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Waziristan 1914-15

The North Waziristan Militia in action on the North-West Frontier of India, and the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross to a Militia officer


Introduction - Northern Waziristan in 1914


When the Great War commenced German agents based in Persia, now Iran, stirred up agitation amongst the frontier tribes along India’s north-west border region (which is now Pakistani territory).  When Turkey entered the war on Germany’s side and declared Jihad (Holy War) against its enemies a religious dimension was exploited.  Some frontier Muslim soldiers deserted from the Indian Army whilst a few others mutinied.  The consequences of most of these internal incidents were satisfactorily and discretely controlled by the British authorities but when raiders crossed the border from Afghanistan conventional military tactics had to be used.

In late 1914 the Khostwals, tribesmen inhabiting the Khost region of Afghanistan adjacent to the Indian border, were subject to fanatical preaching by influential mullahs (religious leaders).  This resulted in around 2,000 armed Khostwals advancing through Indian territory down the Tochi Valley to Miranshah.  The Tochi rises in Afghanistan and flows eastwards across the border before joining the Kurram River; the Tochi Valley was a pedestrian gateway into British territory and large groups of men could move down the valley quickly.  The tribesmen were well-armed with rifles either bought from members of the Afghan Army or from gun-runners operating from Oman(See HERE)

Right: A Pathan of the 25th Cavalry (Frontier Force)


India’s north-western border with Afghanistan


In 1893 Afghanistan and British-controlled India agreed their international border along a line named after Sir Mortimer Durand, the British representative to the agreement.  The Durand Line tended to follow watersheds and was marked by periodic stone pillars that were not always visible from the previous or next pillars; it split the territory inhabited by Pathan tribesmen in half but had little local significance as the Pathans crossed it at will.  Britain did not administer all the Indian land on its side of the Line, preferring to leave a buffer zone of very mountainous tribal territory between the administered area of India and the Durand Line.  It would have cost too much in financial and military resources to have attempted direct administration of this very remote area, once described as a ‘gigantic slag-heap’, and in the days before military air power had been invented it would anyway have been an impossible task.

During the 19th Century British India practised the ‘Close Border Policy’; this basically meant that the tribal territory was left alone apart from a few military posts on its fringes, and only penetrated by ponderous punitive expeditions that attacked tribes that had raided into the British-administered area.  After fiercely resisting and then eventually submitting to the British invaders these recalcitrant tribes had their fortified villages demolished, their terraced fields destroyed, and their leaders were required to pay fines and surrender weapons before the punitive expeditions hurriedly withdrew.  This Close Border Policy, known as ‘Butcher and Bolt’, viewed the situation with the border tribes as being a military problem when in fact it was based on economic hardships.  Raiders raided to secure wealth which was not otherwise easily obtainable amongst the harsh landscapes of the border; in particular modern army rifles were seized as they represented prestige as well as wealth amongst the warrior tribesmen.  A popular description of the tribal territory was: ‘ungoverned, untaxed and ungarrisoned’.

In 1900 the new British Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, introduced a ‘Forward Policy’.  The frontier area of the Punjab became the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).  The eastern boundary of the NWFP was a Provincial one with the Punjab, west of that were settled districts inhabited mainly by non-belligerent Pathans, these districts were bounded on the west by the administrative border line, and finally further west the international border ran along the Durand Line.  In between the international border and the administrative border lay the officially named Tribal Territories, with the exception of the Kurram Valley where a strip of administered territory ran up to the Durand Line. 

Community leaders in the Tribal Territory were visited on a routine and peaceful basis by Political Agents who attempted to reconcile differences, explain British policies and avert violence.  The Political Agents enforced where applicable the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. The FCR code applied only to Pathan tribes and it has been since described as unjust, inhuman, draconian and despotic as the rights of appeal, legal representation and the production of reasoned evidence were all denied.  It was based on the concept of collective responsibility, making families and tribes responsible and therefore punishable for one of their member’s mis-deeds.  (Note: But the NWFP was and still is a rough land inhabited by rough men and the FCR applied rough justice; its relevance to the region is shown by the fact that it still applies today, with the addition that an arrest can be made without a crime being specified, 65 years after Pakistan achieved independence.)   However the tribes were not taxed and they managed their own tribal affairs.  The NWFP was directly governed from Delhi and thus the frontier was no longer the responsibility of the Punjab.

Left: North-West Frontier  map showing the Tochi Valley.


