Dost Mohammed Khan (1793-1863), a member of the Barakzai dynasty, was Amir of Afghanistan from 1826 to 1839. His country’s position between the Russian Empire and India meant that the British East India Company was anxious to ensure that a pro-British Amir was on the throne at Kabul. Fearful of a Russian invasion of India via Afghanistan, in 1837 the British sent an envoy to Kabul to gain his support. Dost Mohammed was in favour of an alliance, but when the British refused to help him regain Peshawar, which the Sikhs had seized in 1834, he prepared to talk to the Russians, who sent an envoy to Kabul. This led Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of India, to conclude that Dost Mohammed was anti-British. The decision was taken to replace him as Amir with a former ruler, Shah Shujah.
In March 1839 a British force advanced through the Bolan Pass, and on 26 April reached Kandahar. Shah Shujah was proclaimed ruler, and entered Kabul on 7 August, while Dost Mohammed sought refuge in the Hindu Kush. The British eventually caught him on 4 November 1840. He remained in captivity during their occupation and the disastrous retreat from Kabul in January 1842. Following the British recapture of Kabul in the autumn of 1842, Dost Mohammed was restored to the throne, the unpopular Shah Shujah having been murdered. The Company decided that occupying the country would cost too much in men and money and withdrew. Dost Mohammed reigned until his death in 1863. With some exceptions, his relationship with British India was friendly, and from 1855 regulated by treaty.
Shah Shujah-ul-Mulk (1785-1842) was the Amir of Afghanistan from 1802 until 1809 when he was driven out by his rival Mahmud Shah. During the First Afghan War (1838-42), the Governor-General of India Lord Auckland, attempted to restore Shah Shujah against the wishes of the Afghan people. In summer of 1839 the British-Indian Army of the Indus, under the command of Sir John Keane, captured Kandahar and the fortress of Ghazni. They then advanced north towards Kabul. Amir Dost Mohammed fled from the capital and Shah Shujah was duly installed in his place in August 1839. After his British backers were forced to retreat from Kabul in January 1842, Shah Shujah fled to the Bala Hissar fortress. In April he left this refuge and was killed by the supporters of Dost Mohammad's son, Muhammad Akbar Khan. Dost Mohammed was quietly restored to the throne.
Sir William Hay MacNaghten (1793-1841) went to Madras as a cadet in 1809, but in 1816 joined the Bengal Civil Service. In 1830 he was appointed political secretary to Lord William Bentinck, Governor General of India. He remained in this post when Bentinck's successor, Lord Auckland, was appointed in 1836. MacNaghten was also made the Governor General of India’s envoy to Afghanistan. Convinced that Russian intentions on Afghanistan and India were dangerously real, he believed it necessary to place Afghanistan under British tutelage.
MacNaghten was created a baronet in 1840, but as the political and military situation in Afghanistan deteriorated he failed to heed the warnings given by Sir Abraham Roberts and others. Sir William made things worse by offending many Afghan leaders and cutting traditional payments to the hill tribes who controlled access through the passes to India. He was shot and murdered on 23 December 1841 by Akbar Khan the son of the former Amir Dost Mohammed. The envoy's body was then hacked to pieces by fanatical Ghazis. The British garrison in Kabul was forced to surrender soon after.
Roberts (1784-1873) is depicted in a Major-General’s uniform, wearing the neck badge and star of the Order of the Dooranee, the CB, the Army of India and Ghuznee Medals. During the First Afghan War (1838-42) he was appointed to command the newly installed Amir Shah Shujah's contingent in November 1839. Roberts was unhappy about the occupation of Afghanistan and voiced his concerns to his superiors. His suggestions went unheeded, and he resigned his appointment in 1840. During his long service in India Roberts also commanded the 1st Bengal European Regiment and the Lahore Division. He was the father of Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria and Waterford who played such an important role in the Second Afghan War (1878-80).
Captain Sir Alexander Burnes (1805-41) was a soldier, explorer and political agent who played a leading role in the 'Great Game' on the frontiers of British India. Nicknamed 'Bokhara Burnes' after exploring that country, he established political contacts with many south Asian rulers, including Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Accompanied by Mohan Lal, his faithful Kashmiri assistant, he journeyed far and wide across the Punjab, the North West Frontier, Sindh and Afghanistan. On the eve of the First Afghan War (1839-42), he advised the Governor General of India Lord Auckland to support Dost Mohammed on the throne of Kabul, but Auckland followed Sir William Hay MacNaghten’s advice instead and reinstated Shah Shujah.
Burnes accompanied the Army of the Indus into Afghanistan and he and Mohan Lal played an important role in the capture of the Ghazni fortress. He remained in Kabul as a political agent after most of the troops had left. Burnes' personal life caused something of a scandal in Afghan circles and this probably played a part in his assassination in 1841 when Muhammad Akbar Khan led a popular revolt against Shah Shujah and the British.
