Battles Long Ago: Dargai Heights 1897

Battles Long Ago: Dargai Heights 1897
Dargai Heights Date: 20 OCT 1897

Forces Engaged: British Imperial
Five battalions of infantry: one, the 2nd Bn The Derbyshire Regiment of 1st Brigade, First Division, one, the 3rd Regiment Sikh Infantry (Punjab Field Force) of 2nd Brigade, First Division, and three; 1st Bn The Dorsetshire Regiment, 1st Bn, 2nd Gurkha Rifle Regiment, and 1st Bn Gordon Highlanders from 3rd Brigade, Second Division.

Each battalion probably at or near full strength of ten companies of 70 for a total of roughly 3,500 infantrymen.

Four batteries of mountain howitzers (No. 8 and No. 9 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery, No. 1 (Kohat) Mountain Battery and No. 5 (Bombay) Mountain Battery) firing RML 2.5″ Mountain Guns (often referred to by the British troops as “Screw Guns”) I have had a difficult time establishing the MTO&E for these units. A typical battery appears to have six cannon, and each cannon appears to have had a crew of between six and eight; note the photograph below:

But the battery itself must have had at least another half-dozen or so troopers acting as ammunition numbers, extra crewmen, odds-and-sods, as well as at least a battery sergeant-major and an officer. So probably about 50-70 redlegs per battery for a force of 24 cannons and 200-250 artillerymen,

At least one source reports the presence of a machinegun detachment but does not identify the unit as such. By 1897 British (that is, Imperial) infantry battalions carried an MG detachment of 2 x 0.45 calibre Maxim machinegun and 20 troops on strength. However, in the order of battle for the Tirah Expedition among the Divisional Troops for Second Division is list a “Maxim Detachment, 16th Lancers”, so this may have been the machinegun unit present at Dargai.

So roughly 3,500 infantry, 250 artillerymen, 24 cannon and two machineguns. The commander on the scene was MG A. G. Yeatman-Biggs, Second Division commander; the entire Tirah Expedition force was commanded by MG Sir William Lockhart, GCB KCSI, and isn’t he a wonderful picture of late Victorian generality;

Orakzai (اورکزی‎) and Afridi (اپريدي) Tribal Forces
An undetermined number of Afghan tribal warriors drawn from the two tribes then fighting the British Indian forces. The most likely composition of the defending forces, however, was from one or more of the Orakzai clans, since that tribe then controlled the high ground in the Tirah area. Several sources mention Afridis, and Afghans being Afghans it’s hard to believe that with killing in the offing that the eager young men of the tribe could have been held back.

The numbers of defenders are usually simply described as “hundreds” to “thousands”. The British attackers, who ended up in control of the Heights, probably had no real idea how many Afghans they were fighting; the tribesmen, no fools they, ran off when it became obvious that the mad invaders weren’t going to stop coming on.

But there must have been at least several hundred; anything less than that wouldn’t have been able to produce a sufficient volume of fire to have had the effects as described on the attackers.

While as many as 10-12,000 fighters manned the crest of the heights altogether the area of the British assault appears to be a fairly small area – indeed, a single narrow path; more an a couple of thousand guys would have been tumbling out of their sangars like ripe fruit off a plum tree; the British wouldn’t have been able to leave their start line without being riddled like Swiss cheese.

So the force actively defending the path up the heights on 20 OCT probably numbered somewhere between 1,000 and 2,500. We have no idea who the “commanders” were; in typical tribal fashion the guys probably coalesced in lashkars around a local hardcase, a religious leader, or a cunning planner in little knots of five to fifty.

A Note On Armaments: At Dargai the British and Indian troopers were armed with issue rifles; the British with the relatively new .303 Lee-Metford bolt action rifle (shown above), the Indian troops with the older Martini-Henry lever-action breechloader.

Many of the Afghans must have been armed with the traditional jezail, the long rifled musket of the high hills around the Durand Line. But one of the nastiest shocks of Dargai, and the Tirah campaign as a whole, was the presence on the battlefield of modern rifles in Afghan hands.

The combination of the Afghan hillman and the modern rifle was a deadly natural. The British found that wog-bashing in 1897 wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been earlier now that the bashees had their hands on modern weaponry.

After the Tirah Expedition concluded the surprise and displeasure at the lack of fun to be had in the Kurrum Valley is evident in the plaintive tone of Queen Victoria’s letter to her Viceroy of India: “As we did not wish to retain any part of the country, is the continuation and indefinite prolongation of these punitive expeditions really justifiable at the cost of many valuable lives?”