In Waziristan two armed Militias were formed to operate in the Tribal Territory, one in the north and one in the south.  These Militias were not under military control but were tasked by Political Agents under the direction of the Chief Commissioner of the NWFP.  The duties of the Militias included garrisoning posts and picquetting roads; repulsing and pursuing raiders; guarding prisoners and government funds; escorting Political Agents; protecting road-making contractors; making border reconnaissance patrols; guiding visitors; obtaining political information, and arresting offenders.  British and Indian regular troops from most, but not all, of the military posts in the Tribal Territory were withdrawn eastwards across the administrative border into the NWFP settled area.

Lord Curzon’s view was not popularly shared within the Indian Army but it prevailed.  The dominant Pathan tribes in the Tribal Territory, the Mahsuds and the Wazirs, had been so far unimpressed by the British combination of external military and political threats and actions, and Lord Curzon’s decision to use tribesmen as “poachers turned into gamekeepers”  to keep the peace along the Waziristan-Afghan border worked well until 1919 when the Third Afghan War commenced.


Right: A militia sepoy in North Waziristan

The Northern Waziristan Militia

The Northern Waziristan Militia, like its southern counterpart, employed 1,850 Pathans from within (known as cis-border men) and without (trans-border men) British territory.  These men were organised into two Wings, each equivalent to an infantry battalion, plus a company of 150 Mounted Infantry.  The men were armed with Martini-Henry rifles and were paid 10 Rupees (about 65 pence of today’s sterling pound) per month without rations, which they had to purchase and communally cook.  Each Militia had six British officers posted to it – a Commandant, two officers in each Wing and an Adjutant/Quartermaster who also commanded the Mounted Infantry.  In pre-war days these postings were prized as the officers’ lives were totally operational for 24 hours of every day; however once war was declared and Indian Army units were deployed to France, Mesopotamia, East Africa and Egypt some Militia officers doubtless wished to be with their parent units.  But the strength of the Militias depended on their locally-recruited and trained Pathan officers who held the units together, both administratively and also tactically when in contact with belligerents.

The North Waziristan Militia had its headquarters at Miranshah and was distributed in posts along the east-west road from Bannu to Datta Khel (about 100 Kilometres) and along the south-north road running up to Thal in Lower Kurram.  In 1910 the unit was holding 18 posts, each containing 70 or 80 men.  In each post around 15 men would be on annual leave and the same number would have to remain in the post to defend it when the balance of 40 or 50 men went out on gasht, the term given to a very rapid foot patrol.  The nearest Indian Army garrison was in Bannu.

In 1912 the Martini-Henry rifles were replaced with single-loading long magazine .303-inch Lee Enfields.  Each man carried 50 rounds of Mark VI ammunition in pouches on a leather bandolier that was slung over one shoulder and across the chest.  In the field the uniform was a shirt and long, loose trousers made from grey-coloured mazrie cloth that blended into the barren landscape.  The men were lightly equipped, carrying a felt-covered water bottle and a light haversack containing food and a first-aid pack.  They preferred to wear strong leather sandals, named chapplies, rather than heavier army boots.  Thus clothed and equipped, a militia gasht could move as fast across broken ground as its adversaries could. 

Meeting the Khostwal threat

As news of the Khostwal lashkar (raiding group) was received the Commander of the Bannu Brigade, Major General H. O’Donnel CB, DSO, advanced his Moveable Column up the Tochi Valley, arriving at Miranshah on 3rd December 1914.  However the Column did not come into action on this occasion because all the fighting was done by the North Waziristan Militia.

A very able and professional officer, Major Gerald Bassett Scott (27th Punjabis), commanded the North Waziristan Militia.  Gerald Scott concentrated what men he could and on 29th November sharply attacked the Khostwal advance.   This caused confusion amongst the Afghans who had not expected to meet opposition so soon, and they withdrew to re-group.



The action at Spina Khaisora


The Khostwal lashkar advanced again in January 1915 and attacked the militia post at Spina Khaisora.  Major Scott moved to relieve the post and mounted an attack against very heavy odds.  For a time the fighting was desperate but the attack succeeded and the Khostwals gave ground.  Lieutenant Norman Henry Prendergast (Queen Victoria’s Own Corps of Guides), was Mentioned in Despatches : after escaping in most marvellous manner from a hopeless situation was given command of the flank attack and carried out his independent command with conspicuous coolness and energy. A fine young officer. 

Captain Eustace Jotham (51st Sikhs, Frontier Force), was on patrol in the area with a few mounted infantrymen when he rode into a bad ambush.  The fight is best described by reading the citation to his posthumously awarded Victoria Cross:

For most conspicuous bravery on 7th January, 1915, at Spina Khaisora (Tochi Valley).

