WITH KELLY TO CHITRAL
LIEUTENANT W.G.L. BEYNON, D.S.O. 1st BATTALLION 3rd GOORKA RIFLES
STAFF OFFICER TO COLONEL KELLY'S RELIEF FORCE
21st October 1895
MY DEAR MOTHER,
Before you read this short history of a few brief weeks, I must warn you that it is no record of exciting adventure or heroic deeds, but simply an account of the daily life of British officers and Indian troops on a frontier expedition.
How we lived and marched, what we ate and drank, our small jokes and trials, our marches through snow or rain, hot valleys or pleasant fields, in short, all that contributed to fill the twenty-four hours of the day is what I have to tell.
I write it for you, and that it may please you is all I ask.—Your son,
CHAPTER I - INTRODUCTORY
CHAPTER II - THE MARCH BEGINS
CHAPTER III - THE SHANDUR PASS
CHAPTER IV - FROM LASPUR TO GASHT
CHAPTER V - CHOKALWAT
CHAPTER VI - THE RECONNAISSANCE FROM MASTUJ
CHAPTER VII - THE FIGHT AT NISA GOL
CHAPTER VIII - THE MARCH RESUMED THROUGH KILLA DRASAN
CHAPTER IX - NEARING CHITRAL
CHAPTER X - WE REACH THE GOAL
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Those marked with a * are from Sketches by the Author.
*CHITRAL BRIDGE AND FORT
NIZAM-UL-MULK, MEHTER OF CHITRAL
*A "PARI" ON THE ROAD TO GUPIS
*THE SHANDUR PASS
*RECONNAISSANCE SKETCH OF THE POSITION AT CHOKALWAT
LOOKING UP THE NISA GOL NULLAH
*RECONNAISSANCE SKETCH OF THE POSITION AT NISA GOL
MAP SHOWING ROUTE OF COLONEL KELLY'S FORCES
* * * * *
*** Thanks are due to the Publishers of Mr. Thomson's The Chitral Campaign for the loan of two blocks illustrating "Chokalwat" and "Nisa Gol" from Lieut. Beynon's sketches.
WITH KELLY TO CHITRAL
"Would you like to go up to Gilgit?"
I was down in the military offices at Simla, hunting for a book and some maps, when I was asked the above question. No idea of Gilgit had before entered my head, but with the question came the answer, and I have since wondered why I never before thought of applying for the billet.
This was at the end of June 1894, and on the 24th August I was crossing the Burzil pass into the Gilgit district. As day broke on the 31st August, I dropped down several thousand feet from Doyen to Ramghat in the Indus valley, and it suddenly struck me I must have come down too low, and got into Dante's Inferno. As I passed under the crossbeam of the suspension bridge, I looked to find the motto, "All hope relinquish, ye who enter here." It wasn't there, but instead there was a sentry on the bridge, who, on being questioned, assured me that though there was not much to choose in the matter of temperature between the two places, I was still on the surface of the earth. He seemed an authority on the subject, so I felt happier, and accepted the cup of tea offered me by the commander of the guard.
Two hours later I was in Bunji, where I found I was to stay, and two days after that, an officer on his way down to Kashmir passed through, and almost the first question he asked me was, why on earth I had come up to Gilgit. "Gilgit's played out," said he. Well, I had been asked that question several times on my march up, so I may as well explain that there are officially two chief causes which send men up to Gilgit—one is debts, and the other, the Intelligence Branch. These, I say, are the official reasons, but the real reason is the chance of a "frontier row." In Simla they call them military expeditions. This accounts for the last part of that young officer's speech. There seemed no chance of a row to him, so he was going to other fields, and wondered at my coming up. At first, the result seemed to bear him out, as within two months he was on the war-path in Waziristan, while I was still kicking my heels at Bunji; but luck changed later, and I laughed last.
Well, to continue, my official reason for coming to Gilgit being the Intelligence Branch, I was ordered up to Chitral early in November for some survey work, and thus obtained the knowledge of the route and country that was to stand me in such good stead later on. I finished my work in Chitral in ten days, starting back for Gilgit on the 1st December, arriving there on the 19th. I spent Christmas in Gilgit, and started on the 2nd January 1895 for Hunza, where I expected to remain for the rest of the winter.
News of the murder of Nizam-ul-mulk, Mehter of Chitral, reached Gilgit on the 7th January, and Dr. Robertson, Political Agent at Gilgit, at once made preparations for a visit to Chitral.
Captain Townshend, who was at Gupis with Gough of the 2nd Gurkhas, received orders to march with two hundred and fifty rifles of the 4th Kashmir Infantry. The first detachment started under Gough, the second following under Townshend The British Agent, Captain Campbell, and Surgeon Captain Whitchurch, joined the second party at Ghizr, and they all crossed the pass together. At Mastuj they picked up the remainder of the 14th Sikhs, under Harley, who had not gone down to Gurdon at Chitral, and then started for Chitral, arriving there on the 31st January. Lieutenant Moberly went from Gilgit with a detachment of the 4th Kashmir Infantry and took command of Mastuj. Gough returning to Ghizr, Baird took over command of Gupis, which was garrisoned by the 6th Kashmir Infantry, and I was brought down from Hunza to take over Baird's billet as staff officer. Shortly after, Fowler, R.E., was ordered to Chitral with his Bengal Sappers, and Edwardes, 2nd Bombay Infantry, to the same place, to take command of the Hunza Nagar Levies, which were now called out. Baird was next ordered up to Chitral and relieved by Stewart, R.A. On 21st February, Ross and Jones and the detachment of 14th Sikhs left Gilgit en route for Mastuj. The Hunza and Nagar Levies came in to Gilgit on the 7th March. I issued Snider carbines and twenty rounds ammunition to each man, and they left the next day. These Levies were splendid men, hardy, thick-set mountaineers, incapable of fatigue; and, as a distinguishing badge, each man was provided with a strip of red cloth which they wore in their caps, but which, we afterwards found by practical experience at Nisa Gol, was inadequate.
As news from Chitral had ceased for some days, Captain Stewart, Assistant British Agent in Gilgit, determined to call up the 32nd Pioneers, who were working on the Chilas road, so as to be ready for an advance in case any forward movement was necessary. In consequence of this order, Colonel Kelly marched into Gilgit on the 20th March with two hundred men, Borradaile following on the 22nd with a like party.
On the 21st we heard from Mastuj that Ross's party of 14th Sikhs had been cut up, Ross himself and some forty-six Sepoys being killed, Jones and fourteen men alone managing to cut their way back; he and nine of the survivors being wounded. There was no news of Edwardes and Fowler. This news upset the apple-cart, and telegrams began to fly around, with the result that Colonel Kelly was put in command of the troops in the Gilgit district, with full civil powers on his line of operations. This telegram arrived on the evening of the 22nd. The day before, Colonel Kelly had offered me the position of staff officer to the force, and I naturally jumped at the chance. Dew of the Guides, who was on the sick-list, was sufficiently well to take over my work, so there was no difficulty on that score; and as I had long had my kit ready for any emergency, I merely bundled my remaining possessions into boxes, which I locked up and left to look after themselves till my return.
Here I may as well describe what the force consisted of. First, there were four hundred men of the 32nd Pioneers, commanded by Borradaile, Colonel Kelly having taken command of the column. Bar these two, we were all subalterns. Peterson was the senior, and commanded the second detachment, as we were marching to Ghizr in two parties. Then there was Bethune the adjutant, and Cobbe, and Browning-Smith the doctor—these were all 32nd Pioneers. Captain de Vismes, 10th Bombay Infantry, came along with us as far as Gupis, where he relieved Stewart, R.A., who, of course, was in command of the two guns of No. 1 Kashmir Mountain Battery. Stewart is an Irishman and the most bloodthirsty individual I have come across. He used to complain bitterly because the Chitralis wouldn't give us a fight every day. Then there was Luard, the Agency Surgeon; we used to chaff him considerably during the march to Gupis, as he turned up in a Norfolk jacket and a celluloid collar. I think he had sent his kit on to Gupis; at any rate, after that place he dressed in Khaki uniform like the rest of us. These were all who started from Gilgit, so I'll introduce the others as we pick them up.
THE MARCH BEGINS
Colonel Kelly assumed command on the 22nd March, and the next morning the first detachment of two hundred Pioneers, under Borradaile, marched off. The local Bible, commonly known as the Gazetteer, states that it never rains in Gilgit; this being so, it naturally started to rain on the morning of the 23rd, and kept it up for two days. We were marching without tents, so the first night the men had to run up their waterproof sheets into shelters.
Colonel Kelly, Luard, and myself started about 2 P.M. to catch up the troops, who had started about 9 A.M. Luard had a beast of a pulling pony, and as his double bridle hadn't got a curb chain, it was about as much use as a headache, so I suggested he should let the pony rip, and promised to bury his remains if he came a cropper. He took my advice and ripped; you couldn't see his pony's heels for dust as he disappeared across the plain. We found him all right in camp when we got there.
The men were already in camp, and pretty comfortable, in spite of the rain. Colonel Kelly had a small tent, and the rest of us turned into convenient cow-sheds. We were not troubled with much baggage, bedding, greatcoats, and a change of clothing; the men had poshteens (sheepskin coats), and everybody pleased themselves in the matter of boots, most of us preferring chuplies—a native kind of sandal with a leather sock, a very good article in snow, as you can put on any number of socks without stopping the circulation of blood in your feet. Officers and men were all provided with goggles, and very necessary they were.
