25th County of London Cyclist Battalion
The London Regiment

Third Afghan War - 1919

See War Diary of this campaign.


      So that the reader can form an opinion as to the importance of the Relief of Thal, it is proposed to give an outline of the events which preceded the participation of the battalion in the 3rd Afghan War.

The Amir Habibullah (Siraj-ul-millat-Wad-Din) of Afghanistan had recently been assassinated, after eighteen years of peaceful rule and remarkable loyalty to his engage­ments to Great Britain during the Great War. A son, Amanulla Khan, after an abortive attempt by his uncle, Sirdar Nasrulla, to seize the throne, caused himself to be proclaimed Amir and sent a courier to the Government of India, notifying them of his father's death and of his own succession. The Government was, naturally, in no hurry formally to recognise the new Amir, particularly as he was not the Heir Apparent, and in accordance with the usual practice on such occasions, they preferred to defer their formal acceptance until the new Amir should establish his position as the de facto ruler of Afghanistan . It was not, therefore, until after a lapse of about six weeks, that Amanulla received a reply to the effect that his succession was recognised. This delay, undoubtedly, caused some resentment in the mind of the young Amir who, according to Sirdar Ali Ahmed Khan in a speech subsequently delivered in his capacity as Chief Afghan Delegate to the Peace Conference at Rawalpindi on the 26th July, 1919, read into it a certain veiled animosity, although the reply was couched in the friendliest terms. But there were other elements at work. In addition to the general unrest resulting from the Great War and Moslem soreness at the defeat of Turkey, the reaction of the disorders in the Punjab was being felt in Kabul, where emissaries of the Indian seditionists were busy intriguing and filling the minds of the Amir and his Court with stories of the imminence of the collapse of British rule in India. Resolved not to be late for the fair, should these predictions come true, the Amir mobilised his armies on his Eastern frontiers. He had, however, no intention of starting actual hostilities, but his plans were precipitated by an over zealous com­mander, who made a definite demonstration in the vicinity of the Khyber. Troops were at once rushed up to Landi Kotal and the Amir found himself involved in war.

* "Confronted with this position, it appears that Amanulla's general plan of campaign was to operate in three areas :­

               The Northern Area from Jellalabad, 
               The Central Area from Gardez, 
               and The Southern Area from Kandahar .

         * Extracted from review of "Military On-Looker" in "Pioneer," Sunday, June 8th, 1919.

"The command of the first of these was entrusted to General Saleh Mohammed, who concentrated his main force on our frontier near Landi Kotal early in May, only to be severely defeated at Dakka on the 17th after tasting smaller doses of the same medicine on the 9th and 11th. A smaller column of the same command, operating from Asmar, invaded Chitral territory, but was repulsed and forced to retreat on to its base. A third section, consisting of about 1,000 regulars with a few guns, advanced to within 15 miles of Shabkadr, in an attempt to raise the Mohmands but, failing, fell back within its own borders.

"In the Southern Area the British troops successfully took the offensive and by capturing Spin Baldak Fort, dominated the situation on this line."

The course of events in the centre area-so far as the Afghan side was concerned-was obscure for some time after the commencement of hostilities, and in the opinion of a semi-official chronicler, writing contemporaneously, the earlier actions of General Nadir Khan, who commanded the Afghan troops and irregulars operating from Gardez, lacked decision.

"At the beginning of May, there were rumours of Afghan troops moving to Khost and Nadir Khan was reported to have visited the Afghan cantonments of Ali Khel-West of the Paiwar Kotal and Gardez. Some Afghan troops and tribesmen were also sent to picquet the hills South of the Kurram, just within the Khost border. On the 13th May, Afghan regulars with a few guns occupied the crest of Paiwar ridge, but did not encroach into our territory....

"Finally, on the 21st May, Nadir Khan arrived with reinforcements at Matun, the capital of Khost, bringing the force at that place up to about nine battalions, two cavalry regiments and some artillery.

"Ammunition was issued to the Khostwala, and lashkars from the tribes of Southern Khost approached our border in the Upper Tochi , causing considerable unrest amongst the Wazirs and Mahsuds.

"It appears that on the 24th May a combined advance of Afghan troops and lashkars commenced towards our border and, in accordance with the arrangements previously made in view of such a contingency, our exposed militia posts in the Upper Tochi and on the Kaitu River were withdrawn. Similar action was also taken in the case of the trans-frontier posts in South Waziristan .

