A number of reports for the actions on the North West Frontier at this time are in the files at the National Archive:
Finally, a more vivid and personal account is given by Major-General Nigel Woodyatt C.B., C.L.E., who was commanding the actions, in his memoirs “UNDER
TEN VICEROYS – THE REMINISCENCES OF A GURKHA” (publ. H.Jenkins Ltd, 1922):
PUNISHING THE BUNERWALS
ABOUT three months after joining at Abbottabad
the 3rd war brigade was mobilised, and later
on entrained to Hoti Mardan, about fifty miles
north-east of Peshawar, and the head-quarters
of the famous corps of Guides. Not being at all certain of
the situation, I posted off by car at once with my brigade
major to Mardan, and found orders awaiting me to take over
command of all troops in the Yuzufzai country.
A good deal of chaos prevailed at Mardan, and reaching
there in the early morning some difficulty was experienced
in ascertaining exactly what troops I had, and where they
all were. One fact was quite clear, however, namely that
a detachment consisting of the Guides infantry with some
squadrons of cavalry and a field battery had been heavily
engaged with a large number of Bunerwals ^ the day before
at a place called Rustam.
^ A tribe of Pathans occupying Buner, a tract of independent
territory N.E. of Yusufzai. Can probably put about ten thousand
fighting men in the field when well united and acting in a common
cause. Looked upon as one of the finest races on the N.W. frontier
of India, and being simple, austere, truthful, religious and hospit-
able, they are bright examples of Pathans. With the assistance of
other tribes, the Bunerwals proved most formidable opponents
against us in the Ambela expedition in 1863. They were predom-
inant in the attacks on the famous Crag piquet which was lost
and won no less than three times (with heavy casualties on both
sides), eventually remaining in our possession. I am told on good
authority, but cannot find the official reference, that it was the custom
amongst the Bunerwals to tie a piece of red string round the right
wrist of each of their dead warriors who had specially distinguished
himself. On our retaking this Crag piquet for the third time our
dead there (mainly Highlanders) were found with a red string
round each wrist.
218 UNDER TEN VICEROYS
This hamlet was close to the Buner border, and some twenty
miles from Mardan, along a road the last eight miles of which
went through heavy sand. The enemy had been dispersed,
but was hanging about close by, with the evident intention
of attacking the camp again that night. Reinforcements
were urgently required at once, but only half of my British
battalion (1st battalion Royal Sussex) had arrived, the other
half might come in shortly, the 6th Gurkhas ought to arrive
that evening, while the 84th Pioneers was the only unit
ready in Mardan.
Evidently my mission was to get to Rustam immediately,
and see the situation with my own eyes, but it was stated
my own car (a Rover) could not get through the deep sand.
Luckily it was possible to purloin a Ford, so pushing off,
after giving orders to impress all country carts possible,
we reached Rustam by nine o’clock to find the garrison
anxiously expecting assistance.
The camp was cram-full of horses belonging to the four
or five squadrons and the field battery, and although every-
one was digging hard, the perimeter was none too secure, and
much too large for the number of men available for its
defence. It was August of a rainless year, and the heat
was intense, yet there was nothing for it but to go back as
quickly as possible to try and get the remainder of the
force to Rustam immediately. Anyhow before dawn
next day, when the Bunerwals might be expected to be
withdrawing from, what we hoped would be, a futile
On reaching Mardan again we found the other half of the
Sussex had turned up, the 6th Gurkha trains, with a lot of
transport, were to arrive at 4 p.m., and a mountain battery
with a company of sappers and miners next day. It was
obviously impossible to start before night, so orders were
issued to march off in one column at 8 p.m.
The question then arose where to assemble the troops so
as to ensure a satisfactory start. There was an unbridged
river to cross at Mardan itself, which the local commander
told me was then easily fordable, but which a little rain
rendered impassable for many hours. The sky was very
clouded, rain was long overdue.