We had a very jolly mess. The force being so small, the 32nd Pioneers kindly asked the remaining officers to mess with them, every man of course providing his own plate, knife, fork, and spoon, the cooking pots being collected for the general good. We had breakfast before starting, the hour for marching being 7 A.M. as a rule. The Pioneers had some most excellent bacon; good eggs and bacon will carry a man through a long day most successfully. I remember that when that bacon gave out, there was more mourning than over all the first-born of Egypt. Mutton we never ran out of; like the poor, it was always with us.
We got into camp as a rule some time in the afternoon, and then indulged in tea and chupatties; whisky was precious, and kept for dinner, which took place at dusk. Sometimes, when we got into camp late, dinner and tea were merged into one; however, it made no odds, we were always ready to eat when anything eatable came along. The mess provided some camp tables, and most of us managed to bring a camp stool, so we were in the height of luxury. After dinner a pipe or two, and then we turned in; we generally managed to get some grass to put under our blankets, but if we didn't, I don't think it made much difference; we were all young, and used to sleeping out on the hillside after game, frequently above the snow line, so it was no new experience. If it rained or was cold, we generally managed to get into a hut; these are remarkably strongly built, good stone walls, and thick, flat, wooden roofs with a mud covering, a hole in the middle of the floor for the fire, and a hole in the roof for the smoke—at least that was what we supposed was the idea, but the smoke generally preferred to remain inside.
There were also other discomforts of a minor nature. For instance, the cows and goats used to take it as a personal matter if you objected to their sharing the room with you; they were big enough, however, to catch and turn out, but there were other occupants of a more agile nature, armies of them, whom it was hopeless to try and eject; we suffered so much from their pleasing attentions that we generally preferred to sleep outside, weather permitting.
Our second march was to a village called Suigal in the Punyal district, governed by Raja Akbar Khan, a jolly old chap who came out to meet us on the road; he lives in a castle on the left bank of the river, which is here crossed by one of the highest and longest rope bridges in the country. In spite of his size, he is a very good polo player, as are all his family, some of whom were shut up in the Chitral Fort with Dr. Robertson. He now offered his services and those of his people to Government, which Colonel Kelly accepted, and the old man retired very pleased, to rejoin us later on. At Suigal we managed to get all the troops under shelter, as it was still raining, and it was now the second day that they had been wet through.
The next day the rain had luckily stopped, and towards noon the sun came out, and everybody's dampened spirits cheered up. We marched that day to Hoopar Pari, making a double march instead of halting at Gurkuch. Pari means a cliff—and the camping ground is a horrid little place shut in by high cliffs close to the bed of the river. There is no village near. It is a desolate place at the best of times, and when there is any wind blowing, it is like camping in a draught-pipe.
From Hoopar Pari we marched to Gupis. Gupis is a fort built by the Kashmir troops last year, on the most scientific principle, the only drawback being that it is commanded on all sides, and would be perfectly untenable if attacked by three men and a boy armed with accurate long-range rifles. Here we picked up Stewart, who was turning catherine wheels at the thought of taking his beloved guns into action. He expressed a desire to try a few shells on the neighbouring villages, to practise his men in ranging; but as there were objections to this plan, the idea was allowed to drop. At Gupis we made a raid on the stores in the officers' quarters and pretty well cleared them out. De Vismes, who took command, had to get a fresh supply up from Gilgit.
We had a merry dinner that night, provided, I think, by Stewart, who used to get up at intervals and dance a jig at the idea of seeing his guns the next morning—they were coming on with the second detachment under Peterson. From Gupis I sent my pony back to Gilgit, as it was useless taking it any farther, as we doubted being able to take animals over the pass, which eventually proved to be impossible. From Gupis onwards we had to be content with the usual hill track of these countries, good enough for a country pony, but still nothing to be proud of; here we discarded our Government mules, and took coolie transport instead. The march from Gupis to Dahimal is a long, trying one, up and down all the way. Cobbe, who was on rearguard, didn't get in till long after dark.
The village of Dahimal lies on the opposite bank of the river, so we did not cross, but bivouacked on the right bank, where there was some scrub jungle that provided us with wood. The Pioneers had brought four ducks; they were carried in a basket along with the mess-stores. Browning-Smith, who ran the messing, got quite pally with these ducks, and as soon as they were let out of their basket, he used to call them, and off they would waddle after him in search of a convenient puddle. I forget when those ducks were eaten, but I don't remember them at Ghizr, and am sure they didn't cross the pass.
Our next march was a short one to Pingal, only about nine miles. Here we were met by Mihrbhan Shah, the Hakim or governor of the upper part of the valley. Mihrbhan Shah is a bit of an authority in the murder line, having been employed by the late lamented Nizam-ul-mulk as chief murderer. Mihrbhan Shah is particularly proud of one of his little jobs, which he flatters himself he accomplished in a very neat and artistic manner. I forget the details, but it resulted in the death of five men. I asked him in to afternoon tea, Shah Mirza acting as interpreter. We had a long chat, from which I gained some very useful details about the state of the parties in Chitral, who was likely to help, and who wasn't, also a description of the road to Killa Drasan, which I did not know. This latter information seemed so important that I reported it that night to Colonel Kelly, and it was then and there decided to march via Killa Drasan instead of by the usual road through Buni.
I don't, think I have mentioned Shah Mirza before, so I will introduce him now, as he was one of our most useful allies, and is now one of my greatest friends. He belongs to the Punyal family, and is Wazir or governor of Sai and Gor. He lives at Damot, a village in the Sai valley, opposite Bunji, and it was during my stay there that I first got to know him. He has an interesting history, and, among other adventures, has travelled through the Pamirs and Chitral in disguise. He was our chief interpreter, and he, or one of his followers, of whom he had five, always kept near us. His followers were enlisted Levies, and one of them had formerly been my shikaree; in fact, he only left me as he was called out as a levy.
It is the custom of the country for the headmen of districts to come and pay their respects to any Sahib who may travel through their country, and the proper etiquette is to supply your visitors with tea and sweetmeats—biscuits will do just as well, and they like plenty of sugar. They then pay you the most barefaced compliments, and make the startling assertion that you are their father and mother; upon which you reply that all you have is at their disposal. If they have any petition,—and they generally have,—they insinuate it gently in the general conversation, so you have to be looking out for traps of this sort. When you have suffered sufficient evil for the day, you mildly suggest that they are probably fatigued, and would like to rest. They take the hint, and the remainder of the biscuits, and depart. We used to have lots of these visits, which went by the name of "political teas."
Mihrbhan Shah proved very useful to us, I fancy he knew he would get small mercy if he fell into the hands of the opposition, and therefore did all he could to place our force between them and himself. Both at Pingal and our next halting place, Cheshi, he managed to billet all our small force in the villages, and no doubt our men were very thankful as we were getting pretty high up, and the nights were decidedly cold. Although it was a friendly district, we had regular pickets and sentries, and a British officer on duty to see everything was correct.
THE SHANDUR PASS
Shortly after leaving Pingal, the character of the country changed considerably, and instead of a continual alternation of cliff and river bed, the valley became more open and level; we were, in fact, nearing the upper end of the valley. Beyond Cheshi the road leads up a bluff and down the other side on to the bed of the Pandur Lake. This lake had, at the beginning of 1894, been a sheet of water some four and a half miles long, but, the dam at its end having given way in July, it had drained off rapidly; and when I had crossed it in November of the same year, the mud of its bed was only just becoming firm and was cracked and fissured in every direction. It was now covered with a sheet of snow, through which the river twined dark and muddy.
We had now reached the snow line, and our green goggles were taken into use. The march of our column churned the snow and mud into a greasy slime, and the going was very tiring. However, we came in sight of the Ghizr post by 2 P.M., and Gough, of the 2nd Gurkhas, who was in command, came out to meet us. From him we learned that none of his messengers that had been sent to Mastuj with letters had returned, and it was now some ten days since the last communication had reached him; so it became evident that the enemy were between Laspur and Mastuj. We knew that they had not crossed the pass, or we should have seen them before this, so we were pretty hopeful of a fight soon after crossing the pass, and we were not disappointed. At Ghizr we also found Oldham, a Sapper subaltern, who had preceded us by a few days. He had with him a party of Kashmir Sappers and Miners, who were now armed with Snider carbines. The post, which consisted of a block of isolated houses, had been fortified and surrounded with a thorn zareba, and was only sufficiently large for the garrison of Kashmir troops then holding it, so our men were billeted in the neighbouring houses, one of which we turned into a mess and quarters for ourselves.
We halted on the 30th March, in order to allow the second detachment of the Pioneers and the guns to come up, as from here Colonel Kelly intended to march in one column. Here also we picked up the Hunza and Nagar Levies, numbering a hundred men, under their own leaders. They were posted in the village of Teru, some four miles up the valley, and from there could give timely warning if any hostile force crossed the pass. Wazir Humayun led the Hunza crowd, and Wazir Taifu the Nagar. I got to know Humayun very well indeed, and a right good sort he is. He had formerly lived for some five years in Chitral, when Raja Safdar Ali Khan of Hunza had made things too hot for him, but when Safdar Ali fled when we took the country in 1891-92, he was reinstated. Wazir Taifu I did not get to know so well, as the Nagar Levies were left behind at Mastuj, when we went on from there to Chitral. The second detachment under Peterson, and the guns with Stewart, got into camp some time after midday on the 31st March.