"The action to be taken with regard to these small isolated frontier posts always presents a difficult problem in time of war. When hostilities begin, they are unable to hold out for any length of time and so, as they cannot be abandoned to their fate, it becomes a question of with­drawing them or sending a comparatively large force to relieve them. The latter course is so obviously unsound from the military point of view that withdrawal is the only solution, although the disturbing effect which such with­drawal has on the independent tribes, cannot be ignored."

Nadir Khan's next effort was directed against Thal, where he appeared on the 27th May. He occupied the hills west and south of that place and started shelling it. Here, as in the north, the Afghan's commander's intention appears to have been to incite a general rising of the tribes, without which he could hardly hope for success.

He wasted little time in developing his attack and, posting his artillery (which consisted of seven 75s. and two 10cm. howitzers), at various detached points, he com menced a desultory shelling of the Fort and the piles of stores, fodder, etc., which were in the open spaces round about. Thal Fort is, or at any rate was in those days, one of the usual pattern, consisting chiefly of a smooth-faced, fairly high, thick mud wall with semi-armoured machine gun turrets at the corners. One face is well protected by dropping almost sheer into the Sangroba River , which, a quarter of a mile further down, runs into the Kurram River , but the other sides are fairly open to direct attack. By placing his guns on the hills to the west and south, Nadir Khan was enabled to drop his shells straight into the Fort, with the result that the internal damage caused was much greater than would appear from an examination of the outside walls.

At this period the garrison was a mixed one, more especially in view of the fact that it was largely used as a stopping place for lorries between Kohat and Parachinar. At the time it was invested, Captain Hambly, who was seconded from the Londons and attached to the Mechanical Transport, was in the Fort, as were also other ex-members of the battalion who were acting as lorry drivers and, according to them, matters were decidedly unpleasant.

It is now necessary to go back a few days to trace the battalion's movements to Thal. Although Amritsar was still smouldering, in a figurative sense, it can be said that, by the 23rd May very few embers remained to be stamped out. Orders to prepare for service again on the Frontier had been received a fortnight before this and it was gratifying, as it was pathetic, to notice the way in which almost every member of the battalion tried to get passed as medically fit for service, despite the fact that practically all of them had sworn that nothing would induce them to return to the Frontier if they, as individuals, could avoid it. It is a startling commentary on the morale of the Londons that men who were hardly fit to stand a twenty-four hour guard were blatantly lying to the Medical Officer-who knew perfectly well that they were lying-in efforts to persuade him to mark them as A1. In point of fact, only some 200 were passed,* and on the second anniversary of  the departure from Jullundur to Waziristan this remnant entrained for service in the third Afghan War.**

*There is conflict on this point.  Ian Colvin, in his " General Dyer " (p. 219), speaking of the Londons , says: " When they were mobilised for the Afghan war on the 6-7th May, their strength for field service was 21 officers and 300 other ranks."                                 There had, of course, been unreplaced sickness casualties between mobilisation and the 31st May.

**On this same day the remainder of the draft of 200 ex-Londons attached to the 1/9th Middlesex, set out on a punitive expedition in Mesopotamia (see Chap. XIII )

The Indus was crossed at 7 o'clock in the evening, after Burhan had been passed, where the stubbly fields reminded all of the intensive training of 1916 and '17. Peshawar was reached shortly before midnight and the Battalion slept on the station until reveille at 4.30 a.m., when a move was made to the racecourse-a distance of some 2¼ miles, where the 160 pounder tents were erected.

In addition to the Londons, many native troops and details were also quartered in the vicinity but, although there was running water on one side of the camp, no bathing or washing was allowed in it and everyone had to use a single stand pipe, with two taps attached, for all washing and culinary purposes. As can be imagined, congestion at certain times of the day was not unknown at this spot.

On the 7th May, the day after war had been declared, information was received that the Afghan postmaster, who had not been interned, had, in conjunction with the Indian Revolutionary Committee in Peshawar , arranged to collect a mob of 7,000 men to burn the cantonments and civil lines and interfere, generally, with the Lines of Communication. There seems no doubt that the whole plan had been well thought out, and dispositions carefully arranged. As only two of the five battalions of infantry allotted to the Peshawar Area for Internal Security were actually there, and these were being employed on guards and other duties, it was decided to employ troops of the Field Army to deal with this fresh situation. To this duty the Londons , on their arrival, were immediately posted, with instructions to picquet the city.