Sadly, this simple lesson had to be relearned over and over again.

The Sources: Military actions taken by literate industrial nations tend to be well documented, and Dargai is no exception. Written accounts of the actions of the Tirah Expedition and its Afghan opponents appeared almost before the rigor passed off the dead guys; one of the most complete is “The Campaign In Tirah 1897-1898 An Account Of The Expedition Against The Orakzais And Afridis” Under General Sir William Lockhart, G.C.B., K.C.S.I. based (by permission) on letters contributed to “The Times”, written by one COL H. D. Hutchinson in 1898.

Other contemporary British sources include The Indian frontier war being an account of the Mohmund and Tirah expeditions, 1897 (James, L. 1898) and Lockhart’s Advance Through Tirah (Shadwell, L.J. 1898)

Secondary accounts include The 1897 Revolt and Tirah Valley Operations from the Pashtun Perspective (Johnson R.A. 2009), an invaluable view from the “other side of the hill”, unusual in colonial war, and Michael Barthorp’s 1996 The Frontier Ablaze: The North-West Frontier Rising, 1897-98.

Byron Farwell’s 1985 Queen Victoria’s Little Wars tells the old savage-and-soldier tales with gusto, while perhaps the most entertaining version of the engagement is told in George McDonald Fraser’s little story “The Whisky and the Music” told in The General Danced At Dawn, his volume of tales about his times in the Gordons.

More of that later. First, the fighting.

The Campaign: I can’t really do a better job of explaining why 60-some thousand British and Indian troops set off into the highlands around the Khyber Pass in the autumn of 1897 that Rob Johnson can, so, here:
“The largest and most serious outbreak of fighting on the North West Frontier during the colonial era was the Pathan Uprising of 1897-8. The revolt was actually a series of local insurrections involving over 200,000 fighters, including Afghan volunteers, and it required over 59,000 regular troops and 4,000 Imperial Service Troops to deal with it; the largest deployment in India since the Mutiny-Rebellion of 1857-8. Its outbreak proved such an unexpected and significant shock to the British that they conducted detailed enquiries after the event.

Various explanations were offered but it is generally accepted that recent encroachments into tribal territory, with fears that the British meant to permanently occupy the region as a prelude to the destruction of their independence and way of life, led to the initial fighting. There were other contributory factors: a perception that the Amir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan, would support an anti-British Jihad; rumours that the Christian Greeks had been defeated by the Muslim Turks and that the Christian world was finally in retreat, and local anxieties about women, money-lenders and road-building.”
But the money was always on the British and the Afghans to fight. They both loved to fight, and they both wanted the other to get the fuck out of their crib. I used Farwell’s book to dredge up a list of Afghan Wars for this post over at MilPub back in March of last year. Turns out that there was about one “expedition” or “column” or “punitive action” or “field force” every year or so beginning in the 1830s and running well into the 20th Century; the Third Afghan War was fought in 1919!

So while this was a big one, it was not a new one, or even a really surprising one other than it’s size.

The actual fighting of the 1897 “rising” began on 10 JUN, with an ambush of a smal force near Maizar. During this engagement something occurred of the sort of ridiculous criticality that distinguished truth from fiction; fiction would never be this incredible. I’ll let Johnson (2009) describe it again:
“The British artillery soon ran out of ammunition in the engagement and was forced to use blank rounds in the hope that this would deter a pursuit. Ironically, this fulfilled a prediction by the more enthusiastic mullahs: they had assured the tribesmen that the British shells would turn to stone and their bullets would turn to water the moment they hit the breast of a true believer. They demanded a Jihad to save the religion and condemned those they appeared to be profiting by association with infidels.”

The rising exploded, and in August all the forts along the Khyber Pass fell, lending immense prestige, as well as lots of modern weapons and ammunition, to the Afridi tribesmen who pulled off that raid. Many of the Orakzai and Afridi clans rushed to join up, either with view of a full-scale victory over the infidels or just hopes of a bit of plunder on the side.

But it’s important to see that the tribes weren’t just mooks looking for loot. There was an actual plan. The Afridis wanted to push the Brits out of the Khyber Pass and Tirah Valley region, while the Orakzais wanted to drive the British off the Samana Ridge that was the key to their territory.

The Khyber plan worked, but the attacks on Samana weren’t as successful. One fort, at Sarigari, did fall, but British reinforcements and, as or more importantly, their artillery held the Samana.

