Equipped with these corrected facts, I invite the reader to examine the question of the legitimacy of village-burning for himself. A camp of a British brigade, moving at the order of the Indian Government and under the acquiescence of the people of the United Kingdom, is attacked at night. Several valuable and expensive officers, soldiers and transport animals are killed and wounded. The assailants retire to the hills. Thither it is impossible to follow them. They cannot be caught. They cannot be punished. Only one remedy remains—their property must be destroyed. [It may be of interest, to consider for a moment the contrast between the effects of village-burning on the Indian Frontier and in Cuba. In Cuba a small section of the population are in revolt; the remainder are sympathisers. To screw these lukewarm partisans up to the fighting-point, the insurgents destroy their villages and burn the sugar-came. This, by placing the alternative of "fight or starve" before the inhabitants, has the effect of driving them to take up arms against the Spaniards, whom they all hate, and join the rebels in the field. Thus in Cuba it is the endeavour of the Government to protect property, and of the rebels to destroy it. It was with the aim of keeping the wavering population loyal, that General Weyler collected them all into the towns, with such painful results. His policy was cruel but sound, and, had it been accompanied by vigorous military operations, might have been successful.] Their villages are made hostages for their good behavior. They are fully aware of this, and when they make an attack on a camp or convoy, they do it because they have considered the cost and think it worth while. Of course, it is cruel and barbarous, as is everything else in war, but it is only an unphilosophic mind that will hold it legitimate to take a man's life, and illegitimate to destroy his property. The burning of mud hovels cannot at any rate be condemned by nations whose customs of war justify the bombardment of the dwelling-houses of a city like Paris, to induce the garrison to surrender by the sufferings of the non-combatants.
In official parlance the burning of villages is usually expressed euphemistically as "So many villages were visited and punished," or, again, "The fortifications were demolished." I do not believe in all this circumlocution. The lack of confidence in the good sense of the British democracy, which the Indian Government displays, is one of its least admirable characteristics. Exeter Hall is not all England; and the people of our islands only require to have the matter put fairly before them to arrive at sound, practical conclusions. If this were not so, we should not occupy our present position in the world.
To return to the Mamund Valley. The difference between villages in the plains and those in the hills was forcibly demonstrated. On the 29th over a dozen villages in the plains were destroyed without the loss of a single life. On the 30th the tale ran somewhat differently. The village of Agrah adjoins the village of Zagai, the capture of which has already been recorded. It stood in a broad re-entrant of the mountains, and amid ground so tangled and broken, that to move over it is difficult, and to describe it impossible. On the steep face of the mountain great rocks, sometimes thirty feet high, lay tossed about: interspersed with these were huts or narrow terraces, covered with crops, and rising one above the other by great steps of ten or twelve feet each. The attack on such a place was further complicated by the fact that the same re-entrant contained another village called Gat, which had to be occupied at the same time. This compelled the brigade to attack on a broader front than their numbers allowed. It was evident, as the Guides Cavalry approached the hills, that resistance was contemplated. Several red standards were visible to the naked eye, and the field-glasses disclosed numerous figures lining the ridges and spurs. The squadrons, advancing as far as the scrub would allow them, soon drew the fire of isolated skirmishers. Several troops dismounted, and returned the salute with their carbines, and at 8.45 a dropping fire began. The brigade now came into action in the following formation. The cavalry, on the extreme left, covered the head of a considerable valley, from which the flank was threatened; the Guides Infantry and the Royal West Kent Regiment prolonged the line to the centre of the attack; the 31st Punjaub Infantry moved against the spurs to the right of the village, and the 38th Dogras were in reserve. The action was begun by the Guides Infantry storming the ridges to the left of the enemy's position. These were strongly held and fortified by sungars, behind which the defenders were sheltered. The Guides advanced at a brisk pace, and without much firing, across the open ground to the foot of the hills. The tribesmen, shooting from excellent cover, maintained a hot fire. The bullets kicked up the dust in all directions, or whistled viciously through the air; but the distance was short, and it was soon apparent that the enemy did not mean to abide the assault. When the troops got within 100 yards and fixed bayonets, a dozen determined men were still firing from the sungars. The Afridi and Pathan companies of the Guides, uttering shrill cries of exultation, culminating in an extraordinary yell, dashed forward, climbed the hill as only hillmen can climb, and cleared the crest. On the side of the next hill the figures of the retreating tribesmen were visible, and many were shot down before they could find shelter.
It was a strange thing, to watch these conspicuous forms toiling up the hillside, dodging this way and that way, as the bullets cut into the earth around them; but with the experience of the previous ten minutes fresh in the memory, pity was not one of the emotions it aroused. A good many fell, subsiding peacefully, and lying quite still. Their fall was greeted by strange little yells of pleasure from the native soldiers. These Afridi and Pathan companies of the Guides Infantry suggest nothing so much as a well-trained pack of hounds. Their cries, their movements, and their natures are similar.
The West Kents had now come into line on the Guides' right, and while the latter held the long ridge they had taken, the British regiment moved upon the village. Here the resistance became very severe. The tangled and broken ground, rising in terraces, sometimes ten feet high, and covered with high crops, led to fighting at close quarters with loss on both sides. Loud and continuous grew the musketry fire. The 31st Punjaub Infantry, who had ascended the spur on the right, soon joined hands with the West Kents, and both regiments became hotly engaged. Meantime the Mountain Battery, which had come into action near the centre, began to throw its shells over the heads of the infantry on to the higher slopes, from which the enemy were firing. It soon became evident that the troops were too few for the work. On the left the Guides Infantry were unable to leave the ridge they had captured, lest it should be reoccupied by the enemy, who were showing in great strength. A gap opened in consequence, between the Guides and Royal West Kents, and this enabled the tribesmen to get round the left flank of the British regiment, while the 31st Punjaub Infantry, on the right, were also turned by the enveloping enemy. It is to these circumstances that most of the losses were due.
The British regiment forced its way through the village, and encountered the enemy strongly posted in sungars among the rocks above it. Here they were sharply checked. The leading company had stormed one of these fortifications, and the enemy at once retired higher up the hill. About fifteen men were inside the work, and perhaps thirty more just below it. The whole place was commanded by the higher ground. The enemy's fire was accurate and intense.
Of those inside, four or five were instantly killed or wounded. The sungar was a regular trap, and the company were ordered to retire. Lieutenant Browne-Clayton remained till the last, to watch the withdrawal, and in so doing was shot dead, the bullet severing the blood-vessels near the heart. The two or three men who remained were handing down his body over the rock wall, when they were charged by about thirty Ghazis and driven down the hill. A hundred and fifty yards away, Major Western had three companies of the West Kents in support. He immediately ordered Captain Styles to retake the sungar, and recover the body. The company charged. Captain Styles was the first to reach the stone wall, and with Lieutenant Jackson cleared it of such of the enemy as remained. Five or six men were wounded in the charge, and others fell in the sungar. The advanced position of this company was soon seen to be untenable, and they were ordered to fall back to the edge of the village, where the whole regiment was hotly engaged.
Meanwhile the 31st Punjaub Infantry, who had advanced under Colonel O'Bryen on the right, were exposed to a severe fire from a rocky ridge on their flank. Their attack was directed against a great mass of boulders, some of them of enormous size, which were tenaciously held by the enemy. The fighting soon became close. The two advanced companies were engaged at a distance of under 100 yards. Besides this the cross fire from their right flank added to their difficulties. In such a position the presence of Colonel O'Bryen was invaluable. Moving swiftly from point to point, he directed the fire and animated the spirit of the men, who were devoted to him. It was not long before the enemy's marksmen began to take aim at this prominent figure. But for a considerable period, although bullets struck the ground everywhere around him, he remained unhurt. At last, however, he was shot through the body, and carried mortally wounded from the action.
I pause to consider for a moment the conditions, and circumstances, by which the pursuit of a military career differs from all others. In political life, in art, in engineering, the man with talents who behaves with wisdom may steadily improve his position in the world. If he makes no mistakes he will probably achieve success. But the soldier is more dependent upon external influences. The only way he can hope to rise above the others, is by risking his life in frequent campaigns. All his fortunes, whatever they may be, all his position and weight in the world, all his accumulated capital, as it were, must be staked afresh each time he goes into action. He may have seen twenty engagements, and be covered with decorations and medals. He may be marked as a rising soldier. And yet each time he comes under fire his chances of being killed are as great as, and perhaps greater than, those of the youngest subaltern, whose luck is fresh. The statesman, who has put his power to the test, and made a great miscalculation, may yet retrieve his fortunes. But the indiscriminating bullet settles everything. As the poet somewhat grimly has it:—
Stone-dead hath no better.
