopping only to change ponies, for it is a forsaken spot, the journey is resumed. The avenue of trees on either side has ceased. The road is seen simply as a white streak stretching towards the mountains. It is traversed in a sweltering heat and choking dust. All around the country is red, sterile and burnt up. In front the great wall of hills rises dark and ominous. At length Dargai at the foot of the pass is reached. It is another mud fort, swelled during the operations into an entrenched camp, and surrounded by a network of barbed wire entanglement. The Malakand Pass can now be seen—a great cleft in the line of mountains—and far up the gorge, the outline of the fort that guards it, is distinguishable.
The graded road winds up, with many a turn, the long ascent from Dargai to the top of the pass. The driver flogs the wretched, sore-backed ponies tirelessly. At length the summit is neared. The view is one worth stopping to look at. Behind and below, under the haze of the heat, is the wide expanse of open country—smooth, level, stretching away to the dim horizon. The tonga turns the corner and enters a new world. A cooler breeze is blowing. A single step has led from peace to war; from civilisation to savagery; from India to the mountains. On all sides the landscape is wild and rugged. Ridge succeeds ridge. Valley opens into valley. As far as the eye can reach in every direction are ragged peaks and spurs. The country of the plains is left, and we have entered a strange land, as tangled as the maze at Hampton Court, with mountains instead of hedges. So broken and so confused is the ground, that I despair of conveying a clear impression of it.
The Malakand is like a great cup, of which the rim is broken into numerous clefts and jagged points. At the bottom of this cup is the "crater" camp. The deepest cleft is the Malakand Pass. The highest of the jagged points is Guides Hill, on a spur of which the fort stands. It needs no technical knowledge to see, that to defend such a place, the rim of the cup must be held. But in the Malakand, the bottom of the cup is too small to contain the necessary garrison. The whole position is therefore, from the military point of view, bad and indefensible. In the revised and improved scheme of defence, arrangements have been made, to command the available approaches, and to block such as cannot be commanded with barbed wire entanglements and other obstructions; and by a judicious system of works much of the rim is now held. But even now I am told by competent judges that the place is a bad one for defence; that the pass could be held by the fort alone, and that the brigade stationed there would be safer and equally useful, if withdrawn to Dargai. At the time this story opens the Malakand South Camp was an impossible place to put troops in. It was easy of access. It was cramped and commanded by neighbouring heights. [Under the arrangements which have been made since the war, the Malakand position and the works at Chakdara and Dargai will be held by two battalions and some details. These will be supported by a flying column, the exact location and composition of which are as yet undetermined.]
The small area of the camp on the Kotal necessitated the formation of a second encampment in the plain of Khar. This was close under the north outer edge of the cup. It was called for political reasons North Malakand. As a military position it, also, was radically bad. It was everywhere commanded, and surrounded by ravines and nullahs, which made it easy for an enemy to get in, and difficult for troops to get out. It was, of course, of no strategic value, and was merely used as a habitation for the troops intended to hold Malakand, for whom there was no room in the crater and fort. The north camp has now been definitely abandoned.
Nobody, however—least of all those who selected the site—would seem to have contemplated the possibility of an attack. Indeed the whole situation was regarded as purely temporary. The vacillation, caused by the change of parties and policies in England, led to the Malakand garrison remaining for two years in a position which could not be well defended either on paper or in reality. At first, after the Chitral campaign of 1895, it was thought that the retention of the brigade in this advanced post, was only a matter of a few weeks. But as the months passed by the camp began, in spite of the uncertainty, to assume an appearance of permanency. The officers built themselves huts and mess rooms. A good polo ground was discovered near Khar, and under careful management rapidly improved. A race-course was projected. Many officers who were married brought their wives and families to the camp among the mountains, and the whole place was rapidly becoming a regular cantonment. No cases of Ghazi outrage broke the tranquillity. The revolvers, which all persons leaving camp were by regulations obliged to take, were either unloaded or carried by a native groom. Shooting parties were organised to the hills. A well-contested polo tournament was held in Christmas week. Distinguished travellers—even a member of Parliament—visited this outpost of empire, and observed with interest the swiftness and ease with which the Anglo-Saxon adapts every situation to his sports and habits.
At the same time the station of the Malakand Brigade was far from being a comfortable one. For two years they lived under canvas or in rude huts. They were exposed to extremes of climate. They were without punkahs or ice in the hot weather. They were nearly fifty miles from the railway, and in respect of companionship and amusements were thrown entirely on their own resources. When the British cavalry officer succeeds, in spite of official opposition, expense and discouragement, in getting on service across the frontier, he is apt to look with envious eyes at the officers of the Frontier Force, who are taken as a matter of course and compelled to do by command, what he would solicit as a favour. But he must remember that this is their compensation for long months of discomfort and monotony in lonely and out-of-the-way stations, and for undergoing hardships which, though honourable and welcome in the face of the enemy, become obnoxious in times of peace.
After crossing the Malakand Pass the first turning to the right leads to the Swat Valley. The traveller is now within the mountains. In every direction the view is restricted or terminated by walls of rock. The valley itself is broad, level and fertile. The river flows swiftly through the middle. On either side of it, is a broad strip of rice fields. Other crops occupy the drier ground. Numerous villages, some of which contain large populations, are scattered about. It is a beautiful scene. The cool breezes of the mountains temper the heat of the sun. The abundant rains preserve the verdure of the earth.
In ancient times this region was the seat of a Buddhistic kingdom, and was known as Woo-Chang or "Udyana," which means "the Park," and proclaims the appreciation which its former possessors had of their pleasant valley. "The people," says the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hien, who visited the country in the fifth century, "all use the language of Central India, 'Central India' being what we should call the 'Middle Kingdom.' The food and clothes of the common people are the same as in that Central Kingdom. The law of Buddha is very flourishing in Woo-Chang." "The Park," which includes all the country on both banks of the Swat River—then called the Subhavastu—but which perhaps applies more particularly to the upper end of the valley, was famous for its forests, flowers and fruit. But though the valley retains much of its beauty, its forests have been destroyed by the improvidence, and its flowers and fruit have declined through the ignorance, of the fierce conquerors into whose hands it fell.