In the meantime, every available coolie and pony had been collected, and we calculated on being able to start the next morning, with ten days' rations for the whole force. By 6 A.M. on the 1st April the troops had fallen in and were ready to start, and a nice handy little lot we had. Four hundred Pioneers, two mountain guns, forty Kashmir Sappers and a hundred Levies. Then the coolies were told to load up, and the trouble began. It now appeared that some hundred coolies and ponies from Yasin had bolted during the night. We had put too much faith in Mihrbhan Shah's influence, and all those villagers who were not directly under his government had gone. Those hundred coolies meant the transport of our supplies, and without them we should only have the food actually carried in the men's haversacks. We had cut down our baggage to the vanishing point, and the men were carrying all they could, and we did not dare leave our reserve ammunition behind.
The column had just moved off when this state of things became known and was reported to me. Colonel Kelly was at the head of the column, so I snatched the nearest pony, tumbled its load on to the ground, and went scrambling through the snow after the troops. Of course there was nothing to be done except halt the column until the coolies could be collared and brought back, so Stewart, who had a battery pony with him, was sent off down the road after the absconding coolies. They must have started the evening before, as he only caught a few of them up fifteen miles back, and had great difficulty in bringing them along with him. We met him as we were returning to Ghizr at seven o'clock that evening. Stewart had scarcely gone ten minutes before some fifty coolies were found hiding in a village; they were soon driven out and made to lift their loads. This gave us some six days' rations, and with it we moved off, our great object being to get across the pass and open communications with Mastuj. After that we could see about getting on to Chitral. Our transport consisted of country ponies and coolies, and I remained behind to see the last off and rearguard moving before I started myself.
About two miles from Ghizr post there was a steep ascent where the road twisted and curled among a mass of debris fallen from the cliffs above, and in one place the ponies had to be helped through a narrow passage between two fallen boulders. About midday I caught up the tail of the troops, who were already past the village of Teru, the highest inhabited spot in the valley; there are only a few houses, and these are scattered about in clumps a few hundred yards apart. Passing on, I caught up the battery, and reached the leading infantry, when suddenly the word to halt was passed down the long line.
We were now on a narrow plain, and the snow on either hand of the track which the troops were following in single file was over my waist, as I soon found whenever I left the path in order to reach more quickly the head of the column. On arriving there, I found the track had suddenly ended, and before us was the level expanse of snow-covered valley. Attempts were being made to get the gun mules of the battery through this, but at every step they sank up to their girths, even then not finding firm foothold. Trials were then made of the ground at the sides of the valley, but the snow was found equally deep and soft there; and after spending an hour or so in futile attempts to get forward, it became evident to all that no animal could possibly pass over the snowfield in its present condition. We had only gone some eight miles out of the thirteen to Langar, and it was already three o'clock. There was nothing, therefore, for it but to return, and the word to retire was reluctantly passed along the line, and each man, turning where he stood, moved slowly back towards Ghizr.
But though laden or unladen animals could not cross the pass, we saw no reason to suppose that men could not, and therefore, at Teru, which we reached by four o'clock, a halt was made, and two hundred Pioneers, with Borradaile and Cobbe, and the Sappers under Oldham, were detailed to remain there with the Hunza Levies, and to try and force their way across the pass the next day. Borradaile was to receive all the coolie transport, which he was to send back as soon as he got across the pass, in order that we might follow with the remainder of the troops. His orders were to entrench himself at Laspur, which was the first village across the pass, and if possible open communications with Mastuj.
The guns were immediately sent back to Ghizr, and we set to work to sort out the kits of Borradaile's party from the remainder. The unavoidable confusion at first was something dreadful. First of all, the kits had to be unloaded, then those of Borradaile's party separated and put on one side; the remaining kits were then loaded on the ponies and sent off, as fast as the ponies could be loaded up, back to Ghizr. The ammunition had to be divided, and as much as possible given over in the way of supplies. All this time we had to have a ring of sentries round to stop the coolies from bolting, but as soon as we had got the ponies off, the coolies were collected, and sat down in the snow under a guard. Borradaile's party were then told off into the different houses, and the coolies likewise, still under guard, the ammunition and supplies stacked, and the job was done.
By this time it was about seven o'clock, getting dark, and also beginning to snow. All of us, officers and men, were covered with slush and mud from head to foot, and dripping wet. Smith, who was going with Borradaile's party, had, however, managed to get a fire going in one of the houses, and had got some tea ready, bless him! We had a cup all round, and wished Borradaile and his party good luck. The remainder of us plunged out into the darkness and snow and splashed back to Ghizr. The men, who had started some time before us, were comfortably in their former quarters when we reached Ghizr.
On the way we met Stewart, who had just returned from his coolie hunt, and was seated on a rock, like Rachel mourning for her children, only in his case he was murmuring, not because the guns were not, but because they were back in Ghizr. "His guns were going over that pass even if he had to carry them himself, you may bet your boots on that! and begad, I'll set the gunners to cut a road; and d'ye think now the snow would bear the mules at night when it was frozen at all?"
We got back to the huts we had left in the morning by 8.30 P.M., and there was a general demand for something hot. Our servants, luckily, had been sent back straight, so it was not long before we had something to eat; that was our first meal since 5.30 A.M., and it was now about 9 P.M. We had marched some sixteen miles through snow, and been on foot for some fifteen hours, and here we were back in the same place we had started from. Since midday we had been pretty well wet through, and the wind and cold had peeled the skin off our faces till it hung in flakes; still we were lucky in having a roof over our heads, as it had now started to snow in earnest. After dinner we weren't long before turning in.
We were up early the next morning, but Stewart and Gough were up still earlier, and were making sledges and trying experiments with loads. They came in flushed with success, swearing that they had dragged the whole ammunition of the guns by themselves across half a mile of snow, and that they would have the guns over the pass in no time. Unluckily, the snow was still falling, and as Borradaile had all the available coolie transport, we were forced to wait till he could send it back. By noon he sent in a letter by one of the levies, saying he had been unable to start, as heavy snow was still falling, but would try the next day.
Shah Mirza now came up to me and said that there was a mullah in the village who had an infallible charm for stopping the snow, and a present of a few rupees would no doubt set it in motion. I promptly inquired how it was the mullah was not carrying a load, but was told he was too old to help in that way, but would be only too delighted to overcome the elements; so I gave the Mirza to understand that if the mullah would stop the snow-storm the Sirkar would make him, the mullah, a great man; in the meantime, I would give him a couple of rupees on account. Shah Mirza went off joyfully, evidently having implicit faith in the mullah.
Shortly after this, Gough came up, saying that the Kashmir troops in the post had volunteered to make a road through the snow, and if he could take fifty of them with four days' rations to Teru, a sufficient track might be made to Langar, our next camping ground, just this side of the pass, to enable the guns to be carried there without much difficulty. Colonel Kelly's permission having been obtained, we set about collecting all the shovels and spades we could find in the village. Among others I got hold of the mullah's, who became very indignant; but I pointed out to him that as his prayers seemed to have no effect on the snow, perhaps his shovel would make up for their deficiencies. We managed, by instituting a house-to-house visitation, to collect some twenty spades of sorts, and with those supplied by the troops, we got altogether some forty, which were handed over to Gough. He and Stewart and fifty Kashmir Sepoys started off that day to Teru, taking with them half a dozen sledges that had been made out of ghi boxes.
Later in the day we had to send out foraging parties for wood and bhoosa (chopped straw) as the commissariat reported their supply as running out; in fact, these parties had to go out every day during our stay in Ghizr.
Early the next morning I got a note from Stewart, asking that the battery might be sent up to Teru, as there was enough fodder there for the mules, and experiments could be made for getting the guns along. I got the battery off sharp, but it was nearly noon before they got to Teru. The snow had ceased falling, and, the clouds clearing off, the sun made a blinding glare off the freshly fallen snow.
After breakfast I started off for Teru myself, to see how Borradaile was getting along, and, finding he had started, I left my borrowed pony at the village, and, pushing on, caught up the rearguard a short way beyond where we had been forced to turn back on the 1st April. Here I found Stewart, Gough, and Oldham with the fifty Kashmir troops, two Sappers and Miners, and rearguard of the Pioneers, staggering along under the guns and ammunition in a track that had been beaten out by the troops marching in front. For some reason or other the sledges did not seem to act, partly, I think, because the track, being made by men marching in single file, was too narrow and uneven; at anyrate, when I arrived, the guns, wheels, carriages, and ammunition had been told off to different squads, about four men carrying the load at a time, and being relieved by a fresh lot every fifty yards or so. Even thus the rate of progression was fearfully slow, about one mile an hour, and the men were continually sinking up to their waists in snow. Added to this, there was a bitter wind, and a blinding glare, while the men were streaming with perspiration.
I know my own face felt as if it had been dipped in boiling water, and during the next few days the whole skin came off in flakes.
I may as well here describe the tribulations of the advanced party, prefacing my remarks by saying that they are founded on reports and hearsay, and therefore I beg any slight inaccuracy may be forgiven me. When I turned back to return to Ghizr, the party carrying the guns were just arriving at a stream called the Shamalkhand, which flows from a high pass of the same name, which is often used as a summer route to Mastuj, but at that time of year is impassable. From this stream to Langar, the camping ground on the eastern side of the Shandur Pass, is some four miles, the valley being open and fairly level, but covered with thick dwarf willow on the banks of the stream flowing down the centre which confines the road to the western side of the valley. The main body of the party I could see about one and a half miles ahead; they had already crossed the stream. That was about 4 P.M., and the rearguard did not get into camp till 11 P.M., and even then the guns had to be left about a mile from camp.