The tribes also hoped for support from Kabul, but the Amir Rahman Khan, while offering some rousing anti-British orations to the tribal delegations, did nothing but talk.

His tepid response was designed to prevent looking like a foreign stooge (always dangerous for an Afghan ruler) while finding a pretext for doing nothing. Eventually he “…admonished the tribesmen and ordered them to settle their differences with the British, claiming he had made agreements he could not break…(and that) the tribes had not informed him of their intentions
before the outbreak of violence.” (Johnson, 2009)

Although the Amir refused active support he did not prevent the tribes from using eastern Afghanistan to maneuver in and retreat to.

While the Afghan troopers knew the Brits would come at them – they always had before – the real question was how. The Khyber Pass was a high-prestige target and would undoubtedly be attacked, but how would the British approach the home territories of the tribes in arms?

They could attack due west from Kohat along the Khanki Valley.

Or they could strike north up the Mastura River from Peshawar.

But there was another problem; the late summer was upon them, and men had to go home to bring in the harvest. Crops wouldn’t wait for the damn Brits. Many of the Afghans left…and for two months the British didn’t come.

What the Afghans couldn’t know is that the British WERE on their way but were having the devil’s own time with logistics. To carry the bag and baggage the British concluded they’d need a baggage animal for every six white troops, every eight native troopers, and every ten camp-followers; something like 20,000 horses and mules and 15,000 camels. Shadwell (1898) has some delightful details on the allocation of pack animals to the force on pages 113 and 114; general officers got a pack mule and a pony, in case you were wondering.

But finally the first Indian pioneers – what we’d call combat engineers – turned up near the Shinwari fort south of the Samana Ridge in October gave the game away; the British were coming, horse, foot and artillery.

At this the tribes convened a jirga in the cillage of Bagh where the leading lights roared for war and jihad against the infidel. That didn’t stop a mob from the Orakzai out of Kanki Valley to try and surrender to MG Yeatman Biggs. The general told them that he couldn’t take their submission while their buddies were still out looting and raping, so (presumably with heavy hearts) that went back to join the revolt.

The road up from Samana Ridge was overlooked by high ground to the north; the Dargai Heights.

Johnson (2009) quotes “one British officer” (in this case, Callwell 1911) saying that “the natural defile at Dargai not only made a defensive stance far easier, it also afforded ‘excellent cover, naturally provided by the rocks and improved by walls, etc, built up by [the tribesmen]’. Shadwell (1898) gives an even more vivid description:
“The village of Dargai lies on the northern side of a small plateau. The eastern edge of this table-land breaks off, at first, in an almost abrupt cliff…but…lower down…shelves away less precipitously. This slope is thrown out from the bottom of the cliff in the form of a narrow and razor-like spur, with the path or track lying along its northern side, well within…range of the cliff-head.”
The picture from Shadwell’s book is shown below.

He describes the photo above, noting that “The narrow ridge at the right-hand bottom corner is the saddle over which the rush had to be made on the 18th and 20th…”

Connecting the crest of the spur…and the foot of the cliff there is a narrow neck or saddle one hundred yards long by thirty broad…devoid of all cover and completely exposed to the heights above, this ridge had to be crossed to reach the path ascending to the summit…”

On 18 OCT a force from the Second Division assaulted the heights; the movements of the British troops are in blue on the map above.

The 4th Brigade attacked from the village of Chagru Kotal while the 3rd Brigade swung around to the west. Afghan resistance was light, and the attackers easily took the crest of the ridge, the Afghan defenders falling back before them.

At this time GEN Lockhart made what has to be considered a mistake; he withdrew the force from the heights. In his tame reporter’s letter to the London Times he says that the force was too isolated and unsupportable as well as difficult to supply.

All of that may have been true. We have no idea what would have happened if the British had tried to hold the heights.

But the problems that would come of the decision to withdraw were immediate and should have been evident before the last soldier came down off the hills.

The firing of the day’s engagement had drawn a crowd; Shadwell (1898) says about 8,000 mixed Afridis and Orakzais were arriving from the nearby Khanki Valley as well as the original defenders of Dargai village returning to snipe at the invaders.

On the way downhill the British force suffered worse than in the attack from this converging force; finally dark and the artillery halted the Afghan pursuit but the Second Division lost 10 dead and 53 wounded in the operation for no tangible gain.

And, then, worse.

