Send for Bobs.

Field Marshal The Rt Hon. The Earl Roberts VC KG KP GCB Order of Merit GCSI GCIE PC.One of histories greatest heroes whose deeds are beyond compare was involved in the Second Afghan War. It was a case of send for Bobs.

The Great Game.
The prominent players of the Afghan second Campaign were not the indigenous population. Britain and Russia were at each others throats over India and Asia. The question was the best way for the British to preserve their interest. Would it be better to use the natural defenses of the Himalayas, desolate deserts and the British Navy patrolled Indian Ocean. Or a show of determination by the insertion of an army in Afghanistan the center of the disputed area. Espionage and trickery mingled with imperial diplomacy and lastly a show of force.

Much of this land was unmapped and its cities unknown. Its cultures complicated and fossilized.

The Beginning of Insurrection.
After the death of Amir Sher Ali Khan in may of 1879 the Treaty of Gandamak was signed by his successor Yalub Khan. Sir Pierre Louis Cavagnari was the British Administrator, a son of an old noble Italian family from Palma who served the Bonaparte family. His mother was Irish and he Cavagnari was born in France in 1841.

He managed to obtain English naturalization and join the East India Company. In 1858 he served during the Oudh Campaign and later as deputy Commissioner took part in several expeditions.

With the help of his friends he climbed the ladder and by 1878 he was attached to the British Commission of Kabul. The Afghans refused them entry to the Khyber Pass and resulted in a Indo British Army marching into the country. The treaty of Gandamak was negotiated and signed by Yalub Khan allowing a British subject to enter Kabul and the surrender control of Afghanistan foreign affairs to the British Empire.

For this skillful maneuver Cavagnari was given the Star of India. In Kabul his machinations fell apart when mutinous Afghan troops murdered him and others of the mission including his guard Guides. It may have been Cavagnari's high handed manner or the humiliation by the British that led to his demise. Ayub Khan the son of Amir Sher Ali Khan was a suspect in the murder and exiled. The two candidates to take his place included his younger brother and his nephew. Both were considered unsuitable and the choice fell on Lord Rippon. His remit was to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. Only a British and Indian force of 1,500 and levies were in Kabul and the evacuation began as planned. Ayub Khan had mustered around 10,000 men and intercepted the British force.

At Maiwand Brigadier Burrows met the Afghanistan force on the 27th July 1880. The Brigadiers Indian men were not fully trained and many ran at the first shots. The British 66th (Berkshire) infantry Regiment astounded the Afghans by their bravery. When only 11 men were left and Afghan officer noted. "These men charged from the shelter of a garden and died with their faces to the enemy, fighting to the death. So fierce was their charge, and so brave their actions, no Afghan dared to approach to cut them down. So, standing in the open, back to back, firing steadily, every shot counting, surrounded by thousands, these British soldiers died. It was not until the last man was shot down that the Afghans dared to advance on them. The behaviour of those last eleven was the wonder of all who saw it" The small British force inflicted 2,500 casualties on the enemy. It is often forgotten the Afghans many pieces of artillery which they used to great effect.


92nd highlands storm Gundimlla92nd highlands storm Gundimlla

Burrow's tired remnants marched the 45 miles to Kandahar. Thirst and exhaustion and continual attacks began to break down discipline. Captain Slade mounted a brilliant rear guard action that saved the day for many. Men in twos and threes could be seen sprawled over the desert. They were nearly naked and the gun carriages were crowded with wounded. Horses with gaping wounds and limping men looked for water.

Hordes of Afghan horsemen rode into them and cut them down. Of the 1,400 British and Indian troops only 161 reached Kandahar. One of the few survivors was a dog called "Bobbie".


The Government of India decided on dispatching a force from Kabul to Khelat-I-Ghilzai and Kandahar to relieve the garrisons. Sirdar Mahomed Ayub Khan with his large army was enroute at that time to both of those places with obvious intent. The bazaars were vibrant with the news of Brigadier Burrows defeat and the name of Maiwand and Ayub Khan were synonymous with victory. He saw himself as the rightful ruler of Afghanistan. Soon the survivors made their way disheveled and exhausted to Kandahar only to be besieged. As time was running out the relief of Kandahar and the defeat of Ayub became paramount. General Donald Stewart at Gough's Camp was determined to wipe the slate clean. In the Indian Rebellion of 1857 he rode from Agra to Delhi with important dispatches, a formidable journey fraught with danger. He had assembled what he called a fine force which included the 92nd Highlanders,72nd Highlanders. 60th Rifles, 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, 6/8 Royal Artillery, 23 Pioneers, 2nd Sikh Infantry 3rd Bengal Lancers, 24th Punjab Infantry, 2nd Gurkhas, 4th Gurkhas and No 2 Mountain Battery.

"The present question is the relief of Kandahar and the defeat of Ayub.
I have a fine force ready for the work, and Bobs would go in command of it."– General Donald Stewart, Kabul.

The call was for Frederick Sleigh Roberts VC and 7 times mentioned in dispatches. Roberts a distinguished Anglo Irish soldier know thought the army and British Nation as Bobs. He was born in Cawnpore India in September of 1832 . On the 2nd of January 1858 at Khudaganj in Northern India he spotted two Sepoys racing off with a British Standard and gave chase. One of the Sepoys fired at him and missed as Roberts cut down the man carrying the Standard. On the same day he saved the life of an Indian Cavalryman.