At Langar there is only one little wretched hut about six feet square, which was used as a shelter by the officers and one or two sick men, the remainder huddling round fires in the snow. Luckily, as I have already said, there was a plentiful supply of wood to be had for the cutting. Many of the men, I hear, were too tired to cook their food, but simply lay down exhausted near the fires, the officers getting something to eat about midnight. Very little sleep was there for either officers or men that night, most of them passed it huddled up round the fires, or stamping up and down to keep warm.
Early the next morning the Pioneers and Levies started to cross the pass, while the remainder brought the guns into camp, which work, I believe, took the best part of the day.
On leaving the camping ground, the track leads sharply to the right, following the course of the Shandur stream, which is now merely a rushing brook. The ascent is fairly precipitous for about a mile, and is followed by a very gradual ascent,—so gradual, in fact, that it is difficult to say when the top of the pass is actually reached. This slope constitutes the pass, and is some five miles long, and twelve thousand three hundred and twenty feet above the sea; absolutely bare of trees, and with two fair-sized lakes upon its surface, it is easy to imagine the deadly cold winds that sweep across it. The lakes were now frozen over, and the valley was one even sheet of spotless snow lying dazzling under the sun. It is this combination of sun and snow which causes so much discomfort and snow blindness; I had before crossed this same pass in December on a cloudy day, and although the whole of it was covered with freshly fallen snow, I did not even find it necessary to wear the goggles I had in my pocket ready for use.
The distance from Langar on the east to the village of Laspur on the west of the pass is not more than ten miles, yet Borradaile's party, leaving Langar at daybreak, did not reach Laspur till seven o'clock at night.
Strange as it may seem, the men suffered greatly from thirst, and from some mistaken idea of becoming violently ill if they did so, they refused to eat the snow through which they were floundering. Towards evening, as they reached the western end of the pass, three men, evidently an outpost of the enemy, were seen to bolt from behind some rocks and make good their escape, in spite of an attempt by the Levies to catch them.
The descent from the pass to the village of Laspur is some two miles long, and down a steep and rather narrow ravine. The Hunza Levies covered the spurs on each side, while the Pioneers descended down the centre. So sudden and unexpected was their arrival that the inhabitants were caught in the village, and naturally expressed their extreme delight at this unexpected visit—so polite of them, wasn't it? They also said that they would be glad to help us in any way we desired. They were taken at their word, and sent back next day to bring on the guns, while that night they were politely requested to clear out of some of their houses, which were quickly put into a state of defence and occupied by our troops. Supplies were also required of the village.
The next day was spent by the detachment in completing the defences, and collecting supplies and coolies. Towards evening a report was brought in that the enemy had collected to the number of about a hundred some three miles away. So Borradaile took out some of the men to reconnoitre. Some men were seen in the distance, but these the Levies declared to be only villagers, and as it was getting dusk, the party returned to camp, only then learning that a levy had been taken prisoner. The man had gone some distance ahead of his fellows, and had been captured by two men who jumped out on him from behind a rock. That evening the guns were brought in by the Kashmir troops and the coolies, amid cheers from the Pioneers.
Nothing, I think, can be said too highly in praise of this splendid achievement. Here were some two hundred and fifty men, Hindus and Mussulmans, who, working shoulder to shoulder, had brought two mountain guns, with their carriages and supply of ammunition, across some twenty miles of deep, soft snow, across a pass some twelve thousand three hundred and twenty feet high, at the beginning of April, the worst time of the year. It must also be remembered that these men were carrying also their own rifles, greatcoats, and eighty rounds of ammunition, and wearing heavy sheepskin coats; they had slept for two nights in the snow, and struggled from dawn till dark, sinking at every step up to their waists, and suffering acutely from a blinding glare and a bitter wind. So much for the rank and file; but in their officers they had had splendid examples to follow, especially Stewart and Gough, if one may select when all did so nobly. Both these officers took their turns with the men, Stewart with his gunners, and Gough with his Gurkhas, in carrying the guns, and both, with utter unselfishness and with complete disregard for their own personal comfort, gave their snow glasses to sepoys who, not having any, were suffering from the glare experienced on the first day. It is by these small acts that officers can endear themselves to their men, who, knowing that their officers have their welfare at heart, will follow wherever they may lead.
Thus was the Shandur Pass first crossed, and a position established from whence the force could work down to Mastuj and thence to Chitral.
I may here mention that so little did the Chitralis imagine that we could cross the pass, that letters were found in Laspur stating that the British force was lying in Ghizr, the men unable to move from frostbite, and the officers from snow blindness; also that since then fresh snow had fallen, and no forces would now be able to cross for several weeks. In fact, the Chitralis looked upon the game as entirely in their own hands; the surprise of our arrival was therefore all the more complete.
Having brought the guns and Borradaile's party safely across the pass, I return and relate Colonel Kelly's and my own experiences.
After leaving the guns being dragged through the snow to Langar on the 3rd April, I walked back to Teru. On the way I saw the mullah's shovel sticking up in the snow, with one half of the blade snapped off. Alas, poor mullah! At Teru I found the battery mules and drivers; these were ordered back to Ghizr, as they could be more easily fed there, and would be protected by the garrison of the post. I eventually got back to Ghizr before dark and reported events, and, just my luck, got a bad go of fever the next day. Great Scott! I did feel a worm! I was shivering with ague and my face was like a furnace. I hadn't a bit of skin on it either, and it was painful to eat or laugh from the cracked state of my lips. I managed to struggle through some necessary official letters, but as a staff officer that day I was not much use.
Colonel Kelly determined to start himself the next morning, with the Nagar Levies and Shah Mirza, as we had managed to collect half a dozen coolies to carry our kits. I went with Colonel Kelly, the remainder of the Pioneers coming on as soon as the coolies from Borradaile's party arrived; we were expecting them the next day, the 5th April.
I turned in early that night, after having covered my raw face with some Vinolia powder that Colonel Kelly happened to have. I had not before known that these powders were supposed to be of any use. I had a vague sort of idea that they were used for sprinkling babies, but was unaware of the reason of this strange rite; however, I will now give the Vinolia Company what I believe is called an unsolicited testimonial. I stuck to that powder till I got to Mastuj, by which time my face had become human again. Colonel Kelly had a beard, so he didn't suffer so much. The next morning I felt much better, had no fever, and, thanks to the Vinolia, my face was much less painful.
We got the Levies and our kits off early, and about noon Colonel Kelly and I started on some borrowed ponies, which we rode as far as we could and then sent back. Having caught up the Levies, we tramped forward along the track made by the first column, occasionally finding deserted sledges and bits of broken spades. The snow was now somewhat firmer than when the first party had crossed, owing to the top of the snow thawing slightly in the sun every day and being frozen hard again every night; all the same, the slightest divergence from the track plunged us up to our waists in snow.
The only one of our party who could walk on the snow without difficulty was my bull-terrier "Bill," a spotted dog of doubtful ancestry. He had been given to me as a bull-terrier when he was only a little white rat of a thing, and I had raised him at Bunji on tinned milk. He was a most uncanny dog (the joke is unintentional), and it was commonly believed in the force that his father was a tom cat. Poor Bill! Before he got to Laspur he was so snow blind that until we got to Mastuj I had to open his eyes for him every morning and bathe them with hot water before he could see, and he was hardly well again a month later.
We got into camp that night before dusk, pretty well fagged and wet, and as soon as the coolies came in with our kits, we scraped a hole in the snow and pitched the colonel's small tent. In camp we found a few men who had been placed in charge of some ammunition that had been left behind for want of transport. This guard were mostly suffering a bit from snow blindness, but were otherwise all right, as they had run up shelters and had plenty of wood and their bedding. When I got at my kit, I took out a bottle of quinine and dosed our servants and orderlies all round, so that they should not have any excuse for getting fever, and then took some myself for the same reason. We then laid out our bedding in the tent, while the servants went into the hut, and turned in immediately after dinner, and had a very comfortable night.
We were up before dawn the next morning, and, as we had slept in our clothes, it was not long before we had had breakfast and struck camp. By 6 A.M. we were climbing the ascent to the pass. There was a wind whistling straight in our faces, and I had no idea anything could be so cold; it simply went clean through you, and I quite expected to hear my ribs sing like an Aeolian harp. When we got on to the pass, the sun rose and the wind dropped quite suddenly, and presently we had taken off our greatcoats on account of the heat. After going about an hour, I began to suffer from mountain sickness, a curious and distinctly unpleasant sensation, very much like having a rope tied tightly round one's chest and back, and the shortness of breath necessitating a halt every hundred yards or so. Colonel Kelly did not suffer from it at all, but trudged along without a halt the whole way. That is the only time I have ever suffered from mountain sickness, and I have crossed the Shandur both before and since, as also other passes, without feeling any inconvenience.
By noon we had almost reached the highest point of the pass, and were skirting the larger lake, when we met the coolies of Borradaile's party returning with an escort of some of the Kashmir troops. They all seemed pretty lively in spite of the poor time they had been having; but as they are used to crossing the Shandur at all times of the year, I daresay our sympathy was a good deal wasted.