At the best of times the population of Peshawar is a conglomerate one, shifting and changing in its very nature week by week and season by season, owing to the fact that it is the first city touched on by the caravans coming southward through the Khyber Pass and the last port of call of those travelling northward to the various parts of Central Asia.

In this mixture of Pathans, Punjabis, Moslems, Afghans, Persians, Sikhs and Hindus, it was an impossible task to attempt combing out the malcontents from the genuine traders, and it was therefore decided to hold them all within the confines of the city by posting substantial picquets at all the gates. This did not prevent free move­ment by individuals, but was calculated to stop anything in the nature of a mob movement. These picquets were augmented at 6 o'clock each evening by every available white soldier. So far as the Londons were concerned, these reinforcements consisted almost exclusively of N.C.O.'s, every private already being on duty. It is worthy of note, at this point, that the Londons appeared to consist almost exclusively of N.C.O.'s during this campaign, and it was no uncommon sight to see an orderly corporal marching along with a squad of men which might contain one or more sergeants.

After having carried on this monotonous task for about forty-eight hours, the Londons were relieved by that most unlucky of all battalions, the 1/1st Kents, which, having marched many weary miles and carried out very arduous duties in Waziristan in 1917 without firing a single shot, had, on this occasion, only just returned from a long forced march in the Shabkdr direction after an enemy which had proved too elusive. Thus once more they had done a lot of work without tangible recompense in the shape of fighting.

On this day, the 28th May, the Londons received orders to pack all mobilisation stores ready for an immediate move. Camp was struck and the next few hours employed in roping up stores and preparing for whatever the "Powers That Be" sent in the way of transport. Just as it was getting dark, this was forthcoming and consisted of 50 mules, which arrived at 7.30, followed by 81 camels at 8.15 with 8 ox-drawn country carts. The battalion was, used to mixed methods of transport, but this particular assortment for a 2 1/4 miles journey to the station, when a few 3-ton motor lorries would have sufficed, caused considerable irritation.

The scene which followed beggars description. The mules were in the usual strings of six or eight, each led by a half-witted drabi [Native driver or muleteer.] The camels (the beloved "oonts" of Kipling's poem) were likewise in strings, each with its customary semi-mutinous Pathan. The only illumination available consisted of a few doubtful hurricane lamps, and it is safe to say that the racecourse had never witnessed weirder sights than it saw that evening.  In the darkness it was impossible to tell whether it was the first, third or last animal of a string which was being loaded, so that frequently a preceding animal would be finished and given a kick as an intimation that it could proceed on its way, with the result that those following it would also start. Races there may have been round that course, but few as interesting or exciting as those which occurred that night when camels and mules rushed around like mad, with loads festooned about them.  

One casualty, only, was reported and that was to a lance-corporal whose fore-arm got into juxtaposition with a camel's mouth. He was taken to hospital and lacked interest in the remainder of the battalion's frontier activities.

The final move to the station was made soon after midnight and the Londons , with the exception of 100 men, entrained for Kohat.

Shortly after arrival, Col. Hynes, following his invariable practice of taking the men into his confidence so far as was wise, outlined the position. It was only then that the battalion first learned its objective. Definite orders had not, at that time, been received for the advance but, before Col. Hynes had completed his talk, a Staff Officer handed him his instructions, as a result of which entrainment was carried out, on the 30th May, on the Kohat-Thal narrow guage railway as far as Togh, 26 miles from Thai. It was at this point that the "Thal Relief Force," under Brig.­General R. E. H. Dyer, C.B., was formed, consisting of :­

H.Qrs. 45th Infantry Brigade.  Infantry Brigade

1 Squadron, 37th Lancers.

89th Battery , R.F.A.

Four I5-pounders, Frontier Garrison Artillery.

1 Section, No. 23 Mountain Battery .

 ½ Section, No. 57 Coy., 1st Sappers and Miners.

1 Section Pack Wireless.

1 Armoured Motor Battery .

1/25th London Regiment.

2/41st Dogras.

1/69th Punjabis.

3/150th Infantry.

250 Rifles, 57th Rifles, F.F.

1 Company 2/4th Border Regiment.

The 100 men who had been left at Peshawar , having slept on the platform at the station until daybreak, were detailed to escort 62 3-ton lorries to Kohat-a distance of 44 miles through the Pass of that name.