Colonel O'Bryen had been specially selected, while still a young man, for the command of a battalion. He had made several campaigns. Already he had passed through the drudgery of the lower ranks of the service, and all the bigger prizes of the military profession appeared in view: and though the death in action of a colonel at the head of his regiment is as fine an end as a soldier can desire, it is mournful to record the abrupt termination of an honourable career at a point when it might have been of much value to the State.
The pressure now became so strong along the whole line that the brigadier, fearing that the troops might get seriously involved, ordered the withdrawal to commence. The village was however burning, and the enemy, who had also suffered severely from the close fighting, did not follow up with their usual vigour. The battery advanced to within 600 yards of the enemy's line, and opened a rapid fire of shrapnel to clear those spurs that commanded the line of retirement. The shells screamed over the heads of the West Kent Regiment, who were now clear of the hills and in front of the guns, and burst in little white puffs of smoke along the crest of the ridge, tearing up the ground into a thick cloud of dust by the hundreds of bullets they contained.
A continuous stream of doolies and stretchers commenced to flow from the fighting line. Soon all available conveyances were exhausted, and the bodies of the wounded had to be carried over the rough ground in the arms of their comrades—a very painful process, which extorted many a groan from the suffering men. At length the withdrawal was completed, and the brigade returned to camp. The presence of the cavalry, who covered the rear, deterred the enemy from leaving the hills.
Riding back, I observed a gruesome sight. At the head of the column of doolies and stretchers were the bodies of the killed, each tied with cords upon a mule. Their heads dangled on one side and their legs on the other. The long black hair of the Sikhs, which streamed down to the ground, and was draggled with dust and blood, imparted a hideous aspect to these figures. There was no other way, however, and it was better than leaving their remains to be insulted and defiled by the savages with whom we were fighting. At the entrance to the camp a large group of surgeons—their sleeves rolled up—awaited the wounded. Two operating tables, made of medical boxes, and covered with water-proof sheets, were also prepared. There is a side to warfare browner than khaki.
The casualties in the attack upon Agrah were as follows:—
BRITISH OFFICERS. Killed—Lieut.-Col. J.L. O'Bryen, 31st Punjaub Infantry. " 2nd Lieut. W.C. Brown-Clayton, Royal West Kent. Wounded severely—Lieutenant H. Isacke, Royal West Kent. " " " E.B. Peacock, 31st Punjaub Infantry. Wounded slightly—Major W.G.B. Western, Royal West Kent. " " Captain R.C. Styles, Royal West Kent. " " " N.H.S. Lowe, Royal West Kent. " " 2nd Lieut. F.A. Jackson, Royal West Kent.
BRITISH SOLDIERS. Killed. Wounded. Royal West Kent... 3 20
NATIVE RANKS. Killed. Wounded. Guides Cavalry... 0 4 31st Punjaub Infantry . 7 15 38th Dogras ... 0 4 Total casualties, 61.
As soon as Sir Bindon Blood, at his camp on the Panjkora, received the news of the sharp fighting of the 30th, [After the action of the 30th of September, Lieut.-Colonel McRae, of the 45th Sikhs, was sent up to command the 31st Punjaub Infantry in the place of Lieut.-Colonel O'Bryen, and I was myself attached as a temporary measure to fill another of the vacancies. This is, I believe, the first time a British Cavalry officer has been attached to a native infantry regiment. After the kindness and courtesy with which I was treated, I can only hope it will not be the last.] he decided to proceed himself to Inayat Kila with reinforcements. He arrived on the 2nd October, bringing No.8 Mountain Battery; a wing of the 24th Punjaub Infantry; and two troops of the Guides Cavalry; and having also sent orders for the Highland Light Infantry and four guns of the 10th Field Battery to follow him at once. He was determined to make a fresh attack on Agrah, and burn the village of Gat, which had only been partially destroyed. And this attack was fixed for the 5th. By that date the big 12-pounder guns of the Field Battery were to have arrived, and the fire of fourteen pieces would have been concentrated on the enemy's position. Every one was anxious to carry matters to a conclusion with the tribesmen at all costs.
On the 3rd, the force was ordered to take and burn the village of Badelai, against which, it may be remembered, the Buffs had advanced on the 16th, and from which they had been recalled in a hurry to support the 35th Sikhs. The attack and destruction of the village presented no new features; the tribesmen offered little resistance, and retired before the troops. But as soon as the brigade began its homeward march, they appeared in much larger numbers than had hitherto been seen. As the cavalry could not work among the nullahs and the broken ground, the enemy advanced boldly into the plain. In a great crescent, nearly four miles long, they followed the retiring troops. A brisk skirmish began at about 800 yards. Both batteries came into action, each firing about 90 shells. The Royal West Kent Regiment made good shooting with their Lee-Metford rifles. All the battalions of the brigade were engaged. The enemy, whose strength was estimated to be over 3000, lost heavily, and drew off at 2.30, when the force returned to camp. Sir Bindon Blood and his staff watched the operations and reconnoitered the valley. The casualties were as follows:—
Royal West Kent—dangerously wounded, 1. Guides Cavalry—wounded, 2. 31st Punjaub Infantry—killed, 1; wounded, 5. Guides Infantry—wounded, 3. 38th Dogras—killed, 1; wounded, 3. Total casualties, 16.
The next day the Highland Light Infantry and the field guns arrived. The former marched in over 700 strong, and made a fine appearance. They were nearly equal in numbers to any two battalions in the brigade. Sickness and war soon reduce the fighting strength. The guns had accomplished a great feat in getting over the difficult and roadless country. They had had to make their own track, and in many places the guns had been drawn by hand. The 10th Field Battery had thus gone sixty miles further into the hill country than any other wheeled traffic. They had quite a reception when they arrived. The whole camp turned out to look with satisfaction on the long polished tubes, which could throw twelve pounds a thousand yards further than the mountain guns could throw seven. They were, however, not destined to display their power. The Mamunds had again sued for peace. They were weary of the struggle. Their valley was desolate. The season of sowing the autumn crops approached. The arrival of reinforcements convinced them that the Government were determined to get their terms. Major Deane came up himself to conduct the negotiations. Meanwhile all important operations were suspended, though the foraging and "sniping" continued as usual.
The force was now large enough for two brigades to be formed, and on the arrival of Brigadier-General Meiklejohn it was reconstituted as follows:—
1st Brigade. Commanding—Brigadier-General Meiklejohn, C.B., C.M.G. Highland Light Infantry. 31st Punjaub Infantry. 4 Cos. 24th Punjaub Infantry. 10th Field Battery. No.7 British Mountain Battery.
2nd Brigade. Commanding—Brigadier-General Jeffries, C.B. The Royal West Kent. 38th Dogras. Guides Infantry. No.8 Mountain Battery. The Guides Cavalry.
The camp was greatly extended and covered a large area of ground. In the evenings, the main street presented an animated appearance. Before the sun went down, the officers of the different regiments, distinguished by their brightly-coloured field caps, would assemble to listen to the pipes of the Scottish Infantry, or stroll up and down discussing the events of the day and speculating on the chances of the morrow. As the clear atmosphere of the valley became darkened by the shadows of the night, and the colours of the hills faded into an uniform black, the groups would gather round the various mess tents, and with vermuth, cigarettes and conversation pass away the pleasant half-hour before dinner and "sniping" began.
I would that it were in my power to convey to the reader, who has not had the fortune to live with troops on service, some just appreciation of the compensations of war. The healthy, open-air life, the vivid incidents, the excitement, not only of realisation, but of anticipation, the generous and cheery friendships, the chances of distinction which are open to all, invest life with keener interests and rarer pleasures. The uncertainty and importance of the present, reduce the past and future to comparative insignificance, and clear the mind of minor worries. And when all is over, memories remain, which few men do not hold precious. As to the hardships, these though severe may be endured. Ascetics and recluses have in their endeavours to look beyond the grave suffered worse things. Nor will the soldier in the pursuit of fame and the enjoyment of the pleasures of war, be exposed to greater discomforts than Diogenes in his tub, or the Trappists in their monastery. Besides all this, his chances of learning about the next world are infinitely greater. And yet, when all has been said, we are confronted with a mournful but stubborn fact. In this contrary life, so prosaic is the mind of man, so material his soul, so poor his spirit, that there is no one who has been six months on active duty who is not delighted to get safe home again, to the comfortable monotonies of peace.