Muhammad Akbar Khan (1813-45) was the son of Amir Dost Mohammed who was overthrown by the British in 1839 and replaced by Shah Shujah. In November 1841 Akbar Khan led the tribal insurrection against Shah Shujah which resulted in the death of the British envoys in Kabul. Akbar Khan personally shot Sir William Hay MacNaghten. He also commanded the subsequent pursuit of the retreating British army from Kabul to Gandamak in 1842. He died in suspicious circumstances in 1845, with many suspecting that his father, who feared his ambitions, had poisoned him.
Brydon (1811-73) was famous for being one of the few survivors of the 4,500 British and Indian troops and 12,000 camp followers who took part in the retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad in January 1842. At the time he was an Assistant Surgeon with the Bengal Army. Brydon was later immortalised by the Victorian artist, Lady Butler, who portrayed him approaching the gates of Jalalabad perched on his exhausted horse. After recovering from the wounds sustained during the retreat from Kabul, Brydon took part in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, when Rangoon was captured. Later he was serving as a regimental doctor at Lucknow when the Indian Mutiny (1857-59) started and, along with his wife and children, survived the subsequent siege of the Residency, being badly wounded in the thigh. He was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in November 1858.
Lady Florentia Sale (1790-1853) was the wife of Major-General Sir Robert Henry Sale, the defender of Jalalabad during the First Afghan War (1839-42). Lady Sale accompanied the retreating British-Indian army from Kabul back to Jalalabad in 1842. After witnessing much bloodshed and nursing the wounded, she was eventually captured and imprisoned. She was finally released in September 1842 by Major-General Sir George Pollock's force. Lady Sale kept a diary during the retreat and her subsequent nine months of captivity, which was published to critical acclaim in 1843. Dubbed the 'soldier's wife par excellence' by 'The Times', Lady Sale was also known as 'the Grenadier in Petticoats' by her husband's fellow officers.
Sher Ali Khan (1825-79) was the son of Dost Mohammed and ruled Afghanistan between 1863 and 1879. For much of his reign he was on good terms with the British, but after he had received a Russian diplomatic mission while refusing to accept a British envoy, Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India, decided to act against him. He ordered a diplomatic mission to set out for Kabul in September 1878, but this was turned back at the eastern end of the Khyber Pass. The British then decided to invade Afghanistan and replaced Sher Ali with his son, Yakub Khan, who signed the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879. He accepted the presence of a British envoy and British control of Afghan foreign affairs. Sher Ali meanwhile, had decided to leave Kabul and seek asylum in Russia, but died at Mazar-e-Sharif in February 1879.
Lieutenant-General Sam Browne VC (1824-1901), seated in the middle of the semi-circle of officers, with crossed legs and a full beard, commanded the 1st Division of the Peshawar Field Force during the Second Afghan War (1878-80). He captured the Ali Musjid fortress and forced the Khyber Pass. For these services he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1879 and received the thanks of Parliament.
Browne had embarked on a career with the Bengal Army in 1840 and took part in numerous campaigns and battles, including Chillianwalla and Gujerat (1849) during the Second Sikh War (1848-49), before being awarded the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny (1857-59) for gallantry at Seeporah in 1858. Together with one sowar orderly, he engaged in hand-to-hand combat to secure a strategically placed nine pounder cannon, during which his left arm was severed at the shoulder by a sword cut. Browne is commonly believed to have developed the belt which bears his name, to make it easier to carry and use a sword and pistol after his injury.
Among the officers accompanying Browne in this photograph are General Sir Herbert Macpherson VC (1827-86), commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, General John Tytler (1825-80), commander of the 2nd Brigade, and General Sir Charles Gough (1832-1912), commander of the Cavalry Brigade of the Kurram Valley Field Force.
In February 1879 Yakub Khan (1849-1923) succeeded his father, Sher Ali, as Amir of Afghanistan. With the fighting the previous year having established British troops in Kandahar, the Kurram Valley and Jalalabad, Yakub Khan decided to negotiate. In May 1879 he travelled to Gandamak, a village just outside Jalalabad, to meet the British envoy Sir Louis Cavagnari. The gathering resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Gandamak (1878) whereby the Amir ceded territories to the British and accepted a British envoy in Kabul. The Amir is seated in the centre. Daoud Shah, from the Ghilzai tribe, his commander-in-chief, sits at his right.
Despite the treaty, the war in Afghanistan was not over. In September 1879, following a mutiny in the Afghan Army, Cavagnari and his escort were murdered. The following month the British re-occupied Kabul and set about executing those involved in their deaths. Yakub Khan, meanwhile, hurriedly abdicated and was exiled to India. He was succeeded by a new ruler, Amir Abdur Rahman Khan.