The reputation which its present inhabitants enjoy is evil. Their treacherous character has distinguished them even among peoples notoriously faithless and cruel. Among Pathans it is a common saying: "Swat is heaven, but the Swatis are hell-fiends." For many years they had lain under the stigma of cowardice, and were despised as well as distrusted by the tribes of the border; but their conduct in the recent fighting has cleared them at least from this imputation.
Several minor chieftains now divide authority in the Swat Valley, but till 1870 it was governed by a single ruler. The Ahkund of Swat was by origin a cowherd, an office considered most honourable in India. The cow is a sacred beast. His service is acceptable to the Gods and men. Princes glory in the name—though they do not usually carry their enthusiasm further. "Guicowar" translated literally means "cowherd." From such employment the future Ahkund received his inspiration. He sat for many years by the banks of the Indus, and meditated. Thus he became a saint. The longer his riparian reflections were continued, the greater his sanctity became. The fame of his holiness spread throughout all the region. The Swatis besought him to come and live in their valley. After dignified and diplomatic reluctance, he consented to exchange the banks of the Indus for those of the Swat. For some years, he lived in the green valley, and enjoyed the reverence of its people. At the time of the great mutiny, Said Akbar, the King of Swat, died, and the saint succeeded to the temporal as well as the spiritual authority. In 1863 he preached the Jehad against the British, and headed the Swatis and Bunerwals in the Ambeyla campaign. The power which the Sirkar so extravagantly displayed to bring the war to an end, evidently impressed the old man, for at its close he made friends with the Government and received from them many tokens of respect.
Before he died in 1870, he summoned his people around him and declared to them that one day their valley would be the scene of a struggle between the Russians and the British. When that came to pass he charged them to fight on our side. The saying is firmly fixed in the hearts of the tribesmen, and is associated with the memory of their famous priest, known to English minds chiefly through the medium of the "Bab Ballads."
His two sons are dead, but his two grandsons, [the Mianguls of Swat] both quite young, live on in the valley, and are the owners of the Ahkund's freeholds, which are in every section of the Swat country. They have very little political influence; but their persons and property are respected by the people and by the British for the sake of their grandfather, who sleeps in an odour of sanctity at Saidu, near Mingaora.
From the Malakand the signal tower of Chakdara can be seen eight miles away to the eastward. Thither the broad graded road runs like a ribbon across the plain. Seven miles from the Kotal Camp, it crosses the Amandara Pass, a gap in a considerable underfeature, which juts from the southern mountains. After this it turns more to the north and leads to the fortified bridge across the river. I invite the reader to remark this road, for it is historic. It is not only the route by which the Malakand Field Force was able to advance, but it is the very reason of their existence. Without this road there would have been no Malakand Camps, no fighting, no Malakand Field Force, no story. It is the road to Chitral.
Here then, at once, the whole vast question of frontier policy is raised. We hold the Malakand Pass to keep the Chitral road open. We keep the Chitral road open because we have retained Chitral. We retain Chitral in accordance with the "Forward Policy." I am thus confronted at the very outset of this book, which was intended to be devoted chiefly to the narration of military events and small incidents, with that wide political question, on which the keenest intellects in England are in doubt, and the most valuable expert evidence in India is divided. The reader must not think me pusillanimous or weak if I postpone the discussion of so great and controversial a matter till a later chapter, when I may perhaps enjoy a larger measure of his sympathy and agreement. After the story has been told, it may not be inappropriate to point the moral.
Prudence encourages procrastination. But while the consideration of the advisability of the retention of Chitral may be deferred, a description of the means is convenient, if not necessary, to the present chapter.
Nowshera is the railway base of the road. Thence we have followed it to Mardan and across the frontier. Here the new and disputed portion begins. Passing at first through the Lower Ranizai country, it climbs the Malakand Pass, descends into the valley beyond and runs thence through Upper Ranizai territory and Lower Swat to Chakdara. Here it crosses the Swat River by the fine suspension bridge which the fort guards. The three spans of this bridge are together nearly 1500 feet long. It was constructed in 1895, during the operations, in about six weeks, and is a very remarkable piece of military engineering. Beyond the Swat the road runs through the territories of the Khan of Dir, north and east to Sadu, an obscure village thirty-five miles from Malakand. This marks the end of the first section, and further than this wheeled traffic cannot go. The road, now become a camel track, winds along the left bank of the Panjkora River to within five miles of Dir, where it crosses to the right bank by another suspension bridge. Thence it continues to the junction of the Dir stream, along which it finds its way to Dir itself, some fifty miles from Sadu. Beyond Dir camels cannot proceed, and here begins the third section—a path practicable only for mules, and about sixty miles long. From Dir the road is a triumph of engineering. In many places it is carried on wooden galleries perched on the faces of steep and tremendous cliffs, and at others it works round spurs by astounding zig-zags, or is scarped from the mountain side. At the end of the road is Fort Chitral with a garrison of two battalions, one company of sappers, and two mountain guns.
The road is maintained and protected by the tribes through whose territories it passes; but the two principal points where it might be closed are held by Imperial garrisons. The Malakand Fort guards the passage of the mountains. Chakdara holds the bridge across the river. The rest is left to the tribal levies. The Ranizai tribe receive an annual subsidy from the Indian Government of 30,000 rupees, out of which they maintain 200 irregulars armed with Sniders, and irreverently called by the British officers, "Catch-'em-alive-Os." These drive away marauders and discourage outrage and murder. The Khan of Dir, through whose territory the road runs for seventy-three miles, also receives a subsidy from Government of 60,000 rupees, in consideration of which he provides 400 irregulars for its service.
Until the great rising these arrangements worked admirably. The tribesmen interested in the maintenance of the route, were most reluctant to engage in hostilities against the Government. The Lower Ranizais, south of Malakand, abstained altogether. The elders of the tribe collected all the arms of their hot-headed youths, and forbade them to attack the troops. The Upper Ranizais were nearer the scene of the disturbance, and were induced by superstition and fear to join the Mullah; but very half-heartedly. The Swatis were carried away by fanaticism. The Khan of Dir throughout behaved loyally, as he is entirely dependent on British support, and his people realise the advantages of the subsidy.
