"I was the Trumpeter upon that dreadful day"
A narrative by Trumpeter Charles Edward Duly of the 9th Lancers
on the action of Killa Kazi 11 Dec 1879

The following transcript is extracted from 'The Life of Trumpeter C. E. Duly' and may not be
copied or used without prior permission. Introduction and footnotes by Garen Ewing.

"I'll tell of an old true story,
Of Afghan's cruel war,
Where noble deeds of glory
Were done and dear paid for."
- Trumpeter Chas. Duly


Private Charles Duly (1857-1936) was a fascinating character who wrote a short memoir of his life, mostly made up of his time in the 9th Lancers during the Afghan War. By trade he was an acrobat, and unable to enlist in the 30th Regiment, he soon found himself performing for the officers of the 9th Lancers and was taken under the wing of Lord William Leslie de la Poer Beresford, who eventually got Duly accepted as a trumpeter in his regiment. Soon he found himself in India, and then crossing the border into Afghanistan for the war in 1878.

The Anglo-Indian force did not have many defeats in the two campaigns that constituted the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The most well-known was Maiwand in July 1880, but there was also something of a disaster on 11 December 1879 near Kabul (the action is variously referred to as the Chardeh Valley, Killa Kazi, Baghwana or Arghandi) when four guns had to be abandoned, and the British retreated in disarray. Here Trumpeter Duly gives an honest account of his experience, openly admitting his fear, but also telling how he saved a wounded soldier from the advancing tribesmen - something that could have quite possibly earned him a Distinguished Conduct Medal if it had been witnessed by the right officer, or maybe even a Victoria Cross if he had been the right officer himself. It was during this battle that the Reverend James Adams won his Victoria Cross, for saving not one, but three men from a water-filled ditch as Afghan warriors advanced just feet away, but there were many such acts by men during the confusion.

General Massy lost some credibility due to his unplanned run-in with the Afghan force and for losing his artillery pieces, and Colonel Macgregor gained some by being the officer who retrieved them. What followed was the British withdrawl into the Sherpur cantonment, surrounded by a huge Afghan force, and many days of siege and fighting, finally beaten off by General Roberts on Christmas Eve 1879.

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.

The guns retreat and the Lancers charge in the Chardeh Valley at Killa Kazi, 11 Dec 1879

"On the morning of the 11th December 1879 the order came for a strong squadron to turn out at once when we were dressing. Private Harris1 of my troop made rather a strange remark, "Well chums, if I get knocked over I've got nine Russian gold roubles in my belt so some of you must get them, don't let them black beauties have them." Strange to say he was the first man to get killed, but none of us got his Russian roubles. We turned out very quick, we joined four guns of F Battery, A Brigade Royal Horse Artillery2 and a squadron of the 14th Bengal Lancers3. We left cantonments at 9 a.m. under the command of General Massy4.

We circled around Cabul until we came to the gorge the same one we went over on the 8th of October we got into the Chardeh Valley and it was here our troubles commenced. We advanced towards the top of the valley by the road and the enemy came down in swarms from the hills into the valley. The artillery opened fire on them at seventeen hundred yards, but in a very short time they were in the valley like a swarm of bees. All this time the artillery was firing, we were formed up in line waiting for the order to "Charge". It was a curious experience as we sat in our saddles waiting with those black beggars shooting at us and we could do nothing. My feelings were not much to boast of on that occasion I can tell you. I felt as though I had not an ounce of strength in my whole body. I was dead to the world as it were, I saw men and horses dropping on either side of me and the bullets whizzing past my head. The question you know was who was to be next.

All that limp feeling passed away however, when I was ordered to sound charge. I came to myself and close behind Captain McKenzie5; we charged a good distance when the General's trumpeter sounded the "Recall". We rallied back and formed up again and we had another charge at them it was only to try to get the guns away. Three of the guns retired about two thousand yards back leaving one gun behind. It sounded the recall again, we rallied back to them and the even numbers with carbines dismounted and opened fire at them6, but it did not do much good as there was something like ten thousand to about two hundred all told. We made another dash to try and save the guns, but it was no go. This made the third time we had charged the enemy. We had to retire leaving the guns behind us.