Major Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (1841-79), pictured here second from the left, was born in France, the son of an Italian Bonapartist army officer, and despite his British naturalisation in 1857, remained something of an adventurer until his death. As a favourite of the Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton, he negotiated the Treaty of Gandamak on 26 May 1878 with the new Afghan Amir Yakub Khan (pictured, centre). The Amir was forced to accept Cavagnari as the British envoy resident in Kabul and consent to British control of Afghanistan’s foreign policy. Cavagnari was knighted and arrived in Kabul in July, but within two months, he and his 75-strong escort of the Queen’s Own Guides had been murdered by mutinous Afghan soldiers. Yakub Khan, unable or unwilling to intervene, stayed his hand.
The line of communication to India through the Khyber Pass was of vital importance to Major-General Roberts' field force in Kabul, and at first the Mohmand tribesmen of the Afghan frontier region were wary and only intermittently hostile. Dating from 1879, this photograph shows a working relationship between the Khan of Lalpura, the leading Mohmand chief, and, at his right shoulder, seated behind the rock, the British political officer in the Khyber, Captain (later Colonel Sir) Robert Warburton, the dashing son of a British army officer and an Afghan princess. A year later, however, after Roberts' arrest of Yakub Khan's wife - who was also the Khan of Lalpura's daughter - for spying, the outraged Mohmands began systematically to harass the British line of supply near Jalalabad.
Frederick Sleigh Roberts (1832-1914), seated fourth from left, was commissioned into the Bengal Artillery in 1851. His subsequent career was spent almost entirely as a staff officer on the Indian subcontinent but he still saw a good deal of active service. Roberts won the Victoria Cross in the Indian Mutiny (1857-59), but first came to widespread public notice during the Second Afghan War (1878-80) when he commanded the Kurram Field Force, leading it to victory at Peiwar Kotal in December 1878, and later the Kabul Field Force which occupied the Afghan capital on 8 October 1879 following the murder of the British envoy and his escort. Roberts also led his troops on the legendary march from Kabul to Kandahar. Despite the difficult terrain and the high temperatures he covered 280 miles (400km) in 20 days and hardly lost a man. On 1 September 1880 he defeated Ayub Khan outside Kandahar and relieved the besieged garrison.
In 1885 he succeeded to the post of Commander-in-Chief, India, a position he held until 1893. After the early reverses of the Boer War (1899-1902), Roberts took over command of the British forces in South Africa. From 18 December 1899, together with his Chief of Staff Major-General Horatio Herbert, Lord Kitchener, he revitalised the British military effort. Aged 68, he finally handed over command to the latter on 29 November 1900. Roberts then served as the last Commander-in-Chief of the British Army for three years before the post was abolished in 1904.
This photograph depicts several other senior British officers from the Afghan campaign. Quartermaster-General Charles MacGregor is shown second from right. MacGregor served as Roberts’ chief-of-staff during the campaign and commanded the 3rd Brigade during the march from Kabul to Kandahar. The figure resting his elbow on a copy of ‘The Gazetteer of Central Asia’, based on MacGregor’s extensive travels in the region, is Quartermaster-General Sir Henry Collett, a noted botanist, as well as a soldier.
During the Second Afghan War (1878-80) Major-General Frederick Roberts commanded the Kurram Field Force before being appointed commander of the Kabul and Kandahar Field Force, leading his 10,000 troops through Afghanistan to the relief of Kandahar. Roberts’ Sikh orderlies accompanied him on all these campaigns.
He later wrote of them:
'My orderlies...displayed such touching devotion that it is with feelings of the most profound admiration and gratitude I call to mind their self-sacrificing courage. On this occasion (as on many others) they kept close round me, determined that no shot should reach me; and on my being hit in the hand by a spent bullet, and turning to look round in the direction it came from, I beheld one of the Sikhs standing with his arms stretched out trying to screen me from the enemy, which he could easily do, for he was a grand specimen of a man, a head and shoulders taller than myself.'
Guy Hamilton Russell (1882-1958) was commissioned into the Indian Army in 1902. Promoted to major in 1917, he was in command of the South Waziristan Militia at Wana when the Third Afghan War (1919) began. The militia subsequently mutinied and Russell and 300 loyal men had to fight their way to safety from Wana to Fort Sandeman via Mir Ali Khel between 26 and 30 May 1919. During their epic retreat they sustained 40 men killed and wounded. Of the eight British officers, five were killed and two (including Russell) were wounded. Russell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his leadership during the retreat. He was later promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1926 and colonel in 1931. That year he was appointed Inspecting Officer of the Frontier Militia, a post he held until 1935.
The Mahsuds were Pathan tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan. They were probably the most formidable fighters on the frontier. Highly mobile, able to live off the most meagre rations, and fine shots, they were perfectly adapted to their mountainous homeland. Fiercely independent, they had honed their fighting skills by years of raiding the settled areas to the east, along the Indus, and by attacking the trading caravans that travelled to and from Afghanistan. In 1919 their fighting strength was estimated at over 11,000 warriors. Only the most experienced and well-trained British and Indian units could match the Mahsud in frontier fighting.