If the road is interesting its story is more so, and a summary of the events and causes which have led to its construction, may also throw some light on the political history and methods of the border tribes.
The uncertainty and insecurity of their power, has always led petty chiefs to seek the support of some powerful suzerain. In 1876 the Mehtar of Chitral, Aman-ul-Mulk, was encouraged to seek the protection, and become the vassal of our vassal, the Maharaja of Cashmere. In accordance with the general scheme of advance, then already adopted by the Indian Government, a British agency was at once established at Gilgit on the Chitral-Cashmere frontier. Aman-ul-Mulk was presented with a certain supply of arms and ammunition, and an annual subsidy of 6000 rupees, afterwards raised to 12,000 rupees. The British thus obtained an interest in Chitral, and a point of observation on its borders. In 1881 the agency was withdrawn, but the influence remained, and in 1889 it was re-established with a much larger garrison. Meanwhile Aman-ul-Mulk ruled in Chitral, showing great respect to the wishes of the Government, and in the enjoyment of his subsidy and comparative peace. But in 1892 he died, leaving many sons, all equally ferocious, ambitious and unscrupulous. One of these, Afzal by name, though not the eldest or acknowledged heir, had the good fortune to be on the spot. He seized the reins of power, and having murdered as many if his brothers as he could catch, proclaimed himself Mehtar, and invited the recognition of the Indian Government. He was acknowledged chief, as he seemed to be "a man of courage and determination," and his rule afforded a prospect of settled government. Surviving brothers fled to neighbouring states.
Nizam, the eldest, came to Gilgit and appealed to the British. He got no help. The blessing had already been bestowed. But in November, 1892, Sher Afzul, a brother of the late Aman, returned by stealth to Chitral, whence fraternal affection had driven him, and killed the new Mehtar and another brother, both of whom were his nephews. The "wicked uncle" then ascended the throne, or its equivalent. He was, however, opposed. The Indian Government refused to recognise him. Nizam, at Gilgit, urged his claims, and was finally allowed to go and try to regain his inheritance. The moral support of 250 Cashmere rifles brought him many adherents. He was joined by the people. It was the landing of William of Orange on a reduced scale, and with Cashmere troops instead of Dutch Guards. Twelve hundred men sent by Sher Afzul to oppose him, deserted to his side. The avuncular usurper, realising that it might be dangerous to wait longer, fled to Afghanistan, as James II had fled to France, was received by the ruler with hospitality, and carefully preserved as an element of future disorder.
Nizam now became Mehtar according to his desire. But he did not greatly enjoy his power, and may have evolved some trite reflections on the vanity of earthly ambition. From the first he was poor and unpopular. With the support of the Government of India, however, he managed to maintain a weak, squalid rule for a space. To give him countenance, and in accordance with the Policy, Captain Younghusband was sent to the country with a hundred bayonets. The Gilgit garrison was increased by a battalion, and several posts were established between that place and Mastuj.
Thus the Imperial forces had entered Chitral. Their position was soon to become one of danger. They were separated from Gilgit by many miles of bad road, and warlike tribesmen. To move troops from Gilgit would always be slow and difficult. Another route was however possible, the route I have described—a route northwards from Peshawar through Dir—shorter and easier, starting from British territory and the railway. Towards this line of communication the Indian Government now looked. If British troops or agents were to be retained in Chitral, if in other words their recognised policy was to be continued, this route must be opened up. They sounded the Home Government. Lord Kimberley replied, deprecating increase of responsibilities, of territory and expenditure, and declining to pledge himself to support such a scheme. At the same time he sanctioned the temporary retention of the troops, and the agent, in the hopes of strengthening Nizam. [Despatch from Secretary of State, No.34, 1st Sept., 1893.]
At this point Umra Khan must enter the story. The Gilgit agency report, dated 28th April, 1890, speaks of this chief, who was the Khan of Jandul, but whose influence pervaded the whole of Bajaur as "the most important man between Chitral and Pashawar." To this powerful ruler, another of the sons of Aman, named Amir, had fled from the family massacre which followed his father's death. Umra Khan protected him and determined to turn him to his own advantage. In May, 1894, this youth—he was about twenty years of age—returned to Chitral, professing to have escaped from the hands of Umra Khan. He was kindly received by Nizam, who seems to have been much hampered throughout his career by his virtue. On 1st January, 1895, Amir availed himself of his welcome, to murder his brother, and the principal members of the Chitral Cabinet. He proclaimed himself Mentar and asked for recognition. The Imperial officers, though used to frontier politics, refused to commit themselves to any arrangement with such a villain, until the matter had been considered in India.
Umra Khan now advanced with a large force to the head of the Chitral Valley, nominally to assist his dear friend and ally, Amir, to consolidate his rule, really in the hopes of extending his own territories. But Amir, knowing Umra well, and having won his kingdom, did not desire to share it. Fighting ensued. The Chitrals were beaten. As he could not make any use of Amir, Umra Khan invited the wicked uncle to return. Sher Afzul accepted. A bargain was struck. Sher Afzul claimed to be made Mehtar, Umra supported his claims. Both threatened force in the event of opposition.
But the Imperial Government rose in wrath, refused to have anything to do with the new claimant, informed him that his language was impertinent, and warned Umra Khan to leave Chitral territory forthwith or take the consequences. The answer was war. The scanty garrisons and scattered parties of British troops were attacked. A company of the 14th Sikhs was cut to pieces. Lieutenants Fowler and Edwards were taken prisoners. Fort Chitral, into which the rest of the Chitral mission and their escort had thrown themselves, was closely and fiercely besieged. To rescue them was imperative. The 1st Division of the Field Army was mobilised. A force of nearly 16,000 men crossed the frontier on the 1st April, from Mardan, to advance to the relief by the shortest route—the route through Swat and Dir—the line of the present Chitral road. The command of the expedition was confided to Sir Robert Low. Sir Bindon Blood was Chief of the Staff.