We were soon descending into the Laspur valley, and we had hardly dropped three hundred feet before all sense of sickness left me, and I felt as fit as possible. A short way out of the village we were met by a patrol which Borradaile had sent out to meet us, and by two o'clock we were in camp, where we found Oldham in command, Borradaile having gone on a reconnaissance down the valley. The previous day news had been brought in that the enemy were assembled in the valley, and a small party had gone out, as I have already related. On the morning of the 6th April, Borradaile accordingly determined on another reconnaissance, this time taking the guns with him, they being carried by Laspuri villagers, who no doubt thought the game very poor fun. Gough went with the party, Oldham remaining in command of the post, which was garrisoned with the maimed, the halt, and the blind—in other words, with men suffering from frostbite and snow blindness, of whom there were some twenty-six of the former and thirty of the latter; those men of the Kashmir troops who were fit to march being sent back across the pass as escort to the coolies.
When the reconnoitring party had gone some three miles down the valley, they came across the old camp fires of the enemy. At Rahman, two miles farther on, they left the snow behind, much to everybody's delight, and by one o'clock entered the village of Gasht, some eleven miles from Laspur, and about half-way to Mastuj, the Levies crowning a small knoll in the middle of the valley at the lower end of the village. From here they reported they could see the enemy some three miles farther down the valley, who were evidently engaged in building sangars and entrenching themselves. A short council of war was held as to the advisability of attacking them, but, considering that the force consisted of only a little over a hundred men and some fifty Levies, besides the two guns, and also the time of day, it was decided to return to camp, which was reached by dark. The day's work was highly creditable to all concerned; the march to Gasht and back had been some twenty-two miles, and information had been obtained of the position in which we might expect opposition from the enemy. On getting into camp, Borradaile's party found Colonel Kelly and myself waiting their arrival, eager to hear their news.
FROM LASPUR TO GASHT
That night we had beef for dinner. This may appear a trivial fact, but it meant a great and blessed change from the eternal mutton we had been living on, none of us having tasted beef for quite six months, except in its condensed or tinned state, which does not count. Gilgit is a dependency of Kashmir, whose ruling family, being Hindus, strongly object to cow-killing, and therefore the law runs that no cows are to be slaughtered; hence none of us since crossing the bridge at Kohalla had tasted fresh beef. But now we were in Chitral territory, and a Mussulman country, so we were free to kill cows, but did so unostentatiously, as nearly all our force were Hindus. The dark deed was accomplished thus: on the houses being searched on the arrival of the first party at Laspur, an innocent little calf was found in one of the houses, and quick as thought then and there despatched. I will not reveal the murderer's name, because I do not know it. All traces were removed, and for the next few days we enjoyed hot roast beef.
We were a merry party, but what a set of ruffians we looked! Stewart and Gough were both suffering from snow blindness, owing to their generous action in giving their goggles to sepoys, and passed most of their spare time with their heads over a basin of hot water, dabbing their aching eyes; none of us had much skin on our faces, and what little remained was of a patchwork description; none of us had shaved for days—we couldn't have stood the torture; and our clothes, too, were showing signs of wear and tear. We all now slept in our clothes, partly for the sake of warmth, and also to be in readiness in case of emergency. There we were, sitting or lying on our bedding, which was spread on the floor round the room, the latter divided, like all Chitrali houses, into loose stalls by low partitions, a small fire burning in the centre of the room, from which a thick pillar of smoke rose and hung like a cloud from the roof, through a hole in which part of it escaped. Our swords and revolvers were hanging on the walls or from pegs in the beams, the whole scene dimly lit by one or two candles. It might look very picturesque, but I always consider the best hotel is good enough for me.
As there was not space enough in the stalls for all of us, Colonel Kelly and I, as the last comers, slept in a little room off the main one; here was evidently the winter store of fodder for the cattle as it was half full of bhoosa (chopped straw). This we spread evenly over the floor to the depth of some two feet, and then laid our blankets on top. There was just room enough for us to lie out straight, the Colonel taking one side and I the other, and a softer or more luxurious bed could hardly be imagined. We had to be careful, though, not to drop matches about, and to put out our pipes before going to sleep. A halt had been ordered for the following day, to give the men suffering from snow blindness and frostbite a chance to recover, so we turned in with the blissful consciousness of not having to turn out at dawn, and slept like the dead.
The next day, April 7, was spent in hurrying forward all arrangements for an advance on the morrow. We also sent round messengers to all the villagers to come in and make their submission, on pain of having their villages burned; and seeing that we now had the upper hand, at any rate in their valley, the inhabitants came in without much hesitation, and also brought in a certain amount of supplies; consequently by night we had sufficient local coolies to carry all our baggage, supplies, ammunition, and, most important of all, the two guns. About noon on this day, Raja Akbar Khan of Punyal, whom I have before mentioned as meeting us on the march from Shoroh to Suigal, came into camp with fifty Levies, bringing in a convoy of ninety Balti coolies with supplies. We were getting along famously now, so Colonel Kelly decided to advance the next day without waiting for Peterson's detachment, as our first object was to open communication with Mastuj.
We had a political tea that afternoon: all the leaders of the Levies, old Raja Akbar Khan, Humayun, Taifu, the Nagar Wazir, Shah Mirza, and one or two princelings who had come up to see some fighting, all squatted round our little room on the straw, swigging sweet tea and munching biscuits, quite a friendly gathering; in fact, so much tea was consumed that the mess president swore he would send in a bill.
We always got our earliest and most reliable information from the Levies, as most of them had blood relations among the Chitralis. They also knew just where to look for hidden grain and supplies of all sorts. As a rule there was generally a cache under or near the fireplace in the main room, but I have also seen the Levies find them in the most unlikely places, and very queer odds and ends they sometimes pulled out of these under-ground storerooms.
On the morning of April 8th the column was formed up and ready to start by 9 A.M. Poor Gough was being left behind at Laspur in command of the garrison, which consisted of some twenty-five Kashmir troops, and the Nagar and Punyal Levies, in all about a hundred. The Levies were to come on as soon as the second party arrived. Our force, therefore, consisted of two hundred Pioneers, two guns, forty Kashmir Sappers, and fifty Hunza Levies. Our order of march was as follows: first of all went the Levies; then, with an interval of some five hundred yards, came the advance guard of a half company of Pioneers; the main body consisted of Kashmir Sappers, guns, one company of Pioneers, ammunition, hospital baggage, and rearguard of half company Pioneers. Both advance and rear-guards were commanded by British officers. It was a lovely, fine morning, and we were all in the best of spirits, and looking forward to leaving behind the detestable snow, and therewith our chief source of discomfort.
Poor old Gough looked awfully dismal at being left behind, but it was the fortune of war. At Gurkuch, at Gupis, at Ghizr, there was only one cry from officers and men—British and Native—"For Heaven's sake take us on with you!" The natives always added that they would never be able to face their womenfolk again if there had been fighting and they not in it. The Britisher expressed his disgust at what he called "his bally luck" in more forcible terms, but it meant the same thing, and we are all the same colour under the skin.
Off we went, through the village and across the stream by a rickety bridge, then down the left bank for about a mile, when we came to a small hamlet,—I forget its name,—and here I fell out and paid a visit to the house of Mahomed Rafi, the Hakim of the Laspur district. This hoary-headed old rascal had been playing fast and loose for a long time, but had at last cast in his lot openly with the enemy; he had a long list of offences to answer for, and is believed to be one of the actual murderers of Hayward about 1872.
Hayward was globe-trotting up Yasin way when these ruffians rushed his camp, seized him, and carried him into a wood with the intention of killing him. He asked them to defer the performance until daylight, as he should like to look on the world once more. This they agreed to, and soon after dawn made him kneel down and hacked off his head. Such is the story. Poor Hayward's body was brought into Gilgit, and he lies in an orchard close to the British Agency. I can quite imagine Hayward, or any man who has any appreciation of the grandeur of Nature in her wilder moods, wishing to see the sun rise once again over these tumbled masses of snow peaks and bare cliffs. The startling sensation of the immensity of these hills in comparison with man's minuteness strikes home with almost the stunning effect of a sudden blow.
It is said that the calm pluck of Hayward touched even his murderers, callous as they are to bloodshed It makes a sensational picture: a solitary figure in the foreground standing alone on the edge of a pine wood high up in the lonely grandeur of the everlasting hills, the first flush of dawn reddening the snow on peak after peak, changing the pure white to pink, the cold blue to purple, the tumbled sea of mountain summits gradually growing in distinctness, the soft mist rising from the valleys, and the group of wild figures standing within the shade of the pines. Hayward takes one long look on all this loveliness, and turns towards his executioners—men say that even they hesitated.
Mahomed Rafi, who was supposed to have actually killed Hayward, was now Hakim of Laspur, and, as I have said, had joined the enemy.
When I had travelled through Laspur in November last, the old ruffian had come to pay his respects, and accompanied me part of the way to Mastuj, and while doing so, had stopped at a house to give some orders, and had informed me that this was one of his houses. On passing it now, I thought a visit might be useful, so, getting Shah Mirza and his Levies, I got permission to search the house. It had evidently only recently been occupied for on bursting in the door we found the cooking pots in the fireplace and fresh meat hanging in one of the rooms. After a short search we found the grain store, with several mounds of grain, which was afterwards taken into Laspur. There was nothing much more that we could find in our hasty search, but I picked up an empty spectacle-case, astonished at finding it in such a place, as Mahomed Rafi never wore spectacles in his life. I showed it to Colonel Kelly, who promptly annexed it, as he was in want of one, having mislaid his own. Shah Mirza also collared a fowl, which no doubt formed his next meal.
