25th County of London Cyclist Battalion
The London Regiment

  
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Account of the Waziristan Campaign in 1917
 
By Henry Selvyn (Tony) Paine


Cyclist H.S.Paine
1/25th County of London
India
THE WAZIRISTAN EXPEDITION
June - August 1917

We started from Dalhousie on the 23rd May for Pathankote, en route for Tank. We marched the 48 miles in 35 hours and entrained on the 25th. We arrived at Mari Indus about 6 pm on the 26th and crossed the river by moonlight. Slept at Kalabagh for the night and in the morning entrained for Tank on the Bannu Kalabagh railway. We reached Tank about 6 pm on May 27th and after a two mile march arrived at our camp.

During the next ten days we lived in tents (16 in a tent) and simply lay down all day long sweating. Water was very scarce and a wash was very seldom obtainable.

On June 7th at 2 am we left Tank and marched ten miles to Zam Fort. When we arrived within one mile of Zam Fort we heard the sound of furious fighting and on arriving at the Fort we found that a picquet of 90 Gurkhas had been attacked by a band of Mahsauds whose numbers were estimated at 300. On our approach the Mahsuds took to the hills carrying the majority of their casualties away with them, but leaving 18 dead on the field. The Gurkha casualties amounted to 35 killed and 17 wounded, and one British officer was wounded.

The Gurkhas caught the Mahsud that wounded their officer and pegged him down on his hands and knees, and burnt him alive. When we came up he was quite dead but still burning. The other dead Mahsuds were left where they lay and when we returned in August their skeletons were still there.

We marched on up the Takki Zam river as far as Kirgee Fort where we built a perimeter camp and rested for the night.

Next morning we started off at 4.30 am for Jandola. It was very hard marching as the river bed was very uneven and we were continually crossing and re-crossing the stream which was often waist high.

On the night of June 11th a lashkar of Mahsuds attacked our camp. I was on inlying picquet at the time, and was in a very exposed position, and felt rather nervous when I first heard the bullets whistle. However our machine guns soon dispersed the Mahsuds and I was able to get a little sleep before dawn. On the morning of the 12th we moved out against a lashkar of Mahsuds in the hills on our left. The Mahsuds however retired as we advanced, but closed in on us as we started returning to camp.
Very little fireing took place, and none of our men were hit till the retirement by short rushes across the river bed, which, at this part is about half a mile wide. During one of these short rushes, our mouths were so parched with want of water, that, although the bullets were knocking up the stones around us, the whole line stopped at a stream to drink. Here two of battalion were wounded, one had the heel of his boot shot away and two men had their helmets knocked off. The C.O. severely censured us for this. June 13th was spent roadmaking on the river bed. No enemy in sight.

June 14th - Easy day in camp.
June 15th - Marched through the Shahar Tangi to Hiadra Kach. Pretty stiff march, crossed the river 39 times. Built perimeter. Inlying Picquet at night.

June 16th - Started out at 4.30 on a village strafing expedition. Raided village about three miles away. Any number of beautifully carved brass and copper bowls, swords, knives, pistols and matchlocks lying about, but we could take nothing as our kit could not exceed 15 lbs.

June 17th - Roadmaking. Hard day.

June 18th - Left camp 6 am. Destroyed and burnt five villages. Little opposition.

June 19th - Left camp at 6 am and advanced on Barwand. Stiff fighting all the way. Arrived at Barwand and had to picquet the top of a very high hill. The Mahsuds were holding the top of the hill but we took it with only one casuality. Had absolutely no water, and did not come down till dark. When we were relieved we were given half a mug of hot tea - no milk - I thought it was the finest drink I had ever tasted but when I finished it I found a thick deposit of mud on the bottom of my mug. The camp was sniped at all night and the mountain battery was firing incessantly. A Sikh outlying picquet was attacked and in the morning over three quarters of them were bought in dead and wounded. Another Gurkha picquet suffered nearly as badly, but our picquet was not attacked.

June 20th - Advanced on Ispana Razhza. Still no water. "C" company attacked a party of Mahsuds on top of a high hill overlooking the camp. We drove them off the hill and proceeded to build a sangar. Whilst we were doing this, the bullets were flying very thick and one of my best pals - L/Cpl Stone caught a bullet through the neck. He died almost instantaneously. At the same time two other men were hit and so we got down under cover. Soon after this we were relieved and returned to camp where we were able to replenish our water supply. We were warned that most lightly the camp would be attacked that night and were told to dig hollows to sleep in, but my friend, Malein and myself were on fatigues till late at night, and returned so tired out that we just lay down on the ground and went to sleep. About 2 am next morning the game started. The Mahsuds started sniping from three sides of the camp at once and what with the row they made and the noise of our own Lewis guns there was a pretty fair sort of shindy going on: anyway it woke me up, and as I lay there for a few moments trying to remember where I was, I can tell you I wished I had dug myself in like the others. I can tell you I did not like the idea of getting up and running to the perimeter, as I could hear the bullets zipping over my head, but the order came round, so managed to crawl there safely. I had only my rifle and bayonet and six rounds with me as I had left my equipment where I lay but the order came round not to fire till they rushed, so I knew six rounds would be plenty. Suddenly all firing ceased and we made sure this was the time that they would rush us and I felt jolly nervous waiting there in the pitch dark. We waited there for about a quarter of an hour when two Gurkha scouts slipped out and in ten minutes came back with the news that there were no Mahsuds about, so we went back to "bed" once more. The next morning it was "C" company's turn to stay in camp, so the other companies went out. About 10 am it was signalled down that "B" company were in difficulties, so up we went to them. We reinforced them on the right, and did a bit of bullet dodging.
Total casualties 1 killed 4 wounded. Capt. Paget O/C "B" company had half his face blown away with a dum dum but he is still alive and doing fairly well now.