CHAPTER XV: THE WORK OF THE CAVALRY
The negotiations of the Mamunds had this time opened under more propitious circumstances. The tribesmen were convinced by the arrival of the large reinforcements that the Government were in earnest. The return of "the big general," as they called Sir Bindon Blood, to distinguish him from the brigadiers, impressed them with the fact that the operations would be at once renewed, if they continued recalcitrant. They had still a few villages unburned, and these they were anxious to save. Besides, they disliked the look of the long topes, or field guns, of whose powers they were uncertain. They therefore displayed a much more humble spirit.
On the other hand, every one in the force had realised that there were "more kicks than ha'pence" to be got out of the Mamund Valley. All the villages in the plain had been destroyed. Only a few of those in the hollows of the hills remained. To these the enemy had retired. In Arrian's History of Alexander's Conquests we read the following passage: "The men in Bazira [Bazira is the same as Bajaur], despairing of their own affairs, abandoned the city... and fled to the rock, as the other barbarians were doing. For all the inhabitants deserted the cities, and began to fly to the rock which is in their land." Then it was that Alexander's difficulties began. Nor need we wonder, when the historian gravely asserts that "so stupendous is the rock in this land... that it was found impregnable even by Heracles, the son of Zeus." Thus history repeats itself, and the people of Bajaur their tactics. There was, however, no doubt as to the ability of the brigades to take and burn any village they might select. At the same time it was certain that they would encounter relays of Afghan tribesmen, and regular soldiers from the Amir's army, and that they would lose officers and men in the operation. The matter had to be carried to a conclusion at whatever cost, but the sooner the end was reached, the better.
But in spite of the auguries of peace, the foraging parties were usually fired upon, and this furnished several opportunities for the display of the value of the cavalry. I shall avail myself of the occasion to review the performances of the mounted arm during the operations. As soon as the brigades entered Bajaur, the 11th Bengal Lancers were employed more and more in that legitimate duty of cavalry—reconnaissance. Major Beatson made daily expeditions towards the various valleys and passes about which information was needed. This use of cavalry is an entirely new one on the frontier—it having been thought that it was dangerous to employ them in this way. Though horsemen need good ground to fight on to advantage, they can easily move over any country, however broken, and where they are boldly used, can collect as much information as is necessary.
Reconnaissance is by no means the only opportunity for cavalry employment on the frontier. They are as formidable in offensive tactics as they are useful in collecting intelligence.
The task which is usually confided to them in these mountain actions is to protect one of the flanks. The ground hardly ever admits of charging in any formation, and it is necessary for the men to use their carbines. On 30th September the cavalry were so employed. On the left of the hostile position was a wide valley full of scrubby trees, and stone walls, and occupied by large numbers of the enemy. Had these tribesmen been able to debouch from this valley, they would have fallen on the flank of the brigade, and the situation would have become one of danger. For five hours two weak squadrons of the Guides Cavalry were sufficient to hold them in check.
The methods they employed are worth noticing. Little groups of six or seven men were dismounted, and these with their carbines replied to the enemy's fire. Other little groups of mounted men remained concealed in nullahs or hollows, or behind obstacles. Whenever the enemy tried to rush one of the dismounted parties, and to do so advanced from the bad ground, the mounted patrols galloped forward and chased them back to cover. The terror that these tribesmen have of cavalry contrasts with their general character. It was a beautiful display of cavalry tactics in this kind of warfare, and, considering the enormous numbers of the enemy, who were thus kept from participating in the main action, it demonstrated the power and value of the mounted arm with convincing force.
On the 6th of October, I witnessed some very similar work, though on a smaller scale. A squadron was engaged in covering the operations of a foraging party. A line of patrols, moving rapidly about, presented difficult targets to the enemy's sharpshooters. I found the remainder of the squadron dismounted in rear of a large bank of stones. Twenty sowars with their carbines were engaged in firing at the enemy, who had occupied a morcha—a small stone fort—some 300 yards away. Desultory skirmishing continued for some time, shots being fired from the hills, half a mile away, as well as from the morcha. Bullets kept falling near the bank, but the cover it afforded was good and no one was hurt. At length word was brought that the foraging was finished and that the squadron was to retire under cover of the infantry. Now came a moment of some excitement. The officer in command knew well that the instant his men were mounted they would be fired at from every point which the enemy held. He ordered the first troop to mount, and the second to cover the retirement. The men scrambled into their saddles, and spreading out into an extended line cantered away towards a hollow about 300 yards distant. Immediately there was an outburst of firing. The dust rose in spurts near the horsemen, and the bullets whistled about their ears. No one was however hit. Meanwhile, the remaining troop had been keeping up a rapid fire on the enemy to cover their retirement. It now became their turn to go. Firing a parting volley the men ran to their horses, mounted, and followed the first troop at a hand-gallop, extending into a long line as they did so. Again the enemy opened fire, and again the dusty ground showed that the bullets were well directed. Again, however, nobody was hurt, and the sowars reached the hollow, laughing and talking in high glee. The morning's skirmish had, nevertheless, cost the squadron a man and a horse, both severely wounded.
Such affairs as these were of almost daily occurrence during the time that the 2nd Brigade occupied the camp at Inayat Kila. They were of the greatest value in training the soldiers. The Guides Cavalry know all there is to know of frontier war, but there are many other regiments who would be made infinitely more powerful fighting organisations if they were afforded the opportunity for such experience.
The great feature which the war of 1897 on the Indian Frontier has displayed is the extraordinary value of cavalry. At Shabkadr a charge of the 13th Bengal Lancers was more than successful. In the Swat Valley, during the relief of Chakdara, the Guides Cavalry and 11th Bengal Lancers inflicted the most terrible loss on the enemy. To quote the words of Sir Bindon Blood's official report to the Adjutant-General, these regiments, "eager for vengeance, pursued, cut up and speared them in every direction, leaving their bodies thickly strewn over the fields." Again, after the action of Landakai, the cavalry made a most vigorous pursuit and killed large numbers of the enemy. While I was with the Malakand Field Force, I was a witness of the constant employment of the cavalry, and was several times informed by general officers that they would gladly have a larger number at their disposal. The reader may recall some of the numerous instances which these pages have recorded of cavalry work. On the morning of the 15th September, it was the cavalry who were able to catch up the enemy before they could reach the hills, and take some revenge for the losses of the night. In the action of the 16th, the charge of Captain Cole's squadron brought the whole attack of the enemy to a standstill, and enabled the infantry by their fire to convert the hesitation of the tribesmen into a retreat. Indeed, in every fight in the Mamund Valley, the cavalry were the first in, and the last out. In the official despatches Sir Bindon Blood thus alludes to the work of the cavalry:—"I would now wish to invite attention to the invaluable nature of the services rendered by the cavalry. At Nawagai, three squadrons of the 11th Bengal Lancers swept the country everywhere that cavalry could go, carrying out reconnaissances, protecting signalling parties and watching every movement of the enemy. In the Mamund Valley a squadron of the same regiment, under Captain E.H. Cole, took part in every engagement that occurred while they were there, establishing such a reputation that the enemy, even when in greatly superior numbers, never dared to face them in the open. Afterwards, when Captain Cole and his men left the Mamund Valley, the Guides Cavalry, under Lieut.-Col. Adams, being in greater strength, acted still more effectually in the same manner, showing tactical skill of a high order, combined with conspicuous gallantry."—Official Despatches. From Gazette of India, 3rd December, 1897.
There has been a boom in cavalry. But one section, and that the most important, has been deprived of its share in the good fortune. The authorities have steadily refused to allow any British cavalry to cross the frontier. Of course this is defended on the ground of expense. "British cavalry costs so much," it is said, "and natives do the work just as well." "Better," say some. But it is a poor kind of economy thus to discourage a most expensive and important branch of the service. The ambition that a young officer entering the army ought to set before him, is to lead his own men in action. This ought to inspire his life, and animate his effort. "Stables" will no longer be dull, when he realises that on the fitness of his horses, his life and honour may one day depend. If he thinks that his men may soon be asked to stand beside him at a pinch, he will no longer be bored by their interests and affairs. But when he realises that all is empty display, and that his regiment is a sword too costly to be drawn, he naturally loses keenness and betakes himself to polo as a consolation. It is a good one.
It was my fortune to meet many young men in frontier regiments, both cavalry and infantry, who had already served in three, and even four, campaigns. Daring, intelligent and capable, they are proofs of the value of their training, and are fit to lead their men under any conditions, and in any country. Subalterns in British cavalry regiments do occasionally manage to see a little active service as transport officers, signalling officers, war correspondents, or on the staff; but to lead in the field the men they have trained in peace, is a possibility which is never worth contemplating. To the young man who wants to enjoy himself, to spend a few years agreeably in a military companionship, to have an occupation—the British cavalry will be suited. But to the youth who means to make himself a professional soldier, an expert in war, a specialist in practical tactics, who desires a hard life of adventure and a true comradeship in arms, I would recommend the choice of some regiment on the frontier, like those fine ones I have seen, the Guides and the 11th Bengal Lancers.
