Did you know?
A collection of interesting tid-bits in relation to the Second Anglo-Afghan War
and some inaccurate 'facts' corrected...

Screw Guns

Proposed by Lieutenant-Colonel C. B. Le Mesurier in 1877, the new portable 'screw gun' saw its first action in the Afghan War during the Zaimukht expedition in December 1879. Le Mesurier wasn't there to see the guns in action, but he did serve in the Afghan War on staff at Kandahar. Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'Screw Guns' (1890) heightened their fame.

Jack the Ripper

Private Richard Brown, a gunner in the Royal Artillery who saw action at Ahmed Khel, has been discussed as a possible minor suspect for being Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer of late-1880s London. Shortly after resigning from the Metropolitan Police, he committed suicide in Hyde Park, one week after the last Ripper murder.

Kahki

The Second Anglo-Afghan War was one of the earliest campaigns where British soldiers wore khaki in large numbers. As khaki-manufactured uniforms were not common, the soldiers had to make their own by dying their white summer uniforms with a variety of substances, including coffee, tea, curry powder, and all kinds of dyes - resulting in whole companies marching out in a variety of shades - from bright yellow to dark brown.

Pink Silk Pyjamas

There were many variations of the British uniform on display in Afghanistan, but perhaps the most bizarre sight to greet 3,000 attacking Afghans at Ali Khel one night was that of Captain O' Moore Creagh, who joined in the defence of the British camp with no time to change into his usual uniform - bedecked in a pair of pink silk pyjamas.

Afghans in Kilts

When the Amir, Yakub Khan, turned up at Gandamak to sign the treaty that ended the first campaign, he came with his own Highland guard - Afghan soldiers in red tunics and kilts patterned with a 'tartan' of red and white checks, though they wore pantaloons underneath and no sporran. Rather than impress the British soldiers, they were more a point of curious amusement.

Dutch Antique

When the British took control of the Sherpur cantonment at Kabul in October 1879, they found abandoned within it the entire Afghan reserve artillery, consisting of seventy-two guns and mortars. The most interesting was an old Dutch brass gun dated '1625'.

Afghan Princess

Captain Robert Warburton served in the Afghan War as a Political Officer in the Khyber Pass. While his father was British, his mother was an Afghan Princess, a niece of the Amir Dost Muhammad. His half-brother, John Paul Warburton (real name Jahan Dad Khan), became known as 'the greatest detective of nineteenth century India'.

Around the World in ...

Eighty days is what it took Phileas Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, to circumscribe the globe in Jules Verne's 1872 novel. Various people attempted the journey in real life, which by 1903 was down to 54 days, 9 hours, and 42 minutes. In 1907 a new record was set when Colonel Hardin Burnley-Campbell made the journey in 40 days, 19 hours and 30 minutes (it would be broken four years later). Colonel Burnley-Campbell had served with the 6th Dragoons in the Afghan War and was the only member of that regiment to be awarded the Bronze Star for the epic, and also impressively fast, march from Kabul to Kandahar in 1880.

Treasure( (And Kipling)

One of the prize collections of the British Museum is the Oxus Treasure horde. During the campaign in 1880 this almost disappeared into the caves of Afghanistan when a group of Afghan bandits stole the loot from some Bokharan merchants. Captain Francis Charles Burton, Political Officer of the Bengal Staff Corps, managed to retrieve the cache and return it to the merchants, where it went on to India to be sold to British buyers, and then given to the museum. Incidentally, Captain Burton's wife, Isabella, was a friend of Rudyard Kipling and is said to be the basis for the character of Mrs Hauksbee.

... more to be added soon...

And the not quite so accurate...

Ten Day Defence

This text has appeared on a handful of 'on this day' entries across the web, for 12 April 1879:

"Captain Creagh of the Indian Army began a ten day defence of the village of Kam Dakka near Kabul..."

The date is incorrect, it was 22nd April 1879, and it was not ten days long - the action lasted from about 5.30am until late afternoon on the same day. And just to be really pedantic, the action was not a defence of the village (Creagh and his men were defending themselves from within a cemetery outside the village).

Telephone

Another 'on this day' website posts the following for April 19th 1880:

"The Times war correspondent telephones a report of the Battle of Ahmed Khel, the first time news is sent from a field of battle in this manner."

Actually the first news of the battle of Ahmed Khel was sent the following day from Ghazni by heliograph (using a mirror to flash sunlight in morse-code) to General Ross 50 miles away. The news was then sent to India and then the Indo-European Telegraph via Teheran to be reported in the late edition of The Times on April 23rd, and more fully on the 24th. General Stewart laid no wires on his march from Kandahar to Ghazni, so telegraphic communication from the field of battle would not have been possible.

Bala Hissar

The following line concerning the Bala Hissar, the great fort at Kabul, appeared in The Sunday Times in Feb 2007:

"The fort is in ruins, destroyed by British troops in 1879 in retaliation for the murder of the British envoy."

The British did carry out some demolition work on the Bala Hissar, but it was not until the spring of 1880. It was not done in retaliation for the murder of Cavagnari, the British envoy, but rather to make it practical for military occupation - they constructed as well as demolished. While the fort was already partially crumbling in 1879, most of the damage in that year was by Afghan hand, and also from an accidental explosion in the armoury. See article.

Baden-Powell

There are a few places that claim that Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scout movement) "fought in the Afghan War", or stories of ancestors who served under Baden-Powell in action at Kandahar.

At that time Baden-Powell was a lieutenant of two years in the 13th Hussars, and his regiment was indeed posted to southern Afghanistan, reaching Kandahar in early December 1880 (making their base at Kokeran), by which time the conflict had been officially over for two months. They saw no action and formed the rear-guard of the British evacuation, leaving Kandahar on 22 April 1881. Men of the 13th Hussars would not be in receipt of the Afghan War medal.


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