I caught up the column before they had gone much more than a mile, just as they were crossing a stream. After that we had some level marching into the village of Rahman, and by this time the snow was only lying in patches. Here we made a short halt. From Rahman there is a path across the hills to Chitral, by means of a nullah called the Goland Gol, of which mention will be made hereafter but at this time of year it was impossible to use this path, owing to the snow.
During the halt, the headman of the village came up to make his salaams, and also told me that a man of Ghizr had passed through that morning, escaping from the enemy. He was reported to be one of Gough's messengers, captured when taking letters to Moberly at Mastuj. I told the headman that he had better show his goodwill by bringing in the man, which he promised to do, and sent him in that night to our camp at Gasht. We learned little from him, except that the enemy were going to fight us between Gasht and Mastuj, and that the latter place was all right. This man had no idea of numbers, and when asked the strength of the enemy, replied invariably that there were very many men, but seemed equally uncertain if there were five hundred or five thousand collected in the sangar before us, and yet he had been a prisoner in their camp for some fifteen days.
I found the best way of getting information out of the prisoners was to set Shah Mirza or Humayun on the job. They used to squat down over the fire with the prisoners and engage them in conversation gradually getting what they knew out of them by simple-looking questions. Of course I couldn't do this as I didn't know their language, and the presence of a British officer put them on their guard at once.
Between Rahman and Mastuj the country is pretty much the same, a narrow valley running between high, stony hills, their tops covered with snow and their feet with boulders; then the bed of the valley more or less rocky, and the river winding from side to side, and below the main level of the valley, at depths varying from fifty to two hundred feet, the sides nearly always sheer cliff; at intervals were nullahs, down which ran streams of snow water from the hills to the river, or fans of alluvial deposit brought down by floods in previous years. On the flank of one such fan we found the village of Gasht, which we reached by 3.30 P.M. The Levies had already occupied the knoll at the lower end of the village from whence the enemy had before been seen; so, after fixing on a camping ground and giving the necessary orders, the officers all went forward to have a look.
From the top of the knoll there was an extended view of the valley, and I was able to point out the position of Mastuj, which was hidden by some rising ground, and also the general direction of the road. About three miles ahead we could distinctly see a sangar filled with men on the left bank of the river. That sangar was, as far as we could judge, on the right flank of the enemy's line. A few men could also be seen climbing a steep stone shoot on the right bank of the river, so evidently the enemy were going to try the effect of a stone avalanche as we went underneath. A good deal of discussion went on as to whether the enemy's main defence was on the left bank, in which case we should have to attack across the river, or on the right bank, in which case the present visible sangar was a flanking bastion.
At last someone suggested tea, so the meeting broke up. Colonel Kelly and I stayed behind. I asked Colonel Kelly for permission to take some of the Levies and have a cast forward. I took the Hunza men and my shikaree, Faquir, as he could translate my orders to the Levies. Off we trotted, and by the time the other officers were having tea, I was well up the hillside. It was impossible to be rushed, as the ground was pretty bad, so I extended my men,—when it comes to sniping, one man is a smaller target than two,—and we skirmished up and forward, so as to bring us well above the enemy's line. In half an hour we were high enough to see all the valley below, and the enemy's position was spread out like a map. I sent the Levies on about a hundred yards, and then made them line a ridge, while I sat myself comfortably down and sketched the whole show.
With my glasses I could count the men in each sangar. They were evidently cooking their evening meal, as thin columns of smoke rose from each sangar in the still evening air. I could also make out the paths leading up the cliffs from the river, and saw men going down to fetch water. I sat and watched long after I had got all the information I wanted, as I might perhaps get some useful tips that I had overlooked. It was very peaceful sitting there, but presently the sun dropped behind the hills, and it got too chilly for comfort. A whistle to the Levies and a wave of the hand brought them back, and we scrambled down the hill again, and were back in camp before dark. Here I heard that the Punyal Levies had been sent for from Laspur to come along at once.
As soon as I had explained the enemy's position to Colonel Kelly, orders were issued for the attack next day. They were short and simple. On the arrival of the Punyal Levies, they were to start, with a guide we had procured, to turn out the men above the stone shoot on the right bank of the river. I, with the Hunza Levies, was to start at 6 A.M. and work through the hills to the right rear of the enemy's position. The main body would start at 9 A.M. and attack in front. The baggage to remain in camp under a guard commanded by Sergt. Reeves, Commissariat. Then we had dinner and went to bed.
At 5 A.M. the next morning, my orderly, Gammer Sing Gurung, woke me. It was still dark, and I dressed as quickly as possible, so as not to disturb the others, who were snoring peacefully around me. Dressing consisted of putting on my coat, putties, and some canvas shoes with rope soles. I knew the ground I should be going over would be pretty bad, and with rope soles you can skip about rocks like a young lamb, whereas shooting boots would send you flying over the cliffs. By the time I had had some poached eggs and a cup of tea, the Hunza Levies were waiting outside, so I got into my sword and trappings and went. As I passed out, Colonel Kelly wished me good luck, and I said, "Au revoir till twelve o'clock." The others snored peacefully.
Gammer Sing and the fifty Hunza Levies were ready, and I had put some chupatties into my haversack overnight, so off we went. By the time we were clear of the village, it was getting light, so, keeping close to the edge of the hills, we struck up a side nullah, took a slant across it, and then began the climb. By this time it was broad daylight. We kept climbing and gradually working round the face of the hill to the right, until we struck the snow line, and I calculated we were pretty well as high as any sangar the enemy might have on the hill. My idea was to get above them, and I didn't want my party swept into space by a stone avalanche. Still, to make matters secure, I detached ten men to go higher up still, and I had five minutes' halt to give them a start.
It was now about 7.30 A.M., and I wanted to push on, so as to be well on the right rear of the enemy by nine o'clock. Once there, we could time our attack at our leisure. Events, however, worked out somewhat differently. The ground now got very bad, and presently we came to a stone shoot which extended high up above us, while ending in a cliff a little below. This we crossed carefully, one man going at a time. Each step set the whole slide in motion and brought stones bounding down from above. The best way was to take it at a rush. We got safely across that, and the ground got worse and worse, and finally we were brought to a halt. I sent men to find a path above and below, the remainder sat down under cover, while I examined the ground in front with my glasses. It was eight o'clock now, and I was congratulating myself in having got so far, as another half-mile would bring us on to a spur which ran down on the right flank of the enemy's line.
As I was looking at this spur, I noticed that there was a nice grassy slope just about level with us, and below that the cliffs went almost sheer down into the river. Once on that slope, we could pretty well play skittles with the sangars below, as we could even now see clearly into them. Unfortunately, the ground between looked frightful, a series of ridges like the teeth of a saw, the northern faces being covered with snow, which made the going particularly treacherous. I had hardly noticed this when there was a puff of smoke and a report, and I saw to my disgust that on the edge of my nice grassy slope were a few clusters of innocent-looking rocks, which I now saw to be sangars, evidently occupied. Just at this moment a man ran across the slope and began waving his coat to someone below, and more men showed themselves among the rocks.
The Levies were still looking for a path, and Humayun wanted to return the enemy's fire; but as the Levies were armed only with carbines, and I hadn't heard the whistle of the enemy's shot, I judged it would be a waste of ammunition. To get the distance, I told Gammer Sing, who had his Martini, to try a shot at the man waving his choga, with his sights at eight hundred yards. I saw the bullet kick the dust to the right of the man, who jumped for a rock, so I knew carbines were no good at that distance.
A path was now found a little lower down, so I ordered an advance and on we went. Our appearance was the signal for the enemy to open fire, but as only one or two bullets sang over us, I knew they couldn't have many rifles. We worked on steadily forward to about five hundred yards, when shots began to drop among us, so under cover of a ridge I divided the men into two groups, and sent the first group forward under cover of the fire of the second, until the first group reached the next ridge, when they covered the advance of the second group.
The ground was shocking bad, and what made it more annoying was that, as we were attacking towards the north, and the snow lay on the northern slopes, we had to test our way every step, and keep in single file just when our advance was most exposed. I had to have a man in places to help me along. I don't mind bad ground when after mahkor, as you can take your own time, but I strongly object to taking the place of the mahkor. Our advance never stopped, but by ten o'clock we had only gone some two hundred yards, and I could see our force crossing the river on to the plain below.
The enemy in our front now began to get excited, and we saw several of them run back and make signals to those below. There was now only one ridge between us and the enemy, and we made for it. As we rose, the enemy's fire became pretty warm, but we were soon under cover again, and as our advanced men gained the ridge, they began firing and yelling as hard as they could go. I thought something was up, so made a rush, a slip, and a scramble, and I could see over the ridge as the rear party came scrambling along. I soon saw the cause of the yelling. About a hundred yards in front of us was the grassy ridge, and across this the last of the enemy was bolting, and in a few minutes had disappeared amid the most appalling yells from the Levies. That was the last our party saw of them, for we now found our path again blocked up by a precipice and again I had to send men above and below to find a practicable way. I then called for a return of casualties, and found we had escaped scot free (I expect the enemy had too). So thus ended our bloodless battle.
