1891 Hazara campaign to Queen’s Own Corps of Guides Infantry

Some military campaigns have long been gone in history and are almost forgotten except for a clasp on a medal or a few paragraphs in an old dusty book. Those events happened in a way and in locations that makes today’s history only whisper about those events. Their battlefields were so in a remote area that today’s world of information can barely tell where it is. There was no glorious charge or Victoria Cross action to save the day but fear was amongst each men expecting the enemy. Men, advancing, rifles in their hands, not knowing if the next step would be their last. In those unsung campaigns there were also unsung heroes who were there to support the troops. The men of the Corps of Guides formed that type of unit, their role was to pave the way to the main force and they very often forgotten by history. In the Hazara campaign of 1891, the Queen’s Own Corps of Guides Infantry did what they were asked to do and did not seek any glory.

A few years back while looking at the catalog of a medals’ dealer my attention was caught by a medal to a Sepoy (private) to the Queen’s Own Corps of Guide. Although I did not knew much about the Corps of Guide, just the name Queen’s Own seemed interesting for research. The Internet being a good research tool for basic information I started my research there. After a few clics and words, I realized that my quest would need to take another path. Unable to get much information, I decided to settle for information on the Hazara campaign instead, same result, nothing.

Since the size of the Hazara campaign and the role that he unit played make information scarcer in a world of global information, I decided to turn my research to the another very important source of information, books. There I was able to find three books that do speak about the Hazara campaign and Guides, History of the Guides by Sir George Fletcher, Frontier and overseas : Expeditions from India volume 1 andThe story of the guides by Colonel G. J. Younghusband.

India General service medal 1854 – 1895 clasp Hazara 1891 to Guides

The Corps of Guides was created on  on December 14th 1846 because of the necessity of having a small force acquainted with localities, at the command of civil authority in a new country bordering troubled districts. Guides first saw action in 1847 and received their first campaign medal in 1869. On March 10th 1875, Queen Victoria gave them the distinction of being called Queen’s Own and the right to wear the Royal cypher within the Garter. The Corps is composed of eight companies, A company : Dogras (Kangra and Jammu), B company : Yasafzais and Riverine Akora Khattas, C company : Punjabi Musulmans and Cis-Indus (Narreb) Khattaks, D company : Afridis (Malikdin and Kambar Khel), E company : Gurkhans (Magar and Gurung), F company : Jat Sikhs (mixed), G company : mixed classes, H company : Jat Sikhs (mixed)

click on the image to enlarge

The Hazara campaign is not the most prestigious campaign of the Victorian era, it is just a campaign where no glorious actionwas accomplished but only where everyone did their duty. It happened in an area of the planet that is very remote and even with today’s information web, it’s still very hard to find on a map. The region of the Black Mountains in Pakistan have been a troubled area for the British since the middle of the 19th century. Their first military expedition to reestablish the order in that area was lead in 1852; after that three others would follow, one in 1868, one in 1888 and the last one in 1891.

Origin of the campaign

In the fall of 1890 a British force led by Brigadier-General McQueen which was patrolling along the India border in the area of the Black Mountains had to turn back in front of an opposition from local tribes. The rebels refused to bow to the British Empire. As a response to that challenge in early 1891; British assembled a punishment force with the objective of

“assert the right to move along the crest of the Black mountains without molestation ; and next, and more particulary to inflict punishment on the tribes concerned for the hostility practised on that occasion” .

Guides infantry were called upon during that spring to be part of the Hazara force to re-establish law and order in the troubled region. The main force was assembled at Oghi and Darband by early march 1891. The total strength was of 7289 men and 15 guns.