On both banks of the river were excellent positions of
assembly alongside the road. If I concentrated on the
Mardan side, and it rained, I couldn’t cross. If on the
PUNISHING THE BUNERWALS 219
other, I ran the risk of all my supplies, which were only
just being loaded and couldn’t be ready till late, being cut
off by an unfordable river, while the troops were marching
away from the farther bank !
This was somewhat of a dilemma, but undoubtedly my
endeavour must be to relieve Rustam, and for this purpose
to get all the troops, all the transport, all the carts, across
the river at once, man-handling the remainder of the
supplies over as they arrived. One had to take risks ;
fortunately it did not rain, but the large fatigue parties
necessitated a postponement of the march until 10 p.m.
It was a horribly sultry night, the men were dog-tired.
At every halt they just threw themselves on the ground and
were asleep in a few seconds, Lewis gunners twisting the
mules’ reins round their wrists. At 2 a.m. we could hear
the furious cannonade of a camp heavily attacked, but
were helpless to assist. It held out, however, and, very
bedraggled, we crawled inside their piquets about 7.30
a.m., and after a rest set about the construction of a new
and enlarged perimeter.
By next evening the force was complete with :
- Six squadrons cavalry (two being on detachment).
- One field battery.
- One pack battery (mules).
- One company sappers and miners.
- Four battalions infantry with Lewis guns.
- Usual field ambulances, supply sections and transport.
There was a political officer in camp who informed me
that there were about eight thousand Bunerwals, some three
thousand other tribes, and a lot of Hindustani fanatics ^
opposed to us. These latter people are always bent on
creating disloyalty and unrest amongst the frontier tribes.
They join many of the periodical risings and are noted
for their disregard of death. Their chief desire is to kill as
many British infidels as possible. If one of their number
succeeds in killing a British officer he is perfectly happy,
^ Also called Muhajirin, plural of Muhajir = one who abandons
his country. A colony of fanatical Mahomedans who migrated
from India about 1823 to the Buner country from Patna in Bengal.
Their doctrines are those of the Wahabi sect, i.e. expounding the
original tenets of Islam. The colony consists of about 1,000 fight-
ing men and 1,500 women and children. They are a species of
reformer, rather like our reformers of Cromwell’s day.
220 UNDER TEN VICEROYS
and it does not in the least matter if he loses his own life
in the attempt. Braver and more dare-devil fellows I
Only the day before our arrival one had concealed himself
like a hare in some scrub jungle where line upon line of
Guides passed over him. Waiting his opportunity, he
rushed out at a British officer, advancing a little apart from
his men, killed him from behind with his sword, and sank
with a smile when riddled with bullets a few minutes
Some days afterwards seven more, trying the same game
on a flank, close to me, were caught between a party of the
Sussex hunting them, and some flankers of the Guides
coming down from higher ground. Seeing the game was
up they rushed out like tigers towards the Guides, missing
the officer, but badly wounding one Guide before being all
disposed of themselves. The most unpleasant part of this
encounter was the vast danger of Guides shooting Sussex,
or Sussex shooting Guides ; or both, or either, shooting
The courage and ferocity of the Bunerwals combined with
great speed and stamina on the hillside had for years
stamped them as very formidable opponents, whom the
Government were always most anxious to placate, and
dissuade from joining any frontier disturbance. They were
not particularly well armed as a tribe, though — like the
Hindustani fanatics — possessed, individually, of a good
number of modern rifles. Openly expressed pride at the
efficiency of my little force probably led Sir G. Roos-Keppel,
the Chief Commissioner of the North- West Frontier Pro-
vince, to motor over from Peshawar, for an hour, to implore
me not to despise my opponents, to remember they were
men of extraordinary activity and spirit, and to read and
re-read the accounts of the fighting in 1863 * when we had
come off so badly against them.
And this was the only visit I had, and as for instructions,
I received none. My divisional commander away back at
Peshawar was more than busy with the situation on his
other flank, where the Mohmands were expected to break
out any minute. Writing to him for a hint, I said, that
except feeling certain I was not to allow the enemy an
* Ambela Campaign. British force, 9,000. Killed and wounded,
PUNISHING THE BUNERWALS 221
initial success, I was very hazy regarding my limitations,
but did not propose to let him knock me about without
retaliation. His reply was that it was difficult to say much,
and the only thing he could think of was Lumsden’s ^
invariable instruction to his Guides :
” I want Heads.”