While a path was being looked for, Humayun and I sat down in a quiet corner and shared chupatties, and watched the fight below, which was just beginning. First we saw the advance guard get on to the plain and extend, and presently they were joined by the main body, and the whole formed up for attack; then the firing line extended and the advance commenced. Presently we saw the sangars open fire, answered by volleys from our men. Then came a larger puff of smoke and a murmur from the men round me, as a shell pitched across the river and burst over a sangar. It was as pretty a sight as one could wish for, and I felt as if I should have been in a stall at Drury Lane. I could have stopped and watched the show with pleasure. It was quite a treat to see how steadily the 32nd Pioneers worked across the plain; but just then the men below shouted that they had found a path, while I could see those above working their way on to the grassy slope. These latter now shouted that there were no enemy left on the hill, so we chose the lower road, and gradually worked our way down, joining the grassy spur lower down—only it wasn't grassy here at all, but chiefly precipice. We got down somehow, chiefly on all fours, but by the time we had reached the sangars, the enemy had bolted, and they were occupied by our men. It had taken us nearly an hour to get down. Here I came across Colonel Kelly, and after shaking hands, I looked at my watch and found it was just twelve, so I had made a good shot at the time of our meeting when we parted in the morning.
Now I will give you an account of the attack carried out by the main body. It is the official account, so I can back its correctness.
The action at Chokalwat on the 9th April is thus described: "On the morning of the ninth April I advanced to the attack of the enemy. In the early morning Lieutenant Beynon, with the Hunza Levies, ascended the high hills on the left bank of the river to turn the right of the position and attack in rear. The Punyal Levies were sent up the hills on the right bank to turn out the men above the stone shoots.
"I advanced in the following manner:—
Half Coy. 32nd Pioneers, advanced guard. Kashmir Sappers and Miners Half Company 32nd Pioneers Two guns 1st Kashmir Mountain = Main Body Battery, carried by coolies One Company 32nd Pioneers
"The baggage, under escort of the rearguard, remained in Gasht till ordered forward after the action.
"An advance was made to the river, where the bridge had been broken, but sufficiently repaired by the Sappers and Miners for the passage of the infantry. The guns forded the river, and the force ascended to the fan facing the right sangars of the enemy's position.
"The configuration of the ground was as follows: The road from the river after leaving Gasht brought us on to an alluvial fan, the ascent to which was short and steep; it was covered with boulders and intersected with nullahs; the road led across this fan and then along the foot of steep shale slopes and shoots, within five hundred yards of the line of sangars crowning the opposite side of the river bank, and totally devoid of any sort or description of cover for some two miles; it could also be swept by avalanches of stones set in motion by a few men placed on the heights above for that purpose.
"The enemy's position consisted of a line of sangars blocking the roads from the river up to the alluvial fan on which they were placed. The right of the position was protected by a snow glacier, which descended into the river bed, and furthermore by sangars, which extended into the snow line up the spur of the hills.
"The course of the action was as follows: The advanced guard formed up at about eight hundred yards from the position and the main body in rear. The 32nd Pioneers then advanced to the attack. One section, 'C' Company, extended (left of line). One section, 'C' Company, extended in support. Two sections, 'C' Company, 'A' Company, in reserve. The guns now took up position on the right and opened on 'A' sangar at a range of eight hundred and twenty-five yards. As the action progressed, the supporting section of 'C' Company advanced and reinforced. The remaining half of 'C' Company advanced, and, leaving sufficient space for the guns, took up their position in the firing line on the extreme right. Volley firing at first was opened at eight hundred yards, but the firing line advanced one hundred and fifty to two hundred yards as the action progressed. At a later stage, one section of 'A' Company was pushed up to fill a gap on the right of the guns in action in the centre of the line. The enemy, after receiving some well-directed volleys and correctly played shells, were seen to vacate 'A' sangar by twos and threes until it was finally emptied. During our advance to the fan, shots were heard in the direction of the hills, Lieutenant Beynon having come into contact with the enemy in their sangars up the hillside, who were driven from ridge to ridge. When 'A' sangar was vacated, attention was directed on 'B' sangar, and the same course adopted, with the same result; at the same time those driven down from the hills above streamed into the plain, and there was then a general flight. Six shrapnel were fired into the flying enemy at ranges of a thousand, twelve hundred, and thirteen hundred and fifty yards (three rounds per gun).
"A general advance was then made down precipitous banks to the bed of the river, covered by the fire of the reserves, the river forded, and sangars 'A' and 'B' occupied. The guns were then carried across, and, the whole line of sangars having been vacated, the column was re-formed on the fan; the line taken in crossing enabled the enemy to get well on their way to Mastuj; the advance was then continued to a village a mile and a half farther along the river, where a halt was made. The casualties consisted of one man of the 32nd Pioneers severely wounded, and three Kashmir Sappers slightly. The action commenced at 10.30 A.M. and lasted one hour. The position was of unusual natural strength, and the disposition of the sangars showed considerable tactical ability, being placed on the edge of high cliffs on the left bank of the river. The enemy were computed at four to five hundred, and were armed with Martini-Henry and Snider rifles. Several dead were found in the sangars, and the losses I estimate to have been from fifty to sixty."
By the time I had joined Colonel Kelly, the Pioneers had re-formed and were advancing, so I had very little time to take a look at the sangars. I saw one or two bodies lying around, and the shells seemed to have knocked sparks pretty successfully out of the stone breastworks. I also noticed the neat little cooking places the enemy had made behind their sangars, showing that they had been there for some time.
The advance was carried on without a check for about one and a half miles, when we came to a cluster of huts near the termination of the plain, the river here making a slight sweep towards the left side of the valley. An advance guard was thrown out well to the front, and under their protection the column halted and the men fell out. I had a first-class thirst by this time, and Gammer Sing made several trips to the river before it was quenched. Gammer Sing and I always share the same tin mug on the march. It is his mug, but he always gives me first go. In return I supply Gammer Sing with tobacco, so it is a fair division of labour. Here I finished my chupatties, and some kind man—I think it was Borradaile—gave me a stick of chocolate, my own store having run out, but I managed to get it replenished at Mastuj.
Good old Stewart came up as pleased as Punch at having had his first fight. Said he, "And d'ye think now that me shells killed many of the beggars? sure and their corpses ought to be just thick." He was pained to hear that in all probability we should not catch up the enemy again that day, I really think nothing less than twelve hours' hard fighting every day, with short intervals for refreshments, would satisfy him.
One of the guns, when being brought up the cliff, had slipped off the coolies and fallen down to the bottom again, breaking off the foresight, but Stewart mended it during the halt.
At the same time, the Sappers were hard at work pulling down a house for materials to build a bridge, but before it was actually begun, we heard that the river could be forded again lower down, so the bridge was not built. By this time the men were sufficiently rested, the whole column had closed up, and orders sent back for the baggage to come on.
Off we started, the Punyal Levies working down the right bank, the Hunzas on the left, the main column following the left bank of the stream. By 4 P.M. we reached the ford and crossed to the right bank, the water not being much above our knees. And almost immediately after, we saw some men drawn up on the spur we were approaching; they turned out to be the Mastuj garrison, who, on finding the besieging force halting, had come out to find out the reason. If they had only heard our guns and turned out at once, they would have cut the line of retreat of our opponents, and the whole crew must have been wiped out. Unfortunately the fort of Mastuj is built far down the reverse slope of a fan, and although some of the sentries reported they heard firing, it was thought they must be mistaken.
By 5 P.M. we had got on to the spur, and found Moberly, with part of the garrison, all looking very fat and fit; evidently the siege had not worried them much so far. A detachment of the 14th Sikhs (the remains of Ross's company) were left on the spur to cover the baggage coming in, while our column trotted down to the fort, getting there by 5.30 P.M. Here we found Jones with his arm in a sling. Our force bivouacked in a garden attached to the fort, the trees of which had been lopped to deprive the enemy of shelter, and the farther wall destroyed. This we precious soon built up again, and within an hour our force was comfortably entrenched and cooking its dinner.
What a blessing it was to be down again in a decent climate! Fires were still pleasant at night, but in the daytime the bright, cool weather was splendid.
Moberly's servant soon had some tea and chupatties ready, and while we were eating them, Bretherton, who had been out clearing some village on the other side of the fort, came in.
There was lots of news, both to hear and relate, and we were hard at it when there came the sound of a volley from the direction in which we were expecting the baggage.
Somebody said, "Cuss those niggers! why can't they let us have our tea in peace?"—it wasn't Stewart,—and there was a general scramble for swords and belts. A company of the Pioneers was soon doubling off, while the rest of us strolled up the road to see what the row was. We met the baggage coming in, and heard that the 14th Sikh picket had heard some people moving in the river bed, and had let drive a volley at them—result unknown. As soon as the last of the baggage had passed, we followed it, and the picket was withdrawn. Later that night we sent back a messenger with an account of the day's fighting and the relief of Mastuj to Gilgit, but the messenger—a levy—shortly returned, having been fired on, and returned the fire, so it was evident that a good many of the enemy were still sneaking about.
