Diary of B. E. HUGHES
|TAVR MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER 1969
Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve)
No. 28 THE LONDONS ON
THE NORTH WEST FRONTIER
Fighting the Mahsuds : Waziristan
From the MS by Pte. B. E. Hughes 25th Cyclist
Bn. The London Regt. Written, says the author, " to pass the
time away and to relieve the boredom of barrack life in India."
As the result of a conversation between Mr. B. E. Hughes, the
author, and Lt.-Col. J. C. T. Peddle, Deputy Secretary of the
Greater London TAVR Association we have been fortunate enough to
obtain this interesting vignette of history.
manuscript, written as the events took place more than 50 years
ago, is remarkably well done. The writing though small, and now
faded, is easily legible, as the illustration on page 13 shows.
It is well illustrated with photographs and some beautifully
drawn maps. The story itself is well worth reading, not for
heroics but for the vivid picture of day to day life of a
Private soldier, which Mr. Hughes describes.
THE FOLLOWING ACCOUNT is from my point of view as a private
who went through the expedition, of what I saw, took part in,
and information gained from fairly good sources on Waziristan
and the Mahsuds. It is a bare statement of facts just as they
happened, giving the reasons for the campaign, the measures
taken against the tribesmen, and the results as far as a person
in my position could ascertain them. I make them as correct as
possible and without exaggeration.
AMONG the many tribes
living in the hills on the north-west frontier of India, the
Mahsuds are one of the most troublesome. The first expedition
against them was in 1852 under Nicholson, then a Major in the
Since then there have been 15 others, the last
as late as 1915. But in spite of all these measures these hill
men still remain uncontrolled and continue their raids on
peaceful neighbouring tribes under British rule, for which the
Government have to send forces against them to punish and
quieten them, although they recommence their forays again within
a few months. So the cycle of events revolves.
Mohammedans, but very lax in their religion. They have not many
mosques, and very few shrines, none of either we saw when we
were in their country; or did not recognise them as such. The
spiritual leaders, called Mullahem hold a certain amount of
control over them, but not absolute.
The dress of the tusnan
(commoner) is generally both dirty and ragged. Those we saw wore
a pugri, loose smock, and pyjamas, once white, but then in want
of a wash, and matting sandals.
Their habitations vary. The
best we saw were houses of stone and mud, with only one room,
and a roof of rough beams on which was laid matting, which was
covered with earth. These houses, if they may be called such,
often had a small piece of ground outside enclosed by a low mud
and stone wall. There was nothing artistic about them, they were
small and dirty, and the only furniture of any sort we found in
them were charpoys, beds of rough wood and string, or plaited
In one place we found an encampment of matting tents,
apparently belonging to a party of "kuchi", or nomads, with
several charpoys placed under a group of trees, too large to go
into the tiny tents. Their villages were small . . . Caves were
numerous, both around the villages and amongst the hills. They
are used as dwelling places, accommodation for their animals or
storages for their grain.
The Mahsud is one of the finest
fighters in the world. Lightly clad, he moves from one spot to
another with marvellous rapidity. Quick to punish any mistake
made by his opponents, being under little or no discipline, he
is difficult to catch. Guerilla warfare is the only kind they
know, but they know it well, and amongst the mountains of
Waziristan they have golden opportunities to practise it.
They are nearly always fighting someone; the Afghans are their
deadly enemies, and the Darwaskels and Mahsuds, though they
inter-marry, still have a bitter feeling towards each other.
This is their great weakness from a military point of view. At
one time there were about 1,000 in our Indian army, but they had
to be demobilised on account of their lack of discipline.
They are rifle thieves of the first order, their one object in
life seems to be to obtain a rifle by fair means or foul, and is
one of the main reasons for their raids, which are carried out
systematically . . . Every man carries a knife, and as many as
can obtain them, a rifle, but when he is unable to fight he
hides his rifle and appears amongst men as a peaceful citizen.
There is hardly a square mile of flat ground in the Mahsud
portion of the country; it is nothing but mountains and hills.
The Gomal river runs through the South and the Takhi have the
centre districts, while the Tochi river flows farther north
through the Darwaskels' and Daurs' country.
* * * *
AFTER the last expedition in 1915 the Mahsuds
remained quiet for some time, but later again commenced their
raids on the peaceful portion of the Waziris and over the
borders reaching Tank and raiding the town. They also attacked
convoys supplying our forts with ammunition etc. The official
Simla report says:-
"Since the end of March the Mahsuds
tribesmen have given some trouble on the north west frontier. On
May 1st they attacked a convoy between Nilikach and Khajurikach,
but were beaten of.
