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Devonshire Rgt.

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The Khyber Pass is a route through the Hindu Kush mountain range which connects the northern frontier of Pakistan with Afghanistan. Before Pakistan came into being, this was a border with India,  part of the British Empire, and the Khyber Pass was heavily-defended on the Indian side by the British Army. Over the years, it was the scene of many bloody battles between the British and Afghan tribesmen of the area and after the British  constructed a road through the Pass in 1879. it was decided to make a financial arrangement with one of those tribes- the Afridis - to provided a regiment permanently stationed in forts at the Pass, charged with the duty of keeping it open.


The Khyber Pass in 1900
The Khyber Pass in 1900

Photographed  shortly after the end of the Tirah Campaign 


This arrangement lasted for nearly 16 years but in 1897, for reasons which were not known to the British, other local Afridi tribesmen turned on the members of their own tribe who were stationed at various posts along the route. It didn't take long for other tribes in the area to remember old grievances; the time had come to settle some long-standing scores and within weeks, war was raging across the Indian/Afghan frontier region, over the mountains of the Khyber region to the valleys beyond. On August 15th 1897 Fort Lockhart, built at the mid-point of the 30-mile Pass, came under attack and had to be abandoned. Forts at Samana, Seragheri and Gulistan at the western end were also taken, after only token defence by the Afridis paid to guard them


Fort Gulistan
Fort Gulistan - 1897


With some bitter memories of the two Afghan Wars still  fresh in their minds, the British immediately understood the danger this posed to India. The Afghans, mobilising on a tribal basis, had the capacity to assemble armies of 20,000 to 30,000 men who knew the area well and who were fierce fighters accustomed to moving around in that terrain. The decision was made by the War Office to send a massive force up into the Khyber region - a show of strength which would overwhelm the Afghans once and for all, and teach them a lesson they would not forget - this was not their border, it was India's border: and India, the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, was under the protection of the combined might of the British and Indian Armies.


The camp at Maidan, Tirah

The camp at Maidan, Tirah - 1897

Typical of all the camps set up during the Tirah Campaign. The Command Post and the Hospitals (British and Native) were at the core of the layout with the tents of the various regimental units spread out over a fairly wide area forming protective wings.


Assembling this force was a logistical triumph for the British and Indian Armies but it took time. While preparations were being made, it was decided to tackle one particular uprising by the Mohmands, a Pathan tribe from the region northwest of Peshawar. Later, it was further decided that all troops who went beyond either Kohat or Peshawar between 2nd October, 1897, and 31st January, 1898,  were deemed to have been part of what was referred to as the Tirah Expeditionary Force and were eligible for the India General Service Medal. This had come into being in 1896 after Chitral, with participation in later campaigns being marked by a relevant clasp.


A small detachment crewing two Maxim guns, was sent from the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment to work alongside the Somerset Light Infantry in the Mohmand Field Force  which they did with considerable effect, being mentioned in despatches for their work. However, as October arrived and the mission to put down the Mohmand uprising was deemed to be complete, these men returned to rejoin the rest of their Regiment  who, by  now, were preparing to join the great Expeditionary Force assembling at Kohat.




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