That was just like Fred Campbell * ; so typical of this fine
frontier soldier — the best we now have alive — who trusted
his subordinates, and left them alone to carry out their
tasks, probably the reason for his unfailing success, and
the cause of his wide popularity.
It took a few days to settle down at Rustam, and make
our camp impregnable. For five nights running we were
attacked by hordes of wild tribesmen, evidently well sup-
plied with ammunition, for they fired thousands of rounds
from all sorts of rifles. It was very interesting to note the
difference between the ” swish ” of the larger bore like the
Snider or Martini-Henry, and the ” ping ” of the •303 or
Our casualties were surprisingly small, due partly to the
fact that the cavalry had been reduced by sending two
squadrons to distant outposts, and partly to dug-outs,
traverses and other precautions. An enormous number of
bullets went high. As the tribesmen often attacked from
two opposite sides, it is a matter of wonder whether they
made many casualties amongst themselves. I don’t think
we made many at night ourselves. My standing orders
were that the fire was on no account to be returned, unless
there was a distinct target visible by flares, searchlight,
or moon, and then only by order of a British officer.
Fire discipline was excellent. The hour of attack varied,
being sometimes 9 p.m., but oftener 1 or 2 a.m. At the
first shot every tent was downed immediately. On no
occasion did the enemy actually close, due undoubtedly,
after the first night, to trip wires, booby traps and elephant
pits. At first I scorned a dug-out, but later, as the area of
my bivouac seemed to attract an enormous quantity of
bullets, I had to submit to the hot, stuffy abomination.
^ Raised the Guides, as a subaltern, in 1846-47 at Peshawar.
Corps is now called ” Queen Victoria’s Own Corps of Guides (Fron-
tier Force) (Lumsden’s).”
* Now General Sir Frederick Campbell, K.C.B.. D.S.O.
222 UNDER TEN VICEROYS
On the second night — and before I had succumbed to
a dug-out — I woke just before the firing began in a muck
sweat, as the slight breeze we got had suddenly dropped,
and called to my servant to get me a change. He
was in a dug-out twenty yards away, and as he came the
bullets started. Down he dropped, and I thought he was
shot. It was only a precautionary measure, however, for
I soon saw him wriggling to me on his stomach, from which
posture he handed me a clean shirt, and then retired in the
same way. He was a fat cantonment Pathan from Abbotta-
bad, and I laughed so much I got hotter than ever.
After the third night the ” sniping ” in force was no longer
to be calmly endured ; besides I was then ready to move out.
There were three main valleys leading to the Buner country,
named Ambela, Malandri and Pirsai, and I felt sure that
one, or all, must be the temporary resting place of the
enemy. Taking each in turn, we drove out the tribesmen,
inflicting such casualties on them that their night operations
became less and less formidable, until when the third
valley was cleared, and its villages burnt, they ceased
The most serious impediment to successful work in the
field was the intense heat, and the sandy nature of all roads
and tracks, making them extraordinarily trying to the
infantry and mountain artillery. Already several cases of
heat stroke had occurred in camp, and my cavalry brigadier
had returned with two dead sowars * tied on their horses
(and several more unconscious ones supported by comrades),
after an all-day reconnaissance to report on an adjacent
tribe. Meeting them at the entrance to camp, it was a
sorrowful sight to see a nice-looking horse stepping out
freely, while on his back lay the dead rider with head
touching the mane, hands tied together below the neck,
and feet lashed under the horse’s belly.
The temperature of one British soldier down with heat
stroke rose to 110° Fahrenheit, which I had always thought
impossible. Such however was the fact reported by my
principal medical officer, and moreover the man recovered
after treatment in ice baths.
Visiting one of our distant outposts with my invaluable
brigade major, we had some eighteen miles to ride, mainly
across country. On arrival he looked rather cheap, but
* Trooper of Indian cavalry.
