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The Battle of Maiwand and the Sherlock Holmes detective stories

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140 years ago today (July 27, 1880), during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), a British Expeditionary Force was overwhelmed by Afghan soldiers and tribesmen at Maiwand near Kandahar marking a notorious Victorian military disaster. The British lost 1,757 killed including 971 combatants, 331 followers and 455 transport followers and drivers. 175 were wounded. Other losses were seven guns, 1,000 rifles, 2,425 transport animals, more than 200 horses, 278,200 rifle bullets and 448 artillery shells.[i]Maiwand was one of the major military setbacks of the Victorian era. On 22 January 1879, a British force at Isandlwana lost 1,700 men during the Zulu wars. “It is impossible,” wrote a veteran of Maiwand, “not to draw a parallel between our fearful disaster and that of Isandlwana – the same overweening confidence in our invincibility, the same contempt of an unknown foe, the same attempt at scientific strategy, when the simplest old-fashioned British tactics would have won the day.”[ii] These two defeats reverberated through Britain with much the same impact as the 7th Cavalry’s 1876 defeat at Little Big Horn where 244 US soldiers lost their lives.

Durrani commanders after their victory at the Battle of Maiwand.

A lot has been written about the political and military significance of the Maiwand engagement. My military analysis of the battle was published in US Army Military Review in 2002 which later became a book chapter in “The British Army 1815-1914.”[iii] However, the memory of Maiwand has gone far beyond its military significance.

The saga of Maiwand is eulogized equally in the Afghans and British memory. Malala, is one of the most celebrated names in Afghanistan known to have been a young heroine at the battlefield who with a group of other female fighters inspired the tired and exhausted ghazis on that hot day of July. There are many patriotic poems attributed to Malala. The legend has it that at a critical moment the Afghan Jeanne d’Arc raised her head cloth as a banner and shouted “If you fail to be martyred at Maiwand, by God, my love, you will live only a disgraceful life.” Malala’s grave is now a shrine in her native village Khig (Khik).

The last stand of the 66th Foot (later named Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment), is lionized for its exceptional gallantry in Maiwand. The Regiment’s Museum (the Rifles) in Salisbury England displays the artifacts from that fateful day of July 1880. It includes among other things Sergeant Kelly’s stuffed dog “Bobbie of Maiwand” which survived the battle and returned home to be decorated by the Queen.  “the Lion of Maiwand” a sculpture and war memorial in the Forbury Gardens, a public park in the town of Reading, in the English county of Berkshire, is erected in 1884 to commemorate the death of 329 men from the 66th (Berkshire Regiment) during the Maiwand Battle.

The Maiwand Lion, Forbury Gardens, Reading

Most interestingly, Maiwand inspired a number of short stories including those of Sherlock Holmes where his fictitious companion, Doctor Watson is identified with Maiwand where he is said to have been wounded. In fact, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Doctor Watson in his Sherlock Holmes books, on the Regiment’s Medical Officer. Watson describes in A Study in Scarlet how he was shot while attending to a fallen soldier at Maiwand. It is believed that Watson represents the 66th Regiment’s Medical Officer, Surgeon Major Alexander Francis Preston.

Afghan Traditional Jezail

The Jezail is the traditional rifle of the Afghan tribal fighter, Distinctive primarily for its uniquely curved style of buttstock, these rifles still maintain a symbolic importance although they are utterly obsolete. Every jezail is a unique handmade weapon, but they all share some basic traits. They are typically built around complete lock assemblies, from captured guns or bought/traded parts. The barrel is typically quite long and rifled, and the caliber is generally .50 to .75 inch. ➥www.mundigak.com/en /subscribe our channel for more videos… https://bit.ly/33Ba4Fl? ABC News✔❶Like✔❷Comment✔❸Share••• ═══ ༻✿༺═══ •••#AfghanistanHistory #mundigak_historical_society

Geplaatst door Mundigak Historical Society op Zaterdag 13 juni 2020

Maiwand has also memorialized in hundreds of Sherlock Holmes society and fan club around the world. One of such clubs located in the US state of Nebraska is named “the Maiwand Jezails.” A scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Maiwand Jezails has been founded 26th June 1963. There, always displays the two icon of the group; a two hundred year old jezail rifle and the painting “Saving the Guns at the Battle of Maiwand.” Years ago, the Maiwand Jezails attempted to have an inscription erected on the Maiwand battlefield thanking the unknown Afghan soldier who wounded Watson, for had he continued in the Army, he would of course never have met Holmes. Unfortunately, the representative sent out to Afghanistan by the Jezails failed in the task of having a suitable plaque erected, and Association now hopes to buy a piece of land near the battlefield, but their plans are now temporarily thwarted because of war in Afghanistan.[iv]

Finally, we find the reflection of the Battle of Maiwand in Rudyard Kipling’s “That Day” chant:

‘Ole companies was lookin’ for the nearest road to slope;

It were just a bloomin’ knock-out an’ our fault [v]

Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan Family

One result of the British defeat at Maiwand was Great Britain’s 1895 decision to abolish the separate Presidency Armies (such as the Bombay Army) and focus recruitment among the so-called martial races of Northern India – the Sikhs, Punjabis and Gurkhas. However, the basic British colonial army system and expeditionary procedures remained intact and continued, with good results and bad, through WWorld War II.

The Last Stand of the British at Maiwand, Afghanistan, 27 July 1880′ by John Elder Moultray


Action at Maiwand map


Royal Horse Artillery fleeing from Afghan attack at the Battle of Maiwand


The Last Eleven at Maiwand


[i] General Staff India 1940, Military Report (classified), Afghanistan, Part I-History, Ref No. D. 46720, P. 62; The Second Afghan War, 1878-1880, Official Account, pp. 526-528

[ii] Kandahar Campaign, Officers engaged Therein, Edited and Annotated, with an Introduction by Major Ashe, David Bogue, London 1881, p. 75

[iii] Raugh, Harold E., Jr. Ed. The British Army 1815-1914, (The International Library of Essays on Military History), Ashgate Publishing Co. October 30, 2006 October 30, 2006

[iv] Maiwand Centenial, Chawkidar, British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia, Vol 2, No 1-V, March 1980-1982. P.2

[v] Rudyard Kipling, The Works of Rudyard Kipling, The Wordsworth Poetry Library, Denmark, 1994, p. 437

Object Spotlight
The Kabul to Kandahar Star awarded to Private Phillips of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers).
This bronze medal was awarded to all who took part in the 310 mile march from Kabul to Kandahar in August of 1880 during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The march to Kandahar was led by General Frederick Roberts and took twenty two days. On the 1st of September, the day following the British force’s arrival they met an Afghan army under the command of Ayub Khan, the ousted Amir now besieging the British contingent held up in the city. This British relief force defeated the army of Ayub Khan and it is said that the Kabul to Kandahar Stars were cast from the captured cannon of the vanquished army.
The 6th Dragoon Guards did participate in the 2nd Afghan War but they themselves did not participate in the 310 march to Kandahar as a regiment, though they may have sent a small continent to assist. The exact details as to why Private Phillips was involved or if any others from the Carabiniers were indeed involved, we as yet cannot say.
Be sure to see the Kabul to Kandahar Star and the other medals awarded to the soldiers of the SCOTS DG and its antecedent regiments as part of the Campaign Medal display in Gallery Two of the museum.
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