The country traversed was imposing in geographical character but unfriendly in political tone. Some of the escort reported sniping but, at the time of writing this history, .no confirmation of this is obtainable. The lorries were tiltless and the day hot, with the result that some heat stroke cases had to be admitted to hospital on arrival at Kohat, where the rest of the escort slept the night on the ground outside the barrack buildings.

In the morning the escort proceeded by lorries as far as Hangu, which is about 26 miles along the road to Thal, where numerous details destined for the Thal Relief Force were picked up. With a view to joining the main column, which was forming at Togh, 8 miles further on, these details marched, starting at 5.30 in the afternoon, so as to be ready for the forward movement in the morning. The London's detachment formed the rearguard of this column, and in consequence did not get in until 1 o'clock in the morning and was not then pleased to hear that reveille was to be at 2.30 a.m., and that it would have to be content with one mug of tea per man (without milk or sugar) for supper and, failing a miracle, with the same for breakfast. Subsequently, reveille was ordered for 3.20 a.m., but even this concession did not appear over generous to the sluggards.

It should be mentioned that, at Hangu, a weak company of the 2/4th Border Regiment (T.F.), with 2 Lewis guns, under Capt. Anderson, was met and, for the remainder of the campaign, this very welcome addition acted with, and as an extra company to, the Londons. Notice must also be taken of an addition to the gun-power of the column. General Dyer, who was responsible for the formation of the Force and the conduct of the operations, had realised the importance of artillery and decided to augment the 89th Battery, R.F.A., and one section (2 guns) of the 23rd Mountain Battery at his disposal, by four old South African War period 15-pounders which, with two others, comprised the artillery at Kohat Fort. These guns, manned by the Frontier Garrison Artillery, having no limbers or horses, he utilised seven of his motor lorries for dragging them and to carry the gunners and ammunition. It is not out of place to say that the sight of these lorries, winding along the road to Thai, followed by over fifty others, which they believed also pulled guns, materially helped to intimidate the Afghans and their allies, a few days later.

The whole force consisted of; certainly, not more than 2,000 effective rifles,* although with 62 3-ton lorries, numerous non-effectives and hordes of camp followers, it was made to look quite imposing.

* This estimate is confirmed by Ian Colvin who, in his "General Dyer," p. 2x8, states : "The strength of the infantry was about 2,000 men."

At Togh, on the morning of the 31st, while still dark, an unusual condition was noticed. Whereas the day shade temperatures were in the region of 120 degrees, there was a ground frost on this night which, not unnaturally, caught the troops unprepared, but too surprised to be resentful. (It may be taken for granted that their grumble would have been directed against the Higher Command-not the still more elevated Authority which controls the weather.)

On the forced march of seventeen miles which was commenced at 4 a.m., it would be incorrect to say that the Londons particularly shone. It is only right to tell the truth even though authorities, equally able to judge, may differ. Many fell out, and thankfully availed themselves of seats on the guns and limbers of the 89th Battery . It gives very great pleasure to record the debt of gratitude which those " who fell by the wayside " owed, and still owe, to the gunners and drivers of this battery, who, almost without exception, gave up their seats on the carriages and limbers and marched the final stages on foot, so that the infantry could ride. The battalion had taken part in many longer and, in some ways, more arduous marches, but in its unfit medical condition this one proved very trying.

Turning to a description appearing in "General Dyer," by Ian Colvin, we find the following :­