So far the tale has been of the steady increase of British influence, in accordance with an avowed and consistent policy—primarily in Chitral, and ultimately throughout the border tribes. One movement has been followed by another. All have been aimed at a common end. Now suddenly we are confronted with an act by which the Government of India with open eyes placed an obstacle in the path, which they had so long pursued, to follow which they had made so many efforts themselves and demanded so many sacrifices from their subjects. Perhaps from compunction, but probably to soothe the Liberal Government, by appearing to localise the disturbances, and disclaiming any further acquisition of territory, they issued a proclamation to "all the people of Swat and the people of Bajaur, who do not side with Umra Khan," in which they declared that they had "no intention of permanently occupying any territory through which Umra Khan's misconduct" might "force them to pass, or of interfering with the independence of the tribes." [Proclamation, 14th March, 1895.]
If this proclamation was intended for political purposes in England, it, from one point of view, succeeded most admirably, for there has been nearly as much written about it as about all the soldiers who have been killed and wounded in the war. It had, however, no effect upon the tribesmen, who were infuriated by the sight if the troops and paid no attention to the protestations of the Government. Had they watched with care the long, steady, deliberate advance, which I have so briefly summarised; had they read the avowed and recorded determination of the Indian Administration "to extend and, by degrees, to consolidate their influence" [Letter from Government of India, No.407, 28th February, 1879.] in the whole drainage system of the Indus, they might have even doubted their sincerity. Instead, and being unable to make fine distinctions, they saw only invasion in the military movements.
They gathered accordingly, to oppose the advance of the troops. To the number of 12,000 they occupied the Malakand Pass—a tremendous position. From this they were driven with great slaughter on the 3rd of April, by the two leading brigades of Sir Robert Low's force. Further operations resulted in the passage of the Swat and Panjkora Rivers being effected. The road to Chitral was open. The besiegers of the fort fled, and a small relieving force was able to push through from Gilgit under Colonel Kelly. Umra Khan fled to Afghanistan, and the question of future policy came before the Government of India.
Two alternatives presented themselves: either they must "abandon the attempt to keep up any effective control" over Chitral, or they must put a sufficient garrison there. In pursuance of their recognised policy, the Council decided unanimously that to maintain British influence in Chitral was "a matter of first importance." In a despatch [Despatch of Government of India, No.240, 8th May, 1895.] to the Home Government they set forth all their reasons, and at the same time declared that it was impossible to garrison Chitral without keeping up the road from Peshawar, by which the Relief force had advanced.
On the 13th of June Lord Rosebery's Cabinet replied decisively, with courage if not with wisdom, that "no military force or European agent should be kept at Chitral, that Chitral should not be fortified, and that no road should be made between Peshawar and Chitral." By this they definitely and finally repudiated the policy which had been consistently followed since 1876. They left Chitral to stew in its own juice. They over-ruled the Government of India. It was a bold and desperate attempt to return to the old frontier line. The Indian Government replied: "We deeply regret but loyally accept decision," and began to gather up the severed strings of their policy and weave another web.
But in the nick of time the Liberal Administration fell, and Lord Salisbury's Cabinet reversed their decision. It is interesting, in reading the Blue Books on Indian questions, to watch the emotions of party principles, stirring beneath the uniform mask of official responsibility—which the most reckless of men are compelled to wear as soon as they become ministers. The language, the style, the tone of the correspondence is the same. It is always a great people addressing and instructing their pro-consuls and administrators. But the influence inclines backwards and forwards as the pendulum of politics swings. And as the swing in 1895 was a very great one, a proportionate impulse was given to the policy of advance. "It seemed" to the new ministry "that the policy... continuously pursued by successive Governments ought not to be lightly abandoned unless its maintenance had become clearly impossible." [Despatch, Secretary of State, No.30, 16th Aug., 1895.] Thus the retention of Chitral was sanctioned, and the road which that retention necessitated was completed.
I approach with nervousness so great a matter as the "Breach of Faith" question. In a book devoted chiefly to the deeds of soldiers it seems almost presumptuous to discuss an affair which involves the political honour of statesmen. In their unnecessary and gratuitous proclamation the Government of India declared, that they had no intention of interfering with the tribes, or of permanently occupying any territory, the troops might march through; whereas now they do interfere with the tribesmen, and have established garrisons at Dargai, Malakand and Chakdara, all of which are in the territory through which the troops passed. But it takes two to make a bargain or a breach of faith. The tribes took no notice of the proclamation. They did not understand it. They did not believe it. Where there is no faith there can be no breach of faith. The border peoples resisted the advance. That position annulled the proclamation, and proved that it was not credited by the tribesmen. They do not think they have been tricked. They do not regard the road as a "breach of faith." What they do regard it as, is a menace to their independence, and a prelude to annexation. Nor are they wrong. Looking at the road, as I have seen it, and have tried to describe it, running broad and white across the valley; at the soldiers moving along it; at the political officers extending their influence in all directions; at the bridge and fort of Chakdara; and at the growing cantonment on the Malakand Pass, it needs no education to appreciate its significance. Nor can any sophistry obscure it.
CHAPTER III: THE OUTBREAK
Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.
The historian of great events is always oppressed by the difficulty of tracing the silent, subtle influences, which in all communities precede and prepare the way for violent outbursts and uprisings. He may discover many causes and record them duly, but he will always be sensible that others have escaped him. The changing tides of public opinion, the undercurrents of interest, partisanship and caprice, the whirlpools of illogical sentiment or ignorant prejudice, exert forces so complex and numerous, that to observe and appreciate them all, and to estimate the effect of each in raising the storm, is a task beyond the intellect and industry of man. The chronicler of small things lies under even greater disabilities. He has fewer facts to guide his judgment, nor is it as easy to read small print as capital letters.
In an attempt to state the causes of the great tribal upheaval of 1897, these difficulties are increased by the fact that no European can gauge the motives or assume the points of view of Asiatics. It is, however, impossible to pass the question by, and ignoring the detail, I shall endeavour to indicate some at least of the most important and apparent forces, which have led to the formidable combination with which the British power in India has been confronted.
