Story of the Guides - F. Younghusband

The Home of the Guides


When the Guides about the middle of the last century first pitched their wandering tents in the plains of Yusafzai they were only birds of passage, in hot pursuit of some band of marauders, or swiftly marching to surprise a distant stronghold. But as the border became more settled, and sudden movements were less seldom called for, a position was chosen within striking distance of all the centres of disturbance. And thus came to be selected the site of the little cantonment, which since has sent forth generations of steel-bred warriors to keep bright the ancient flame; a small oasis, rescued by rough but kindly hands from the dry and desolate desert, and which the leisure of sixty years has served to turn into the beautiful and cherished home of the Guides.

The camp in due course shed its white wings and became a dust-hued fort. As seen by an eagle soaring overhead, its shape is that of a five-pointed star, and on four of the points stood the officers' quarters, while on the fifth were the magazine and place d'armes. All round the inside of the star, tucked away under the parapets, were the rude shelters of the infantry, while a hornwork held the troops of cavalry. For a few hundred yards round the jungle and scrub were cleared away, a Union Jack run up to the modest mast-head on the keep, and Hoti-Mardan Fort became not only the home of the Guides, but also the symbol of British power on the wild borders of Yaghistan, the land of everlasting conflict and of unending vendettas.

It was the pride of a far-distant generation to name the bastions of the old fort after famous leaders who had gone before: Lumsden, the genial dashing soldier, who stamped his type on the small beginnings; Hodson, the far-famed leader of light horse; Daly, whose steadfast resolve carried through the great march to Delhi; Sam Browne, the one-armed hero of a hundred fights.

Soon after the Mutiny the fort began to overflow, for the country was now getting more settled, and British officers could venture to build houses outside the walls of fortified enclosures. Thus the Assistant-Commissioner migrated eight hundred yards to the south-east, while an officers' mess was built on the river bank two hundred yards to the north-west. A quarter of a century passed before more houses were added, and then at intervals of a few years came the church and more houses, while extensions of the soldiers' lines took place to accommodate the increasing numbers.

And thus it stands to-day, the little five-bastioned fort, round which are loosely thrown half a dozen houses and a church. And yet there is a difference, for the picture is now set, not in dull desert tints, but in soft shades of green. Everywhere are avenues and clumps of great trees, hedges of roses, of limes, and deronta encircle every garden, the green of the polo grounds is as that of the Emerald Isle. Even the old fort has lost its grimness, and the mud walls have given place to beautiful terraces bright with every flower; while the once formidable moat is spanned by peaceful rustic bridges, clustered thick with climbing roses, and giving access to the gardens and orchards which spread along the glacis.

On the Hodson bastion stands the old mess, now an officers' quarter, where in bygone stormy days they used to sit at dinner with revolvers handy, and swords stacked in the corner, alert and ready for sudden alarm or excursion. A strange imprint of those old times remained for many years, a bullet-mark high up in one corner of the dining-room; and this bullet, according to tradition, was fired at dinner by Sir Sam Browne, who was a deadly shot, and nailed to the wall the tail of a cobra which was disappearing into a crevice.

Passing near the Hodson bastion and running to the present mess is Godby-road, named after General C.J. Godby, who after nearly losing his head from a sabre stroke in the Sikh War, again well-nigh lost it near this spot at the hands of a ghazi. The incident affords an early instance of the ready resource which has always been one of the typical characteristics of the Guides. When Godby was cut down by a treacherous blow there happened to be two or three men within hail, and these at once dashed to the rescue; but they were disarmed, while the fanatic brandished a razor-edged Afghan blade, and was prepared to sell his life dearly. Sharp eyes and ready wit, however, came to aid. Close by was a tent pitched, the guy ropes tied to long heavy wooden pegs such as are used in India. As quick as thought the tent was struck, the pegs wrenched from the ground, and the ghazi surrounded, overpowered, secured, and incidentally in due course hanged.