It was after we had lost the guns that I had rather an unpleasant experience. In the last charge I was cut off from my squadron and found myself in a group of poplar trees. The enemy was coming up very fast behind me while in front of me there was a wide nella7 or watercourse with the trees only about four or five feet apart, and that made it very bad as my horse was not the best of jumpers and he had a nasty cut on his chest. So I said to myself: "I have to do it or they'll do me." I made a dash for it. My horse just landed on his front feet on the opposite side of the bank, and together we scrambled up, not without first slipping in the water. I got mounted, and then made off.

I had not gone fifty yards when I came across a wounded man - Private Cavanagh8. He was lying in an helpless condition and shouted to me: "For God's sake don't leave me here, Duly!" I hesitated for a moment, for the situation was a critical one, and then better thoughts came to me. Seeing a loose horse near I galloped away and caught it and took it back to him and got him on the horse's back the best way I could. I must tell you that this is the candid truth, and there is not a man breathing that can contradict this statement. This was done under heavy fire from the enemy. The horse I caught was a hand horse of the Artillery, and of course it had no saddle on - only a pad to which the driver's valise was fastened, and only a single rein. I had to lead the horse myself as he had to hold on to the valise like grim death. No.1334 Private J. Cavanagh, D Troop, 9th Queen's Lancers, his address, 65, Lillard Street, Liverpool, or labourer, Cunard Cargo Department, Liverpool.

On our way I met Captain Dean9 (I am not quite sure of the name, but he was a captain) and the first words he said to me were "Well, Trumpeter, you've had some fine sport today." "Well, sir, I don't know much about that, but if that's what you call sport, I don't want any more; I've had some." When I told him the guns were lost, he said: "We will retake them." I smiled to myself when a captain, a trumpeter, and a wounded man trying to retake the guns, but it all turned out all right.

We stopped at the gorge and in a short time we found a few stragglers of my squadron, and some of the Artillery. The men of my squadron gave the drivers of the Artillery their swords, but at this juncture we were pleasantly surprised to see the baggage escort of one of the columns escorting their baggage into cantonment. Captain Dean got them all together. It was a mixed lot of troops - some of the 67th Regiment, some of the 5th Gourkhas, and some Native Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Altogether we mustered about 160, all told.

After his service, Duly continued
performing, and with his wife and daughter
they became 'The Weimars'.

Just as we were advancing towards where the guns were lost, up came Colonel McGregor10 and took command out of Captain Dean's hands. He said: "D___ it, he has spoiled the whole thing for me11." Colonel McGregor turned to me and said: "Trumpeter, you know where the guns were lost?" I said, "Yes, Sir." "Then you go and show us the way." Of course I acted as a scout. I had travelled about a mile, I went down a nella and up the other side, when the enemy opened fire on me. I galloped back to the Colonel and told him that there were about four or five hundred of the enemy around the guns. He gave the order to the Infantry to advance in skirmishing order, and I can tell you it did not take very long to retake the guns. The remainder of the enemy had made off for the city, but were checked by the 72nd Highlanders and some Native Infantry and what was left of our Squadron. I can tell you the guns had been ransacked by the time we got them back. A little later on the 14th Bengal Lancers came up after the guns were retaken. Colonel McGregor, leaving for Sharpore cantonment and having no further use for me, I then acted as galloper to the Colonel of the 14th Bengal Lancers12. I got into Sharpore cantonment at about 11 o'clock.

I then picketed my horse, watered and fed him, took the saddle off, put a blanket on him, then was on the lookout for something to eat and drink. The first man I came across was Sergeant Major Young13, of my troop, who was giving in the list of the killed and wounded and missing to the Adjutant. And this was his remark: "There's Trumpeter Duly missing, and I could swear I saw him fall." And I replied in the dark, "No, you didn't." He turned round and asked me if I was wounded, I said "No, but my horse was." He told me to go to the canteen sergeant and get a dram of rum. I asked him if I could have an extra one. He said, "Yes." I can tell you it was a luxury. I then got a bit to eat, it being the first I had had since seven o'clock in the morning. I had scarce got it down when I was collared for rampart duty14. This duty was very severe, as we were in one position and up to our ankles in snow, and I was very tired, having been in the saddle about fourteen hours. I did not get any sleep that night.

