"We have got the Gatling Gun"
Lieutenant John Adye is given his first command

The following transcript is extracted from 'Soldiers & Others I Have Known' by Sir John Adye (1925), and may not be copied from this site without prior permission. Introduction and footnotes by Garen Ewing.

"Whatever happens
we have got,
the Gatling gun
and they have not."
- Hillaire Belloc


Although the American Gatling 'machine' gun had been patented in 1862, the British had not made great use of it, and the Afghan war saw it still in a trial phase, despite its use in the 1874 Asante Expedition, and its parallel use in Zululand.

Lieutenant John Adye came from a family of Royal Artillery men (his great-grandfather had entered the R.A in 1757, his grandfather in 1799, and his father in 1836) and was initially sent to India to teach a battery about the new 'screw guns' that were to make their first appearance in Afghanistan. As the new guns were greatly delayed, and after giving a lecture or two on their general principles, he was requested to take on a Gatling gun command instead, which is where the following story begins. He didn't get to see the unit in action as he came down with typhoid fever in June and was eventually invalided to England.

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.

One of the Gatling guns in the Kuram Valley 1879. The officer on the right is almost certainly Lt. Adye.

I had not been very long at Rawul Pindi when a telegram was received from Colonel Murray1 asking if Lieutenant Adye knew anything about Gatling guns. Now my knowledge of them was confined to the facts that a Gatling consisted of a number of rifle barrels stuck together, surmounted by a sort of drum, or cartridge carrier, which, with the barrels, was actuated by a handle which, turning, made the barrels revolve, supplied them with cartridges from the drum, and fired each barrel in turn. Of the detailed mechanism of the machine I knew nothing, but I did not hesitate to reply that I was well acquainted with the Gatling gun, for I guessed what was the object of the enquiry.

Sure enough, in a few days' time came an order from Army Head-quarters for me to proceed at once to Kuram, in Afghanistan - the head-quarters of the Kuram Valley Field Force, then commanded by a rising soldier, Major-General Frederick Roberts, R.A., there to take command of a couple of Gatling guns.

Here was a little command all to myself, an unexpected piece of luck for a young subaltern of one-and-twenty, and, instead of waiting for months down country, I was to cross the frontier and go on active service at once. I packed my kit, said goodbye to the envious battery, and entrained myself, my servants and my ponies for Kohat, with all the expedition I could use.

At Kohat I met with an obstacle, as the Station Staff Officer there knew nothing about me, and refused to let me go any farther without instructions, so I had to spend several days kicking my heels there.

While I was waiting the Commander-in-Chief in India2 passed through, and I met him and the Adjutant-General at dinner at the dåk bungalow3 I was staying at. Both knew my father, and the Adgutant-General, Sir Peter Lumsden, spoke to me about him, but I was too shy to ask him to give orders for my departure for the front. However, in a few days the order came, General Roberts having asked where I was, and I made my preparations to depart. As the railway then ended at Kohat it was necessary to march from there to Thul, the frontier town, and thence to Kuram. I now received my first lesson in the necessity of looking very closely after one's own interests, especially where active service is concerned. There were at Kohat at that time several batteries of artillery, both field and mountain. One of the latter was commanded by a Captain X4. as I will designate him, a man who had considerable experience of India, and was, of course, many years older than myself. The night before I left Kohat Captain X. informed me that he was going up to General Roberts's head-quarters the next day, and suggested we should join forces and march up together, as it would be better to form as large a party as possible in the rather disturbed state of the border. Moreover, as he pointed out, he spoke the language and was up to all the ropes, whereas I, fresh from England, was quite ignorant of these matters. I agreed with alacrity, delighted to think that I should have so knowledgeable and experienced a companion.

At the end of the first day's march, which was through beautiful scenery, the hills coming close to the road, Captain X. suggested that we need pitch only one tent for the two of us, and that my servant should cook the dinner5.