Late the following day (19 OCT) MG Yeatman-Biggs sent his commander a telegram from his position at Shinawari. He reported a “large gathering of tribesmen was visible on the Dargai position, and…proposed moving on Karappa, via Gulistan Fort, instead of down the Chagru defile.” (Shadwell, 1898).

This move would have effectively turned the Dargai position, but GEN Lockhart “ordered the original route to be adhered to, remarking that, while it would probably be necessary to clear the enemy off the Dargai heights, they would very likely retire, to prevent their line of retreat from being threatened…” (Shadwell, 1898)

MG Yeatman-Biggs shook out his force to recapture the heights of Dargai.

The Engagement: Note – There are several sources for the attack on 20 OCT but the following account is primarily from Shadwell (1898) supplemented by Johnson (2009) for observations from the Afghan side.

The British attack force was organized in three waves. The first unit to assault was the 1/2 Gurkhas, the second “wave” was the Dorsets, with the Derbyshire Regiment third. The Gordons were originally tasked with supporting fire.

The defense was spread all along the crest and military crest of the Dargai ridge. Shadwell (1898) notes that the defenders didn’t make the same mistake as on 18 OCT; the defensive perimeter extended well to the west, where MG Kempster’s flanking attack had climbed the cliffs. In the Shadwell account this is supposed to have been due to a cunning ploy by the Second Division intel officer – or “political officer” as they were called at the time – who fed the tribes a false plan, but there is no way to be sure that this was not merely a tactical adjustment to the British attack of the 18th.

Artillery prep began at 1000 hours. The Gurkha attack went forward soon after – Shadwell (1898) is not specific about the time, and the assault appears to have been effectively halted by fire along the saddle or at the base of the steep cliff within a short time of leaving the line of departure.

“Many a brave little Ghoorka bit the dust” is how Shadwell puts it.

Really. No shit. That’s what he wrote.

Apparently some time soon after the two British units attempted to reinforce the Gurkha battalion. Both were shot to pieces as they tried to rush the saddle. Most of the British troops were killed in the open space. Neither unit, nor the Gurkha Rifles, could manage to advance up the steep path to the crest.

Johnson (2009) describes it thusly: “As they tried to cross in small groups ‘each clump of men that dashed forward melted away under the converging and accurate fire, and after a time affairs practically came to standstill’. The Gurkhas were pinned down for three hours and 2 other British regiments fared little better.”

At some time in the early afternoon – probably about 1500 – BG Kempster was tasked to bring up the division reserves; the Gordons and the 3rd Sikhs. These units were “shot across” the open saddle by an artillery mad minute in which all 24 cannons fired a three-minute rapid fire.

The Gordons and Sikhs managed to make the base of the cliff in a body, probably picking up odd lots of Gurkhas and British soldiers along the way. From there it must have been a mad scramble up the steep path into a nasty rain of rifle fire. 

One of the Gordons pipers, a man named Findlater, was shot through both legs at the ankles on the way up. He hauled himself onto a rock and continued playing as his fellow tribesmen attacked. His was the sort of bizarre gallantry that transfixed Victorian audiences; he got a sort of nursery rhyme from the kiddies of Glasgow out of it:

“Piper Findlater, Piper Findlater,
Piped “The Cock ‘o the North”.
He piped it so loud,
He gathered a crowd,
And won the Victoria Cross.”

And so he did, although just to remind us that life isn’t like the stories we like to tell about it, he later remarked;
“I am told that the ‘Cock of the North’ was the tune ordered to be played, but I didn’t hear the order, and using my own judgment I thought that the charge would be better led by a quick strathspey, so I struck up ‘The Haughs o’ Cromdale’. The ‘Cock o’ the North’ is more of a march tune and the effort we had to make was a rush and a charge.”
Ha! Take that, popular fiction…

The final rush carried the crest, again the Afghan defenders retired in good order, and the 1/2 Gurkhas and Dorsetshire Regiment were posted to hold the crest while the rest of the attack force sloped off back down to the valley below to police up the dead and wounded and reorganize for the move forward. 

A total of 37 attacking infantrymen were killed, with the point element suffering the worst; 1/2 Gurkhas lost 18 officers and men. Another 156 British troops were wounded. The Afghan losses were not counted, but the defenders managed to remove all their dead and wounded before the attack force seized its objective. “Many bloodstains were found on the ground…” is all Shadwell (1898) can come up with, remarking that the women and children commonly dragged off both wounded and killed.