"At Togh, the General addressed his troops, exhorting them to make a great effort to rescue their comrades at Thal. His words touched the hearts of that strangely assorted force of veterans and war levies, Punjabi peasants, and London men of business, so that they marched to the last of their strength and some of them dropped in their tracks. At four o'clock on the morning of the 31st May they set out along a fairly open valley between steep hills. There was no wind and but little water, and as the day advanced the stony hillsides became a furnace, the naked rocks throwing back the sun so that it seemed to strike from the ground as from the sky. That year the heat, in those regions of heat, was 'six or seven degrees above the normal.' I find it stated in the diary kept by the Brigade­Major that a fortnight later (on the 13th of June) the thermometer recorded 120 degrees in the shade. This reading, no doubt, closely corresponds to the temperature on that terrible 31st May. 'Men,' says one who went through it, 'collapsed at every halt, and were left to be picked up by the ambulance.' Alladad Khan, the General's Pathan bearer, pressed a constant succession of wet towels round the General's head, and so, marching most of the time with his men and then pushing ahead with the advance-guard in his car, he contrived to reach camp at Darsamand, a distance of eighteen* miles from Togh, and reconnoitred the position before the column arrived. The whole force was there encamped by four o'clock in the afternoon. When it came into camp General Dyer was lying exhausted under the shade of his car, and his Staff Captain went up to one of the London officers** to see if they could spare any water. There was but little left to give, and most of the men by that time could hardly speak, so swollen were their tongues and lips. 'The troops marched excellently,' says the diary of Captain Briggs, and, if it is not invidious to particularise, we might pause here to admire the spirit of the Londons, which had had no real rest since it entrained at Peshawar at 2 a.m. on the 28th. It was a battalion of 1st Line Territorials, in far-off pre-war days, 'Cyclists,' composed of London clerks and business men. They had arrived in India in February, 1916, had gone through Waziristan in 1917, had suffered so much from dysentery and malaria that they had come down with one man fit, and had been sent to Murree to recuperate. They had hoped to get home when Armistice came, but were found too useful in India .        When they were mobilised for the Afghan War on the 6-7th May, their strength for field service was 21 officers and 300 other ranks. Such was the battalion which swung into Darsamand 'in excel­lent marching order,' on that roasting afternoon of the 31st May."  

* The Londons knew this spot as Doaba, which is shewn on the map as being seventeen miles from Togh.  

** Major W. S. Stafford.

The Captain Briggs referred to was, of course, Captain F. C. Briggs, D.S.O., whom the battalion had known so long as Brigade-Major. He died but a short time later, though after the battalion had left India , at Kohat, to the deep regret of all who had known or worked under him. He was not the man to have given praise where it was not due, and if, in his opinion, the troops finished "in excellent marching order," perhaps the Londons need not have felt ashamed.

After a short rest, the perimeter was built round the camp, picquets were posted and the signallers spoke to Thal from a visual station at Fort Lockhart , on the Samana Ridge.

On the morning of June 1st, General Dyer decided to attempt the relief of Thal, which was believed to be invested by 23,000 men* and, as if to emphasise the smallness of his force, he decided to take only 100 of the white infantry with all the Lewis guns, leaving the remainder of the Londons and Borders in camp as Force Reserve. A distance of nine miles had to be covered but, when six of these had been completed, the action proper commenced. The column had moved off at 5 o'clock with the Londons acting as a rearguard, thus relieving them, to a large extent, of the onerous duty of picquetting the hills to cover the advance, but directly the action commenced, with the artillery shelling the valley in front of the Fort followed by a "searching and sweeping" fire on to a high ridge  half left, they were pushed forward with the Dogras, Sappers and Miners and the Mountain guns, to cover the direct attack by the Punjabis (who had the 3/150th in support) on the Wazir Hills to the South of the Ishkhalai Nala, which was held by a strong force of some 4,000 tribesmen, under the command of Babrak Zadran. The attack was made so suddenly, and the artillery fire so well directed, that the enemy was seized with panic and scat­tered in headlong flight.

* Definite information as to the enemy's numbers cannot be expected. At the time, General Dyer gave them as 23,000, but he may have been including the Orakzais and Zaimukhts (the first of whom, alone, were estimated to be capable of mustering 20,000 fighting men.- See Ian Colvin's "General Dyer," p. 214).
The Official Account specifically mentions 3,000 Afghan regulars and 6,000 Khostwali and Waziri allies.

By four o'clock the heights were taken by the Punjabis, with the loss of only four men wounded.

There is one incident which stands out very prominently in the minds of those who had the good fortune to witness it. The R.F.A. Battery was concentrating its fire to cover the attack on the Wazir Hills, when news was brought to the Officer Commanding that an enemy gun, situated on a hill a little to the left of Khapianga, by its frequent shrapnel, was annoying the long-suffering infantry which was, at that time, lying out in extended order a little in advance of the plateau from which General Dyer was directing operations. The O.C. immediately gave orders for one of the guns to detach and go round the spur of the hill to see whether it could locate and silence the offender. A very young subaltern was sent in charge. The presumed position being pointed out to him, he gave the order to unlimber, decided on the range and fired once. Even without glasses it was apparent that it was one of those lucky flukes which happen so seldom, for it was obvious that he had scored a direct hit with this, his only shot.

Without giving a second glance, he issued the order to limber up and galloped back to the battery, trying to give the impression that he was in the habit of doing things of this nature every day of the week.  