"The British casualties were Captain
Everett, 67th Punjabis, Second Lieutenant Savage, Indian Army
Reserve, two Indian officers and 56 Sepoys killed, and
Lieutenant Frost, 67th Punjabis, two Indian officers and 52
"The force in the Dara Jat has been
strengthened. A party of militia and Gurkhas dispersed a body of
raiders with loss on May 2nd."
Such raids as these-this was
not the only one-became various. During a raid on a blockhouse a
Major Hughes was killed, and on another occasion a party of
Gurkhas was cut up and their rifles stolen. Convoys were
stopped, telegraph wires cut and rifles stolen, until to again
quote an official despatch,
"the continued hostilities on the
part of the Mahsuds left the Government no alternative but
Reveille next morning (May 27th) was at
five. We woke up feeling washed out and had to wash-for a wash
obtaining water from large cisterns near the camp. We had to
parade from 5.30 until 8 o'clock on fatigues, putting up a camp
for the Sussex who were expected, putting barbed wire round the
stores, (Tank was becoming a large base), and the 101 fatigues
that are always necessary. At eight o'clock all work ceased and
men had to keep to their tents until five o'clock unless in case
of necessity. We were allowed to go to the canteen only, but not
to wander about in the sun. We had English tents, double ones,
but even then had to keep on our helmets from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
inside and out.
The heat got worse until it reached 127° in
the tents. At midday it was awful, and it became too much to do
anything, reading, writing, or card playing. It was a relief to
get out at 5 o'clock when it was a little cooler. We then
continued fatigues until about 6.30 and were then finished, but
were not allowed out of camp. When fatigues finished in the
morning, rifles that had been piled at reveille, had to be
brought into the tents because of the heat. Stand-to was held
every evening, when battalion orders were read out and we were
dismissed. These were the general times of parades and duties.
Picquets were posted round the camp each night.*
1941 soldiers living in India were confined to their quarters
from about 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., lot fear of the effects of the
sun and heat. No training or other outside activities took place
during these hours. Soldiers wore topis and spine pads (a double
thickness of material sewn onto the jacket covering the spine),
and Thursdays were a whole holiday (this had nothing to do with
In 1941 these silly and unnecessary orders were
cancelled as a result of the change in Medical opinion. Thursday
whole holidays disappeared too.-ED.]
Cha was issued four or
five times a day, and the canteen did a roaring trade in drinks.
After Stand-to there was always a terrible rush that continued
until it closed. Nights were hardly a relief from the heat of
the day-a good night's sleep was almost unknown, and they were
never refreshing. Heat and drink were all we could think about,
the former we could not dismiss from our minds and our thirst
From May 27th to June 5th we had to endure
this. For the first few mornings it was only fatigues, but as
these diminished we had short route marches instead, never going
more than six or seven miles. We nearly always passed long lines
of convoys, miles and miles of camels tied head to tail, loaded
with stores for the frontier forts. These marches were a "snip "
but we always returned soaked through with perspiration to the
tents, to remain there all day. Close to our camp every morning,
hundreds of camels came to be loaded ready for the convoy, and
the din was terrific, the "drabis" (drivers) shouting all the
while the work was going on.
The glare from the sand was
blinding, so dark glasses were issued, which made it difficult
to recognise one another in them. Spinepads (cloth-covered
canvas tied to the back) were also issued. These were to protect
the back from the sun's rays. We also went about in
shirtsleeves, jackets were unbearable. We pitied the poor cooks
out in the sun, all the shelter they had was a matting covering
over the open-air cookhouses. The heat rising from the ground
was unpleasant, and often spoiled the little shade there was.
From reveille until lights out we were in a bath of
perspiration, it was simply awful, all the energy was taken out
of us. We were in the grip of inertia, until we became unfit and
out of form.
The bathing arrangements were poor, and in such
heat a bath was a necessity every day. The difficulty was water,
a small bathhouse was erected, but it was insufficient for a
whole battalion, because it could only be used in early mornings
and evenings, the sun was too hot middle day. The only stream in
the district was a shallow dirty one where the camels were
watered. It was fairly swift, about 4 ft. wide and 18 in. deep
with a muddy bed, not exactly an ideal swimming pool, but it had
to suffice, and every evening we were marched down and enjoyed
the pleasure of feeling cool, and disposed of the sand for a
Drinking water was plentiful, obtained from tanks
close to the camp, there was generally a line waiting at the
taps with water bottles and chagals-the latter are canvas water
bags that we had issued for carrying water on the march,
attaching them to mules or camels whichever happened to be
We had followers with us, the dirzi, dhobi, mochi,
and nappi, and they continued with us when we moved up the line.
