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(Continued from the previous page)

 

The Devonshire Regiment entering the Kohat Pass
The Devonshire Regiment marching into the mouth of the Kohat Pass

 

A great column of soldiers arrived at the mouth of the Kohat Pass shortly after 3.0am on 10 October 1897. Specially trained Gurkhas acted as scouts and a permanent advance guard with the 1st battalion, the Devonshire Regiment providing protection from the rear. General Hamilton said of them in a letter home: "I have a grand Battalion in the the Devonshire regiment" and many other accounts support  the view that their morale and discipline were exceptional throughout. 

At Kohat, each man was issued with his kit which included

2 blankets

1 waterproof sheet

An extra pair of puttees

A woollen cardigan

A knitted head covering rather like a balaclava

A khaki jacket lined with serge

100 rounds carried in a pouch

Additional items such as reserve ammunition , great coats etc. were carried by pack animals in the baggage trains. Facilities were provided at Kohat for sharpening swords and bayonets. 

On 17 October, the 1st Battalion set out on its journey to Shinwari. By this time, General Hamilton had had his accident and Brigadier General Hart VC had taken over the command. The group consisted of 24 officers, 1 Warrant officer, 709 Other Ranks and 88 camp followers, some the servants of individuals, others engaged in more general support duties.

 

The camp at Shinawari

The camp at Shinawari (aka Shinwari)

Overlooking the next objective - the formidable Dargai mountain range. A surgeon wrote "The camp was in a terrible state and seemed in chaos." 

 

Fierce fighting broke out next day (18 October). The target for the 4th Brigade was to clear the ridge and that of the 3rd Brigade to sweep from the west, but by mid-afternoon both Brigades had achieved their objectives with a total of twenty casualties.

 

What happened next almost defies belief. Orders were given for everyone to return as quickly as possible to the camp at Shinawari. Many reasons have been suggested: very little daylight remained - there appeared to be no water on the hills - occupying troops had no place to sleep and no food with them. It was a most curious decision because the return journey was extremely perilous as each man became an exposed rifle target. 

 

As soon as the ridge had been vacated, the Afridi tribesmen returned with reinforcements and settled in for the night. By the following morning, the Dargai cliffs and hills were teeming with  12000 Afghani tribesmen and the Tirah Expeditionary Force had no choice but to begin the task of taking the ridge all over again.

 

The cliffs at Dargai
The cliffs at Dargai

 

* British soldiers at this time wore ankle boots and puttees - 9 feet long pieces of wool serge  wrapped around the legs like a bandage. They were tied around the legs by pieces of cotton attached to the serge at the top and were said to protect against snake and insect bites.

 

CONTINUED

 

 
 
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