This day we lost two officers, sixteen rank and file were killed, one officer and about thirty seven wounded15. There was only one squadron of my regiment engaged on the 11th of December, the strength being 118 men and five officers16. The above is the casualties of that day, so you can tell we had it rather warm."


Private 1800 John Harris was killed by gun shot and sword cuts 11 Dec 1879. [return]
F/A RHA had been in reserve at Charasia and were under the command of Major James Charles Smyth-Windham. They lost one officer and one gunner at Killa Kazi. [return]
The 14th Bengal Lancers saw a lot of action in December 1879, with Captain Josiah Philip Crampton Neville and Lieutenant Oswald Eric Forbes distinguishing themselves at Killa Kazi. Forbes and six men were killed in the action. [return]
General William Godfrey Dunham Massy (1838-1906) had led the attack on Redan at Sevastopol in 1855. He was rather unfairly suggested by some as the person to blame for the loss of the guns on 11 December, but in reality the event was not of his making. He may have lost 4 guns, but he also captured about 75 Afghan guns during the war. [return]
Captain James Alexander Francis Humberston Stewart-Mackenzie (1847-1923), the 24th Chief of Clan Kenneth and later 1st Baron Seaforth, was severely wounded at Killa Kazi, but survived to fight on at Sherpur, march to Kandahar and fight in the battle there on 1 Sep 1880. [return]
Colonel Hanna mentions that thirty men of the 9th Lancers dismounted with carbines to help cover the retreat of the guns. [return]
More properly a 'nullah', but that may be what Duly had written as there seem to be a few simple mistakes with names the type-setter may not have been able interpret. Then again, Duly may have called it a 'nella' as phonetic spellings were quite normal. [return]
Private 1334 James Cavanagh (or Cavanna), for which Duly soon gives full details in order to back up his story - they apparently kept in touch. Cavanagh only received the clasp for Kabul, so was certainly invalided back to India as soon as the siege of Sherpur was raised. The casualty roll indicates he had received a gun shot to his left leg. [return]
Almost certainly Captain Thomas Deane, Bengal Staff Corps, attached to the Staff of the Controller-General of Transport and Supply at Kabul. [return]
Colonel Charles Metcalfe Macgregor (1840-1887), Chief of Staff to General Roberts. [return]
11 Reading Macgregor's Afghan War diary (Trousdale, 1985), this sounds just the sort of thing he would have said. He was less than complimentary about the 9th Lancers, saying he "shouted and swore at them' to get them to charge, "but to no purpose". In typical style he later says "the honour of retaking all four [of the guns] belongs to me alone..." [return]
12 This would most likely be Colonel Thomas Gally Ross (d.1881). [return]
13 Sergeant Major 705 Robert Young was wounded himself on 11 Dec with a sword cut to his right thumb, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for saving Lt.-Col. Robert Stewart Cleland (1840-1880). [return]
14 The Sherpur cantonment was surrounded by a gated wall on three sides. [return]
15 Most sources agree on 18 deaths, but differ on the wounded, with Shadbolt citing two officers and 8 men; Farrington two officers and 9 men; and Hanna two officers and 19 men. 35 9th Lancer horses were killed and 10 wounded (London Gazette). [return]
16 On 29 Dec 1879, Trumpeter Duly was part of the squadron that returned to the Chardeh Valley to search for any missing bodies from the battle of 11th Dec. One 9th Lancer, Private Arthur Doncaster (or Dancaster), was found, as well as some artillery men and 14th Bengal Lancers. [return]

All original content on this site is © Garen Ewing 2022, unless otherwise stated.
Original images from my own collection and data on this site should not be used without prior permission - thank you.
See about this site for more details.