THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
This material researched, compiled and donated by
Mr Rick Oxenham, Christchurch
(slightly abridged from original referring to Sydenham Oxenham)
Afghanistan was considered a buffer state between India and Persia and it was felt necessary that whoever ruled in Afghanistan should be strong, and above all, friendly to the British Dominion in India. A Persian army encouraged by the Russians was threatening Herat on the Afghan-Persian border. The ruler of the Sikhs, and a firm ally of the British, had been attacked by Dost Mahomed Khan, the dominant Afghan chief. Shah Shoojah, a dethroned monarch of Afghanistan, was living in exile in the Punjab. These circumstances lead to the conclusion of a tripartite treaty between the British, Sikhs, and Shah Shoojah, for the purpose of restoring the dethroned monarch, and to effect this, an Anglo-Indian force was to be assembled which was named the Army of the Indus. On 8th November 1838, the 13th Light Infantry who had been selected to form part of that force, began their march from Kurnaul to Ferozepore and arrived at that station on 26th November, where the Bengal troops were being assembled.
For political reasons it was decided that the Army of the Indus should march down the left bank of the Sutlej to where it joins the Indus, carry on up to Sukkur, cross the Indus, proceed to Quetta by the Bolan Pass and thence to Kandahar and Cabul, a distance of 1500 miles as against 450 miles via Peshawar and the Khyber Pass.
The march, with the 13th Regiment, started in December. By the end of January the building of a boat bridge at Sukkur had commenced. After crossing the Desert of Usted and losing many camels and supplies, the Bolan Pass was reached mid March. The Bolan Pass which is 60 miles long, is a rocky narrow defile commanded by heights on either side, and at that time of the year, covered by snow and without a trace of vegetation but water was to be had in plenty from the stream which traverses its entire length. The local tribesmen were ever on the watch to cut off stragglers and raid the baggage columns. On 16th March the passage was commenced, and on the very first day the dhooley bearers of the 13th deserted in a body leaving 40 sick men, but were pursued and brought back. Many camels perished from want of fodder. Six days were occupied in traversing the pass, one third of the camels had been lost, there were practically no local supplies to be had, and there remained some 10 days rations for the troops and 2 days grain for the horses. The troops were placed on half rations and the followers on quarter rations. By 26th April when they had reached Kandahar, they had marched 1000 miles in 137 days and since leaving India, some 2000 camels had perished. On 13th May two companies of the 13th Regiment, amongst others, set out to the fort of Girisk 70 miles westward, occupied the same and later returned to Kandahar. Health here was indifferent - fever, dysentery and jaundice being prevalent. The army then prepared for the advance to Kabul with the fortress of Ghuznee the main obstacle in their path.
THE STORMING OF GHUZNEE
Ghuznee - a fortress estimated by the Afghans to be well-nigh impregnable except by protracted siege operations, was garrisoned by some 3000 men, as well provided with stores, and in addition, was surrounded by a wall 60 feet high and a wet ditch, thus rendering an assault by escalade impossible, while mining could only be undertaken at the gates. All the gates, with the exception of the Kabul gate, were bricked up. In any event, it was decided to attack by the Kabul gate. A storming attack was devised and under cover of this, the gate was successfully mined and blown. The main column entered the fortress and the Afghans, after some initial resistance, soon took flight.
