Chitral—an iconic episode in the history of the British Raj
Anyone interested in the history of the British Empire in India and particularly of the post-mutiny Raj period will know that as the British moved into the wild mountainous country of the North West Frontier and Afghanistan they came to the limit of their influence and power on the sub continent. This was the ‘burning border’—difficult if not impossible to control, occupied by fierce tribesmen ever ready to resist invaders and perpetually vulnerable to powers beyond it who might employ it as a corridor for incursions into Hindustan. This was the country of ‘the Great Game,’ made famous by Kipling, where, ‘two thousand pounds of education drops to a ten-rupee jezail.’ Chitral, situated in what is now northern Pakistan, was a challenge to the army of the Queen Empress Victoria and remains no less so for armies who have occupied it right up to modern times. It became the location of one of those ‘back against the wall’ struggles of grit, resolution and heroism which have become legendary in the history of the British Army ranking with episodes such as the defence of Rorkes Drift during the Zulu War or the broken square at Abu Klea in the Sudan. An isolated fort commanded by British officers and manned by Indian Army troops was besieged by hostile tribesmen and held out under the most extraordinary hardships until eventually relieved. As hostilities flared up throughout the region small units were attacked and often annihilated until the inevitable forces of retribution could be mustered and marched to the rescue and to restore imperial ‘order.’ This is a riveting book —which rapidly draws the reader from one action to the next—about an extremely interesting and event filled episode of the late Victorian era. It is augmented by first hand accounts from participants and benefits from numerous contemporary photographs which show the scenes of many of the actions described and the appearance and equipment of the protagonists; interesting maps and diagrams also illuminate the text.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
At the end of the valley, Miankalai and several forts could be distinctly seen. Up the valley a large force could be seen gathered on the low spurs and plain near Mandai, with red and white standards. These then split up into two columns and advanced towards us, one on either side of the Jandol stream, and our retreat was hopelessly cut off by the bridge having been swept away in the early morning, and the river being too deep and the current too strong to ford. The G.O.C. was signalled to for instructions, and in reply came the order to fall back upon the river directly in the rear, while the brigade would cover the retreat from the opposite bank.<br>
At this time the main body of the Guides was on a high bank on the right, while companies were out under Lieutenant H. W. Codrington and Lieutenant P. E. Lockhart, burning the villages below in the valley and towards the river. The order to retreat was signalled to them, and the men collected, but before this could be done the enemy were within range, and had opened fire upon us with rifles and jezails.<br>
The right column of the enemy were soon upon us, and our position became very critical. When all the men were ready, we slowly retreated down two parallel slopes, the enemy taking the hill over us as we retreated, and following us down. They numbered several thousands to our single regiment. When halfway down we could see the left column of the enemy running across the plain to gain the hill and try and cut us off from our camp. On the opposite side of the river the 2nd Brigade got into position, and soon the Maxim guns of the Gordons and K.O.S.B.’s, and the Mountain Battery, were considerably helping us. Still the enemy advanced, firing rapidly, and coming near enough to hurl stones, some of which struck our men.<br>
Our right party, under Lieutenant Lockhart, who had been keeping up a flank fire on the enemy from their slope, and materially covering our retreat, first reached the foot of the hill and hastened to oppose the enemy coming up on the flank. Lieutenant Codrington’s party early reaching the river, and seeing the engagement above, hurried up to our help. Slowly down the slope we went, yielding position after position only when compelled to do so, and at last reached the lowest position on the slope, beyond which there was a steep descent. This position was held for some time under a hot fire by Colonel Battye, while those who had reached the bottom were formed up in the field below.<br>
Then the position was yielded, the descent being covered by fire from our men who had been formed up in the field by Lieutenant Cockerill, of the Intelligence Department, who had been attached to us for the day, assisted by Lieutenants Codrington, Lockhart, Maxwell, Stewart, and Bogle. Colonel Battye was the last to retreat, and while retreating slowly was shot through the body, and fell mortally wounded. Seeing him fall, the Guides Afridi Company fixed their bayonets and charged the enemy up the slope, killing and wounding many. Then they retired, and the enemy gained the position once more. They were then kept in check by a steady Maxim fire from the brigade, aided by the Gordons, K.O.S.B.’s, and 4th Sikhs’ fire, and the shells of the Mountain Battery from the further side of the Panjkora River.<br>
Carrying the colonel’s body, and that of another man who had been shot in the head, we slowly retreated back to our old camp in the bed of the river, but before we reached it the left column of the enemy had gained the hills above us to our left. Lieutenant Lloyd Johnson, with two companies who had been left in camp, advanced against them, and our men, replenishing their ammunition and leaving the wounded in the rear, also went forward against them, being assisted by the Maxim gun of the Devons, which had crossed one of the small branches of the river and got into position on an island, and materially aided us on the left, the right column being held in check by the 2nd Brigade. The Guides remained at the foot of the hills, keeping the enemy at bay while entrenchments were being dug, and stone breastworks piled up in camp. Then they slowly retired, their retirement being covered by a party of the 23rd Pioneers and K.O.S.B.’s, Gordons, and 4th Sikhs, firing from the heights on the further bank.