As we sat in front of my tent - a small double-fly 80lb one - after an excellent meal, my companion delivered himself thus: "This is very nice, my dear Adye. Your servant seems an excellent cook, and you and I will form a very pleasant little mess in Afghanistan, and will, I am sure, get on well together." I assented, wondering what it all meant. I was soon enlightened.

"I am going up to head-quarters," Captain X. proceeded, "to ask for the command of these two Gatling guns, which no doubt I shall obtain. You will be my subaltern, and we shall have a splendid time together." Again I assented, though rather dubiously, and the conversation ended, but it had given me a good deal to think about.

My dream of an independent, however humble, command seemed in danger, but it was something to know that a real live Captain coveted my two poor liitle Gatlings, and as I felt in the pocket of my coat for the telegram from Army Head-quarters appointing me to the command of them, I determined to make an effort to retain it. Fortune favoured me, or my rival felt too secure of ousting so insigificant a person as myself, for when we reached Thul in two or three days' time, Captain X. announced his intention of remaining twenty-four hours to look up various friends who were in camp there. This gave me my chance. I said that I had been wired for by General Roberts, I had better push on. X. agreed and asked me to announce his arrival, and to get everything ready for him.

While I was resting in my tent I heard someone outside it accost someone else by the name of Adye, and, looking out, I saw two officers, one of whom, in the uniform of a native cavalry regiment, seemed to be a namesake of mine. I found that this Captain Adye6 was going to the front the next day, so we arranged to go on together, and spent the next three or four days in riding through very fine scenery to the town of Kuram. My new companion was an excellent horseman, and trained all his horses in a remarkable way. The one he was riding would follow him like a dog, and seemed as intelligent. His family, I believe, had changed the spelling of their name to ours a few years before, but it was so odd, on the day I crossed the frontier, to do so in company with a man of my own name, which is not a very common one.

The town of Kuram stands in a broad and fertile valley, through which flows the river of that name. The valley is bordered by high mountains and closed at its northern end by the range in which occurs the Peiwar Kotal, celebrated as being the scene of General Roberts's first victory, a few months earlier. Above it towers the snow-covered peak of Sika Ram, some 15,7007 feet high, if my memory is not at fault, or about the height of Mont Blanc8.

The Colonel commanding the Royal Artillery of the Force, Lindsay9 by name, was the first person I came across at Kuram, and after I had lunched in the head-quarter R.A. mess tent, I told him that Captain X. would arrive next day and hoped to obtain command of the Gatlings. The Colonel, a strict disciplinarian, left no doubt in my mind as to what Captain X.'s reception would be, and I believe he was ordered to return at once to Kohat, which he was told he had no business to leave to proceed on leave of absence into Afghanistan.

Thus confirmed in my little command, I proceeded to take stock of it, and in all my subsequent experience I do not think I ever came across a more curious assortment of men and material. The two Gatling guns had been dug out of some arsenal in the plains, and were of antiquated pattern10. What was worse, they had only been set up with one "drum" apiece, so that when the drum was emptied the gun was out of action for some time, as it took a good deal of time and care to re-fill it with cartridges. To carry the guns, carriages and amunition, twenty ponies had been bought on the spot from officers of the force. Several of these were polo ponies, the others were baggage animals, and they formed a very nice little stud. The pack saddles, on which the guns, etc., were to be carried, had been improvised from those belonging to an Afghan mountain battery captured at the Peiwar Kotal, and were, necessarily, of a makeshift description. The men to work the guns consisted of a sergeant, a corporal and ten gunners sent up by a field battery11 in the plains, and, for the honour of the regiment, I regret to say that the battery commanding officer seemed to have selected - with one exception - the very worst men in his battery. Never have I seen worse defaulter sheets that eleven of these men posessed. As a make-weight, apparently, one smart and well-conducted man had been included; his name comes back to me five-and-forty years later - it was Strudwick12.