Since the progression of the force would be done alongside the Indus river and from the experience gained of the 1888 expedition, the commander of the force, Major General W.K. Elles divided his group in two columns. Guides were assigned to the left column also known as the River Column which was commanded by Brigadier General R.F. Williamson. They were accompanied on their journey by the No 1 Mountain Battery, No 2 Deragat Mountain Battery, 2nd battalion Seaforth Highlanders, the Headquarters Wing 32nd Pioneers, 37 Bengal’s Infantry and 4th Sikhs. The other half of this force was the right column which was composed of those units ; No. 9 Mountain Battery Royal Artillery, 1st Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 11th Bengal Infantry , Wing 32nd Pioneers, 2nd Battalion 5th Gurkhas and Khyber Rifles.

The 1891 Hazara Campaign

The following description tells the events that happened for Guides during the Hazara campaign of 1891

March 4th : Guides left Mardan and completed the 30 miles trek to join the Hazara field force at Darband on March 9th. Due to bad weather the force would not be ready to move forward until March 12th.

March 12th : Guides moved out of Darband with the River column on that day at 8:30 a.m. and went to occupy Kotchai as their first action in this campaign. At night the River column bivouacked at Taward and two companies of Guides went on the right bank of the river as an observation force.

March 13th : Two companies of Guides moved up to take fresh ground up to the village where shots were exchanged with the rebels. On that same morning a reconnoitring force composed of half a battalion of Seaforth Highlanders and half a battalion of Guides crossed the river on the right bank. They visited several villages and finally made the junction at Garhi with the other two companies of Guides which had camped on that side of the river the night before.

March 15 th : The force approached Palosi’s plain. During the night to the 16th, news were received that the Chief political officer of the rebels were on their way to meet the British. A little later during the night; information was received that rebels are anxious to submit.

March 19th Two companies of Guides are sent to Kawar to reinforce the contingent after fire shots.

March 20th : The River Column continues its march toward Tawara and Pirzada Bela. They took position into rebel claimed territory and British artillery fire shots at rebel’s position in the mountain near Bakrai and Makhranai.

March 21st : Marched from Pirzada Bela to Palosi and occupied Ril.

March 22nd : Column returned to Tilli.

March 23rd : As they were getting deeper in rebels’ territory, a wing of Guides is sent across the river to observe enemy movement and to act as a support force to the 4th Sikhs which has already crossed the river and established their position at a place called Bakrai. Guides joined the 4th Sikhs at 5:30 p.m. to drive the enemy out of the hills. In the presence of the Sikhs regiment,  the rebels had assembled more men in the hill overlooking Sikhs and Guides position. The British commander felt that they did not have the best tactical position on the ground and ordered a withdrawal of all troops. Guides and Sikhs crossed back the river.

March 24th : Troops left Tilli for Palosi.

March 25th : Troops advanced to Shal Nala and established their camp in Darbanai. The stalemate continued to rise, rebels kept arriving in the area. The British decided then to strengthen their forces in Darband in case of an attack.

End of April : Finally tribes decided they could not match British superiority in fire power and made their submission to the ruler. The last tribe submitted unconditionally to the British.

May 26th Both clans the Hassanzai and Akazai were given permission to re-occupy their land. They agreed on the term of the surrendering on May 29th.

June 9th Troops are ordered back to India except for a small force which stayed and remained as part of the occupation force in Oghi and Seri, on the crest of the Black mountain. Guides infantry returned to Mardan on June 23rd ending their task with this expedition.

Map of the Black Mountains area showing some of the Corps of Guides position during the campaign

click on the image to enlarge

There was never an engagement of massive forces between the two belligerents, there was no heroic charge to retake a vital position. There were just two enemies looking at each other in the eye and watching who would make the first move. The number of casualties for the British force was 9 killed and 39 wounded. From the information I found, I am not able to tell if some of those casualties were to the Corps of Guides.

On those nights of March 1891 for a Guide like Ghour Khan who was right in the middle of that confrontation, it was war. For those men life was at stake on a wire that could have been easily broken. His participation in that campaign gave him the India General Service medal with the clasp 1891 Hazara.

India General Service Medal clasp Hazara 1891 to Sepoy Ghour Khan – Queen’s Own Corps of Guides

click on the image to enlarge

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