Waziristan was traditionally the most unruly region of the North West Frontier. Inhabited by fiercely independent tribes, including the Mahsuds and the Waziris (or Darwesh Khel), these proud warriors had honed their fighting skills by years of raiding the settled areas to the east, along the Indus, and by attacking the trading caravans that travelled to and from Afghanistan. The Waziris consisted of the Tochi (or Utmanzai) Waziris who lived along the Tochi and Khaisora valleys, and the Wana (or Ahmadzai) Waziris who lived around Bannu and Wana. In 1919 their fighting strength was estimated at over 20,000 tribesmen. Apart from the Mahsuds, with whom they were frequently at war, the Waziris were the most formidable foes faced by the British on the frontier.
Dyer (1864-1927) was commissioned into the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey) as a lieutenant before transferring to the Indian Army, initially joining the Bengal Staff Corps in 1887, but later transferring to the 29th Punjabis. He served with the latter in the Black Mountain Expedition (1888), the Relief of Chitral (1895) and the Mahsud blockade (1901-02). In 1901 the then Captain Dyer was appointed a Deputy Assistant Adjutant General. He was then transferred to the 25th Punjabis. In August 1903 Dyer was promoted to major, and served in the Zakha Khel Expedition (1908). He commanded the 25th Punjabis in India and Hong Kong and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1910. During World War One (1914-18), he commanded the Seistan Force, which prevented enemy infiltration from Persia into Afghanistan. For these services Dyer was Mentioned in Despatches and made a Companion of the Bath (CB). He was promoted colonel in 1915 and made a temporary brigadier-general in 1916.
Dyer was infamous for commanding the soldiers that opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters at Amritsar in the Punjab on 13 April 1919. The protesters, as well as people out enjoying a local festival, were gathered at Jallianwala Bagh (garden) when they were fired upon without warning. Most of the people present did not know that Martial Law had been declared. The official report stated that 379 people were killed and 1200 wounded, but the true figure was much higher.
Several weeks later, during the 3rd Afghan War (1919), Dyer commanded the brigade sent from Peshawar to relieve the besieged garrison at Thal Fort in the Kurram valley. Dyer was concerned that his relief force was too small and short of artillery. He loaded some of his trucks with logs to simulate guns; other vehicles dragged branches to raise the dust cloud of a much larger force. His ingenuity, determination and bravura help make sure the fort was relieved on 2 June 1919, but did little to repair the damage done to his reputation at Amritsar. The outrage at the massacre in India and Britain meant that Dyer was forced to retire on 17 July 1920. On his return to Britain, he was presented with £26,000 from a collection made on his behalf by the conservative newspaper the ‘Morning Post’ who named him ‘the Saviour of the Punjab’ and ‘The Man Who Saved India’. The reality was different, the massacre Dyer had led was a watershed in the history of British India and helped pave the way for the growth of Gandhi's independence movement.
The Kurram Militia were formed in 1902 in order to maintain order in the Kurram district of the North West Frontier. They replaced the regular British and Indian units that had performed this role since the 1880s. Based at Parachinar, the militia mainly recruited from the Shia Turi tribe. In 1907 they became part of the Frontier Corps which was created by the Viceroy Lord Curzon. They provided a useful link between the British and the local tribes and helped keep the peace. During the Third Afghan War (1919) and the outbreak of revolt on the North West Frontier, the Kurram Militia remained loyal. This was in stark contrast to the desertions seen in the Khyber Rifles and North and South Waziristan Militias which soon collapsed under the strain of war.
Andrew Skeen (1873-1935) was commissioned in 1891 and served on the North West Frontier with the Malakand Field Force (1897), in China (1900) and in Somaliland (1901-1904). During World War One he served as a staff officer to General Sir William Birdwood, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, at Gallipoli (1915) and as Deputy Chief of Staff, Indian Army, in 1917. Promoted to major-general in 1918, during the Third Afghan War (1919) Skeen commanded the 3rd Indian Infantry Brigade and then the Kohat Kurram Force. During the subsequent revolt in Waziristan (1919-20) he successfully led the Tochi and Derajat Columns to victory.
Skeen served as commander of the Kohat District in 1921-22 and of the Peshawar District in 1922-23. Promoted to lieutenant-general, he was then appointed commander of Southern Command during 1923-24 before serving as Chief of the General Staff, Indian Army, 1924-28. One of the Indian Army's most experienced frontier officers, Skeen finally retired in 1929. His book, ‘Passing it on: Short talks on tribal fighting on the North-West Frontier of India’ (1932), was issued to all officers’ and sergeants’ messes in India and remains a classic on the subject to this day.