Johnson (2009) sums up the Afghan tactical moves and their effects:
“First, and most importantly, the new Pashtun deployments had compelled Lockhart to change his plan to by-pass Dargai. Second, the tribesmen carefully selected (the ground) and channelled them into a specific killing area. Almost all the British casualties occurred in a one small area that could be swept by small arms’ fire. The British had suffered 200 casualties, and, whilst the tribesmen were forced to abandon the Dargai position at the end, they could claim satisfaction at their achievements if not outright victory. The British force had been held up, they had managed to escape with their own forces largely intact and they had carried away most of their own dead and wounded.”
I consider it unlikely that the Afghan defenders lost significantly more than the attack force, even with the effects of the artillery fire.

The Tirah Expedition continued on to the northeast the following day.

The Outcome: British tactical victory

The Impact: Minimal. The fiasco at Dargai didn’t put a real dent in the Afghan resistance, and the British had other problems to worry about soon. As other military forces in the high hills around the Durand Line have discovered, it is usually the support elements that find it hard to cope with the Afghan and his mountains.

Constant and deadly harassment of supply and transport columns continued. Some of the more notable of these deadly little assaults included:

9 NOV 1897 Elements of the Northampton Regiment separated from supporting units and ambushed while burning some villages around Saran Sar. 20 killed, 48 wounded.

22 NOV 1897 One company Dorsets, one company Sikhs (unit unknown) ambushed while searching for troopers lost in contact. 29 killed, 44 wounded.

19 JAN 1898 36th Sikhs and the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) ambushed while patrolling out of Mamanai. 32 killed, 37 wounded; some of the badly wounded are left behind when the KOYLI retreats and are mutilated.

Now you notice the little item about what happened on 9 NOV?

“Burning villages”?


The Brits didn’t play that “hearts and minds” bullshit. The way they saw it, counterinsurgency was all about grabbing the insurgents by the balls and twisting those rascals until the rapscallions begged for mercy.

So the primary “job” of the soldiers in the Tirah Expedition, like pretty much every other “column” the British sent into the tribal areas, wasn’t fighting tribesmen.

It was burning people’s homes and crops. It was throwing stones into their wells to make them useless, it was lifting their cattle, sheep, and goats, it was doing just what the U.S. Army did to the Sioux, and the Cheyenne, the Seminoles, and the Creeks.

It was killing their men, and turning their women and children out in the wilderness to starve.

And it worked; it usually does. Eventually British logistical and numerical strength overwhelmed the tribesmen. In June 1898 negotiation resulted in a payment of 800 rifles and 50,000 rupees from the Afridi. The tribe also committed to dealing only with the Raj, and leaving road- and railway construction unmolested.

A new unit, the Khyber Rifles, was formed to replace the Afridi levies that had guarded the Khyber Pass. The troopers were Afridi but the officers were British, and there would be no more question of who were the Kings of the Khyber. 

The British agreed to pay the tribal leaders stipends to keep the agreement, and the peace.

As you probably know, that peace has been most notable by its absence from that day to this.

But in the short term both sides seemed to get what they wanted.

Britain had a brisk little fight that ended in the restoration of British power over the hills around Dargai. The Northwest Frontier was secure for another several years from the threat of Afghan tribesmen working with the Russian Bear. British “honor” had been satisfied, and the truculent tribes “punished” for their fractious behavior. The troops has performed well, even if their leaders had made several critical blunders on the battlefield itself (such as at Dargai) and had, overall, failed to understand and adjust to the new tactical conditions they faced in the Orakzai hills. 

The tribes also had reason to be pleased. Johnson (2009) notes that:
“They had inflicted considerable losses on the British and exchanged blow for blow in a manner that would accrue them honour and credit. Individuals who had survived the campaign would have been recognised as having demonstrated courage in defence of their lands, peoples and religion.

The sense that the Pashtuns had actually enjoyed the campaign because it had offered them a chance to enhance their honour was confirmed by a bizarre epilogue to the Tirah Campaign. When General Lockhart set off to leave India in April 1898, a crowd of 500 Afridis including Zaka-Khels mobbed him with cheers and insisted on pulling his carriage to the station. Some vowed to fight alongside the British in the future and promised eternal friendship. To the Pashtuns, this campaign had not been a British victory, but a draw, and, more importantly, honour had been preserved for both sides.”
The strange world in which Afghan and Briton alternated between fighting alongside and against each other continued for exactly another fifty years, until Independence in 1947. 