The most marked incident in the "Forward Policy" has been the retention of Chitral. The garrisons, the road, the tribal levies have made the tribesmen realise the proximity and the advance of civilisation. It is possible—even probable—that with all their love of independence, the majority of the inhabitants of the mountains would have been willing, until their liberties were actually curtailed, to remain in passive submission, soothed by the increase of material prosperity. During the two years that the British flag had floated over Chakdara and the Malakand the trade of the Swat Valley had nearly doubled. As the sun of civilisation rose above the hills, the fair flowers of commerce unfolded, and the streams of supply and demand, hitherto congealed by the frost of barbarism, were thawed. Most of the native population were content to bask in the genial warmth and enjoy the new-found riches and comforts. For two years reliefs had gone to and from Chitral without a shot being fired. Not a post-bag had been stolen, not a messenger murdered. The political officers riding about freely among the fierce hill men were invited to settle many disputes, which would formerly have been left to armed force.
But a single class had viewed with quick intelligence and intense hostility the approach of the British power. The priesthood of the Afghan border instantly recognised the full meaning of the Chitral road. The cause of their antagonism is not hard to discern. Contact with civilisation assails the ignorance, and credulity, on which the wealth and influence of the Mullah depend. A general combination of the religious forces of India against that civilising, educating rule, which unconsciously saps the strength of superstition, is one of the dangers of the future. Here Mahommedanism was threatened and resisted. A vast, but silent agitation was begun. Messengers passed to and fro among the tribes. Whispers of war, a holy war, were breathed to a race intensely passionate and fanatical. Vast and mysterious agencies, the force of which is incomprehensible to rational minds, were employed. More astute brains than the wild valleys of the North produce conducted the preparations. Secret encouragement came from the South—from India itself. Actual support and assistance was given from Cabul.
In that strange half light of ignorance and superstition, assailed by supernatural terrors and doubts, and lured by hopes of celestial glory, the tribes were taught to expect prodigious events. Something was coming. A great day for their race and faith was at hand. Presently the moment would arrive. They must watch and be ready. The mountains became as full of explosives as a magazine. Yet the spark was lacking.
At length the time came. A strange combination of circumstances operated to improve the opportunity. The victory of the Turks over the Greeks; the circulation of the Amir's book on "Jehad"; his assumption of the position of a Caliph of Islam, and much indiscreet writing in the Anglo-Indian press, [Articles in Anglo-Indian papers on such subjects as "The Recrudescence if Mahommedanism" produce more effect on the educated native mind than the most seditious frothings of the vernacular press.] united to produce a "boom" in Mahommedanism.
The moment was propitious; nor was the man wanting. What Peter the Hermit was to the regular bishops and cardinals of the Church, the Mad Mullah was to the ordinary priesthood of the Afghan border. A wild enthusiast, convinced alike of his Divine mission and miraculous powers, preached a crusade, or Jehad, against the infidel. The mine was fired. The flame ran along the ground. The explosions burst forth in all directions. The reverberations have not yet died away.
Great and widespread as the preparations were, they were not visible to the watchful diplomatic agents who maintained the relations of the Government with the tribesmen. So extraordinary is the inversion of ideas and motives among those people that it may be said that those who know them best, know them least, and the more logical the mind of the student the less he is able to understand of the subject. In any case among these able men who diligently collected information and observed the state of feeling, there were none who realised the latent forces that were being accumulated on all sides. The strange treachery at Maizar in June was a flash in the pan. Still no one saw the danger. It was not until the early days of July that it was noticed that there was a fanatical movement in Upper Swat. Even then its significance was disregarded and its importance underrated. That a Mad Fakir had arrived was known. His power was still a secret. It did not long remain so.
It is, thank heaven, difficult if not impossible for the modern European to fully appreciate the force which fanaticism exercises among an ignorant, warlike and Oriental population. Several generations have elapsed since the nations of the West have drawn the sword in religious controversy, and the evil memories of the gloomy past have soon faded in the strong, clear light of Rationalism and human sympathy. Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men's passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination. But the Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness. In a moment the fruits of patient toil, the prospects of material prosperity, the fear of death itself, are flung aside. The more emotional Pathans are powerless to resist. All rational considerations are forgotten. Seizing their weapons, they become Ghazis—as dangerous and as sensible as mad dogs: fit only to be treated as such. While the more generous spirits among the tribesmen become convulsed in an ecstasy of religious bloodthirstiness, poorer and more material souls derive additional impulses from the influence of others, the hopes of plunder and the joy of fighting. Thus whole nations are roused to arms. Thus the Turks repel their enemies, the Arabs of the Soudan break the British squares, and the rising on the Indian frontier spreads far and wide. In each case civilisation is confronted with militant Mahommedanism. The forces of progress clash with those of reaction. The religion of blood and war is face to face with that of peace. Luckily the religion of peace is usually the better armed.
The extraordinary credulity of the people is hardly conceivable. Had the Mad Mullah called on them to follow him to attack Malakand and Chakdara they would have refused. Instead he worked miracles. He sat at his house, and all who came to visit him, brought him a small offering of food or money, in return for which he gave them a little rice. As his stores were continually replenished, he might claim to have fed thousands. He asserted that he was invisible at night. Looking into his room, they saw no one. At these things they marvelled. Finally he declared he would destroy the infidel. He wanted no help. No one should share the honours. The heavens would open and an army would descend. The more he protested he did not want them, the more exceedingly they came. Incidentally he mentioned that they would be invulnerable; other agents added arguments. I was shown a captured scroll, upon which the tomb of the Ghazi—he who has killed an infidel—is depicted in heaven, no fewer than seven degrees above the Caaba itself. Even after the fighting—when the tribesmen reeled back from the terrible army they had assailed, leaving a quarter of their number on the field—the faith of the survivors was unshaken. Only those who had doubted had perished, said the Mullah, and displayed a bruise which was, he informed them, the sole effect of a twelve-pound shrapnel shell on his sacred person.