The present mess is full not only of historical mementoes, as is only natural, but also of archaeological treasures of great value and antiquity. On the walls captured banners, swords and daggers, guns and pistols, share the honours with portraits of old commanders and of the mighty dead with their swords beneath them. Over the anteroom mantelpiece is a very gracious picture of Queen Victoria, presented by her Majesty in 1876; and this is flanked by pictures of King Edward the Seventh, who is Colonel-in-Chief of the corps, and Queen Alexandra, both presented by their Majesties when they were Prince and Princess of Wales. Over the mantelpiece in the dining-room is an excellent oil painting of Sir Harry Lumsden, who raised the corps.

One of the most interesting relics is one leaf of a mahogany table, captured at the siege of Delhi and used in camp on the Ridge; the other two leaves were taken by the 60th Rifles and the 2nd Gurkhas, who lay alongside the Guides at Hindu Rao's house. On the leaves are roughly carved symbolic crests and mottoes for the three regiments: A Maltese Cross and Celer et Audax for the 60th Rifles; crossed swords and Stout and Steady for the Gurkhas; and crossed Afghan knives with Rough and Ready for the Guides. On this latter leaf may be seen standing a cigar-lighter made out of grapeshot picked up in camp during the siege.

High up on the walls all round are endless trophies of the chase, probably the finest collection in Asia—Ovis poli, Ovis Ammon, Ibex, markhor, bara sing, and bison; besides specimens from other continents whither officers have gone in pursuit of sport or war. A splendid collection of plate testifies to success in many a field of sport, polo, tent-pegging, and shooting.

The archaeological treasures consist of sculptures and friezes of Greco-Buddhist origin, illustrating incidents in the life of Buddha, while the statues represent the great Gautama and some of his disciples. Most of these are still in perfect preservation, though varying from fifteen hundred to two thousand years in antiquity. They were all discovered, many years ago, within a few miles of the mess, and are naturally preserved with the greatest care. Savants from even so far afield as France, Germany, and America have journeyed to see them.

The mess stands in a five-acre garden, which has been the joy of many generations; for, apart from its abundant fertility, amidst its shades are to be found a swimming-bath and racquet-court, as well as tennis, badminton, and croquet lawns. Oranges, strawberries, peaches, plums, apricots, grapes, loquats and other fruits flourish and abound, while nearly every species of English flower and vegetable grows strong and well. Great trees give shade and peace to the place. But perhaps the greatest attraction to the hot and weary officer, and which leaves the most grateful memory with the dusky warriors who march through in war and peace, is the deep cool swimming-bath alongside which under the trees is spread a breakfast that suits the hour and climate. There are perhaps few more grateful feelings than on a summer's morning to come out of the fierce heat and dust and glare of field-exercises, or a march from the Malakand or Nowshera, and to find oneself in these cool and comforting surroundings.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Guides by F. Younghusband


Just outside the garden is the old graveyard, where rest in God the brave hearts who have fought the good fight, and now with sword in sheath watch with kindly pride the keen young blades who follow in their steps. Side by side lie two of the heroic Battyes, Wigram and Fred, two of the four brothers who died for their Queen and Country. As has been related elsewhere, Wigram was killed in 1879 while charging at the head of his squadron at Futtehabad in Afghanistan, and Fred fell mortally wounded just as he had completed a most brilliant operation at the Panjkora river, on the march to the relief of Chitral in 1895. Close to them lies that kindly, upright gentleman, beloved of all, Bob Hutchinson, who fell at the head of the Guides during a night attack on the border village of Malandrai in 1886. A few yards in another direction may be seen a stone to the memory of A.M. Ommanney, a young officer who was assassinated by a fanatic in mistake for his brother. Besides these, and many other single graves, there are large inclusive monuments to the memory of the officers and men of various regiments who have fought on these borders. Amongst them may be seen those erected to the memory of the officers and men of the 71st Highland Light Infantry, 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, and 101st Royal Bengal Fusiliers, all killed in the Umbeyla campaign of 1863.

Outside the old graveyard, standing at the meeting of three roads, is a very fine mulberry tree, planted at the spot where, according to old soldiers, Colonel Spottiswoode, of the 55th Native Infantry, in deep distress at the mutiny of his regiment, determined to take his own life rather than live to see it disgraced, and under which, according to tradition, he lies buried.

