Jody Baker: Dr. Watson, The Battle Of Maiwand And The 66th Foot Regiment

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Study in Scarlet 

Chapter 1

IN THE YEAR 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army. Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as assistant surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy’s country.
I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Candahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties.

The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a pack-horse, and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines.

Worn with pain, and weak from the prolonged hardships which I had undergone, I was removed, with a great train of wounded sufferers, to the base hospital at Peshawar. Here I rallied, and had already improved so far as to be able to walk about the wards, and even to bask a little upon the veranda, when I was struck down by enteric fever, that curse of our Indian possessions. For months my life was despaired of, and when at last I came to myself and became convalescent, I was so weak and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day should be lost in sending me back to England. ACD
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The Battle of Maiwand,
One of the British Regiments in combat was HM 66th Foot (less 2 companies), later known as the Royal Berkshire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.

The British were ingloriously defeated in the battle. They were greatly outnumbered by the Afghans, who were seasoned veterans and fierce fighters. The 66th Foot (referred to, by Watson, as the Berkshires) fought bravely and valiantly at Maiwand. The disasters of the British led the Afghans to divert their attack from Ghuznee and, instead, to lay siege upon Kandahar. The British and Indian forces at Kandahar were able to resist until the arrival of General Roberts who was dispatched from Kabul with a large superior force. General Roberts led the battle, broke the siege, put the Afghans to route and won the war.

The men of the 66th Foot Regiment fought hard to repel the Afghans, several officers and soldiers dying defending the regiment’s colours. The Afghans were impressed by the courage of the men who fought it out in Khig and particularly by the determination of the Eleven who shot down numbers of their attackers and, when ammunition was exhausted, charged with the bayonet to their deaths. During the retreat a number of British soldiers became incapably drunk after raiding the officers’ stores. They were  left behind and were slaughtered by the pursuing Afghans.

The experience of the 66th Foot was dramatically expressed in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “That Day.”


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“That Day” 
by Rudyard Kipling

It got beyond all orders an' it got beyond all 'ope; 
It got to shammin' wounded an' retirin' from the 'alt. 
'Ole companies was lookin' for the nearest road to slope; 
It were just a bloomin' knock-out -- an' our fault!

Now there ain't no chorus 'ere to give, 
Nor there ain't no band to play; 
An' I wish I was dead 'fore I done what I did, 
Or seen what I seed that day!

We was sick o' bein' punished, an' we let 'em know it, too; 
An' a company-commander up an' 'it us with a sword, 
An' some one shouted "'Ook it!" an' it come to sove-ki-poo, 
An' we chucked our rifles from us -- O my Gawd!

There was thirty dead an' wounded on the ground we wouldn't keep -- 
No, there wasn't more than twenty when the front begun to go; 
But, Christ! along the line o' flight they cut us up like sheep,
 An' that was all we gained by doin' so.
 
I 'eard the knives be'ind me, but I dursn't face my man, 
Nor I don't know where I went to, 'cause I didn't 'alt to see, 
 Till I 'eard a beggar squealin' out for quarter as 'e ran, 
 An' I thought I knew the voice an' -- it was me!
We was 'idin' under bedsteads more than 'arf a march away; 
We was lyin' up like rabbits all about the countryside; 
An' the major cursed 'is Maker 'cause 'e lived to see that day, 
An' the colonel broke 'is sword acrost, an' cried.

We was rotten 'fore we started -- we was never disciplined; 
We made it out a favour if an order was obeyed; 
Yes, every little drummer 'ad 'is rights an' wrongs to mind, 
So we had to pay for teachin' -- an' we paid!

The papers 'id it 'andsome, but you know the Army knows; 
We was put to groomin' camels till the regiments withdrew, 
An' they gave us each a medal for subduin' England's foes, 
An' I 'ope you like my song -- because it's true!

An' there ain't no chorus 'ere to give, 
Nor there ain't no band to play; 
But I wish I was dead 'fore I done what I did, 
Or seen what I seed that day! -KIPLING
                                                                              
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Another poem on the Battle of Maiwand            
THE SOLDIER NAMED MURRAY

On the Afghan side of a mountain pass
In the land that's ruled from Kabul,
Our assistant regimental surgeon
Was a kid just fresh out of school.

He had spent some time at Netley, though;
And they'd taught him mighty well
How to patch up battered infantry troops
Who had fought their way through hell.

Now the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers
Were safe back in Candahar,
And he could've stayed back there with them,
If he'd wanted to sit out the war.

But he cast his lot with the Berkshires,
And he joined us in the fight
As we neared the village of Maiwand,
Troops deployed both left and right.

Then those murd'rous stinkin' Ghazis
Soon filled the air with lead.
And when a slug hit my doctor’s leg,
My Gawd, -- how that man bled.

Since I was the doctor's orderly
I was fightin' by his side;
And when he fell, I picked him up.
Lor' -- I thought the man had died.

So I slung him over my shoulder
And was headed toward the rear,
When another slug from a Ghazi gun
Brought an end to his career.

It split the spine of his scapula,
And it pierced his body too.
I knew he was hit, and I knew it was bad,
And I thought that he might be through.

So, I held him even closer
And kept on running to the back,
Where I grabbed the Company work-horse
And strapped my man upon its pack.

We dressed the wounds. We stopped the blood.
And we did what we could do;
But the man was hurt --- he was hurt real bad;
And he needed surgery, too.

So we sent him east to Candahar,
Where he joined with several more
To form a train, and then move north
To our base at Peshawar.

In the base hospital in Pesh'war
Where they nursed him back to health,
They said that our treatment in the field
Saved the man from certain death.

Watson has praised me for my courage,
And for my devotion to the deed,
And for risks I took in saving the life
Of the man whose tales we read.

So pull your chairs up close to the hearth fire,
When it's cold and the snows are a-flurry.
As you talk about Watson and marvel at Holmes,
Drink a toast to the soldier named Murray.  --  INSP. BAYNES


(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at josiahbaker@bkhcw.com.)
 


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