They were a blessing, and though they charged their own prices
they were worth it. It was nice to be able to slip into their
tent for any little repair instead of having to do it oneself.
Topis (helmets) always an important item in India were easily
procurable, a damaged one was always immediately replaced, not
without a few words from the "quarter-bloke" though.
At midnight on June 6th-7th we left Tank, marched through
clouds of dust to the station, en route picking up a battalion
of Gurkhas, who formed the chief part of the escort to the
transport. Continuing we crossed the stony plain that lies
between Tank and the mountains of Waziristan. It was a hot
unpleasant night with a little moon, just enough to see the
objects in the immediate vicinity. A track led past the station,
and continued alongside a palm grove, but when this was passed
we were in the midst of a plain covered with low bushes and
We saw few trees and less signs of habitation,
it was as dreary and uninteresting as it could be. The only
point of interest during the whole night's march was a
waterfall, that in the sultry heat made one feel cool. We just
continued on half asleep, what seemed to be for an endless
distance. We were making for Zam Fort, which from Tank station
is only about 6 miles, and 7½ from our camp. Though we were
continually marching for four and a half hours with only
occasional short rests, it was daylight before we caught sight
As we were approaching the fort we heard heavy firing
away ahead at the foot of the hills. This was the first signs of
warfare we had seen or heard. Zam Fort was reached about 5
o'clock, and according to orders we were to have stopped there
and had something to eat. Just outside the fort we halted, but a
minute or so later had the order to advance again. The firing
had ceased by this time.
We were about to move when the
wounded Gurkhas who had been attacked on a picquet, began to
come in. Some were just able to hobble along on their own, some
supported by their comrades, others being carried, the wounds in
some cases were horrible. What had happened was that a large
party of Gurkhas had left Zam to picquet the hills that we were
to pass through, but a large number of Mahsuds had met them, and
driven them back after some pretty heavy fighting. The official
account reads as follows:
"During the concentration (of the
Waziristan Field Force at Jandola) on June 7th, a lashkar of 300
Mahsuds encountered and tried to rush a picquetting party of 90
Gurkhas, under two British officers, at the mouth of the Takki
Zam river. The ensuing fight which was of a close and heavy
nature, lasting 20 minutes, resulted in the flight of the
Mahsuds, who besides carrying off their dead and wounded, left
18 dead bodies on the ground. Our casualties were heavy,
amounting to 35 Indian rank and file killed, and one British
officer, and 17 Indian rank and file wounded."
* * * *
On reaching our new camp outside one of the forts at Jandola, we
found a perimeter wall already built, so we only had to unload
and pitch tents which was soon done. We then rested during the
afternoon until the heat had decreased, then tidied up the
stores which as before had been dumped down previously. There
wasn't much to do but a nice bath was obtainable from pipes fed
by an artificial stream, and drinking water was plentiful. The
bath was extremely welcome, the day had been cooler than those
at Tank, but only slightly so. We had the usual stand-to at 7
o'clock, after which we prepared our beds, the tents were left
standing, some slept in the open, others under cover. We turned
in about 9 o'clock. Soon afterwards firing commenced, but it was
only firing on one of the outer forts and no notice was taken of
it. It continued on and off until the early hours of the
morning, but it didn't disturb our sleep.
* * * *
were up at 5.30 next morning (June 9th), but there was very
little doing. All I did in the way of duty was to lay a
telephone line from our, the Londons', headquarters to that of
the brigade only a short distance away. We had another bathe in
the morning, and during our stay at this camp, made the most of
Jandola was to be our advanced base, stores were
accumulating there and troops concentrating. It is said that
this is as far as white troops had previously been, but I would
not vouch for the truth of this, in fact I am rather inclined to
Various troops were coming in daily until
three brigades met, two to form the striking force and one to be
on lines of communication. The 43rd Signals arrived during our
second day here, including two men who had left our section at
Burhan, Jack Lane and Fisher. This brigade had left Tank some
days before we arrived and had been strengthening the southern
forts of Waziristan in the Gorval Valley, the main route through
the country. Nilikach, Kajhurikach, etc. also provisioning them.
The Sussex arrived on the same day as the 43rd brigade. This
regiment and our own were the only two white ones in the force.