On the night of the 22nd a Gurkha picquet of 30 men was attacked. Total casualties 15.

On the morning of the 23rd we marched to the Khysera Valley. We arrived at our new camping ground about 4 pm after encountering a good deal of opposition. Immediately on our arrival we set out to destroy a village just the other side of the river. We found it a very big well built place, but the Mahsuds had evidently had plenty of warning, and had taken all their goods with them. We took enough wood from the village to last us for fires and then fired the place. I found a basket of almonds in one of the huts but they were very small and bitter. At night "B" company sent out a picquet of 30 men to a point about a mile from camp over very difficult ground. During the night the Mahsuds rushed them but were held off with bombs. It was on this picquet that H.H. Gayler, our crack cyclist was killed and four wounded. One of the wounded - Gee, subsequently died as his brain had been laid open by a dum dum.

On the 24th we went out destroying villages - no casualties - rations getting very short. Went up on the picquet where "B" company had been rushed the night before.
It was very cold and we got no sleep. About one o'clock a Mahsud started singing just below us but it was so dark we could not have seen him had he been only five yards away. Then another started over the other side of us and then several more took it up all round us. We thought they were going to attack at any minute, but the singing gradually subsided, and after firing one or two rounds they went away. They had evidently had enough bombs thrown at them the previous night. About 7 am a party of Gurkhas came up to relieve us and we returned to camp. Just as we entered the camp we heard the sound of furious fireing and the Gurkhas who had relieved us sent down for a party to take in their dead and wounded.

On the 25th we returned to Hispana Razhza as we had run out of rations and convoys could not be sent through to us owing to shortage of picquetting troups. The Mahsuds followed us closely and there were a number of casualties in the Sikh Regt.

On the 28th two men were wounded in camp by snipers. Very short of water.

On the 29th we marched up the river to Boji Khel where there was more water.

The first conference between the Mahsuds and ourselves took place on July 2nd. Everything looked very promising and quiet.
On July 6th I was on outlying picquet all day.
Another conference took place on July 7th and the Mahsuds seemed very quiet and as far as I could see agreed to all our demands.
There is a rumour that the Mahsuds are to give up 300 rifles.

On July 8th no rifles had turned up and everybody seemed uneasy. In the evening, orders came round to re-commence operations next day. I don't remember feeling so downhearted before in my life.

On the morning of July 9th the Mahsuds sent in some of the rifles, so operations stopped. Great rejoicings in camp.

On the 10th I was obliged to report sick with dysentery and was sent to hospital.
On the 12th I was carried down to Mansell Camp on a stretcher. Felt very bad.
The next day I felt slightly better and continued my journey down to Jandola on a camel.
I was in hospital practically all the time at Jandola, but managed to get discharged in time to meet the Battalion on the 11th and started to march to Zam Fort with them. I got as far as Kirgee, but being rather weak from the effect of so long in hospital, the sun knocked me out, and I had to finish the journey on a mule.
On August 13th we arrived at Tank, and were taken to a rest camp, and told we were to entrain for Kalabagh (on N. bank of Indus) that evening. At about 7 pm the order was cancelled, and we were ordered to be ready to entrain by 5 am next morning. About 8 pm it started raining and we pulled down the tent walls and got to sleep. About 2 am I awoke and found myself lying in about an inch of water, so I jumped up and called the other chaps in the tent. No sooner was I on my feet than a big wave came sweeping along and swept all my belongings away. The other chaps were all up by this time and of course all their stuff had been swept away. Perhaps you can imagine the situation. There were 16 of us stark naked except for our shirts standing up in the pitch dark with the water up to our knees and rapidly rising.We stood there for about 10 minutes not knowing what to do when we heard some officers outside telling us to make the best of our way to the station and get in the trains there till morning. This was no easy job as the station was a quarter mile away, it was pitch dark, raining hard and we had bare feet. However I reached the station at last, after falling over in two feet of water three times and cutting my feet twice, and spent the remainder of the night in the railway carriage. In the morning the whole place was was still under water but we managed to save a great deal of our property, but I was unlucky in loosing a pocket book containing all the back pay I had drawn at Jandola. After this we lived in the railway carriages till Aug. 17th when the line had been repaired and we started off. We reached Kalabagh early next morning and crossed the Indus before noon. We entrained again that night and reached Jullundur about 2 pm next day.

 

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