I am aware that those who criticise an existing state of things ought to be prepared with some constructive legislation which would remedy the evils they denounce. Though it is unlikely that the Government of India will take my advice, either wholly or in good part, I hereby exhort them to quit the folly of a "penny wise" policy, and to adhere consistently to the principles of employing British and native troops in India in a regular proportion. That is to say, that when two native cavalry regiments have been sent on service across the frontier, the third cavalry regiment so sent shall be British.
Besides this, in order to give cavalry officers as many opportunities of seeing active service as possible, subalterns should be allowed to volunteer for emergency employment with native cavalry. I have talked to several officers who command native cavalry regiments, and they tell me that such an arrangement would work excellently, and that, as they are always short of officers, it would supply a want. I would suggest that subalterns should, with the approval of their colonels, be attached to the native regiment, and after passing in Hindustani and being reported as qualified to serve with the native troops, be considered available for employment as described. I shall be told there are financial difficulties. I do not believe this. There are plenty of cavalry subalterns whose eagerness to see service is so strong, that they would submit to any arrangement that the rapacity of Government might impose. Indeed there is no reason that an actual economy should not be effected. The sums of money that the Indian Government offer, as rewards for officers who can speak Hindustani, have not hitherto tempted many cavalry officers to make a study of the language. Here is an incentive, more powerful and costing nothing.
To be technical is, I am aware, a serious offence, and I realise that if this book ever obtained so evil a reputation it would be shunned, as the House of Commons is shunned on a Service night. I have strayed far away from the Malakand Field Force into the tangled paths of military controversy, and I must beg the reader to forgive, as he will surely forget, what has been written.
The fighting described in the last chapter, and the continual drain of disease, had again filled the field hospitals, and in order to preserve the mobility of the force, it was decided to send all sick and wounded down to the base at once. The journey—over 100 miles by road—would take nearly a fortnight, and the jolting and heat made such an experience a painful and weary one to injured men. But the stern necessities of war render these things inevitable, and the desire of the men to get nearer home soothes much of their suffering. The convoy of sick and wounded was to be escorted as far as the Panjkora River by the Royal West Kent, who were themselves in need of some recuperation. To campaign in India without tents is always a trial to a British regiment; and when it is moved to the front from some unhealthy station like Peshawar, Delhi, or Mian Mir, and the men are saturated with fever and weakened by the summer heats, the sick list becomes long and serious. Typhoid from drinking surface water, and the other various kinds of fever which follow exposure to the heats of the day or the chills of the night, soon take a hundred men from the fighting strength, and the general of an Indian frontier force has to watch with equal care the movements of the enemy and the fluctuations of the hospital returns. As soon, therefore, as Sir Bindon Blood saw that the Mamunds were desirous of peace, and that no further operations against them were probable, he sent one of his British regiments to their tents near the Panjkora.
About sixty wounded men from the actions of 30th September and 3rd October, and the same number of sick, formed the bulk of the convoy. The slight cases are carried on camels, in cradles made by cutting a native bedstead in two, and called "Kajawas." The more serious cases are carried in doolies or litters, protected from the sun by white curtains, and borne by four natives. Those who are well enough ride on mules. The infantry escort is disposed along the line with every precaution that can be suggested, but the danger of an attack upon the long straggling string of doolies and animals in difficult and broken ground is a very real and terrible one.
The cheeriness and patience of the wounded men exceeds belief. Perhaps it is due to a realisation of the proximity in which they have stood to death; perhaps partly to that feeling of relief with which a man turns for a spell from war to peace. In any case it is remarkable. A poor fellow—a private in the Buffs—was hit at Zagai, and had his arm amputated at the shoulder. I expressed my sympathy, and he replied, philosophically: "You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs," and after a pause added, with much satisfaction, "The regiment did well that day." He came of a fighting stock, but I could not help speculating on the possible future which awaited him. Discharge from the service as medically unfit, some miserable pension insufficient to command any pleasures but those of drink, a loafer's life, and a pauper's grave. Perhaps the regiment—the officers, that is to say—would succeed in getting him work, and would from their own resources supplement his pension. But what a wretched and discreditable system is that, by which the richest nation in the world neglects the soldiers who have served it well, and which leaves to newspaper philanthropy, to local institutions, and to private charity, a burden which ought to be proudly borne by the State.
Starting at six, the column reached Jar, a march of eight miles, at about ten o'clock. Here we were joined by a wing of the 24th Punjaub Infantry, who were coming up to relieve the Royal West Kents. The camp at Jar has the disadvantage of being commanded by a hill to the north, and the Salarzais, another pestilent tribe, whose name alone is an infliction, delight to show their valour by firing at the troops during the night. Of course this could be prevented by moving the camp out of range of this hill. But then, unfortunately, it would be commanded by another hill to the south, from which the Shamozai section of the Utman Khels—to whom my former remarks also apply—would be able to amuse themselves. The inconvenience of the situation had therefore to be faced.
We had not been long in camp before the eldest son of the Khan of Jar, who had been comparatively loyal during the operations, came to inform the colonel in command that there would be "sniping" that night. Certain evil men, he said, had declared their intention of destroying the force, but he, the heir-apparent to the Khanate of Jar, and the ally of the Empress, would protect us. Four pickets of his own regular army should watch the camp, that our slumbers might not be disturbed, and when challenged by the sentries, they would reply, "chokidar" (watchman). This all seemed very satisfactory, but we entrenched ourselves as usual, not, as we explained, because we doubted our protector's powers or inclinations, buy merely as a matter of form.
At midnight precisely, the camp was awakened by a dozen shots in rapid succession. The khan's pickets could be heard expostulating with the enemy, who replied by jeers and bitter remarks.
The firing continued for an hour, when the "snipers," having satisfied their honour, relieved their feelings and expended their cartridges, went away rejoicing. The troops throughout remained silent, and vouchsafed no reply.
It may seem difficult to believe that fifty bullets could fall in a camp, only 100 yards square—crowded with animals and men—without any other result than to hit a single mule in the tail. Such was, however, the fact. This shows of what value, a little active service is to the soldier. The first time he is under fire, he imagines himself to be in great danger. He thinks that every bullet is going to hit him, and that every shot is aimed at him. Assuredly he will be killed in a moment. If he goes through this ordeal once or twice, he begins to get some idea of the odds in his favour. He has heard lots of bullets and they have not hurt him. He will get home safely to his tea this evening, just as he did the last time. He becomes a very much more effective fighting machine.
From a military point of view, the perpetual frontier wars in one corner or other of the Empire are of the greatest value. This fact may one day be proved, should our soldiers ever be brought into contact with some peace-trained, conscript army, in anything like equal numbers.
Though the firing produced very little effect on the troops—most of whom had been through the experience several times before—it was a severe trial to the wounded, whose nerves, shattered by pain and weakness, were unable to bear the strain. The surgeon in charge—Major Tyrell—told me that the poor fellows quivered at every shot as if in anticipation of a blow. A bullet in the leg will made a brave man a coward. A blow on the head will make a wise man a fool. Indeed I have read that a sufficiency of absinthe can make a good man a knave. The triumph of mind over matter does not seem to be quite complete as yet.
I saw a strange thing happen, while the firing was going on, which may amuse those who take an interest in the habits and development of animals. Just in front of my tent, which was open, was a clear space, occupied by a flock of goats and sheep. The brilliant moonlight made everything plainly visible. Every time a bullet whistled over them or struck the ground near, they ducked and bobbed in evident terror. An officer, who also noticed this, told me it was the first time they had been under fire; and I have been wondering ever since, whether this explains their fear, or makes it more inexplicable.
I have devoted a good deal in this chapter to the account of the "sniping" at Jar on the night of the 9th of October, and, perhaps, a critic may inquire, why so much should be written about so common an incident. It is, however, because this night firing is so common a feature, that I feel no picture of the war on the Indian frontier would be complete without some account of it.
The next day we crossed the Panjkora River, and I started to ride down the line of communications to the base at Nowshera. At each stage some of the comforts of civilisation and peace reappeared. At Panjkora we touched the telegraph wire; at Sarai were fresh potatoes; ice was to be had at Chakdara; a comfortable bed at the Malakand; and at length, at Nowshera, the railway. But how little these things matter after all. When they are at hand, they seem indispensable, but when they cannot be obtained, they are hardly missed. A little plain food, and a philosophic temperament, are the only necessities of life.