I pass with relief from the tossing sea of Cause and Theory to the firm ground of Result and Fact. The rumours and reports which reached the Malakand of the agitation in Upper Swat and among the surrounding tribes were fully appreciated by the Pathan Sepoys of the garrison. As July advanced, several commanding officers were warned by their men, that great events were impending. Major Deane, the political agent, watched with great anxiety the daily progress of the fanatical movement. No one desires to be thought an alarmist, least of all on the frontier where there is always danger. At length, however, he felt compelled to officially report the disquieting signs. Warnings were then issued to the officers in charge of the various posts, and the troops were practised in taking up alarm stations. By the 23rd of July all had been informed that the aspect of affairs was threatening, and ordered to observe every precaution. But to the last everybody doubted that there would be a rising, nor did any one imagine that even should one occur, it would lead to more than a skirmish. The natives were friendly and respectful. The valley smiled in fertile prosperity. It was not strange, that none could foresee the changes a week would bring, or guess that in a few days they would be fighting for their lives; that they would carry fire and sword through the peaceful landscape; that the polo ground would be the scene of a cavalry charge, or that the cheery barbarians among whom they had lived quietly for so many months would become maddened and ferocious savages. Never was transformation of scene more complete, or more rapid.
And all the while the rumours of coming war grew stronger and stronger. The bazaars of India, like the London coffee-houses of the last century, are always full of marvellous tales—the invention of fertile brains. A single unimportant fact is exaggerated, and distorted, till it becomes unrecognisable. From it, a thousand wild, illogical, and fantastic conclusions are drawn. These again are circulated as facts. So the game goes on. But amid all this falsehood, and idle report, there often lies important information. The bazaar stories not only indicate the state of native opinion, but not infrequently contain the germ of truth. In Eastern lands, news travels by strange channels, and often with unaccountable rapidity. As July advanced the bazaar at Malakand became full of tales of the Mad Fakir. His miracles passed from mouth to mouth, with suitable additions.
A great day for Islam was at hand. A mighty man had arisen to lead them. The English would be swept away. By the time of the new moon, not one would remain. The Great Fakir had mighty armies concealed among the mountains. When the moment came these would sally forth—horse, foot and artillery—and destroy the infidel. It was even stated that the Mullah had ordered that no one should go near a certain hill, lest the heavenly hosts should be prematurely revealed. So ran the talk. But among all these frothy fabrications there lay a solemn warning.
Though the British military and political officers were compelled to take official notice of the reports received with reference to the tribal gathering, and to make arrangements for the safety of their posts, they privately scouted the idea that any serious events were impending.
On the afternoon of the 26th July the subalterns and younger officers of the Malakand garrison proceeded to Khar to play polo. Thither also came Lieutenant Rattray, riding over from Chakdara fort. The game was a good one, and the tribesmen of the neighbouring village watched it as usual in little groups, with a keen interest. Nothing in their demeanour betrayed their thoughts or intentions. The young soldiers saw nothing, knew nothing, and had they known would have cared less. There would be no rising. If there was, so much the better. They were ready for it. The game ended and the officers cantered back to their camps and posts.
It was then that a strange incident occurred—an incident eminently characteristic of the frontier tribes. As the syces were putting the rugs and clothing on the polo ponies, and loitering about the ground after the game, the watching natives drew near and advised them to be off home at once, for that there was going to be a fight. They knew, these Pathans, what was coming. The wave of fanaticism was sweeping down the valley. It would carry them away. They were powerless to resist. Like one who feels a fit coming on, they waited. Nor did they care very much. When the Mad Fakir arrived, they would fight and kill the infidels. In the meantime there was no necessity to deprive them of their ponies. And so with motives, partly callous, partly sportsmanlike, and not without some faint suspicion of chivalry, they warned the native grooms, and these taking the hint reached the camp in safety.
Late on this same afternoon Major Deane reported to Brigadier-General Meiklejohn, who commanded the Malakand garrison, that matters had assumed a very grave aspect; that a great armed gathering had collected around the Mad Mullah's standard, and that an attack was probable. He advised that the Guides should be called up to reinforce the brigade. A telegram was immediately despatched to Mardan ordering them to march without delay. At 8.30 Lieutenant P. Eliott-Lockhart, who was the senior officer then with the regiment, received the order. At 1.30 A.M. they began their now famous march.
After sending for the Guides, the brigadier, at about seven o'clock, interviewed his different commanding officers, and instructed them to be prepared to turn out at any moment. Major Deane now reported that the Mad Mullah and his gathering were advancing down the valley, and recommended that the Amandara Pass, four miles away, should be held. General Meiklejohn accordingly issued orders for a movable column, to be formed as follows:—
45th Sikhs. 2 Cos. 31st Punjaub Infantry. 2 Guns No. 8 Mountain Battery. 1 Squadron 11th Bengal Lancers.
This force, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel McRae, 45th Sikhs, was to start at midnight and would be supported by the rest of the troops under command of the brigadier at 3 A.M.
All preparations were swiftly made. At 9.45 a telegram from Chakdara—which got through just before the wire was cut—reported that large forces of Pathans were rapidly moving towards the camps. A quarter of an hour later a Jemadar of the Levies galloped in with the news that, to quote the official despatch: "The Fakir had passed Khar and was advancing on Malakand, that neither Levies nor people would act against him, and that the hills to the east of the camp were covered with Pathans."
As soon as the officers had returned from polo, they found plenty of work waiting for them. Bandsmen and boys incapable of carrying arms had to be hurried up to the fort. Indents had to be made out for transport, rations and ammunition. There was much to do, and little time to do it in. At length all was finished, and the troops were in readiness for their early morning start. At 9.30 the officers sat down to dinner, still in their polo kit, which there had been no time to change. At 10 o'clock they were discussing the prospects of the approaching march, and eagerly weighing the chances of a skirmish. The more sanguine asserted that there would be a fight—a small one, it was true—but still a skirmish. Many of those who had never been in action before congratulated themselves on the unlooked-for opportunity. The older and more experienced regarded the matter in the light of a riot. They might have to fire on the tribesmen, but Swatis were such cowards that they would never stand up to the troops. Still it was a chance.
Suddenly in the stillness of the night a bugle-call sounded on the parade ground of the "crater" camp. Everyone sprang up. It was the "Assembly." For a moment there was silence while the officers seized their swords and belts and hurriedly fastened them on. Several, thinking that it was merely the warning for the movable column to fall in, waited to light their cigarettes. Then from many quarters the loud explosion of musketry burst forth, a sound which for six days and nights was to know no intermission.
The attack on the Malakand and the great frontier war had begun.