The tribes of the high hills then passed into the portfolio of the new government of Pakistan, where they have remained a tumult and a shouting to this very day.

In Dorchester in the county of Dorset the monument to the dead men of Dargai goes largely unvisited and unremarked in the Borough Gardens, the names of the troopers killed on that chilly October day slowly fading from the stone. 

The Gordon Highlanders ceased to be in 1994, forced into amalgamation with the other two remaining Highland regiments to form “the Highland Regiment”. Currently the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland preserves what remains of the lineage and battle honors of the old 92nd Regiment of Foot; “Ninety-twa, no’ deid yet”. 





(Posted by  “Blog Dargai Heights “on

Orakzai Rivers

Khanki River
Khanki River
Mastura River
Mastura River

 There are two valleys Khanki and Mastura bounded by parallel ranges in the same directions. The ranges are densely covered with low brush wood. Occasional groves of pines are also found along these ranges which may have been thickly populated in the past. The valleys are in general 12 kilometers apart at the maximum. These are interpassed by important passes having heights of 1500 to 2400 meters. Physiographically, Orakzai Agency is a mountainous area, dominated by the mountains of Karagh Ghar range dissected by numerous water courses. The height of the hills varies from 3000 meters in the west to less than 2000 meters in the east. Area near Bara River is fertile and yield rich harvest. The two major streams are the Mastura River and Khanki Toi River, both of which originate from the hills to west and run the east.


(Contents taken from

Fort Gulistan

The Tirah expedition of 1897 is now mostly remembered for the courageous storming of the heights of Dargai, but the action on the Samana in September of that year, fought by the 36th Sikhs, must surely rank, in terms of bravery, as highly as Dargai, and in terms of calamity as highly as Maiwand. The Samana is a ridge of hills running east-west, south of Khanki valley, marking the southern edge of the Tirah region. It is about 12 miles long and its highest point is 6000 ft. The Khyber Pass is some 30 miles to the north. It had been captured by the British in 1891 and two main forts built on it, Fort Lockhart in the middle and Fort Gulistan on the western end. They were rectangluar in shape with stone walls 12 or 15 foot high and loop-holed bastions at the corners. Lockhart could hold about 300 men and Gulistan, 200. The two forts were 3 miles apart and in between was a smaller fort called Saragarhi used as a signalling post. Another outpost, called Sangar was on the highest peak to the east.

Garrison Duty
In August 1897, the Samana was garrisoned by 5 companies of the 36th Sikhs. The commanding officer was acting Lieutenant-Colonel John Haughton, aged 45 at the time. He survived this action but was killed at Shinkamar the following year. There were 5 other British officers, only one of whom had seen action before. He was the adjutant, Lieutenant George Munn who, as an officer in the Derbyshire Regiment had served with the Hazara Field Force in 1891 and as a member of the Indian Staff Corps, had been with the Chitral Relief Force in 1895. The 7 Indian officers had seen active service while serving with other regiments as rank and file. Amongst them was Subadar Diwan Singh who had been in Afghanistan in 1878/9 including the capture of Ali Musjid, and Jemadar Jwala Singh who had served on the Suakin expedition in 1885 and the battle of Tofrek. Both these officers were posted at Fort Gulistan under the command of Major Des Voeux, while Colonel Haughton and Lt. Munn were with the HQ at Fort Lockhart..
Major Des Voeux had his pregnant wife, children and a nanny in the fort with him, but most of the other families had left. The first sign of trouble was on 15th August when a few shots were fired into Fort Lockhart, there was a period of calm for a few days after that. On 27th August, 4,200 Orakzai tribesmen occupied high ground about a mile to the west of Gulistan. Haughton went over to the fort with two officers and 134 men. Later the fort came under heavy fire from tribesmen who had reached high ground 1000 yds away. Lts Blair and Munn took 30 men to a rise called Piquet Hill 350 yds to the west of the fort, but Blair was shot in the lung and they returned. The tribesmen withdrew at about 6pm and Haughton went back to Fort Lockhart leaving Blair at Gulistan. Things quietened down for a few days during which time Major Des Voeux’s wife gave birth to a daughter who they named Violet Samana. The lull ended on 3rd September when a bhisti was killed and 5000 Orakzais were seen advancing on Fort Gulistan. Col Haughton again left Lockhart , taking 50 men, 15 of whom were left at Saraghari, to reinforce Gulistan. There was a hornwork on the west side of the fort consisting of an enclosure 80 yds by 30 yds surrounded by a low stone wall on the three sides (the fort wall making up the fourth side). Outsde the wall there was a thorn hedge to impede attackers. The tribesmen managed to set fire to this hedge but the flames were extinguished by Sikhs working under heavy rifle fire. That night the firing from the Orakzais increased and it was decided that a prearranged bonfire be set alight to provide some light in the way that flares are used now to illuminate approaching enemy troops. Two men volunteered for this suicidal task; Sepoy Ghula Singh and Sepoy Wariam Singh. They rushed towards the enemy and lit the fire before returning to the fort under a hail of bullets, reaching safety unharmed.
On the 9th Sept the sentries on the eastern outposts saw something that caused great excitement thoughout the Samana fortifications. A large body of soldiers marching towards them under a British flag, about 2000 men of the Royal Irish Regiment, 2nd and 3rd Gurkhas, and 2nd Punjab Infantry commanded by Major-General Yeatman-Biggs. He was the senior officer in the area and he had brought supplies for a month to the Samana posts from Hangu. They stayed two days, during which time sappers improved the defences of Fort Gulistan. The Orakzais had been joined by a large number of Afridis and the Pathans now numbered 10,000. Yeatman-Biggs feared that they would cut off his route back to Hangu, and as there was insufficient water to supply his men on the Samana, he decided to return. But on the way to Hangu on the 11th and 12th, they clashed with tribesmen and casualties sustained were 6 Indian soldiers, a British officer and 8 other Indians wounded.