During operations against the Khostwal tribesmen, Captain Jotham, who was commanding a party of about a dozen of the North Waziristan Militia, was attacked in a nullah (a steep narrow watercourse usually dry until after rain) and almost surrounded by an overwhelming force of some 1,500 tribesmen. He gave the order to retire, and could have himself escaped, but most gallantly sacrificed his own life by attempting to effect the rescue of one of his men who had lost his horse.

  Eustace Jotham was seen to cut down several Khostwals with his sword before he was shot off his horse.

Above: Indian mountain gunners in rugged terrain

Two Indian Orders of Merit (2nd Class) were won at Spina Khaisora.  286 1st Grade Dafadar (Mounted Sergeant) Makhmad Jan’s was awarded posthumously: For his conspicuous bravery during the action at Spina Khaisora on 7th January 1915 when he led his men in the attack under very heavy fire.

Right: Darim Khan, Indian Order of Merit & Croix De Guerre

262 1st Grade Dafadar Darim Khan’s was awarded: For conspicuous courage during the action at Spina Khaisora on 7th January 1915 when, after escaping from an extremely dangerous situation, he stopped halfway to a place of safety and took up a position by himself to cover the retirement of his comrades, which act proved of the greatest assistance.  Darim Khan was Eustace Jotham’s second-in-command on the patrol.  

Gerald Scott had taken calculated risks in his attack at Spina Khaisora but he knew both his own men and his enemy, and he provided the command and control that ensured victory.  Between 50 and 60 of the Khostwals had been killed for light militia losses.  Gerald was Mentioned in Despatches: For his sound and bold leading at a critical time against extremely heavy odds.  This officer’s clear military instinct and perception of the situation saved the day.

   The Indian Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to:  Jemadars (Lieutenants) Zalim (later forfeit) and Zarif Khan; 3025 Naik Khajai (later forfeit); 5042 Sepoy Tor Khan; 5058 Sepoy Amir Khan and 4509 Sepoy Zamir Ullah.  

Subadar Major (Senior Indian Major) Tor Khan, Sardar Bahadur (Heroic Leader) OBI (Order of British India 2nd Class), was Mentioned in Despatches, as were all the men named above.  


The action at Miramshah


  In late March the Khostwals invaded again with a large lashkar of 7,000 to 8,000 men that moved to threaten Miramshah.  Brigadier General V.B. Fane CB advanced the Bannu Moveable Column to meet the threat.  The Moveable Column included the 25th Cavalry (Frontier Force), the 10th Jats, the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) and the 29th Mountain Battery.  Gerald Scott and his North Waziristan Militia deployed in strtength in support.

  Brigadier Fane formed four groups for his attack:

Force ‘A’: 600 Jat and Sikh rifles under Lieutenant Colonel H.E. Lowis (10th Jats).
Force ‘B’
: 300 Jat and Sikh rifles as a reserve under Lieutenant C.W. Farquharson (10th Jats).
Force ‘C’
: the Militia under Major Scott.
The cavalry
: the cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel G.M. Baldwin DSO (25th Cavalry).

 

Left: The Order of the Indian Empire

On 26th March 1915 Force ‘A’ made a frontal attack on the enemy lashkar whilst the cavalry protected the right flank.  The 29th Mountain Battery, commanded by Major F.R. Patch, Royal Artillery, provided very effective fire that dismayed the Khostwals and to which they had no answer.  Colonel Lowis’ objective was a sangared hill located behind open ground followed by ridges with steep forward slopes and steeper reverse slopes.  The guns opened fire just after 0700 hours and the infantry advanced in rushes, covering fire being provided by the guns and Force ‘B’.  This combination of good aggressive tactics and concentrated firepower was too much for the Khostwals who retreated from their first line of sangars (stone breastworks) to their second line, and then withdrew from the battlefield altogether.

  Gerald Scott and his North Waziristan Militia had displayed their tactical skills and expert utilization of ground by covertly moving the previous night onto commanding hills behind the enemy lashkar.  As the Khostwals withdrew in disorder the North Waziristan Militia attacked from the rear and shot many of the Afghans down.  Enemy losses were estimated to be at least 200 killed and 300 wounded and the Khostwals were pushed across the Durand Line, where they stayed until 1919.  The British lost only two men wounded.  The mule-packed screw-guns (the barrel was unscrewed into two pieces to make manageable loads for mules) of the mountain battery had been the decisive weapon on the battlefield, firing directly over open sights at enemy sangars and demolishing them and the unfortunate defenders within them.