The Indian battalions consisted of Gurkhas (two), Sikhs,
Nepalese, Cokes Rifles and Mahewaradals. These formed the two
brigades of the striking force. To them were a attached two
mountain batteries, a squadron Indian lancers, Ambulance
batteries, a squadron Indian lancers, Ambulance bearers, and
Supply Transport Corps (Indian ASC), also two company, of
Sappers and Miners (Indian REs). Four planes of the RFC were
stationed at Tank and came daily. The lines of communication
troops consist, of Baluchis, Punjabis, one mountain battery,
squadron of lancers, a company of pioneers, and Wireless
section, one of which was also attached to us.
fortunate in having no perimeter to build. On each occasion so
far we had found them already erected. These are an absolute
necessity to prevent a rush at night. In the 1860 expedition a
camp was pitched without one. The Mahsuds took advantage of it,
and in the attack we lost 83 killed and 166 wounded. Although
the enemy had been driven off, a lesson had been taught.
this camp the perimeter was a natural wall, a long low narrow
ridge ran along the outside of our boundary, with standing room
about 5 feet below it. The wall varied from about 2 to 6 feet.
If very low a trench was dug inside and barbed trip wires laid
outside. The Indians were always able to build better walls than
we could, and quicker. I could never make out how.
* * *
Baptism of Fire
ORDERS came that night that 1500 Mahsuds
were reported in the hills north-west of Jandola, and that we
were to move out against them next morning. As a sort of
"preliminary canter", they gave us another rousing that night by
sniping into the camp, but no damage was done, and we were not
turned out, leaving them to tire of their little game which they
soon did, while we lay down wondering what was in store for us
the following day.
We were up at 4.30 again, not having light
enough to see to eat our breakfast. Having disposed of that
minor detail and cleared up, we fell in at 6.30 and moved out of
camp. Both brigades were out and we made for a high ridge about
three miles from the camp. Two aeroplanes were up and soon after
we had crossed the river, one dropped a message to the effect
that enemy were reported over the ridge.
Our advance was slow
owing to the nature of the ground which was intersected by deep
nullahs down one side of which we had to slide only to clamber
up the other. Like most of the country we passed through, it was
covered with stones. The ground gradually rose to a low ridge,
then dropped slightly to rise to a high rocky range beyond which
the Mahsuds were reported. This second line of hills was
occupied by the Nepalese and Sikhs, while we remained at the
No shots had been fired and no enemy seen except by
aeroplane; this is what was expected. The Mahsuds always retire
before an advance, and will very seldom make a stand-up fight.
Guerilla warfare is their method, one they know well. Whenever
we retired, returning to camp, they pressed hard on our heels,
worrying our rearguard.
We remained on these ridges until 12
o'clock. Still no shots were fired, but we kept busy sending and
receiving messages from the different units. One message from
the Nepalese gave Pat and I, who were working together, rather a
It was addressed as usual to "Londons", but the
text was in Hindustani. I forget the wording now, but we
wondered what was coming. Fortunately the CO understood its
meaning and replied in the same Ianguage. We knew very little
Hindustani, so we were at a disadvantage. Another amusing
incident was when the CO gave his opinion of one of our warrant
officers, an expression best left unwritten.
At midday the
order came through to retire, and we commenced our return to
camp, then the fun, what little there was of it, started. Until
now still no signs of a Mahsud had been seen, but no sooner was
the main ridge vacated than they swarmed along it. The mountain
battery then became useful and covered the retirement. The enemy
were at their old pressing tactics, but they were kept at a
distance by the battery and machine guns. They could move about
very quickly being lightly clad and under practically no
Just before we began to move tom-toms were
reported to have been heard in the valley. It was the first
signs of the enemy that had been obtained. It is a custom of
theirs to play these drums when on the warpath, the women often
They also often follow the men into the firing line,
supplying them with ammunition, and looking after the wounded.
These and the dead are very seldom left behind. The only time
either were found during the expedition, was at Zam, which makes
it practically certain that they were severely punished on that
As we neared camp bullets began to whiz overhead,
striking the ground all round, but even then we were unable to
see any enemy, as they were so skilful at taking cover and their
dirty clothing is difficult to distinguish against the ground.
The retirement continued, and as we approached the river, shots
began coming from our left flank, from the camp side of the
river, but they came from a long range and our troops were over
there keeping them from approaching us. When we were in the bed
of the river the firing increased, especially on the road, the
only way up to the camp. We, the Londons, had two men slightly
wounded only. The official report says:-
"The force Jandola
moved out on the 12th instant against a large Mahsud lashkar
which had collected in the hills immediately to the north-west,
and which was reported as intending to attack us. The Mahsuds
however fell back without fighting. Although they followed up
our move to camp, they were kept off without difficulty and our
casualties were slight, being one Nepalese officer slightly
wounded and two British and one Indian rank and file wounded".