Passing through the bazaar, we come to the Memorial arch and tank, erected by Government to Major Sir Louis Cavignari, Mr. W. Jenkyns, Lieutenant Walter Hamilton, V.C., Surgeon Kelly and the native officers, non-commissioned-officers, and men of the Guides who fell in the defence of the Kabul Residency, September, 3rd, 1879. Just outside the memorial garden is the spot where Lieutenant A.M. Ommanney was assassinated, now known as the Ommanney cross-roads.

Every road in the cantonment has a name, and each name in itself is an honoured memory. Some bear the names of old officers of the corps, while others keep green the memory of those fallen in war. Amongst the former will be found Sir Alfred Wilde, Sir Charles Keyes, Sir Frances Jenkins, and Sir John McQueen. Sir Alfred Wilde commanded the corps with great distinction during the Umbeyla campaign of 1863, and afterwards went on to command the Punjab Frontier Force, as did also Sir Charles Keyes. Of Sir Frances Jenkins a book might be written, for his connection with the Guides extended over nearly twenty-four years. He was one of the most accomplished soldiers who have ever served in the Indian Army and carried with him much of the breezy skill in war of Sir Harry Lumsden. Sir John McQueen also was a soldier of great renown, who afterwards commanded the Punjab Frontier Force. Other roads bear the names of Bob Hutchinson, who, as above recorded, was killed in the night attack on Malandrai; Walter Hamilton, killed in defence of the Kabul Residency; Hector MacLean, who earned the Victoria Cross and died to save a comrade at Landaki, in Swat; Quentin Battye, who, mortally wounded, passed peacefully away at Delhi with the words Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori on his lips; Wigram Battye, killed bravely charging in Afghanistan, and Fred Battye, killed at the Panjkora. Great names these all, and spreading still their soldier influence, perhaps insensibly, over the spirit of their old home and regiment.

Out beyond the cavalry parade-ground is the Home Farm, and on each side of it run the cavalry and infantry rifle-ranges, skirted by fine avenues of trees. Between the infantry range and the church are two of the best polo-grounds in India,—grounds which have produced many famous players and many famous teams. The church was erected by public subscription to the memory of Colonel Hutchinson, and claims the great attraction to sojourners in a foreign land of being like a little English church. On the walls are tablets to the memory of Sir Harry Lumsden; Major F.H. Barton, the cheery, gallant sportsman who was killed at polo in 1902; Major Gaikskill; A.W. Wilde, son of Sir Alfred; Hector MacLean; Quentin and Fred Battye; Major G.H. Bretherton, who was drowned on the way to Lhassa; Charlie Keyes, son of Sir Charles, treacherously killed in West Africa, and many others. The churchyard is beautifully laid out with many rare plants, flowers, and trees. There remains only, to finish up with, the old cricket-ground, now used entirely for lawn-tennis, badminton, and croquet; for cricket flourishes not in India at this day, though doubtless a revival may come before many years, as is so often the case with games.

The daily life at Mardan is much the same as in any other Indian cantonment. In the early morning comes parade or manoeuvre, growing painfully early as the brief hot weather creeps on. Stables follow for the cavalry, and work in the lines for the infantry. Next comes orderly-room for the adjutants and others; and twice a week durbar. The durbar in an Indian regiment takes the place of the formal orderly-room of a British regiment. It is held in the open, under the trees, or at any convenient spot; and the underlying principle is that any man in the regiment may be present to hear, and, when called upon, to speak. It is a sort of open court, whereat not only are delinquents brought up for judgment, but all matters connected with the welfare of the men, and especially such as in any way touch their pockets or privileges, are openly discussed. To add to the semi-informal and friendly nature of the assembly, all the men are allowed to wear plain clothes.