On 30th July, leaving a garrison at Ghuznee, the march on Kabul, with the 13th Regiment leading, recommenced. On August 6th, Shah Shoojah and the British Army appeared before the walls of Kabul, and on the following day, that monarch entered his capital without opposition after an exile of thirty years. It was now assured that Afghanistan could be held by a comparatively small force and a considerable number of troops returned to India. The 13th Light Infantry and the 35th Native Infantry moved into the Citadel of Kabul and formed its garrison. The winter of 1839-40 was an unusually severe one and the troops in Kabul, (6000 feet above sea level) suffered accordingly. Late in 1839 the 13th was inspected by Brigadier Dennie, the monthly court-martial returns show from 12th June 1839 to 30th January 1840 that there was one general court-martial, one garrison court-martial and thirty regimental courts-martial. The number of lashes awarded was 2,500 and the amount inflicted 1877. This was considered excessive but was attributed to the fact that the regiment was most of the time before the enemy in the field. The 1840 inspection reports show that the clothing of the regiment was worn out, none having been issued since 1838, but that their field equipment was in good order. The regiment lost, since leaving Ferozepore in 1838, 2 captains, four sergeants, six corporals, four buglers and ninety seven privates. Brigadier Dennie complained that the regiment was chiefly recruited from Ireland and recommended an admixture of Englishmen, as they offered from their habits and educations, a better field for the selection of non-commissioned officers.
Regimental life in Kabul during the winter of 1839-40 and the summer of 1840 may be described as similar to that in an Indian cantonment. Officers and men indulged in skating, cricket, racing and other sports. The post from India was fairly regular, and the wives of some of the British officers were able to join their husbands, whilst much needed drafts helped to replenish the ranks. Despite the apparent peace, Shah Shoojah was far from popular and his authority only extended to places occupied by Anglo-Indian troops. When Dost Mahomed, who after the occupation of Kabul had fled to Bokhara, escaped from that place on July 17th and was reported as advancing on Bamean, many discontented Afghan chiefs rallying to his standard, and it was found necessary for the British to take to the field again.
THE AFGHAN CAMPAIGN 1840
On 17th September a force under Brigadier Dennie met up with and defeated Dost Mahomed, but he remained at large and commanded a considerable following. On 23rd September the 13th Regiment and other forces left Kabul and marched north to Chareka. On learning that a troublesome chief Ali Khan was in position at Tootumdurr, commanding the entrance to the Ghoreband Pass, it was decided to attack. The attack was successful, the enemy fled and casualties to the 13th were limited to two privates wounded, one mortally. On 3rd October the Regiment was more seriously engaged attacking several rebel chieftains of the Julgar Forts some 16 miles away. The initial assault was repulsed by the Afghans, 15 men of the 13th Light Infantry were killed and 17 wounded. A second attack was planned but the Afghans escaped before it could be mounted. The forts were destroyed. The 13th had several other skirmishes with the rebels and on 21st October took part in the capture of the town of Khandurrah. Later in November, after another attack on Dost Mahomed led by the 13th Regiment and with indifferent results, Dost Mahomed gave himself up to the British authorities in Kabul and he was sent off to India under armed guard.
FROM CABUL TO JELLALABAD
The year 1841 in Kabul commenced in calm and peace but it was destined to end in disaster and dishonour. Although the British were optimistic for the future, there were indications that Afghanistan was, beneath the surface, seething with discontent. Shah Shoojah was extremely unpopular and his rule was possible only because it was upheld by British bayonets, and the invaders, the British, were cordially hated. However, by June it was expected that the 13th and others who had been in Afghanistan three years, would return to India. With the approach of autumn the country between Kabul and Jellalabad became very disturbed. There was considerable friction between civil and military authorities, and there was a general malaise amongst the hierarchy. Subsequent to a heavy attack by rebels on another unit, the 13th Regiment was sent on 11th October to force the Khoord Kabul Pass. They were strenuously opposed by the enemy, who were concealed in large numbers among the rocks on the almost-precipitous face of the pass. Fighting continued through the pass, the 13th losing 3 men and having 24 wounded. They eventually reached Khoord Cabul. On the 22nd, the 13th Regiment fought their way to Tezin, losing 3 men and 9 wounded. They then fought all the way through the Jagdalak Pass and eventually reached their goal at Gandamak. On 5th November it was heard that insurrection had broken out in Kabul and that Europeans had been killed there. General Sir Robert Sale and the 13th Regiment were ordered back to Kabul. Sale decided that he could not comply with the order as he had over 300 wounded and that there was only one days transport for rations and two days expenditure of ammunition. He suggested retiral at Jellalabad and the 13th with Sir Robert Sale in command, fought their way through to Jellalabad.