At about this time, contact with the Fort was estab­lished by a small party of "A" Company of the Londons calling there for water. This was the cause of the battalion suffering its only two direct casualties, Ingram and Connolly, each of whom received slight wounds in the wrist and forearm.

The following account, culled from the "Civil and Military Gazette" of June 8th, amplifies the foregoing narrative in certain particulars :­

"The latest information available from Thal shows that the enemy fell back immediately on the approach of our relief force, whose appearance apparently came as a surprise. This was undoubtedly due to the rapidity with which the column advanced.

"The operation was in the hands of a well-known thruster, who got his advance guard, consisting of two regiments, well past Doaba before the enemy was aware of his proximity. Animal transport being too slow for this affair, motor transport was employed to fetch up rations and kit.          Meanwhile, the main body came rapidly along behind marching through a fertile valley, where the villagers were gathering crops and following their regular pursuits regardless of the fact that there was a war on.          When our guns opened fire, the enemy retired in two directions: some going South and South-west in the direction of Spinwam, while those who had been firing into Thal from the high hills to the North retreated in the direction of Maduri.            Our guns gave them a good peppering and their flight was accelerated by the activity of our aeroplanes, which put in some very effective work with bombs and machine guns, particularly on Maduri and on the reverse slopes of Khadimaka.

"A Gurkha regiment got round an enemy column inflicting heavy casualties and capturing the Afghan standard, which was carried triumphantly into Thal. When the enemy had been dispersed, the troops of the invested garrison were given another and unexpected thrill by a race between an armoured car and an aeroplane for the privilege of being first to enter Thal. The armoured car driver let out at top speed, making straight for the landing ground. The aeroplane led slightly but lost time in the descent with the result that both appeared to arrive simultaneously. While they were arguing the point, the enemy, who had got the range of the landing ground to a nicety, dropped a shell which fell immediately between the contestants, stopping all further argument. The car dashed off in one direction while the aeroplane ascended and went in search of the Afghans.         It was generally noted that the armoured car was first in.

"Later in the day, an aeroplane discovered the enemy concentrating near Spinwam and promptly bombed them, on which the Afghans retreated further South."

On the next morning-June 2nd-activities were directed against the enemy who still held the hills which stretched in a semi-circle to the north of the Fort and to the right of the plateau. The Londons and 41st Dogras were held as brigade reserve, which moved from the peri­meter in attack formation, the advance being covered by the artillery. The Borders took, and occupied, a round­topped hill about three quarters of a mile to the north of the camp and the Londons and Dogras carne up with them on to a low ridge to their left. Orders were then received to take hill 2,668, with instructions that the attack was to be pressed home regardless of casualties. "A" Company and one Lewis gun were left in reserve and the rest changed direction left and, co-operating with the 3/150th which came 'from the direction of the Fort, soon took this important position, with no greater losses than those caused by the sun.

The heat on this day was scarcely bearable, and by 2 o'clock in the afternoon over thirty cases of heat stroke had occurred among the already decimated Londons , and practically all the fit men were employed in carrying or helping these cases to the sick-bay tents. Cholera had shown itself among the followers of the force, and in the late afternoon two of the Londons showed symptoms of the disease which, fortunately, did not develop.

The enemy, by this time, had retreated across the river and Thal was finally and completely relieved. It is apparent, from subsequent accounts, that some time during this day Nadir Khan received information of the Amir's appeal for a cessation of hostilities. He pitched his camp at Yusuf Khel and received a visit, either on the ist or 2nd June, from one of our aeroplanes, which successfully bombed him. On the evening of the 2nd, orders were circulated that the G.O.C., General Dyer, was going to inspect the column the next morning, but this was cancelled at the last moment and instead he took *100 white ranks-73 of the Borders and 27 of the Londons with 4 Lewis guns-in motor lorries to act, apparently, as artillery escort and proceeded on the main road towards Parachinar. About a mile past the Fort, at a point on the opposite bank of the river to Pir Kasta, a small village, the enemy had trenched the road, presumably with a view to preventing any sudden forays by the armoured cars. While repairs were being executed, a member of the frontier militia brought certain information to the General which caused him to change his plans. The battery and lorries were left where they stood while the G.U.C., his staff with an escort of six native cavalry and the white troops forded the Kurram river, the left bank of which, at this point, flanks the road. The only way of crossing was for parties of twelve or more to link arms and trust to some few at a time keeping their feet, so that all were not washed away by the very rapid current. The water was only a little over waist high at the deepest points, but keeping all rifles and Lewis guns-to say nothing of heads and shoulders-above water so far as possible, taxed the strength and balancing powers of the men to the utmost.  