Officers Beseiged

Sieges Resume:
The Pathans were encouraged by the apparant retreat of the British and renewed their attack on the 36th Sikhs. There were nearly 500 fighting men of the 36th there, including 7 Indian officers and 6 British officers. Gulistan had 179 including 4 British officers, Major Des Voeux, Lt Blair, 2nd Lt Pratt and Surgeon Captain Cedric Barkley Prall of the Indian Medical Service, attached. Fort Lockhart had 170 of whom 2 were British officers, Lt Col Haughton and Lt Munn. Attached to the strengh of Lockhart were two other British officers, Lt Lillie RIR and 2nd Lt Haslam RE. Sangar on the eastern end had 44 other ranks, Dhar, 37 and there were 21 other ranks at each of the other posts, Crag Picquet, Sartope and Saragarhi.
There was a night attack on Sangar on 11th/12th Sept but it proved a difficult nut for the Pathans to crack. The next morning, 2 Sikh cooks left Gulistan to find firewood and went missing. Their bodies were discovered several days later tied up and burned. Meanwhile the Pathans turned their attention to Saragarhi which they attacked in force. The 21 were under the command of Havildar Ishar Singh and they held out for several hours, sustaining one injured naik and one killed sepoy. A small group of tribesmen managed to find some dead ground at the north-west corner of the building and busied themselves dislodging the stones at the base of the wall. Although this could be observed from Gulistan, Des Voeux was unable to signal the information to the unsuspecting men in Saragarhi.


The signaller at Saragarhi was able to let Haughton, at Lockhart, know that they were short of ammunition, so at 3pm Haughton led a sortie of 93 men to relieve Saragarhi, but he was just too late because at 3.30pm the corner collapsed and the enemy poured into Saragarhi. The gate was forced at the same time and the 19 men fought a desperate hand-to-hand fight with their few remaining bullets and their bayonets. The sheer weight of numbers soon overwhelmed them and they were all killed. Even the naik who had been wounded earlier shot four attackers from his sick-bed. The last man to die locked himself in the guardroom from where he managed to shoot 20 Pathans, but they set fire to the building and left him to burn to death.
The attack on Fort Gulistan:
After the fall of Saragarhi, the Orakzais and Afridis turned their attention to Gulistan. Major Des Voeux posted men at the base of the corners of the fort to listen for any sign of tampering with the stones on the outside.. The tribesmen concentrated their fire on the fort and this continued into the night, wounding several of the Sikhs. Daylight showed that the attackers had built stone sangars for cover during the night and the nearest one was only 20 yards from the hornwork.