I shall not take the reader farther from the scene of action. He is free and his imagination may lead him back to the highland valleys, where he may continue for a space among camps and men, and observe the conclusion of the drama.
CHAPTER XVI: SUBMISSION
"Their eyes were sunken and weary With a sort of listless woe, And they looked from their desolate eyrie Over the plains below.
"Two had wounds from a sabre, And one from an Enfield Ball."
"Rajpoot Rebels," LYALL.
At last the negotiations with the Mamunds began to reach a conclusion. The tribe were really desirous of peace, and prepared to make any sacrifices to induce the brigades to leave the valley. The Khan of Khar now proved of valuable assistance. He consistently urged them to make peace with the Sirkar, and assured them that the troops would not go away until they had their rifles back. Finally the Mamunds said they would get the rifles. But the path of repentance was a stony one. On the very night that the tribesmen decided for peace at any price, a thousand warlike Afghans, spoiling for a fight, arrived from the Kunar Valley, on the other side of the mountains, and announced their intention of attacking the camp at once. The Mamunds expostulated with them. The retainers of the Khan of Khar implored them not to be so rash. In the end these unwelcome allies were persuaded to depart. But that night the camp was warned that an attack was probable. The inlying pickets were accordingly doubled, and every man slept in his clothes, so as to be ready. The pathos of the situation was provided by the fact, that the Mamunds were guarding us from our enemies. The wretched tribe, rather than face a renewal of hostilities, had posted pickets all round the camp to drive away "snipers" and other assailants. Their sincerity was beyond suspicion.
The next day the first instalment of rifles was surrendered. Fifteen Martini-Henrys taken on the 16th from the 35th Sikhs were brought into camp, by the Khan of Khar's men, and deposited in front of the general's tent. Nearly all were hacked and marked by sword cuts, showing that their owners, the Sikhs, had perished fighting to the last. Perhaps, these firearms had cost more in blood and treasure than any others ever made. The remainder of the twenty-one were promised later, and have since all been surrendered. But the rifles as they lay on the ground were a bitter comment on the economic aspect of the "Forward Policy." These tribes have nothing to surrender but their arms. To extort these few, had taken a month, had cost many lives, and thousands of pounds. It had been as bad a bargain as was ever made. People talk glibly of "the total disarmament of the frontier tribes" as being the obvious policy. No doubt such a result would be most desirable. But to obtain it would be as painful and as tedious an undertaking, as to extract the stings of a swarm of hornets, with naked fingers.
After the surrender of the rifles, the discussion of terms proceeded with smoothness. Full jirgahs were sent to the camp from the tribe, and gradually a definite understanding was reached. The tribesmen bewailed the losses they had sustained. Why, they asked, had the Sirkar visited them so heavily? Why, replied Major Deane, had they broken the peace and attacked the camp? The elders of the tribe, following the practice of all communities, threw the blame on their "young men." These had done the evil, they declared. All had paid the penalty. At length definite terms were agreed to, and a full durbar was arranged for the 11th of the month for their ratification.
Accordingly on that date, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, a large and representative jirgah of Mamunds, accompanied by the Khans of Khar, Jar and Nawagai, arrived at the village of Nawa Kila, about half a mile from the camp. At three o'clock Sir Bindon Blood, with Major Deane, Chief Political Officer; Mr. Davis, Assistant Political Officer; most of the Headquarters staff, and a few other officers, started, escorted by a troop of the Guides Cavalry, for the durbar. The general on arrival shook hands with the friendly khans, much to their satisfaction, and took a seat which had been provided. The tribesmen formed three sides of a square. The friendly khans were on the left with their retainers. The Mamund jirgahs filled two other sides. Sir Bindon Blood, with Major Deane on his left and his officers around him, occupied the fourth side.
Then the Mamunds solemnly tendered their submission. They expressed their deep regret at their action, and deplored the disasters that had befallen them. They declared, they had only fought because they feared annexation. They agreed to expel the followers of Umra Khan from the valley. They gave security for the rifles that had not yet been surrendered. They were then informed that as they had suffered severe punishment and had submitted, the Sirkar would exact no fine or further penalty from them. At this they showed signs of gratification. The durbar, which had lasted fifteen minutes, was ended by the whole of the tribesmen swearing with uplifted hands to adhere to the terms and keep the peace. They were then dismissed.
The losses sustained by the Mamunds in the fighting were ascertained to be 350 killed, besides the wounded, with whom the hill villages were all crowded, and who probably amounted to 700 or 800. This estimate takes no account of the casualties among the transfrontier tribesmen, which were presumably considerable, but regarding which no reliable information could be obtained. Sir Bindon Blood offered them medical aid for their wounded, but this they declined. They could not understand the motive, and feared a stratagem. What the sufferings of these wretched men must have been, without antiseptics or anaesthetics, is terrible to think of. Perhaps, however, vigorous constitutions and the keen air of the mountains were Nature's substitutes.
Thus the episode of the Mamund Valley came to an end. On the morning of the 12th, the troops moved out of the camp at Inayat Kila for the last time, and the long line of men, guns and transport animals, trailed slowly away across the plain of Khar. The tribesmen gathered on the hills to watch the departure of their enemies, but whatever feelings of satisfaction they may have felt at the spectacle, were dissipated when they turned their eyes towards their valley. Not a tower, not a fort was to be seen. The villages were destroyed. The crops had been trampled down. They had lost heavily in killed and wounded, and the winter was at hand. No defiant shots pursued the retiring column. The ferocious Mamunds were weary of war.
And as the soldiers marched away, their reflections could not have been wholly triumphant. For a month they had held Inayat Kila, and during that month they had been constantly fighting. The Mamunds were crushed. The Imperial power had been asserted, but the cost was heavy. Thirty-one officers and 251 men had been killed and wounded out of a fighting force that had on no occasion exceeded 1200 men.
The casualties of General Jeffrey's brigade in the Mamund Valley were as follows:—
British Officers.... Killed or died of wounds 7 " " .... Wounded.... 17 " Soldiers.... Killed .... 7 " " .... Wounded.... 41 Native Officers .... Killed .... 0 " " .... Wounded.... 7 " Soldiers .... Killed .... 48 " " .... Wounded.... 147 Followers ...... ..... 8 —— Total..... 282
Horses and mules..... ..... 150
The main cause of this long list of casualties was, as I have already written, the proximity of the Afghan border. But it would be unjust and ungenerous to deny to the people of the Mamund Valley that reputation for courage, tactical skill and marksmanship, which they have so well deserved. During an indefinite period they had brawled and fought in the unpenetrated gloom of barbarism. At length they struck a blow at civilisation, and civilisation, though compelled to record the odious vices that the fierce light of scientific war exposed, will yet ungrudgingly admit that they are a brave and warlike race. Their name will live in the minds of men for some years, even in this busy century, and there are families in England who will never forget it. But perhaps the tribesmen, sitting sullenly on the hillsides and contemplating the ruin of their habitations, did not realise all this, or if they did, still felt regret at having tried conclusions with the British Raj. Their fame had cost them dear. Indeed, as we have been told, "nothing is so expensive as glory."
The troops camped on the night of the 12th at Jar, and on the following day moved up the Salarzai Valley to Matashah. Here they remained for nearly a week. This tribe, terrified by the punishment of the Mamunds, made no regular opposition, though the camp was fired into regularly every night by a few hot-blooded "snipers." Several horses and mules were hit, and a sowar in the Guides Cavalry was wounded. The reconnaissances in force, which were sent out daily to the farther end of the valley, were not resisted in any way, and the tribal jirgahs used every effort to collect the rifles which they had been ordered to surrender. By the 19th all were given up, and on the 20th the troops moved back to Jar. There Sir Bindon Blood received the submission of the Utman Khels, who brought in the weapons demanded from them, and paid a fine as an indemnity for attacking the Malakand and Chakdara.
The soldiers, who were still in a fighting mood, watched with impatience the political negotiations which produced so peaceful a triumph.
All Indian military commanders, from Lord Clive and Lord Clive's times downwards, have inveighed against the practice of attaching civil officers to field forces. It has been said, frequently with truth, that they hamper the military operations, and by interfering with the generals, infuse a spirit of vacillation into the plans. Although the political officers of the Malakand Field Force were always personally popular with their military comrades, there were many who criticised their official actions, and disapproved of their presence. The duties of the civil officers, in a campaign, are twofold: firstly, to negotiate, and secondly, to collect information. It would seem that for the first of these duties they are indispensable. The difficult language and peculiar characters of the tribesmen are the study of a lifetime. A knowledge of the local conditions, of the power and influence of the khans, or other rulers of the people; of the general history and traditions of the country, is a task which must be entirely specialised. Rough and ready methods are excellent while the tribes resist, but something more is required when they are anxious to submit. Men are needed who understand the whole question, and all the details of the quarrel, between the natives and the Government, and who can in some measure appreciate both points of view. I do not believe that such are to be found in the army. The military profession is alone sufficient to engross the attention of the most able and accomplished man.