The noise of firing echoed among the hills. Its echoes are ringing still. One valley caught the waves of sound and passed them to the next, till the whole wide mountain region rocked with the confusion of the tumult. Slender wires and long-drawn cables carried the vibrations to the far-off countries of the West. Distant populations on the Continent of Europe thought that in them they detected the dull, discordant tones of decline and fall. Families in English homes feared that the detonations marked the death of those they loved—sons, brothers or husbands. Diplomatists looked wise, economists anxious, stupid people mysterious and knowledgeable. All turned to have the noise stopped. But that was a task which could not be accomplished until thousands of lives had been sacrificed and millions of money spent.
CHAPTER IV: THE ATTACK ON THE MALAKAND
Cry "Havoc" and let slip the dogs of war.
"JULIUS CAESAR," Act iii., Sc.i.
It has long been recognised by soldiers of every nation that, to resist a vigorous onslaught by night, is almost the hardest task that troops can be called upon to perform. Panics, against which few brave men are proof, arise in a moment from such situations. Many a gallant soldier has lost his head. Many an experienced officer has been borne down unheeded by a crowd of fugitives. Regiments that have marched unflinchingly to almost certain death on the battlefield, become in an instant terrified and useless.
In the attack on the Malakand camp, all the elements of danger and disorder were displayed. The surprise, the darkness, the confused and broken nature of the ground; the unknown numbers of the enemy; their merciless ferocity; every appalling circumstance was present. But there were men who were equal to the occasion. As soon as the alarm sounded Lieutenant-Colonel McRae of the 45th Sikhs, a holder of the Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society and of long experience in Afghanistan and on the Indian frontier, ran to the Quarter Guard, and collecting seven or eight men, sent them under command of Major Taylor, of the same regiment, down the Buddhist road to try and check the enemy's advance. Hurriedly assembling another dozen men, and leaving the Adjutant, Lieutenant Barff, with directions to bring on more, he ran with his little party after Taylor in the direction of the entrance gorge of the Kotal camp. Two roads give access to the Malakand camp, from the plain of Khar. At one point the Buddhist road, the higher of the two, passes through a narrow defile then turns a sharp corner. Here, if anywhere, the enemy might be held or at least delayed until the troops got under arms. Overtaking Major Taylor, Colonel McRae led the party, which then amounted to perhaps twenty men, swiftly down the road, It was a race on which the lives of hundreds depended. If the enemy could turn the corner, nothing could check their rush, and the few men who tried to oppose them would be cut to pieces. The Sikhs arrived first, but by a very little. As they turned the corner they met the mass of the enemy, nearly a thousand strong, armed chiefly with swords and knives, creeping silently and stealthily up the gorge, in the hope and assurance of rushing the camp and massacring every soul in it. The whole road was crowded with the wild figures. McRae opened fire at once. Volley after volley was poured into the dense mass, at deadly range. At length the Sikhs fired independently. This checked the enemy, who shouted and yelled in fury at being thus stopped. The small party of soldiers then fell back, pace by pace, firing incessantly, and took up a position in a cutting about fifty yards behind the corner. Their flanks were protected on the left by high rocks, and on the right by boulders and rough ground, over which in the darkness it was impossible to move. The road was about five yards wide. As fast as the tribesmen turned the corner they were shot down. It was a strong position.
In that strait path a thousand Might well be stopped by three
Being thus effectively checked in their direct advance, the tribesmen began climbing up the hill to the left and throwing down rocks and stones on those who barred their path. They also fired their rifles round the corner, but as they were unable to see the soldiers without exposing themselves, most of their bullets went to the right.
The band of Sikhs were closely packed in the cutting, the front rank kneeling to fire. Nearly all were struck by stones and rocks. Major Taylor, displaying great gallantry, was mortally wounded. Several of the Sepoys were killed. Colonel McRae himself was accidentally stabbed in the neck by a bayonet and became covered with blood. But he called upon the men to maintain the good name of "Rattray's Sikhs," and to hold their position till death or till the regiment came up. And the soldiers replied by loudly shouting the Sikh warcry, and defying the enemy to advance.
After twenty minutes of desperate fighting, Lieutenant Barff arrived with thirty more men. He was only just in time. The enemy had already worked round Colonel McRae's right, and the destruction of the few soldiers left alive could not long have been delayed. The reinforcement, climbing up the hillside, drove the enemy back and protected the flank. But the remainder of the regiment was now at hand. Colonel McRae then fell back to a more extended position along a ridge about fifty yards further up the road, and reinforcing Lieutenant Barff's party, repulsed all attacks during the night. About 2 A.M. the tribesmen, finding they could make no progress, drew off, leaving many dead.
The presence of mind, tactical knowledge and bravery displayed in this affair are thus noticed in the official despatches by General Meiklejohn:—
"There is no doubt that the gallant resistance made by this small body in the gorge, against vastly superior numbers, till the arrival of the rest of the regiment, saved the camp from being rushed on that side, and I cannot speak too highly of the behaviour of Lieutenant-Colonel McRae and Major Taylor on this occasion."
While these things were passing on the right, the other attacks of the enemy had met with more success. The camp was assaulted simultaneously on the three sides. The glow of the star shells showed that the north camp was also engaged. The enemy had been checked on the Buddhist road, by Colonel McRae and the 45th Sikhs, but another great mass of men forced their way along the Graded road in the centre of the position. On the first sound of firing the inlying picket of the 24th Punjaub Infantry doubled out to reinforce the pickets on the road, and in the water-gorge. They only arrived in time to find these being driven in by overpowering numbers of the enemy. Hundreds of fierce swordsmen swarmed unto the bazaar and into the serai, a small enclosure which adjoined. Sharpshooters scrambled up the surrounding hills, and particularly from one ragged, rock-strewn peak called Gibraltar, kept up a tremendous fire.
The defence of the left and centre or the camp was confided to the 24th Punjaub Infantry. One company of this regiment under Lieutenant Climo, charging across the football ground, cleared the bazaar at the point of the bayonet. The scene at this moment was vivid and terrible. The bazaar was crowded with tribesmen. The soldiers rushing forward amid loud cheers, plunged their bayonets into their furious adversaries. The sound of the hacking of swords, the screams of the unfortunate shopkeepers, the yells of the Ghazis were plainly heard above the ceaseless roll of musketry. The enemy now tried to force their way back into the bazaar, but the entrance was guarded by the troops and held against all assaults till about 10.45. The left flank of the company was then turned, and the pressure became so severe that they were withdrawn to a more interior line of defence, and took up a position along the edge of the "Sappers' and Miners' enclosure." Another company held the approaches from the north camp. The remainder of the regiment and No.5 company Sappers and Miners, were kept in readiness to reinforce any part of the line.