THE SIEGE OF JELLALABAD
The town of Jellalabad (meaning the abode of splendour) was surrounded by a wall 2,300 yards in length with 33 bastions, but the fortifications were in a ruinous condition, and outside them were numerous walled gardens, mosques and forts, giving excellent cover to the enemy. There were several initial enemy attacks but these were repulsed. Priority was given to restoring the fortifications and soon all troops, including officers, were at work with spade and shovel. Several more attacks were repulsed with minimal loss to the garrison.
Every garrison in Afghanistan, including Kabul, Kandahar, Ghuznee and Charkar, was now closely blockaded, communication with India and Kabul very irregular, whilst rumours of disaster of Kabul kept coming in. On December 17, General Sale heard that arrangements had been made for the capitulation of the Kabul garrison, and that they were to be allowed to evacuate Afghanistan unmolested, but under conditions by no means honourable to the British name. In January when it was heard that the British envoy in Kabul had been treacherously murdered whilst making arrangements for the withdrawal of the troops, it seemed as if some appalling disaster was at hand.
On 13th January the worst anticipations of the garrison at Jellalabad were fulfilled - this is Havelock's description "About 2 p.m. on 13th January some officers were assembled on the roof of the loftiest house in Jellalabad. One of them espied a single horseman riding towards our walls. As he got nearer it was distinctly seen that he wore European clothes and was mounted on a travel-hacked yaboo, which he was urging on with all the speed of which it yet remained master. A signal was made to him by someone on the walls which he answered by waving a private soldier's forage cap over his head. The Kabul gate was thrown open, and several officers rushing out, received and recognised in the traveller, who dismounted, the first and it is to be feared, the last fugitive of the ill-fated force at Kabul, Dr Brydon." The arrival of Dr Brydon at Jellalabad has been immortalised by Lady Butler's famous picture, "The Remnants of an Army". He was the sole survivor of an army of 4,550 fighting men and 12,000 followers to reach Jellalabad, though there were about 100 captives, including women and children in the hands of the enemy.
By February Akbar Khan had taken up position some 10 miles from Jellalabad and was patrolling regularly. February 19th signalled the start of six weeks of very bad earthquakes which destroyed most fortifications. The enemy were just as badly placed and the British were able by dint of more hard work, especially by the 13th Regiment, to rebuild and security was restored. Jellalabad was now firmly blockaded and stores and ammunition were in short supply. By 7th April ammunition was so short and matters becoming so confused that Sir Robert Sale decided to sortie out. All took part and at daybreak the troops marched out of Jellalabad, and having been formed up, the columns covered by a line of skirmishes, advanced toward the enemy's position. Fierce fighting took place and by 7 p.m. the enemy was in full retreat and by nightfall there was not an Afghan within 8 miles of Jellalabad. The British losses were 14 killed and 66 wounded, including the death of Colonel Dennie of the 13th Regiment. The breakout from Jellalabad and the resounding defeat of Akbar Khan was of decisive moment in the Afghan campaign and many plaudits were showered on the "Illustrious Garrison" culminating for the 13th Regiment with the pleasure of Her Majesty thus - War Office 26th August 1842 -
"In consideration of the distinguished gallantry displayed by the 13th Light Infantry in the campaigns in the Burmese Empire and Afghanistan, Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to approve of that Regiment assuming the title of the 13th or Prince Albert's Regiment of Light Infantry, and its facings being changed from yellow to blue.
Her Majesty has also been pleased to authorize the 13th Regiment of Light Infantry to bear on its colours and appointments a Mural Crown superscribed Jellalabad, as a memorial of the fortitude, perseverance and enterprise evinced by that regiment and the severe corps which served the blockade of Jellalabad.