Besides this I cannot forget how many quiet nights the 2nd Brigade enjoyed at Inayat Kila when the "snipers" were driven away by the friendly pickets; how many fresh eggs and water melons were procured, and how easily letters and messages were carried about the country [As correspondent of the Pioneer, I invariably availed myself of this method of sending the press telegrams to the telegraph office at Panjkora, and though the route lay through twenty miles of the enemy's country, these messages not only never miscarried, but on several occasions arrived before the official despatches or any heliographed news. By similar agency the bodies of Lieutenant-Colonel O'Bryen and Lieutenant Browne-Clayton, killed in the attack upon Agrah on the 30th of September, were safely and swiftly conveyed to Malakand for burial.] through the relations which the political officers, Mr. Davis and Mr. Gunter, maintained, under very difficult circumstances, with these tribesmen, who were not actually fighting us.
Respecting the second duty, it is difficult to believe that the collection of information as to the numbers and intentions of the enemy would not be better and more appropriately carried out by the Intelligence Department and the cavalry. Civil officers should not be expected to understand what kind of military information a general requires. It is not their business. I am aware that Mr. Davis procured the most correct intelligence about the great night attack at Nawagai, and thus gave ample warning to Sir Bindon Blood. But on the other hand the scanty information available about the Mamunds, previous to the action of the 16th, was the main cause of the severe loss sustained on that day. Besides, the incessant rumours of a night attack on Inayat Kila, kept the whole force in their boots about three nights each week. Civil officers should discharge diplomatic duties, and military officers the conduct of war. And the collection of information is one of the most important of military duties. Our Pathan Sepoys, the Intelligence Branch, and an enterprising cavalry, should obtain all the facts that a general requires to use in his plans. At least the responsibility can thus be definitely assigned.
On one point, however, I have no doubts. The political officers must be under the control of the General directing the operations. There must be no "Imperium in imperio." In a Field Force one man only can command—and all in it must be under his authority. Differences, creating difficulties and leading to disasters, will arise whenever the political officers are empowered to make arrangements with the tribesmen, without consulting and sometimes without even informing the man on whose decisions the success of the war and the lives of the soldiers directly depend.
The subject is a difficult one to discuss, without wounding the feelings of those gallant men, who take all the risks of war, while the campaign lasts, and, when it is over, live in equal peril of their lives among the savage populations, whose dispositions they study, and whose tempers they watch. I am glad to have done with it.
During the stay of the brigades in Bajaur, there had been several cases of desertion among the Afridi Sepoys. On one occasion five men of the 24th Punjaub Infantry, who were out on picket, departed in a body, and taking their arms with them set off towards Tirah and the Khyber Pass. As I have recorded several instances of gallantry and conduct among the Afridis and Pathans in our ranks, it is only fitting that the reverse of the medal should be shown. The reader, who may be interested in the characters of the subject races of the Empire, and of the native soldiers, on whom so much depends, will perhaps pardon a somewhat long digression on the subject of Pathans and Sikhs.
It should not be forgotten by those who make wholesale assertions of treachery and untrustworthiness against the Afridi and Pathan soldiers, that these men are placed in a very strange and false position. They are asked to fight against their countrymen and co-religionists. On the one side are accumulated all the forces of fanaticism, patriotism and natural ties. On the other military associations stand alone. It is no doubt a grievous thing to be false to an oath of allegiance, but there are other obligations not less sacred. To respect an oath is a duty which the individual owes to society. Yet, who would by his evidence send a brother to the gallows? The ties of nature are older and take precedence of all other human laws. When the Pathan is invited to suppress his fellow-countrymen, or even to remain a spectator of their suppression, he finds himself in a situation at which, in the words of Burke, "Morality is perplexed, reason staggered, and from which affrighted nature recoils."
There are many on the frontier who realise these things, and who sympathise with the Afridi soldier in his dilemma. An officer of the Guides Infantry, of long experience and considerable distinction, who commands both Sikhs and Afridis, and has led both many times in action, writes as follows: "Personally, I don't blame any Afridis who desert to go and defend their own country, now that we have invaded it, and I think it is only natural and proper that they should want to do so."
Such an opinion may be taken as typical of the views of a great number of officers, who have some title to speak on the subject, as it is one on which their lives might at any moment depend.
The Sikh is the guardian of the Marches. He was originally invented to combat the Pathan. His religion was designed to be diametrically opposed to Mahommedanism. It was a shrewd act of policy. Fanaticism was met by fanaticism. Religious abhorrence was added to racial hatred. The Pathan invaders were rolled back to the mountains, and the Sikhs established themselves at Lahore and Peshawar. The strong contrast, and much of the animosity, remain to-day. The Sikh wears his hair down to his waist; the Pathan shaves his head. The Sikh drinks what he will; the Pathan is an abstainer. The Sikh is burnt after death; the Pathan would be thus deprived of Paradise. As a soldier the Pathan is a finer shot, a hardier man, a better marcher, especially on the hillside, and possibly an even more brilliant fighter. He relies more on instinct than education: war is in his blood; he is a born marksman, but he is dirty, lazy and a spendthrift.
In the Sikh the more civilised man appears. He does not shoot naturally, but he learns by patient practice. He is not so tough as the Pathan, but he delights in feats of strength—wrestling, running, or swimming. He is a much cleaner soldier and more careful. He is frequently parsimonious, and always thrifty, and does not generally feed himself as well as the Pathan. [Indeed in some regiments the pay of very thin Sikhs is given them in the form of food, and they have to be carefully watched by their officers till they get fat and strong.]
There are some who say that the Sikh will go on under circumstances which will dishearten and discourage his rival, and that if the latter has more dash he has less stamina. The assertion is not supported by facts. In 1895, when Lieut.-Colonel Battye was killed near the Panjkora River and the Guides were hard pressed, the subadar of the Afridi company, turning to his countrymen, shouted: "Now, then, Afridi folk of the Corps of Guides, the Commanding Officer's killed, now's the time to charge!" and the British officers had the greatest difficulty in restraining these impetuous soldiers from leaving their position, and rushing to certain death. The story recalls the speech of the famous cavalry colonel at the action of Tamai, when the squares were seen to be broken, and an excited and demoralised correspondent galloped wildly up to the squadrons, declaring that all was lost. "How do you mean, 'all's lost'? Don't you see the 10th Hussars are here?" There are men in the world who derive as stern an exultation from the proximity of disaster and ruin as others from success, and who are more magnificent in defeat than others are in victory. Such spirits are undoubtedly to be found among the Afridis and Pathans.
I will quote, in concluding this discussion, the opinion of an old Gurkha subadar who had seen much fighting. He said that he liked the Sikhs better, but would sooner have Afridis with him at a pinch than any other breed of men in India. It is comfortable to reflect, that both are among the soldiers of the Queen.
Although there were no Gurkhas in the Malakand Field Force, it is impossible to consider Indian fighting races without alluding to these wicked little men. In appearance they resemble a bronze Japanese. Small, active and fierce, ever with a cheery grin on their broad faces, they combine the dash of the Pathan with the discipline of the Sikh. They spend all their money on food, and, unhampered by religion, drink, smoke and swear like the British soldier, in whose eyes they find more favour than any other—as he regards them—breed of "niggers." They are pure mercenaries, and, while they welcome the dangers, they dislike the prolongation of a campaign, being equally eager to get back to their wives and to the big meat meals of peace time.
After the Utman Khels had been induced to comply with the terms, the brigades recrossed the Panjkora River, and then marching by easy stages down the line of communications, returned to the Malakand. The Guides, moving back to Mardan, went into cantonments again, and turned in a moment from war to peace. The Buffs, bitterly disappointed at having lost their chance of joining in the Tirah expedition, remained at Malakand in garrison. A considerable force was retained near Jalala, to await the issue of the operations against the Afridis, and to be ready to move against the Bunerwals, should an expedition be necessary.
Here we leave the Malakand Field Force. It may be that there is yet another chapter of its history which remains to be written, and that the fine regiments of which it is composed will, under their trusted commander, have other opportunities of playing the great game of war. If that be so, the reader shall decide whether the account shall prolong the tale I have told, or whether the task shall fall to another hand. [It is an excellent instance of the capricious and haphazard manner in which honours and rewards are bestowed in the army, that the operations in the Mamund Valley and throughout Bajaur are commemorated by no distinctive clasp. The losses sustained by the Brigade were indisputably most severe. The result was successful. The conduct of the troops has been officially commended. Yet the soldiers who were engaged in all the rough fighting I have described in the last eight chapters have been excluded from any of the special clasps which have been struck. They share the general clasp with every man who crossed the frontier and with some thousands who never saw a shot fired.]
