A Small Action on the Khyber Line
Report by Captain Henry James Harvey
25th King's Own Borderers

The following transcript may not be copied or used without prior permission.
Introduction and footnotes by Garen Ewing.

Introduction

The stories of the larger battles of the Afghan campaign are well-recorded in the various histories and accounts that have been written over the years, but there is far less emphasis on the smaller day-to-day conflicts that occurred. A particularly hazardous area was the Khyber line, running from the mouth of the Khyber Pass and all the way through to Dakka and beyond, and particularly from tribes such as the Zakha Khel Afridis, who persistently attacked small parties and cut communication lines, resulting in two major punitive expeditions into the Bazar Valley in December 1878 and January 1879.

In 1881, when Captain Harvey was building a case to gain a Brevet Majority promotion, he made copies of a couple of his reports to be submitted to the Commander-in-Chief, and the following report of a small action on 11 May 1879 constitutes part of this. Points of interest include the tactics that Harvey used in the action, and also the efforts of the tribesmen to carry off their wounded, unfortunately unsuccessfully.

Footnotes: Place your mouse cursor over the number in the text and the footnote should appear. They are also linked to the footnotes which are repeated at the bottom of the page.

Detail map of the Khyber (or Khaiber) Pass area, with Ali Masjid, Landi Khana and Daka highlighted.

Lundi Khana, 11th May 1879

Sir,

I have the honor to report, for the information of the Brigadier General, that I received a message at noon, from the Engineer Officer constructing the Fort near Paindakah Chokis, that firing was going on in the Pass near by; and that he had withdrawn his men from the works, and gone to the spot.

I therefore turned out 50 men of the 25th1, under myself and Lieutenant Becker2; and found the Engineers, and their Picquet of 7 Bhopals3, engaged with about 100 Zukka Khels4, in the Haftcha defile, about 1 1/2 miles from the road. A party of Mairwarras5 were also with the Madras Sappers, they were all in a small maidan (plain), near a spot where the defile contracts, before opening into the Peshbolak plain. As the Zukkas were firing down from a hill to the left front, about 1500 feet high; I picked out 10 men from my party as scouts under Lieut Becker, and sent him up the hill; and dividing my remaining 40 men, into 2 Companies of 20 men each, followed the scouts at 100 yards interval, in skirmishing order; the rear 20 men following as a support, also at 100 yards. I cautioned Lieut Becker to advance very slowly; to take advantage of all cover; we backed him up by firing over his party at any one who showed himself on the rocks above; and drove the Zukkas from point to point.

Meanwhile the Mairwarras beat up the gully running parallel on our left, which was full of bushes and cover. They kept a little in rear of our advance, purposely. Lieut Porter, R.E6., and many of his men, joined our advance. About 40 yards from the crest, which was the 4th ridge we had passed, the Zukkas made a stand, firing freely; and Lieut Becker fell down amongst the rocks, from a bullet striking the stones he was leaning against. The Zukkas seeing him fall, jumped up, and commenced an advance, but were driven back by our fire. They then bolted; and Lieut Becker and his scouts rushed up to the ridge, and got a chance at 40 Zukkas in a clump; 2 of whom fell to their fire; including the man who had fired at Lieut Becker, who was distinguished by a large turban.

The remainder tried to carry off the 2 fallen men; but another volley dropped 2 more. Of these 4, 3 lay on the ground motionless. The 4th was badly wounded, and his friends tried to carry him off but had to leave him on account of the fire from the scouts and support. He took refuge under a rock. The rest made off altogether. I should have liked to have secured the bodies, but it would have delayed us an hour and a half, having to cross a deep defile to get to them.

They were about 500 yards distant, and it was late in the afternoon; and I was anxious to get out of these defiles before dusk. I therefore withdrew the party, leaving Lieut Becker to bring up the rear, as those robbers generally follow a retirement. But there was nothing more seen of them. They had fled up a path to the left front, leading over range beyond range to the Bazar Valley.

From the crest of the hill we stood on, we could see a party of Cavalry, 3 miles out on the plain, waiting for the Zukkas if they left the hills. There was no sign of any village in any direction; and we could see over the country for miles. During our advance we passed a large pool of blood on the rocks where another Zukka had fallen; so that I am certain we killed 5 of them, and maybe more.

I am happy to report that none of my men, either 25th, Madras Sappers, Mairwarras, or Bhopals were hit; though there were several narrow escapes. Lieut Becker conducted his advance party of scouts with great skill and care. Lieut Porter, R.E., gave me the greatest assistance; I have the honor to enclose his report. Doctor Le Grand7 was close up with his Doolies8 throughout, but happily his assistance was not required.

On my return I received a note from Lieut Pollock9 10th Bengal Lancers, Dakka; that the Political officer then at Dakka10, desired me to arrest the [Chorredars] at Paindakkah station. I therefore arrested all there were at that station nine in number; and sent them under charge of the escort - 8 sowars - who had brought the note, to Dakka. I got back to Lundi Khana about an hour after sunset.

I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient servt.
H
. J. Harvey
Captain and Local Major, 25th Regt. K.O.Bs
Commanding Detachment.

Rounds fired:
25th K.O.Bs = 97
Madras Sappers = 336
Bhopals = 72
Mairwarras = no returns

True Copy. H.J. Harvey, Captain, 25th Regt. K.O. Borderers.


Footnotes

1
The 25th Foot, or the King's Own Borderers. [return]
2
Lt. Charles Theodore Becker. He became Acting Adjutant of the regiment in the second campaign and was promoted to Captain in July 1881. [return]
3
The Bhopal Battalion, commanded by Major-General Hamilton Forbes, were based at Sehore in Central India. They served only in the first phase of the war. [return]
4
The Zakha Khels were described as a 'very war-like tribe', 4,500 strong, and as the most powerful of all the Khyber Afridis. They were able to arm themselves with a number of Enfield Rifles, taken from Sher Ali's armoury at Ali Masjid in 1878. [return]
5
The Merwarras, or Mhairwarra Battalion, were from Amjer and came to prominence at Kam Dakka, where their Captain, Creagh O' Moore, won the Victoria Cross in April 1879. [return]
6
Lt. Geoffrey Morehead Porter. [return]
7
Surgeon William John Le Grand, retired in 1885. [return]
8
A palanquin swung on a long bamboo pole for carrying casualties, operated by 'doolie bearers'. [return]
9
Lt. Charles Edward Pollock. He had served at Kam Dakka in April (in which his horse was wounded), but was later invalided to England. [return]
10
The Political Officer in charge was Captain Louis Henry Emile Tucker (1843-1925). [return]


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