PUNISHING THE BUNERWALS 223
swore he was all right. After going a few miles on the
return journey he appeared really bad, and shortly after-
wards collapsed, though I was fortunately able to catch
him before he fell to the ground. The combined water
bottles of the escort revived him, but we still had twelve
miles to go before we reached any track fit for an ambulance.
There was a well of coldish water six miles ahead. Get-
ting Loveday on to his horse, we galloped the whole distance,
supporting his swaying body, myself on one side and a
duffedar * on the other. Then came the last six miles
covered in the same way. He was 106° on arrival at the
hospital tent, where he had to remain over a week, much
to his chagrin, for although not over strong, his lithe wiry
body contained the heart of a lion.
I was to lose him soon afterwards to command his battery,
and then a group of artillery in France, where he covered
himself with glory.
My worst experience of heat-stroke was during the return
from our advance up the Malandri Valley. Although we
started at 3 a.m., and had less than eight miles to cover,
there was opposition to contend with, villages to burn and
much scrub jungle full of rocks and boulders to be searched.
All this took time, so that it was after midday when we
began to withdraw to camp.
So many British soldiers fell down with heat-stroke that
the rear-guard could hardly move. The stretcher bearers
were so overcome themselves that they were useless. It
was then that the splendid Guides, and later the 84th
Pioneers, came forward and volunteered to carry the sick,
while officers, mounted and dismounted, as well as men in
the ranks, took over the rifles and accoutrements of those
hors de combat. Fortunately I had reduced the scale of
ammunition that day to fifty rounds per man on account of
the heat, but even then found the six sets of accoutrements
picked up, and hung on to myself and my horse, a most
Strict orders existed that no Britishers were to be buried
near Rustam, because their graves would be desecrated by
the enemy. Progressing at a funereal rate at the tail of the
rear-guard, with an occasional bullet to keep one awake, the
thought came to me of how on earth we could get the corpses
of so many soldiers into Mardan. With little experience
* An N.C.O. of Indian cavalry.
224 UNDER TEN VICEROYS
of heat-stroke, I felt that many of the muttering, uncon-
scious men, with blue lips and swollen faces, must surely
Some way on we came to a large tank about two and a half
feet deep. Seated in it I found most of the casualties,
presenting a very comical spectacle with their large sun hats,
surrounded by huge neck covers, appearing just above the
level of the water, making the whole crowd look exactly
like a lot of floating mushrooms. And close to the tank,
to my relief, was an army of transport carts, ordered out
in case of emergency, and which conveyed all the sick back
to camp, every one of whom eventually recovered.
It is difficult to describe in words the extraordinary
interest of an independent command like this. An effi-
cient and companionable staff, capable and contented
troops, successful though arduous operations, isolated and
detached situation, all tended to make the few weeks spent
at Rustam — in spite of the heat — the happiest of my life.
About a fortnight sufficed to drive the enemy entirely away
with considerable casualties, and it is a significant fact that
the much dreaded and powerful Bunerwal tribe have never
lifted a finger since. Not even in our darkest days, when
every inducement to rise was given by seditious emissaries,
to each trans-frontier clan.
It does not appear to me certain that this has been fully
recognised. I do not allude to personal recognition. The
ultimate rewards of a Companionship of the Bath and pro-
motion to Major-General ” for distinguished service in the
field ” were more than sufficient. Nor to the avowal of
the Brigade’s activity in Sir Beauchamp Duff’s despatches.
But, to the reality, that the operations of the force relieved
the Government of India of much anxiety in this particular
quarter for a very long period, i.e. from September, 1915,
up to the present date.
In September, 1915, orders reached me in Rustam, by
cipher wire in the middle of the night, to move my force
as quickly as possible to Peshawar. Thence it was to go
on towards Shabkadr — eighteen miles north of Peshawar
— to take part as the 3rd brigade, with the 1st Division
under Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Campbell, in
possible action against the Mohmands, a powerful and
well-armed tribe of some twenty-two thousand fighting