In the afternoon both officers and men are, as a rule, free to amuse themselves with such sport and games as may seem good to them. Round and about Mardan there is fairly good small-game shooting, the game-book in a good year showing over three thousand head shot by the officers. Amongst these are wild duck of many varieties, wild geese, snipe, partridges, hare, and quail.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Guides by F. Younghusband


The ancient and royal sport of falconry, which long flourished, has of late years become much restricted owing to the increase of cultivation. One of the highest forms of falconry, and one little known in other countries, was the pursuit of the ravine deer. Only falcons reared from the nest could be trained to this sport, and they had to be obtained from far off Central Asia. The falcon used was the Cherug, or Saker as she is known in Europe, and the method of training is interesting. From the nest upwards the bird was taught that the only possible place to obtain food was from between a pair of antlers. At first fed sitting between them, as she learnt to flutter she was encouraged to bridge a short gap to her dinner. Then, as she grew stronger, she flew short distances to get her food as before. The next step was the use of a stuffed deer on wheels, which, when the hawk was loosed, was run along, and thus accustomed her to the idea of movement in getting her food. At the same time she was accustomed to the presence of greyhounds, for without the aid of these she would never be able to bring down her quarry. For the Pathan saying is: "The first day a ravine deer is born a fleet man may catch it; the second day a dog; and the third day no one!"

The hawks, which were flown in pairs, were now taken into the field, keen set, to use a term in falconry; that is very hungry, but not weakened or disheartened by hunger. Directly a herd of deer was sighted the hawks were cast loose, and, soaring up, soon descried a seemingly familiar object with a pair of antlers, between which there was doubtless a delicious meal. Off, therefore, they went straight for the quarry, and, stooping, struck for the deer's antlers. Naturally, however, no bird of that size could bring a deer to earth, or even stop him unaided; but the hawks had done their initial work, and the riders, with a couple of greyhounds leashed to the stirrup, rode hard for the spot where the hawks were striking, and let slip the hounds.

The rattle of hoofs at once stampeded the deer, and then the chase began. The hawks, in turn towering and stooping, showed the line to take, for the deer was invisible to the dogs, and generally to the riders. But the dogs had learnt to work by the hawks, and cutting a corner here, or favoured by a jink there, gradually closed up, the part of the hawks being, by constant striking, to delay and confuse the deer. It was a hard ride and a fine combination which secured the quarry, and, as with all sport worth the name, it was even chances on the deer. When the combination failed and the deer got away, it was a bit of human nature to see the meeting between the hawks and the dogs. The hawks would be sitting on the ground or on a bush, evidently and unmistakably using language of the most sulphurous nature; while the dogs came up, their tongues out, their tails between their legs, and with a general air of exhaustion, dejection, and apology. As they slunk up the muttered curses broke forth: "You! you lazy hound! Call yourself a greyhound! You're a fat-tailed sheep, that's what you are, nothing more!" And up would get friend hawk and cuff and strike and harry that poor dog, till he fairly yelped and fled to his master for protection.

Duck and bustard still afford sport to the falconer, but he has to work further afield, and gets less in return than in the olden times. The bustard gives good sport, and often a good run of three or four miles; indeed there is on record a case of an eleven mile point.

On the mountain range which lies close to Mardan markhor are to be found, and some good heads have been shot; while in the lower slopes good bags of chikore, black and grey partridge, and rock-pigeons may be obtained. There are two of the best polo-grounds in India, and the Guides can generally put up a good team or two to compete in the various tournaments, and generally one or more challenge-cups are to be seen on their mess table. Racquets, tennis, and hockey, lime-cutting, tent-pegging and other mounted sports are also part of the weekly life; while friendly visits, given and taken, keep touch with the neighbouring stations.

The climate of these parts is on the whole eminently healthy and bracing. True, there are four months of very hot weather, but they get lost sight of in the keen delight of the other eight. Red cheeks with buoyant activity and spirits carry their own advertisement.

Thus, briefly described, has been the home of the Guides for upwards of sixty years; a little kingdom barely a mile square, but full of happy associations for all who have lived there. It is a quiet, unassuming spot, which year by year has bred, and sent forth to fight, many a gallant officer and brave soldier; and which in future years hopes to keep bright the shining record of great deeds that have gone before.