KPK History / Pakistan

Ambela Campaign (Buner), 1863, Part 4

There had been no fighting for some days, and most of the wounded had been removed. Sir Neville Chamberlain was still in camp, and I was sorry to find him suffering greatly from his wound. We were much interested in going over the piquets and listening to the story of the different attacks made upon them, which had evidently been conducted by the enemy with as much skill as courage. The loyalty of our Native soldiers struck me as having been most remarkable. Not a single desertion had occured, although all the Native regiments engaged, with the exception of the Gurkhas and Punjab Pioneers, had amongst them members of the several tribes we were fighting, and many of our soldiers were even closely related to some of the hostile tribesmen; on one occasion a young Buner sepoy actually recognized his own father amongst the enemy’s dead when the fight was over.(Colonel Reynell Taylor, whilst bearing like testimony to the good conduct of the Pathan soldiery, said the personal influence of officers will always be found to be the only stand-by for the Government interests when the religious cry is raised, and the fidelity of our troops being tampered with. Pay, pensions, and orders of merit may, and would be, cost to the winds when the honour of the faith was in the scale; but to snap the associations of years, and to turn in his hour of need against the man whom he has proved to be just and worthy, whom he has noted in the hour of danger, and praised as a hero to his family, is just what a Pathan will not do-to his honour be it said. The fact was that the officers in camp had been so long and kindly associated with their soldiers that the latter were willing to set them before their great religious teacher, the Akhund of Swat (‘Records of Expeditions against the North-West Frontier Tribes’).

We listened to many tales of the gallantry of the British officers. The names of Brownlow, Keyes, and Hughes: were on everyone’s lips, and Brownlow’s defence of the Eagle’s Nest on the 26th October, and of the ‘ Crag piquet’ on the 12th November, spoke volumes for his coolness and pluck, and for the implicit faith reposed in him by the men of the 20th Punjab Infantry, the regiment he had raised in 1857 when but a subaltern. In his official report the General remarked that ‘to Major Brownlow’s determination and personal example he attributed the preservation of the “Crag piquet.” And Keyes’s recapture of the same piquet was described by Sir Neville as ‘ a most brilliant exploit, stamping Major Keyes as an officer possessing some of the highest military qualifications.’ Brownlow and Keyes were both recommended for the Victoria Cross.

We (Adye and I) had no difficulty in making up our minds as to the course which ought to be taken. The column was daily being strengthened by the arrival of reinforcements, and although the combination of the tribesmen was still formidable, the enemy were showing signs of being disheartened by their many losses, and of a wish to come to terms.

Having consulted the civil and military authorities on the spot, we informed the Commander-in-Chief that they were of opinion a withdrawal would be most unwise, and that it was hoped that on the arrival of General Garvock (Chamberlain’s successor) an advance would be made into the Chamla valley, for there would then be a sufficient number of troops to undertake an onward move, as well as to hold the present position, which, as we told the Chief, was one of the strongest we had ever seen.

Source of Information/Reference:

Fredrick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Forty One Years In India: From Subalturn to Commander-In-Chief, Volume II, London, Richard Bentley and Sons, 1897,10-12.

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