Right: An artist's impression of Captain Jotham's death.

After the battle at Miramshah Major Gerald Bassett Scott (27th Punjabis attached to the Northern Waziristan Militia) was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Colonel (Temporary Brigadier General) Vere Bonnamy Fane CB, was made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE).

Subedar Major Nand Ram (10th Jats) received the Order of British India, Class II.

Lieutenant Colonels G.M. Baldwin DSO (25th Cavalry) and H.E. Lowis (10th Jats) were awarded Brevet promotions to the rank of Colonel.  

  The Indian Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to:

25th Cavalry, (Frontier Force): Jemadar Sher Ali.
10th Jats: 2999 Sepoy Pirdhan.
52nd Sikhs, (Frontier Force): Subadar Karm Khan.
North Waziristan Militia (nine men):

Jemadar Pat Khan (later forfeit); 4789 Colour Havildar Khial Din; 4503 Sepoy Tawaher Din; 5523 Sepoy Ain-ud-Din; 5538 Sepoy Mir Shah Jan; 2135 Sepoy Mohi Khan; 2203 Drill Naik Sayad Akhmad; 4223 Drill Naik Khan Dhais (later forfeit); and 2284 Kot Lance Naik Zar Khan.  

Mentions In Despatches for the North Waziristan Militia

After Miramshah the following four members of the North Waziristan Militia were Mentioned in Despatches along with those named in the previous two paragraphs:

Captain E. Clementi-Smith (22nd Punjabis); Captain A.E.B. Parsons (52nd Sikhs, Frontier Force); Jemadar Mian Din; 5609 Sepoy Gulbat.

 

Mentions in Despatches for the Indian Army:


25th Cavalry:  Lieutenant Colonel G.M. Baldwin DSO; Jemadar Sher Ali; 3843 Sowar Sunder Singh.
29th Mountain Battery:  Major F.R. Patch; Subadar Sunder Singh Bahadur.
10th Jats:  Lieutenant Colonel H.E. Lowis; Subadar Major Nand Ram; 2299 Sepoy Pirdhan.
52nd Sikhs: Major C.P. Wynter; Subadar Karm Khan; Subadar Permodh Sing.
Brigade Staff:  Captain A.J.M. Binny (1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers, Skinner’s Horse), Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General; Captain D.C. Crombie (23rd Cavalry, Frontier Force), General Staff Officer; Lieutenant R.C. Eberhardie (116th Mahrattas), Brigade Signalling Officer; Mr. J.A.O. Fitzpatrick (Indian Civil Service), Political Agent, Tochi, who assisted with sound advice and good information.

  Commemoration

Captain Eustace Jotham VC was buried in Miranshah Cemetery and he is commemorated on the Delhi Memorial (India Gate).(See above Left)

Footnotes:

1. After the 3rd Afghan War in 1919, when considerable numbers of the North Waziristan Militia mutinied, four of the above Indian Distinguished Service Medals, as noted, were forfeited.  A later article will describe the background to and the details of the mutiny.

2. Dafadar Darim Khan IOM, was a well-known character on the North-West Frontier until he was murdered in his home village of Mamirogha in 1945.  The murder was ordered by the Faqir (Muslim holy man) of Ipi, Mirza Ali Khan, a Waziri who led confrontations against British rule on the North-West Frontier during the 1930s and 1940s.

Above: The Indian Distinguished Service Medal.

SOURCES:

London Gazettes Numbers 29240 of 23rd July 1915, 29514 of 17th March 1916 and 29652 of 4th July 1916.
War Services of the 9th Jat Regiment by Lieutenant Colonel W.L. Hailes MC.
The History of the Indian Mountain Artillery by Brigadier General C.A.L. Graham DSO, OBE, DL, psc.
The Frontier Scouts by Charles Chenevix Trench.
Frontier Fighters – On Active Service in Waziristan. The Memoirs of Major Walter James Cumming edited by Jules Stewart.
Frontier Scouts by Colonel H.R.C. Pettigrew.
The Savage Border - The Story of the North-West Frontier by Jules Stewart.
Turmoil and Tragedy in India, 1914 and After by Lieutenant General Sir George MacMunn KCB, KCSI, DSO.
Reward of Valor. The Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918 by Peter Duckers.
The Indian Distinguished Service Medal by Rana Chhina.
Symbol of Courage. A Complete History of the Victoria Cross by Max Arthur.
The Punjab and the War compiled by M.S. Leigh OBE, ICS.
The Indian Sappers and Miners by Lieutenant Colonel E.W.C. Sandes.

Above: Waziristan terrain


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