We officers slept in the fort that night, four or five of us in a room. Mastuj is of the ordinary type of country fort, square, with a tower at each end and one over the gateway, curtains between each tower about eighteen to twenty feet high, and the towers another fifteen feet higher still. The whole place is built of layers of stones and wood plastered together with mud, while there is generally a keep or citadel inside which commands the rest of the fort, and in which are the governor's and women's quarters. In Mastuj, of course, we used these as officers' quarters. The whole fort is a horribly dirty and tumble-down old place; the roof of the officers' quarters had to be propped up, as it was considered unsafe, and I quite believe it. The rooms had the usual hole in the roof for the smoke to get out at, but Moberly had erected a stove in his room, which was a great improvement.
THE RECONNAISSANCE FROM MASTUJ
While at Mastuj we heard from Jones the story of the disaster at Koragh—which I will give.
Ross, with Jones and about ninety-three Sikhs, left Mastuj on the 7th March, with the intention of helping Edwardes and Fowler, who were believed to be in danger at Reshun, and marched to Buni; leaving a detachment there of thirty-three sepoys under a native officer, he marched with Jones and sixty men for Reshun, hoping to arrive there that day.
After leaving Buni, the road runs for some distance along flat ground until the junction of the Turikho and Yarkhun rivers is reached. At this point the road leads up along the face of a cliff and then down on to a small plain, where are a few houses and some patches of cultivation. This is known as the village of Koragh, and immediately after, the river runs between the cliffs, which draw together and make the mouth of the defile. The path which follows the left bank crosses the debris fallen from the cliffs above and then runs along the edge of the river at the foot of another and smaller cliff, or in summer, when the river is full, the path runs over this smaller cliff. Ross's party took the lower road. After the second cliff the paths lead on to a small plain about two hundred yards wide at its greatest width, and perhaps half a mile long, and then runs up and across the face of a third cliff which drops sheer down into the river. This cliff forms the end of the trap. It would be hard to find a better place for an ambuscade.
Ross's advance guard was on this plain, approaching the spur which closes the trap, when they were fired on. Ross went forward to reconnoitre the ground, and at once saw the impossibility of driving the enemy out with his small force, and therefore ordered Jones to go back and hold the entrance of the defile to enable them to escape. On the first shot being fired, the coolies had chucked their loads and bolted, as likely as not helping to man the sangars enclosing the party. Jones, taking ten men, made an attempt to reach the mouth of the defile, but found it already occupied by the enemy, who had run up stone sangars, and by the time he had got within a hundred yards of it, eight of his ten men were wounded. He therefore fell back on the main party, who had taken refuge in some caves at the foot of the cliff.
The caves, now half full of water, owing to the rising of the river, can be seen in the photograph. The party remained in these caves till 9 P.M., when they made another attempt to cut their way out, but were driven back by avalanches of stones. They then had to scale the mountainside, but were stopped by an impossible cliff, and one sepoy, falling over, was killed, so they came back to the caves dead tired. Here they remained the whole of the next day, the enemy trying an occasional shot from across the river, where they had erected sangars; but the Sikhs had, in their turn, built sangars across the mouth of their cave, which sheltered them.
Then the enemy tried rolling stones over the top of the cliff, but this only had the effect of strengthening the sangars, so they shut that up.
During that day, Ross and Jones came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be done but cut their way out; everyone must take his chance, the rush to be made about 2 A.M. On the morning of the 10th, accordingly, at the time fixed, they made their sortie.
A heavy fire was at once opened on them from both sides of the river, while avalanches of stones were sent hurtling down the cliffs. A number of sepoys were killed or knocked senseless by stones, but the remainder reached the sangars, and cleared out the defenders at the point of the bayonet. Here poor Ross was killed by a bullet through the head, after having, so the natives say, pistolled some four of the enemy. The latter, after being driven out of the sangars, bolted up the hillside, and again opened fire from among the rocks. By the time the small band reached the maidan, there were only some seventeen men, headed by Jones: of these, Jones and nine others were wounded.
Here the little party formed up, and tried to help any more of their friends who might be struggling through, by heavy volley-firing into the sangars on both sides of the river. After some ten minutes of thus waiting, during which they twice drove off attacks of the enemy's swordsmen, who tried to close with them, and losing three more men, Jones, noticing an attempt of the enemy to cut the line of retreat, and despairing of any more of the detachment escaping, gave the order to retire. This was carried out slowly and leisurely till they reached Buni, at about 6 A.M., when they joined the detachment they had left behind. Jones and his party remained in Buni till the 17th, the enemy not daring to attack them, and they were unable to move, having no transport for their wounded.
After Ross had left Mastuj, Moberly remained in command of the fort, and on the 10th March was joined by Captain Bretherton of the Commissariat who came in with two sepoys from Ghizr.
Moberly heard that Ross had left a small party at Buni, and though he sent messengers to this party, he never received any reply, the messengers probably being captured.
On the 13th, hearing that the enemy were occupying the Nisa Gol, a position some six miles from Mastuj, he reconnoitred up to it, and found some sangars, which he destroyed, but no enemy.
A reinforcement of sixty sepoys came in that day from Ghizr. The next two days were spent in trying to collect coolies for transport, and on the 16th, in spite of the non-arrival of any coolies, he set out to Buni with a hundred and fifty sepoys, each man carrying a sheepskin coat, two blankets, a hundred and twenty rounds of ammunition, and three days' cooked rations.
He halted that night at Sanoghar, where he collected some fifty coolies, and learned by signal from Mastuj that Bretherton was sending some fifty Yarkhun coolies the next day—fifty Punyal Levies also joined him that evening. Starting the next morning, he reached Buni by 5 P.M., when he found Jones and the remains of the Sikhs. The return journey was begun two hours later, at 7 P.M., and carried on steadily all night, a small body of the enemy following, but not daring to attack. Mastuj was reached between 10 and 11 A.M. the next day, 18th March.
By the 22nd March the enemy had surrounded the fort, and the siege began. Nothing of any event happened, the enemy contenting themselves with long-range firing, only one man being slightly wounded and two ponies killed. On the 9th of April "up we came with our little lot," and the siege was raised.
Early the next morning we were up and going through the state of the supplies and available amount of transport.
Transport and supplies were an everlasting source of worry, as it generally is with every army, great or small.
We soon got a return of the supplies in Mastuj. I forget how many days it was, but none too much for our force and the Mastuj garrison. Bretherton was sent back to bring up supplies from the rear, and messengers were sent to order in the villagers. We wanted their grain to eat, and men to carry it. The villagers began to come in after a bit, and brought a small amount of grain with them.
Stewart was hard at work getting ponies for his guns in place of the mules left behind; the gun wheel and carriage saddles were sent for, and shortly arrived.
The Levies were billeted in the houses which had lately been occupied by the enemy, and we soon had pickets out round the fort. In showing the Levies the houses they were to occupy, I examined the enemy's system of loopholes and sangars, and found they were very well made indeed. In the house which had lately been occupied by Mahomed Issar, their commander-in-chief we found the trunk of a tree which the enemy were converting into a cannon. It didn't require cannon to bring the walls of Mastuj down,—a good strong kick would have been quite sufficient. Shortly after we had reached Chitral, Moberly reported that part of the wall had fallen on a sleeping sepoy, who was luckily saved by some beams catching and protecting him from being crushed by the debris. There was no apparent cause for the collapse, but the man is supposed to have sneezed.
The next day a fatigue party was sent out to Chokalwat to destroy the enemy's sangars, and bury any dead bodies that might be lying about. This party would also act as a covering party to Peterson, who was expected to arrive that day. With Peterson came Bethune and Luard, all very sick at having missed a fight. This detachment brought the strength of the Pioneers up to four hundred rifles.
The Hunza and fifty Punyal Levies were sent to reconnoitre towards Nisa Gol that day, and fifty more Punyals up the Yarkhun valley to forage. The rest of the day was spent in writing reports, making out official returns, and other necessary nuisances.
Colonel Kelly and I were writing in a tent pitched on the roof, and I had pretty well got through my work by 5 P.M.; and then Colonel Kelly had out the maps and returns of supplies, etc., and, Borradaile being called, there was a small council of war.
As I have before said, Colonel Kelly had practically settled at Pingal to advance by Killa Drasan, but the question was, when should we be in a position to do so? Here came in that everlasting transport and supply question. We could now, of course, cut down our baggage by leaving behind warm clothes and poshteens, as the weather would be getting hotter every day as we descended to lower latitudes; but this only meant that the men would have to carry less themselves, and, try as we would, it seemed as if we could only raise enough transport for seven days' supplies, five on coolies and two days in the men's haversacks. It was seven days' march to Chitral by the direct route, and though our intelligence pointed to the fact that supplies in the Chitral fort were probably plentiful, it was yet only summer. Then, again, we might, or we might not, get supplies on the road. We worried the question up and down and inside out, but we couldn't increase the transport by one coolie. Borradaile was for going on. I said, "The first man in Chitral gets a C.B."
Just then Raja Akbar Khan and Humayun came back, so we went out to hear their report. Old Akbar smiled a fat smile all over his face, and Humayun twirled his long moustache,—he has a fine black beard and moustache and a deep bass voice. Akbar Khan curls his beard like an Assyrian king, and smiles good-naturedly at everything.
They reported that they had seen the enemy building sangars, and that there were many men, also cavalry. Their report was clear enough, and from their description I could pretty well place the position of the different sangars, as I had been over the ground with Harley on my previous visit to Chitral. To make matters certain, I suggested that I should reconnoitre the position next day. This was agreed to, and it was also determined to attack the enemy on the 13th April, as it was no use giving them time to entrench themselves more than we could help.