CHAPTER XVII: MILITARY OBSERVATIONS
"... And thou hast talk'd Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents, Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets, Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin."
"Henry IV.," Part I., Act ii., Sc.3.
It may at first seem that a chapter wholly devoted to military considerations is inappropriate to a book which, if it is to enjoy any measure of success, must be read by many unconnected with the army. But I remember that in these days it is necessary for every one, who means to be well informed, to have a superficial knowledge of every one else's business. Encouraged also by what Mr. Gladstone has called "the growing militarism of the times," I hope that, avoiding technicalities, it may be of some general interest to glance for a moment at the frontier war from a purely professional point of view. My observations must be taken as applying to the theatre of the war I have described, but I do not doubt that many of them will be applicable to the whole frontier.
The first and most important consideration is transport. Nobody who has not seen for himself can realise what a great matter this is. I well recall my amazement, when watching a camel convoy more than a mile and a half long, escorted by half a battalion of infantry. I was informed that it contained only two days' supplies for one brigade. People talk lightly of moving columns hither and thither, as if they were mobile groups of men, who had only to march about the country and fight the enemy wherever found, and very few understand that an army is a ponderous mass which drags painfully after it a long chain of advanced depots, stages, rest camps, and communications, by which it is securely fastened to a stationary base. In these valleys, where wheeled traffic is impossible, the difficulties and cost of moving supplies are enormous; and as none, or very few, are to be obtained within the country, the consideration is paramount. Mule transport is for many reasons superior to camel transport. The mule moves faster and can traverse more difficult ground. He is also more hardy and keeps in better condition. When Sir Bindon Blood began his advance against the Mohmands he equipped his 2nd Brigade entirely with mules. It was thus far more mobile, and was available for any rapid movement that might become necessary. To mix the two—camels and mules—appears to combine the disadvantages of both, and destroy the superiority of either.
I have already described the Indian service camp and the "sniping" without which no night across the frontier could be complete. I shall therefore only notice two points, which were previously omitted, as they looked suspiciously technical. As the night firing is sometimes varied by more serious attacks, and even actual assaults and sword rushes, it is thought advisable to have the ditch of the entrenchment towards the enemy. Modern weapons notwithstanding, the ultimate appeal is to the bayonet, and the advantage of being on the higher ground is then considerable.
When a battery forms part of the line round a camp, infantry soldiers should be placed between the guns. Artillery officers do not like this; but, though they are very good fellows, there are some things in which it is not well to give way to them. Every one is prone to over-estimate the power of his arm.
In the Mamund Valley all the fighting occurred in capturing villages, which lay in rocky and broken ground in the hollows of the mountains, and were defended by a swarm of active riflemen. Against the quickly moving figures of the enemy it proved almost useless to fire volleys. The tribesmen would dart from rock to rock, exposing themselves only for an instant, and before the attention of a section could be directed to them and the rifles aimed, the chance and the target would have vanished together. Better results were obtained by picking out good shots and giving them permission to fire when they saw their opportunity, without waiting for the word of command. But speaking generally, infantry should push on to the attack with the bayonet without wasting much time in firing, which can only result in their being delayed under the fire of a well-posted enemy.
After the capture and destruction of the village, the troops had always to return to camp, and a retirement became necessary. The difficulty of executing such an operation in the face of an active and numerous enemy, armed with modern rifles, was great. I had the opportunity of witnessing six of these retirements from the rear companies. Five were fortunate and one was disastrous, but all were attended with loss, and as experienced officers have informed me, with danger. As long as no one is hit everything is successful, but as soon as a few men are wounded, the difficulties begin. No sooner has a point been left—a knoll, a patch of corn, some rocks, or any other incident of ground—than it is seized by the enemy. With their excellent rifles, they kill or wound two or three of the retiring company, whose somewhat close formation makes them a good mark. Now, in civilised war these wounded would be left on the ground, and matters arranged next day by parley. But on the frontier, where no quarter is asked or given, to carry away the wounded is a sacred duty. It is also the strenuous endeavour of every regiment to carry away their dead. The vile and horrid mutilations which the tribesmen inflict on all bodies that fall into their hands, and the insults to which they expose them, add, to unphilosophic minds, another terror to death. Now, it takes at least four men, and very often more, to carry away a body. Observe the result. Every man hit, means five rifles withdrawn from the firing line. Ten men hit, puts a company out of action, as far as fighting power is concerned. The watchful enemy press. The groups of men bearing the injured are excellent targets. Presently the rear-guard is encumbered with wounded. Then a vigorous charge with swords is pushed home. Thus, a disaster occurs.
Watching the progress of events, sometimes from one regiment, sometimes from another, I observed several ways by which these difficulties could be avoided. The Guides, long skilled in frontier war, were the most valuable instructors. As the enemy seize every point as soon as it is left, all retirements should be masked by leaving two or three men behind from each company. These keep up a brisk fire, and after the whole company have taken up a new position, or have nearly done so, they run back and join them. Besides this, the fire of one company in retiring should always be arranged to cover another, and at no moment in a withdrawal should the firing ever cease. The covering company should be actually in position before the rear company begins to move, and should open fire at once. I was particularly struck on 18th September by the retirement of the Guides Infantry. These principles were carried out with such skill and thoroughness that, though the enemy pressed severely, only one man was wounded. The way in which Major Campbell, the commanding officer, availed himself of the advantages of retiring down two spurs and bringing a cross fire to bear to cover the alternate retirements, resembled some intricate chess problem, rather than a military evolution.
The power of the new Lee-Metford rifle with the new Dum-Dum bullet—it is now called, though not officially, the "ek-dum" [Hindustani for "at once."] bullet—is tremendous. The soldiers who have used it have the utmost confidence in their weapon. Up to 500 yards there is no difficulty about judging the range, as it shoots quite straight, or, technically speaking, has a flat trajectory. This is of the greatest value. Of the bullet it may be said, that its stopping power is all that could be desired. The Dum-Dum bullet, though not explosive, is expansive. The original Lee-Metford bullet was a pellet of lead covered by a nickel case with an opening at the base. In the improved bullet this outer case has been drawn backward, making the hole in the base a little smaller and leaving the lead at the tip exposed. The result is a wonderful and from the technical point of view a beautiful machine. On striking a bone this causes the bullet to "set up" or spread out, and it then tears and splinters everything before it, causing wounds which in the body must be generally mortal and in any limb necessitate amputation. Continental critics have asked whether such a bullet is not a violation of the Geneva or St. Petersburg Conventions; but no clause of these international agreements forbids expansive bullets, and the only provision on the subject is that shells less than a certain size shall not be employed. I would observe that bullets are primarily intended to kill, and that these bullets do their duty most effectually, without causing any more pain to those struck by them, than the ordinary lead variety. As the enemy obtained some Lee-Metford rifles and Dum-Dum ammunition during the progress of the fighting, information on this latter point is forthcoming. The sensation is described as similar to that produced by any bullet—a violent numbing blow, followed by a sense of injury and weakness, but little actual pain at the time. Indeed, now-a-days, very few people are so unfortunate as to suffer much pain from wounds, except during the period of recovery. A man is hit. In a quarter of an hour, that is to say, before the shock has passed away and the pain begins, he is usually at the dressing station. Here he is given morphia injections, which reduce all sensations to a uniform dullness. In this state he remains until he is placed under chloroform and operated on.
The necessity for having the officers in the same dress as the men, was apparent to all who watched the operations. The conspicuous figure which a British officer in his helmet presented in contrast to the native soldiers in their turbans, drew a well-aimed fire in his direction. Of course, in British regiments, the difference is not nearly so marked. Nevertheless, at close quarters the keen-eyed tribesmen always made an especial mark of the officers, distinguishing them chiefly, I think, by the fact that they do not carry rifles. The following story may show how evident this was:—
When the Buffs were marching down to Panjkora, they passed the Royal West Kent coming up to relieve them at Inayat Kila. A private in the up-going regiment asked a friend in the Buffs what it was like at the front. "Oh," replied the latter, "you'll be all right so long as you don't go near no officers, nor no white stones." Whether the advice was taken is not recorded, but it was certainly sound, for three days later—on 30th September—in those companies of the Royal West Kent regiment that were engaged in the village of Agrah, eight out of eleven officers were hit or grazed by bullets.