It is necessary to record the actual movements of the troops in detail, but I am anxious above all things to give the reader a general idea. The enemy had attacked in tremendous strength along the two roads that gave access on the eastern side to the great cup of the Malakand. On the right road, they were checked by the brilliant movement of Colonel McRae and the courage of his regiment. Pouring in overwhelming force along the left road, they had burst into the camp itself, bearing down all opposition. The defenders, unable to hold the extended line of the rim, had been driven to take up a central position in the bottom of the cup. This central position comprised the "Sappers' and Miners' enclosure," the commissariat lines and the Field Engineer Park. It was commanded on every side by the fire from the rim. But the defenders stood at bay, determined at all costs to hold their ground, bad though it was.
Meanwhile the enemy rushed to the attack with wild courage and reckless fury. Careless of life, they charged the slender line of defence. Twice they broke through and penetrated the enclosure. They were met by men as bold as they. The fighting became desperate. The general himself hurried from point to point, animating the soldiers and joining in the defence with sword and revolver. As soon as the enemy broke into the commissariat lines they rushed into the huts and sheds eager for plunder and victims.
Lieutenant Manley, the Brigade Commissariat Officer, stuck stubbornly to his post, and with Sergeant Harrington endeavoured to hold the hut in which he lived. The savage tribesmen burst in the door and crowded into the room. What followed reads like a romance.
The officer opened fire at once with his revolver. He was instantly cut down and hacked to pieces. In the struggle the lamp was smashed. The room became pitch dark. The sergeant, knocking down his assailants, got free for a moment and stood against the wall motionless. Having killed Manley, the tribesmen now began to search for the sergeant, feeling with their hands along the wall and groping in the darkness. At last, finding no one, they concluded he had escaped, and hurried out to look for others. Sergeant Harrington remained in the hut till it was retaken some hours later, and so saved his life.
Another vigorous attack was made upon the Quarter Guard. Lieutenant Watling, who met it with his company of sappers, transfixed a Ghazi with his sword, but such was the fury of the fanatic that as he fell dead he cut at the officer and wounded him severely. The company were driven back. The Quarter Guard was captured, and with it the reserve ammunition of the sappers. Lieutenant Watling was carried in by his men, and, as soon as he reached the dressing station, reported the loss of this important post.
Brigadier-General Meiklejohn at once ordered a party of the 24th to retake it from the enemy. Few men could be spared from the line of defence. At length a small but devoted band collected. It consisted of Captain Holland, Lieutenant Climo, Lieutenant Manley, R.E., the general's orderly, a Sepoy of the 45th Sikhs, two or three sappers and three men of the 24th; in all about a dozen.
The general placed himself at their head. The officers drew their revolvers. The men were instructed to use the bayonet only. Then they advanced. The ground is by nature broken and confused to an extraordinary degree. Great rocks, undulations and trees rendered all movements difficult. Frequent tents, sheds and other buildings increased the intricacies. Amidst such surroundings were the enemy, numerous and well armed. The twelve men charged. The tribesmen advanced to meet them. The officers shot down man after man with their pistols. The soldiers bayoneted others. The enemy drew off discomfited, but half the party were killed or wounded. The orderly was shot dead. A sapper and a havildar of the 24th were severely wounded. The general himself was struck by a sword on the neck. Luckily the weapon turned in his assailant's hand, and only caused a bruise. Captain Holland was shot through the back at close quarters by a man concealed in a tent. The bullet, which caused four wounds, grazed his spine. The party were now too few to effect anything. The survivors halted. Lieutenant Climo took the wounded officer back, and collecting a dozen more men of the 24th, returned to the attack. The second attempt to regain the Quarter Guard was also unsuccessful, and the soldiers recoiled with further loss; but with that undaunted spirit which refuses to admit defeat they continued their efforts, and at the third charge dashed across the open space, bowling over and crushing back the enemy, and the post was recovered. All the ammunition had, however, been carried off by the enemy, and as the expenditure of that night had already been enormous, it was a serious loss. The commissariat lines were at length cleared of the tribesmen, and such of the garrison as could be spared were employed in putting up a hasty defence across the south entrance of the enclosure, and clearing away the cook-houses and other shelters, which might be seized by the enemy.
The next morning no fewer than twenty-nine corpses of tribesmen were found round the cookhouse, and in the open space over which the three charges had taken place. This, when it is remembered that perhaps twice as many had been wounded and had crawled away, enables an estimate to be formed of the desperate nature of the fight for the Quarter Guard.
All this time the fire from rim into the cup had been causing severe and continual losses. The enemy surrounding the enclosure on three sides, brought a cross fire to bear on its defenders, and made frequent charges right up to the breastwork. Bullets were flying in all directions, and there was no question of shelter. Major Herbert, D.A.A.G., was hit early in the night. Later on Lieutenant-Colonel Lamb received the dangerous wound in his thigh which caused his death a few days afterwards. Many Sepoys were also killed and wounded. The command of the 24th Punjaub Infantry devolved upon a subaltern officer, Lieutenant Climo. The regiment, however, will never be in better hands.
At about one o'clock, during a lull in the firing, the company which was lining the east face of the enclosure heard feeble cries of help. A wounded havildar of the 24th was lying near the bazaar. He had fallen in the first attack, shot in the shoulder. The tribesmen, giving him two or three deep sword cuts to finish him, had left him for dead. He now appealed for help. The football ground on which he lay was swept by the fire of the troops, and overrun by the enemy's swordsmen, yet the cry for help did not pass unheeded. Taking two Sepoys with him, Lieutenant E.W. Costello, 24th Punjaub Infantry, ran out into the deadly space, and, in spite of the heavy fire, brought the wounded soldier in safety. For this heroic action he has since received the Victoria Cross.