Besides these, twenty men were required to lead and groom the ponies, and these were supplied by ten men from each of those two very distinguished regiments, the 72nd Seaforth, and 92nd Gordon, Highlanders, which formed part of the force. These men were a complete contrast to the gunners, for I was told that when - shortly before my arrival - volunteers had been called for, for duty with the Gatlings, the best part of the two battalions had volunteered, and their public-spirited commanding officers had selected some of the best men in each battalion. These Highlanders had believed they were to fight the guns and were greatly disappointed to find that they were to act as "drivers" only, and lead and groom the ponies. The addition of two or three natives, to clean up the horse lines, completed as curious a mixed command as it has ever been my lot to see.

My troubles began early, for I was told that General Roberts was only waiting for my arrival to see the guns fired, and forty-eight hours after I reached Kuram we went out into the plain for a practice, which was to be witnessed by the General and his staff.

The result was a complete fiasco. The handles worked so stiffly and caused so much "jump" at each revolution, as to throw the gun off target, with the result that the bullets went everywhere except where they should have gone13. I could not justly be blamed for this failure, seeing that I had only seen the guns two days before, and had no time to overhaul them, not to mention carry out any preliminary practice with them, but the result was mortifying. General Roberts took the matter very kindly, but I fancy he saw that these guns could not be trusted to stop a rush of fanatical Afghans, as had been hoped. I believe that the only time they came into action, in a fight in the neighbourhood of Cabul, they failed ignominiously, and were deposited in the arsenal at Cabul on arrival, where they may be to this day14.


Lt.-Colonel Alexander Henry Murray, Deputy Adjutant General of Artillery in India. [return]
2 Sir Frederick Haines. [return]
3 A traveller's rest-house. [return]
4 It would be very interesting to know the identity of Captain X. Discovering which mountain batteries were at Kohat in March-April 1879 is not simple, but it is known that half a battery of G/3 R.A, were there in February, and were the only artillery unit there at that time, but were not a mountain battery. Another possibilty is C/4 R.A., who left 3 guns at Kohat in March. Others were nearby and in reserve. [return]
5 Adye's servant had been leant to him by Col. Murray, and was apparently an excellent cook. When Adye was ill with fever, he stayed by his side and nursed him, to which Adye believes he owes him his life. [return]
6 This must be Lt. Goodson Adye of the Bengal Staff Corps and 1st Cavalry Hyderabad Contigient. He was not promoted Captain until 1884. Out of seven Adyes on the 1881 Army List, five of them served in Afghanistan, but Goodson is the only one who can be placed anywhere near Roberts' Field Force, and the only one connected with native cavalry. [return]
7 Officially 15,620 feet above sea level. [return]
8 Mont Blanc is a little taller at 15,780 feet above sea level. [return]
9 Lt.-Col. Alexander H. Lindsay, R.A., commanded the Royal Artillery, Kuram Valley Field Force. [return]
10 In the photo of the Gatlings (above) it has been noted they are equipped with Broadwell ammunition drums, introduced in 1872. [return]
11 The men for the Gatlings were provided by G/3 R.A. [return]
12 Gunner 7958 Alfred Strudwick, G/3 R.A. [return]
13 This took place on 17 April 1879, where it was noted that "every bullet missed the target", and also that "most of the Kurram garrison had turned out to see the new guns". They were tested again on 24th April, with only slightly improved results. [return]
14 The Gatlings were used at the battle of Charasia on 6 October 1879 under the charge of Captain Broadfoot R.A., and fired 150 rounds in all - one of them jamming after 10 rounds, whereupon it had to be taken to pieces. They were used again at Shah Darwaza on 8 and 9 October, and then during the siege of Sherpur in December, with one positioned on the Bemaru Heights. In 1880 they seem to have been in the charge of a detachment from 12/9 R.A. It is unlikely they were left in the arsenal at the Bala Hissar. [return]

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