The fatigues experienced by troops in mountain warfare are so great, that every effort has to be made to lighten the soldier's load. At the same time the more ammunition he carries on his person the better. Mules laden with cartridge-boxes are very likely to be shot, and fall into the hands of the enemy. In this manner over 6000 rounds were lost on the 16th of September by the two companies of Sikhs whose retirement I have described.
The thick leather belts, pouches, and valise equipment of British infantry are unnecessarily heavy. I have heard many officers suggest having them made of web. The argument against this is that the web wears out. That objection could be met by having a large supply of these equipments at the base and issuing fresh ones as soon as the old were unfit for use. It is cheaper to wear out belts than soldiers.
Great efforts should be made to give the soldier a piece of chocolate, a small sausage, or something portable and nutritious to carry with him to the field. In a war of long marches, of uncertain fortunes, of retirements often delayed and always pressed, there have been many occasions when regiments and companies have unexpectedly had to stop out all night without food. It is well to remember that the stomach governs the world.
The principle of concentrating artillery has long been admitted in Europe. Sir Bindon Blood is the first general who has applied it to mountain warfare in India. It had formerly been the custom to use the guns by twos and threes. As we have seen, at the action of Landakai, the Malakand Field Force had eighteen guns in action, of which twelve were in one line. The fire of this artillery drove the enemy, who were in great strength and an excellent position, from the ground. The infantry attack was accomplished with hardly any loss, and a success was obtained at a cost of a dozen lives which would have been cheap at a hundred.
After this, it may seem strange if I say that the artillery fire in the Mamund Valley did very little execution. It is nevertheless a fact. The Mamunds are a puny tribe, but they build their houses in the rocks; and against sharpshooters in broken ground, guns can do little. Through field-glasses it was possible to see the enemy dodging behind their rocks, whenever the puffs of smoke from the guns told them that a shell was on its way. Perhaps smokeless powder would have put a stop to this. But in any case, the targets presented to the artillery were extremely bad.
Where they really were of great service, was not so much in killing the enemy, but in keeping them from occupying certain spurs and knolls. On 30th September, when the Royal West Kent and the 31st Punjaub Infantry were retiring under considerable pressure, the British Mountain Battery moved to within 700 yards of the enemy, and opened a rapid fire of shrapnel on the high ground which commanded the line of retreat, killing such of the tribesmen as were there, and absolutely forbidding the hill to their companions.
In all rearguard actions among the mountains the employment of artillery is imperative. Even two guns may materially assist the extrication of the infantry from the peaks and crags of the hillside, and prevent by timely shells the tribesmen from seizing each point as soon as it is evacuated. But there is no reason why the artillery should be stinted, and at least two batteries, if available, should accompany a brigade to the attack.
Signalling by heliograph was throughout the operations of the greatest value. I had always realised the advantages of a semi-permanent line of signal stations along the communications to the telegraph, but I had doubted the practicability of using such complicated arrangements in action. In this torrid country, where the sun is always shining, the heliograph is always useful. As soon as any hill was taken, communication was established with the brigadier, and no difficulty seemed to be met with, even while the attack was in progress, in sending messages quickly and clearly. In a country intersected by frequent ravines, over which a horse can move but slowly and painfully, it is the surest, the quickest, and indeed the only means of intercommunication. I am delighted to testify to these things, because I had formerly been a scoffer.
I have touched on infantry and artillery, and, though a previous chapter has been almost wholly devoted to the cavalry, I cannot resist the desire to get back to the horses and the lances again. The question of sword or lance as the cavalryman's weapon has long been argued, and it may be of interest to consider what are the views of those whose experience is the most recent. Though I have had no opportunity of witnessing the use of the lance, I have heard the opinions of many officers both of the Guides and the 11th Bengal Lancers. All admit or assert that the lance is in this warfare the better weapon. It kills with more certainty and convenience, and there is less danger of the horseman being cut down. As to length, the general opinion seems to be in favour of a shorter spear. This, with a counter poise at the butt, gives as good a reach and is much more useful for close quarters. Major Beatson, one of the most distinguished cavalry officers on the frontier, is a strong advocate of this. Either the pennon should be knotted, or a boss of some sort affixed about eighteen inches below the point. Unless this be done there is a danger of the lance penetrating too far, when it either gets broken or allows the enemy to wriggle up and strike the lancer. This last actually happened on several occasions.
Now, in considering the question to what extent a squadron should be armed with lances, the system adopted by the Guides may be of interest. In this warfare it is very often necessary for the cavalryman to dismount and use his carbine. The lance then gets in the way and has to be tied to the saddle. This takes time, and there is usually not much time to spare in cavalry skirmishing. The Guides compromise matters by giving one man in every four a lance. This man, when the others dismount, stays in the saddle and holds their horses. They also give the outer sections of each squadron lances, and these, too, remain mounted, as the drill-book enjoins. But I become too technical.
I pass for a moment to combined tactics. In frontier warfare Providence is on the side of the good band-o-bust [arrangements]. There are no scenic effects or great opportunities, and the Brigadier who leaves the mountains with as good a reputation as he entered them has proved himself an able, sensible man. The general who avoids all "dash," who never starts in the morning looking for a fight and without any definite intention, who does not attempt heroic achievements, and who keeps his eye on his watch, will have few casualties and little glory. For the enemy do not become formidable until a mistake has been made. The public who do not believe in military operations without bloodshed may be unattentive. His subordinate officers may complain that they have had no fighting. But in the consciousness of duty skillfully performed and of human life preserved he will find a high reward.
A general review of the frontier war will, I think, show the great disadvantages to which regular troops are exposed in fighting an active enterprising enemy that can move faster and shoot better, who knows the country and who knows the ranges. The terrible losses inflicted on the tribesmen in the Swat Valley show how easily disciplined troops can brush away the bravest savages in the open. But on the hillside all is changed, and the observer will be struck by the weakness rather than the strength of modern weapons. Daring riflemen, individually superior to the soldiers, and able to support the greatest fatigues, can always inflict loss, although they cannot bar their path.
The military problem with which the Spaniards are confronted in Cuba is in many points similar to that presented in the Afghan valleys; a roadless, broken and undeveloped country; an absence of any strategic points; a well-armed enemy with great mobility and modern rifles, who adopts guerilla tactics. The results in either case are, that the troops can march anywhere, and do anything, except catch the enemy; and that all their movements must be attended with loss.
If the question of subduing the tribes be regarded from a purely military standpoint, if time were no object, and there was no danger of a lengthy operation being interrupted by a change of policy at home, it would appear that the efforts of commanders should be, to induce the tribesmen to assume the offensive. On this point I must limit my remarks to the flat-bottomed valleys of Swat and Bajaur. To coerce a tribe like the Mamunds, a mixed brigade might camp at the entrance to the valley, and as at Inayat Kila, entrench itself very strongly. The squadron of cavalry could patrol the valley daily in complete security, as the tribesmen would not dare to leave the hills. All sowing of crops and agricultural work would be stopped. The natives would retaliate by firing into the camp at night. This would cause loss; but if every one were to dig a good hole to sleep in, and if the officers were made to have dinner before sundown, and forbidden to walk about except on duty after dark, there is no reason why the loss should be severe. At length the tribesmen, infuriated by the occupation of their valley, and perhaps rendered desperate by the approach of famine and winter, would make a tremendous attempt to storm the camp. With a strong entrenchment, a wire trip to break a rush, and modern rifles, they would be driven off with great slaughter, and once severely punished would probably beg for terms. If not, the process would be continued until they did so.
Such a military policy would cost about the same in money as the vigorous methods I have described, as though smaller numbers of troops might be employed, they would have to remain mobilised and in the field for a longer period. But the loss in personnel would be much less. As good an example of the success of this method as can be found, is provided by Sir Bindon Blood's tactics at Nawagai, when, being too weak to attack the enemy himself, he encouraged them to attack him, and then beat them off with great loss.
From the point which we have now reached, it is possible, and perhaps not undesirable, to take a rapid yet sweeping glance of the larger military problems of the day. We have for some years adopted the "short service" system. It is a continental system. It has many disadvantages. Troops raised under it suffer from youth, want of training and lack of regimental associations. But on the Continent it has this one, paramount recommendation: it provides enormous numbers. The active army is merely a machine for manufacturing soldiers quickly, and passing them into the reserves, to be stored until they are wanted. European nations deal with soldiers only in masses. Great armies of men, not necessarily of a high standard of courage and training, but armed with deadly weapons, are directed against one another, under varying strategical conditions. Before they can rebound, thousands are slaughtered and a great battle has been won or lost. The average courage of the two nations may perhaps have been decided. The essence of the continental system is its gigantic scale.