Her Majesty has been likewise pleased to permit the 13th Regiment to receive and wear a silver medal which has been directed by the Governor General of India to be distributed to every officer and private, European and native, who belonged to the garrison of Jellalalbad on 7th April 1842 - such medals to bear on one side a Mural Crown superscribed Jellalabad, and on the other side, April 78th 1842."
CABUL RECAPTURED AND RETURN TO INDIA
On 20th August 1842 the Jellalabad force commenced to fight their way back to Cabul. Several minor skirmishes and battles occurred on this journey and eventually Cabul was reached with relatively light casualties. The next task achieved was the rescue of the captives from the ill-fated garrison. This was soon achieved amidst scenes of rejoicing.
As winter was approaching and supplies limited, it was considered inadvisable to delay too long in Cabul, but in order to exact some just retribution for the treachery of the Afghans the general caused the great covered bazaar, the mosque and the houses of the chiefs principally concerned in the rising to be burned down. On 12th October the army set out on its return to India. There is little to record on the return march beyond a few skirmishes with the Afghans. The 13th Light Infantry reached Jellalabad on 22 October and halted there a few days, during which time the fortifications were levelled to the ground. On 26th October the march to India was resumed. The passage of the Khyber Pass entailed some fighting, though not of a very serious kind, and on 4th November the 13th were at Peshawar.
The Governor General directed that the army in its march through the Punjab to British territory at Ferozepore should be preceded by the Jellalabad garrison so that they might make a triumphal entry into the British provinces by themselves. On the 14th December Sir Robert Sale led the Jellalabad garrison across the bridge of boats gaily dressed with flags and streamers. At the opposite side was erected a small triumphal arch, where they were met by the Governor General, Lord Ellenborough. During the Afghan campaign 1838-1842 the 13th Regiment lost either from the fatigue of service, or in action with the enemy, 9 officers, 13 sergeant, 11 corporals, 3 buglers and 264 privates.
Various duties occupied the 13th Regiment during their last year or so in India - from barrack building in Simla to quelling a mutiny in Sukkur. In late 1844 they moved down to Karachi - a march during which the regiment suffered severely from malaria, having two to three hundred in hospital daily. On 4th December they embarked on East India Company steamers to travel to Bombay. On 20th March 1845, the Regiment embarked on the freight ships "Cornwall" and "Boyne" and sailed for England arriving at Gravesend at the end of July 1845. Sydenham Oxenham had spent 18 years and 11 months overseas in India and Afghanistan, his health suffering considerably.
The Fencibles to whom this compilation refers usually came later than the main body of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps with the exception of Edward Hudgins and are as follows -
Sergeant Patrick Campbell - Oriental Queen
Corporal Michael Page - Berwick Castle
Private Michael Brophy - Berwick Castle
Private John Goonan - Berwick Castle
Private Edward Hudgins - Ramillies
Private Sydenham Oxenham - Inchinnan
Private Thomas Philben - Inchinnan
The riband of the Jellalabad medal is popularly known as "The Rainbow". This is a misnomer. Lord Ellenborough stated that it represented the colours of the eastern sky when the sun rises without a cloud, crimson fading into yellow and yellow into blue. This medal was granted to 27 officers and 744 other ranks of the 13th Light Infantry who were serving as part of the garrison of Jellalabad at the time of the general action on 7th April 1842. Note - The original Jellalabad medal was struck in the Indian Mint by the order of Lord Ellenborough so that he might present their medals to the Illustrious Garrison on their return to India. After the return of the 13th Light Infantry to England in 1845, a new Jellalabad medal was issued because of dissatisfaction with the original design. The riband was changed to red and blue. As many officers and other ranks had by then left the Regiment, they did not receive the new medal and others preferred not to exchange their original. It was the intention of the Home Authorities that the Jellalabad Medal should have a red and blue riband and that the Ghuznee and Kabul medals should retain the 'Rainbow riband.' However, some who applied for the second medal wore it with the rainbow riband.