* The Official Account, dealing with this minor operation, incorrectly gives the infantry employed as: "60 rifles, 1/25th London Regiment, with 4 Lewis Guns."

On the opposite bank, the troops were advanced in extended order for about three miles until, rounding a spur, they came suddenly upon the deserted Afghan head­quarters camp, which showed every sign of having been very recently and rapidly vacated. A few wounded and dead had been left behind, but the former were so near joining the latter that little or no information could be gained from them although, since the departure of the Afghans, looting by some party had taken place.

Gun-carriages, complete except for the actual barrels, boxes of unused and expended shell ammunition and even the complete medical stores were left. The despatch panniers yielded useful information and until these had received a cursory examination, together with other papers found in the tents, the troops were not allowed to start collecting souvenirs.

All the tents were struck and, together with the stores, were collected ready for transport back to the Fort before the column returned towards the Kurram River . It is fortunate that but one casualty, and that a simple heat stroke case, occurred, for only one stretcher was carried with the column and a second patient would have been very inconvenient. The medical officer, having found some dead camels in the stream which flowed near the Afghan camp, had been forced to issue an order that no water was to be consumed from this source and the white troops, in consequence, suffered severely from thirst.

Arrived back at Pir Kasta, the G.O.C. halted under some large trees outside the village and, calling on the inhabitants, demanded that they should produce all drinking water which they had. When this was produced the troops, discerning its nature-it was nearly as thick as treacle­ were very pleased to note that the M.O. was still with the rearguard, which had not yet arrived, as they felt sure that, once he saw it, their chances of even mouth-swilling would be remote. General Dyer, with a somewhat dubious smile, had a drink, and the rank and file were not slow in following his example. The smile of the medical officer, when he arrived, was still more dubious, but thirst appeared to get the better of even his trained cautiousness and he also imbibed.

In the meantime the General had sent for the lambadar (headman) of the village and carried on a conversation with him in the local dialect. The G.O.C. was noted as being one of the finest linguists in India and it was difficult, if not impossible, to find a single dialect with which he was not completely familiar. Informality was the keynote of this particular little expedition, and the troops were all grouped on the ground beneath the tree, near which the General was interrogating the very uncomfortable Pathan and they gathered, from his many and amusing asides, that he was convinced that the villagers were the parties guilty of the looting at the Afghan camp. He ended the conversation by curtly sending for a rope and on its arrival indicating very clearly that it was his intention to hang summarily the, by now, very frightened lambadar. While the General was deciding on the particular bough from which he proposed to suspend the native, the latter apparently thought it best to search his memory a little more diligently and as a result a large number of rifles followed the column to the camp. It was a subject for discussion that evening, after the return to the perimeter, whether the General would have gone to the extreme had he not obtained the information he wanted.

The next day, the Battery with the Londons and the Borders moved camp to a point about three miles further along the main Parachinar road.   This site was as ideal as possible in that part of the world, consisting as it did, of a substantial house which was used as Headquarters by the staff, and a large low-walled garden in which there were plenty of shady trees with a stream running along one side. General Dyer addressed the battalion and thanked it for its pluck under trying circumstances and its services to him. He also imparted the gratifying news of the Armistice which had been signed on the 3rd June. An outlying picquet was necessary from this camp, but for the first time since the battalion had left Kohat no "stand-to" was considered necessary, although the news was circulated one night to all the sentry groups that a hostile lashkar was in the vicinity and might be expected to attack. On receipt of this information, the guns were manhandled to the corners of the walls and left so that they could fire over open sights, if necessary.      At about 11.30, the commander of a sentry group on the north wall observed some suspicious figures creeping, on what appeared to be their hands and knees, to a clump of bushes only a few yards outside the wall. Arrived there, he observed the leader assume an upright position behind one of the bushes and, waiting no longer, he gave instructions to open fire and himself par­ticipated. In a moment the camp was astir. A Lewis gun searched the bushes, but a few Verey lights failed to disclose anyone. At this moment, a messenger came up from the north-west corner of the camp and laconically asked whether the firing had any connection with five goats which had just passed their point, "steaming rapidly in a westerly direction," as, with memories of 1914-15, he described it.  It should be explained that there being little vegetation on the ground, for the greater part of the year, Indian goats are in the habit of rearing up on their hind legs to get as much green stuff as they can reach from the branches of bushes. This explanation saved the sergeant's face in the eyes of his superiors but not his leg at the hands of his equals and subordinates.