Nothing very serious. We were back in camp by 2.30, it was at
times exciting and all the while interesting, and so ended our
baptism of fire.
On the march again
I WAS with the mules
that carried our signalling equipment but had native drabis
(drivers) that led them. We experienced great difficulty in some
places, and had not these animals the sure-footedness of goats,
very little equipment would have reached camp that night. They
were with the columns in advance of the transport, so hadn't the
advantage of the tracks made for the latter.
It was no easy
job either getting the animals through the river that was
flowing swiftly waist deep-again their surefootedness saved
them. I do not know how the camels fared, they were well behind
us by this time, but in places the drabis had ticklish jobs . .
. It was in such places as these that the uselessness of any
other kind of transport was very apparent. We seemed to be in
the river half of the time, crossing and recrossing it
continually the whole day. We were allowed to drink the river
water so were all right in this way, although it was hot in an
enclosed space like the tangi. Several good springs were made
use of and from these we filled our water bottles and chagalls.
We had a fairly long rest close to "Bun Hill" for nearly half an
hour, and just as we were moving, the head of the transport
appeared at the mouth of the tangi. It was much easier going
after this for a distance of two miles until we came to our new
camp at Haidra Kach. Like our previous camps it was on a raghya,
level ground high above the river and covered with stones. A
roadway had to be made for the camels up the side of the hill
before they could get up to the camp.
Close to "Bun Hill" was
another hill of most peculiar colours, red and green and
absolutely devoid of tree or bush.
We had only advanced 9 ½
miles but had covered some nasty ground and waded the river 63
times. This sounds an exaggeration but it is not. We were soaked
nearly up to our waists for several hours.
Our planes were
up, and of course the batteries were with us but neither were
wanted as no enemy were about. As soon as the spot on which our
tents were to be pitched was detailed to us, we had to commence
building our first perimeter wall. This was always one of the
worst jobs we had to do as it was always after a long march. The
Signals on this occasion had to build a small wall of their own
in the middle of our part of the camp just for head cover at
night. The wall was built all round the camp-each regiment had
its portion to build and man.
The transport arrived some time
after us, and the rear guard three or four hours later. Cha was
issued some time after our arrival, as the kitchen utensils were
on camels and therefore came up late. "Stand-to" was at 7.30
after which we turned in, bivouacking in the open. The night
The strength of the Signal Section when we
left Jullundur was 31, three men were left behind at Tank, and
one besides "Dolly" (who had died of heat stroke) at Jandola, so
we were 26 strong on arrival at Haidra Kach.
* * * *
was up early next morning (June 18th) . . .We went up the
Danawat river that day and had to wade it several times, but as
it was dirty water owing to rain we had had overnight, it was
not pleasant. The 45th brigade had arrived at Haidrakach from
Chagmalai the previous day and both brigades were out. We met
with a little opposition but it was easily dealt with, with the
aid of the RFC and batteries.
While we were strafing a
village we had to leave our brigade, cross the numerous hills,
during which we passed several caves hidden in a dip in the
ground. We did not stop to examine them as apparently we had
orders to hurry and we continued our rapid march over hill and
dale until we struck a tangi in the Shahur riverbed, and
remained there until the afternoon.
There were small parties
of Mahsuds about but the batteries kept them off and they did
not come within rifle shot. The villages were scattered, but six
were destroyed that day and much grain and fodder found. Camels
were taken out in case of such an emergency and returned loaded.
The Mahsuds played their usual guerilla game, worrying our
flanks and advanced parties, but it was difficult to catch them
owing to their quick movements and the difficulty of
distinguishing them against the hillsides. Many of the rifles
they used were those stolen from us at different times and for
which we were fighting them. We never found any dead or wounded,
as they always carry them away with them when they retire. It
often fell to the women to remove them.
A treat awaited us
that evening, we had milk in our tea for the first time for
three weeks, a convoy had come in from Jandola bringing in boxes
of condensed milk.
* * * *
On June 19th we were up
extra early again, before four. We were to advance still further
into Waziristan and therefore had the usual loading to do and
preparations to make and were ready to move by six. Both
brigades advanced together.
Leaving Haidra Kach we crossed to
the junction of the two rivers, but the Shahur bed was dry, an
unpleasant discovery as our route was along its course. Water
was of course carried in our water bottles, but I had put tea in
mine, not a wise act as I found when I wanted a drink; it had
turned sour, having milk in it. Again I did a foolish thing by
throwing it away, later if I could not have drunk it I could
have moistened my mouth with it. Well, I learnt a lesson!