9th Lancers on Kabul-Kandahar march9th Lancers on Kabul-Kandahar march

Some, objected to sending a force into hostile territory that may prove to make matters worse. It was finally decided to take the risk and a force gathered of the best available regiments and the long march to Kandahar began. General Steward had the responsibility of ensuring the rest of the Kabul Garrison would be taken safely to India. General Phayre would march from Quetta to Kandahar. The garrison would surely be in a poor condition and may have already succumbed to the Afghans. Robert knew speed was on the essence. The order was to travel light and restricted the carrying weight of their kit. No artillery and vehicles were to be used only Mountain batteries. 8500 mules, donkeys and ponies would carry the main supplies
. Roberts knew their would be little communication with the other advance. Also his small army would certainly be vulnerable once in the mountains. At Fort Bala Hissar the bugles sounded as the dawn rose. The troops marched along the willow avenues and passes people who did not bid them farewell. When the Kabul river was crossed Surgeon Major Joshua Duke commented, " the city is left behind without regrets." By the 7th August the 10,000 troops and 8,000 bearers passed the Sherpur contonment on the way to Bala Hissar. Thought the fertile Logar Valley they gathered what supplies they could. Then the long climb thought the Zamburak Kotal and narrow harrowing roads. At the city of Ghazani they expected to encounter some form of resistance. Instead it was peaceful.

The dust kicked up by the advancing army drifted high as they entered the stony plains. Sandstorms and blazing sun in 105 degrees Fahrenheit began to tell on the marchers by day and the nights brought a contrary misery of below zero temperatures. There was the added problem of little water and shade. Camels were purchased enroute to ease the burden of the ponies and donkeys. Due to their poor condition and already damaged bodies many of the Indian bearers fell sick. While the troops were in high spirit Lt Charles Robinson of the 8th Foot remarked,

" it was a standing subject of surprise to me that we were not smitten with some epidemic"

During the march everything was paid for even firewood. Surprisingly the Afghans gave gladly.

Eventually the arduous march began to tell on the soldiers and three men of the 72nd Highlanders took their own lives along with two sepoys. From 20 miles to 15 miles a day they marched to Khelat-i-Ghilzai with those who fell behind ushered by the rear guard. At Khelat-i-Ghilzai Robert gathered the latest intelligence of Ayub Khan's withdrawal away from Kandahar. Kandahar was then not in immediate danger. But there was no information of General Phayre's advance for Quetta. Some units fared better than the others, General Charles MacGregor of the 3rd Brigade remembered an Afghan saying, " we were like and Afghan army and Stewarts was like a European." MacGregor thought some of the force had become a rabble. As Kandahar was not in immediate danger Roberts ordered a day of rest. The rest of the way was complete by shorter marches. Robert unfortunate fell ill with a fever, which did not prevent him from drawing up plans for the attack the next day. General Primrose at Kandahar sent Roberts a letter describing the situation in the city and the earlier sorties of his troops had carried out. Roberts rode his charger whenever he was in the sight of Kandahar.

On studying his map he could see a spur running northwest to the Urgundab Valley and the village of Mazra. At the tip of the spur is Pir Paimal Hill. Auyb Khan had camped near Mazra and the spur to take advantage of the heights.

A reconnaissance carried out by General Gough and Colonel Chapman attained valuable information. On the return they were attacked by Afghans and the Sikh Infantry had to be ordered to action.

On the 1st September 1880 the Bagawli Pass was shelled at 9am.The Afghans returned fire often to greater effect than the British guns. It was evident the Mulla and Sahibdad villages had to be secured to the success of the operation. General Macpherson advanced the 92nd Highlanders and 2nd Gurkhas to Mulla Sahibdad. The Afghans fought back bravely but lost 200 men before the villages were taken. The British force now moved to Pir Paimal encountering some stiff resistance. General Baker with the 72nd Highlanders and the 2nd Sikh Infantry advanced to Gundigan and despite the Afghan's well defended positions a determined attack dislodged them. The Highlanders and Sikhs at Gundigan held off mass attacks from Ghazis until joined by the other brigade. Major White with his 92nd Highlanders and the 5th Gurkhas with the 23rd Pioneers finally bayonet charged the 8,000 Afghans of Pir Paimal sending them into a wild retreat.

Colonel Money took Kharoti hill from which he could see Ayub Khan abandon his camp at Mazra in the face of the advancing forces of Macpherson and Baker. McGregor and his 3rd Brigade advanced to Pir Paimal village where his commander General Ross would meet him. Ross was not aware of the true situation and order a replenishment of munitions. By this innocent action he let Ayub Kahn off the hook. Ayub's army had been routed and was in full panic retreat .

Roberts of Kandahar by Sidney Low, Nov. 1914Roberts Known as Bobs died of Pneumonia at St Omer in France whilst visiting Indian troops during the First World War. Major Lewin, his son-in-law conveyed the news.

The story of his life is thus completed as he would have wished himself, dying in the middle of the soldiers he loved so well and within the sound of the guns.

Fredrick Roberts the last Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.

Field Marshal The Rt Hon. The Earl Roberts VC KG KP GCB Order of Merit GCSI GCIE PC.

Through the long years of peril and of strife,
He faced Death oft, and Death forbore to slay,
Reserving for its sacrificial Day,
The garnered treasure of his-crowned life,
So saved him till the furrowed soil was rife'
With the rich tillage of our noblest dead;
Then reaped the offering of his honoured head,
In that red field of harvest, where he died,
With the embattled legions at his side


Acknowledgments to
The Road to Kabul - the Second Afghan War 1878 to 1881 by Brian Robson.
Recent British Battles by Grant.
92nd Highlanders at the Battle of Kandahar by Caton Woodville
British Battles.com

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