It was decided that an attack had to be made on this sangar and Havildar Kala Singh volunteered to take 16 men to carry it out. At 8am on the 13th they made the sortie, charging towards the sangar, but heavy fire wounded several of them and forced the others to stay flat on the ground. Another havildar, Sunder Singh saw this and without waiting for orders, took 11 men to help them. A concerted effort was made and the sangar was reached. They drove out the tribesmen capturing 3 Pathan standards in the process, returning to the fort in triumph.Unfortunately, two men had been left behind, wounded. When he realised this, a sepoy called Bela Singh leapt over the wall and, joined by two of the Sikhs who had just returned from the sortie, brought the wounded men back to safety. Of the 29 men who had taken part in this action, 14 were wounded, 3 of them fatally. One of these three was Havildar Kala Singh, the original volunteer; he died on the 15th September. Their efforts had a positive effect on the morale of the regiment and made the Pathans more cautious.
The Cavalry Arrives:
The defenders suffered under constant rifle fire for the rest of the day and all that night. Twenty-five more men were wounded, adding to the casualties being tended by Surgeon Captain Prall and Mrs Des Vouex’s nursemaid, Teresa McGrath. Water was running short and no help could be supplied from Fort Lockhart as it was too dangerous to put troops in the open ground between the forts. Yeatman-Biggs received news of their plight and sent the 3rd Bengal Cavalry, a squadron of the 3rd Punjab Cavalry and four guns of the 9th Field Battery RA down the Miranzai Valley to give support to Fort Gulistan. The artillery fired some long range shells at 7 pm on the 13th, hitting few tribesmen but raising the spirits of the besieged men and causing the Pathans to be confused about the direction that the relief troops would come from.

Sangar was the first post to be relieved at 8 am on the 14th. The 44 men there had suffered no casualties. When Col Haughton saw that relief was at hand he sallied out of Fort Lockhart with about 50 men, firing on the retreating Pathans. Yeatman-Biggs and his relief force reached Lockhart by 10 am and they all moved on to Saragarhi where they found no survivors.

Gulistan was still under attack from about 8000 Pathans, but 4 guns of No 2 (Derajat) Mountain Battery were part of Yeatman-Biggs’s force and they were put to good use, causing the enemy to retreat. Gulistan was reached at 1 pm on the 14th September 1897, thus ending the seige.

The 36th Sikhs had been under continuous fire since 9 am on the 12th, a total of 52 hours. During that time, 39 rank and file Sikhs had been wounded plus one Indian Officer. Of these, at least 4 died of their wounds, bringing the total fatalities, with the 21 at Saragarhi, to 25. None of the civilians, apart from the poor cooks, was hurt.
This was not the last action of the 36th during the Tirah Campaign. Over the next few months they took part in some of the heaviest fighting. Lt Munn was severely wounded in the Waran Valley on 16th November and in the last battle of the campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel John Haughton was killed leading the 36th.

Orakzai Pakhto

Lets try to preserve the words used in day to day life of Orakzais, what makes Orakzai Pakhto different from their neighbours Afridis and Bangashes..Lets try to find out if the different tribes of Orakzai use the same names for household items, animals, trees, places and seasons.
Posted by Orakzai Group Memebers:

  • Mohammed Imran Khan CHAYNAK ( TEA KETTLE)
  • Muhammad Javaid Abdul Ghani “CHAJOS” is used for the the Tea Kettle, “CHAYNAK” is the Teapot
  •  Muhammad Javaid Abdul Ghani “PIYALA” is the chinese tea cup, the british tea cup is called “COPE” and the saucer is called “SAISAR” or “PRUCH”
  •  Nasser Aurakxai “Bazaa” or “Ozaa” (Goat)
  •  Usman Orakzai “anderah” means chatie
  •  Usman Orakzai Marchubah means Chatni
  •  Gul Hassan SARWOCZA (an one ended open room on top floor or roof) and SARPOKHA (a closed room with door on the roof)
  •  Gul Hassan GHARAKA (a huge mashkay (bag) made of animal skin hanging from the ceiling and pushing/pulling it to make THARWAY (lassi) from Yoghurt in old days.
  •  Usman Orakzai PATHAKY AND ANDARPIYAH MEANS “stairs”
  •  Mohammed Imran Khan im sure we call stairs,(PLA) and a LADDER dranmpayah….
  • The names of human body parts in Orakzai pakhto:
  • Ear is called “Ghwag”
  • Nose is called “Soonga”
  • Chin is called “Zanee”
  • Elbow is called “Tayrkay”
  • Knee is called “Tootaaka”
  • Leg is called “Gharay”
  • Foot is called “Pkha”
  • Kidney is called “Pukhtawargay”
  • Gall bladder is called “Treekhay”
  • Spleen is called “Thoray”
  • Lung is called “Sagay”

The trouser strings are called “Baaga” by most tribes and “Blanzee” by some tribes