The next two days were noteworthy only because the white troops received their first and second doses of cholera inoculation, the complaint itself having broken out rather seriously among the native troops quartered in, and near the Fort. The following was posted on the 8th June :­  


"The following copy of a telegram from Hd.-Qrs. North-West Frontier Force, Peshawar , is forwarded for the information of all ranks :­

*               *         

" 'Please transmit the following to Genl. Dyer :

The Force Commander congratulates Genl. Dyer and all ranks which formed the THAL RELIEF COLUMN under his command on the success of their operations.

The march of the Column to Thal was carried out-­with the greatest celerity and under the most trying con­ditions, and its success redounds to the credit of the Column.

The Force Commander has only recently received details of the fine manner in which the march was carried­ out.'

"The General Officer commanding the late THAL_ RELIEF COLUMN wishes this message to be conveyed to every man in the late RELIEF COLUMN.

      It was on this same day that the details of the Border Regiment, which had been attached to the Londons, left for Kohat, all duties therefore devolving on so few men that everyone was on duty each and every day and night until the 12th, when the battalion moved to Thal Station­and entrained. Kohat was reached soon after mid-day on the 13th and Chitral Barracks, Nowshera, at
2 o'clock on the morning of the 14th. This cantonment is well known as being one of the most unhealthy peace stations in India . The temperature is always higher there than in the sur­rounding parts, owing to the fact that it is situated in a. hollow with sheltering hills almost entirely surrounding ­it. A monotonous period was spent while the negotiations, which succeeded the Armistice but preceded the Peace Treaty, took place; the only exciting incident, being an earthquake which physically and morally disturbed the: troops in the very early hours of one morning.

It was here that, for the first and only time during the battalion's stay in India , cholera was contracted, for­tunately by only two members. Altogether thirteen or fourteen white persons contracted the disease at Nowshera, and it was notable that over half of these recovered, including the two members of the Londons .

Towards the end of July a move was made by train to Rawalpindi , the battalion having been selected to form the Guard of Honour to the Peace Delegates. Shortly after its arrival, in pursuance of a policy whereby, so far as possible, all white service units were brought up to fighting strength, about 250 details, drawn chiefly from troops homeward bound via India from Mesopotamia , were attached. This process had commenced at Nowshera, where 100 men of the Devons had been absorbed. The strength was thus finally brought up to over 500 rank and file, though less than a third of these belonged to the Londons . In "C" Company alone, thirty different units were represented and the task of administration was not very simple. It did not assist that the members of the orderly room staff were all new to their work, Sergeant Suttle, soon after the arrival at Nowshera, having been granted compassionate leave to England and all the other regular members having fallen sick.

Peace negotiations opened on the 26th July with Sir A. Hamilton Grant, K.C.S.I., representing the Government, and Sardar Ali Ahmed Khan, as President of the Afghan delegation. The Treaty was finally signed on the morning of August 8th, 1919, which corresponded to the 11th Ziqada 1337 Hijra in the Mohammedan Calendar. By the terms of this treaty, the British Government, to mark its displeasure, withdrew from Amanulla the privilege enjoyed by former Amirs of importing arms, ammunition or other war-like materials through India to Afghanistan. In addition, the arrears of the late Amir's subsidy were con­fiscated and no subsidy whatever granted to his successor.

The Afghan Government was also forced to accept the frontier line which had been recognised by the late Amir and agreed to accept such boundary, as the British Com­mission should lay down, regarding the undemarcated portion of the line west of the Khyber, where the recent Afghan aggression had taken place. As a guarantee of this, the British troops were to remain in their positions until this line had been defined. To show its conciliatory attitude, however, the British Government agreed to receive an Afghan mission at any time, after a period of six months had elapsed, to discuss and settle matters of common interest to the two Governments, with a view to the re-establishment of the old friendship on a satisfactory basis.

From 'The London Cycle Battalion'

See War Diary of his campaign.

Read more on the British conflict on the North West Frontier :- The Army in India & Frontier Warfare 1914-1939.

Copyright © Simon Parker-Galbreath - Please acknowledge these web pages, and/or the original source.