The Battle of Khushk-i-Nakhud
Maiwand - A Letter from Kandahar

The following is from a private letter that was reproduced in The Times of 14 September 1880.
Introduction and footnotes by Garen Ewing.

Introduction

The tale of Maiwand, the British disaster of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, is probably the most written about episode of the campaign (with the possible exception of Roberts' resulting relief column from Kabul), as well as a source of great national pride in Afghanistan. While many stories of 'That Day' will never be told, buried as they are in the desert of Helmand, the following letter is from one of the officers sent out from Kandahar to help bring in the survivors, who had made the hellish 50-mile journey from the battlefield back to the safety of the citadel.

The earliest reports of the battle refer to it as the battle of Khushk-i-Nakud, which was near the location of General Burrows' camp from which he advanced to meet Ayub Khan on 27 July 1880. The actual battlefield was about 8 miles north of Khushk-i-Nakud, and 3 miles south-west of Maiwand, on a plain before the villages of Khig (Khik) and Mundabad (Mahmudabad) and 3 miles west of the Khushk-i-Nakhud River.

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.

Khushk-i-Nakhud, the 'Diamond of the Desert', from a sketch by General Biddulph.

Candahar, Aug 3

"The telegrams we managed to send before the wires were cut1 will have told you how our troubles began. As usual, our political officer was hoodwinked. Ayoob Khan bided his time, and when our little force drew up in battle array after a ten mile march without water, to face, as they supposed, some 2,000 riff-raff, they found themselves in front of a splendid army of 20,000 men and 30 guns, two at least of which were breech-loading Armstrongs2.

They fought for five hours, when Jacob's Rifles3, always shaky, bolted before a charge of 2,000 Ghazis, considered by most their expiring effort, carrying away with them the 1st Grenadiers4 and throwing the poor 66th5 into hopeless confusion. The gunners could not limber up, and two guns of the Royal Artillery were lost and five of the Wali's, which we had only taken a few days before6. Officers and men were shot down at their guns, and the whole thing became an utter rout. To make matters worse, the Scind Horse refused to charge7, and all was lost.

Then ensued 15 hours of unutterable horrors. Most of the 66th were killed in the garden, and only a miserable remnant escaped8, and only that because the enemy came across our baggage and began to loot. I was woke up at 2 a.m., and as we hurridly armed the story was whispered about, having been brought in by two camel sowars.

Immediately General Brooke9 collected a small force10 and started to help the fugitives in. Lucky it was he did so. Half a mile from Candahar we had to begin our fighting, and without supports or communications fought our way to Kokaran, some nine miles. Awful were the sights we met on the way – wounded men who had ridden a mass of blood all through that fearful night foully butchered on the road a few miles from home by the cowardly villagers who a few hours before were our sincere friends and providers; others, more lucky, straggling in by twos and threes, on camels, on ponies, on foot, dazed, footsore, dying of thirst, with a look of bewildered agony in their swollen faces and bloodshot eyes that I shall never, never forget; it was too horrible.

About 8 o'clock we met what was at once the rear guard and the main body. Poor General Burrows11 broke down utterly when he met Brooke, and so did the others when I spoke to them. The poor General was utterly crushed and broken, his sword tied up in a knot, and his voice gone. He behaved splendidly, and personally saved the lives of three officers. Turning with them, we fought our way back to barracks, and by 7 had nearly everything and quite everybody safe in the fort.

Our greatest loss in personal comfort is that the Parsees12 were in such a fright that, although carts and camels were sent them, they saved little or nothing, and fled to the fort. Since then the villains have been in uncontrolled possession of our late quarters13, and have looted or destroyed everything. Now all our efforts are concentrated in strengthening our position, but with four miles of wall to hold and our black regiments hardly to be depended upon, our position is, to say the least, ticklish. We are very well off for food, and shall be for the next three weeks, and after that, if we hold out, we shall hope to see General Phayre14."


Footnotes

1
General Primrose discovered that telegraphic communications with Quetta had been cut at 11 a.m. on 28 July. [return]
2
Most sources cite six breech-loading Armstrongs. Such was the British disbelief at the skill of Ayub Khan's gunners, that many of them presumed there must be Russians present. [return]
3
Raised in 1858 by Major John Jacob, and given regular status as the 30th Bombay Native Infantry in 1861. [return]
4
The 1st Bombay Native Infantry, initially raised in 1778, becoming the 1st Grenadier Regiment in 1798. [return]
5
The 66th Foot, later the 2nd Battalion Princess Charlotte of Wales (Berkshire) Regiment. [return]
6
These were smooth-bore guns given to the Wali of Kandahar, Sher Ali, by the British Government. On 14 July 1880 some 3,000 of the Wali's troops mutinied, taking the guns with them, but they were quickly won back by a portion of Burrows' Helmand expeditionary force. [return]
7
The 3rd Regiment Sind Horse, along with the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry, had started a charge at the ghazis, only to pull up and veer off within a hundred yards. The reasons for this are unclear. The cavalry were heavily demoralised and were facing an increasingly confident enemy. A second charge could not be gathered. [return]
8
Out of 516 men, the 66th suffered 286 killed and 32 wounded (sources vary). [return]
9
Henry Francis Brooke, who was killed in the sortie on Deh Khoja on 16 August 1880. [return]
10
The force consisted of 2 guns C/2 R.A., 40 sabres Poona Horse, 73 men 7th Royal Fusiliers and 100 men 28th Bombay Infantry. [return]
11
George Scott Reynolds Burrows (1827-1917), commander at Maiwand. [return]
12
Parsees, or Parsis, are an ethno-religious group of Zoroastrian faith originally descended from Persian refugees. [return]
13
The cantonments outside Kandahar's city walls. [return]
14
General Robert Phayre (1820-97) led the relief column from Quetta, however he was beaten to Kandahar by General Roberts and his march from Kabul. [return]


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