Story of the Guides - F. Younghusband

The Great March to Delhi


For the Guides the great tragedy of 1857 opened with the mutiny of the 55th Native Infantry. When this regiment first showed signs of insubordination it was quartered at the neighbouring cantonment of Nowshera, then slenderly garrisoned by British troops, but with many European women and children. For safety's sake it was therefore thought better to isolate the regiment by sending it over to Mardan. With the news of the outbreak at Meerut the demeanour of the regiment became more sullen and menacing, and it was accordingly decided at once to disarm the sepoys. For this purpose a column was sent from Peshawur, consisting of a wing of the 70th Foot, a portion of the 5th Punjab Infantry under Vaughan, two hundred and fifty sabres of the 10th Irregular Cavalry, and some Mounted Police; the whole under Colonel Chute of the 70th Foot, with John Nicholson as political officer.

The 55th Native Infantry had been warned that the column was coming, and when, from the walls of the fort, they saw it approaching, they broke and fled, taking the Katlung road, thus hoping to escape across the border into Swat and Buner. Nicholson with the cavalry and mounted police immediately started in pursuit. The cavalry, themselves disaffected, did no execution whatever; but the police behaved with great dash and gallantry, killing one hundred and twenty, and capturing one hundred and fifty of the mutineers. The remainder escaped across the border, but their fate was only postponed. Some were murdered by the tribesmen, some driven back into British territory, captured and hanged, and some were blown from guns before the eyes of the garrison of Peshawur. Of the whole regiment all were destroyed except a few scores who escaped the gallows and the guns to suffer transportation for life. Such was the terrible ending of the 55th Native Infantry; a signal and, as it proved, a most effective warning, the results of which were felt over the whole of the north-west corner of India.

A distressing and pathetic tragedy resulted from the mutiny of this regiment. Colonel Henry Spottiswoode who commanded it, like so many other officers, absolutely refused to believe in the disloyalty of his men. He was one of those who held the view that distrust bred disaffection, which with confidence would never appear. So deeply distressed was this chivalrous officer when his regiment rebelled, that he refused to outlive what to him was an indelible disgrace, and so, going apart, shot himself dead. According to an old soldier, then in the Guides, he fell and was buried under a great mulberry tree at the cross-roads near the fort.

Meanwhile, the Guides, at six hours' notice, fully equipped, horse and foot, had started on their historic march to Delhi. They left Mardan at six in the evening of May 13th, and joined the British force at the siege of Delhi early on June 9th. The distance is five hundred and eighty miles, and the time taken was twenty-six days and fourteen hours; but from this must be deducted five days and nine hours made up as follows: detained forty-two hours at Attock, holding the fort pending the arrival of a reliable garrison; detained forty-one hours at Rawul Pindi, pending the question as to whether the Guides were to be employed to disarm the native artillery; detained forty-six hours at Karnal by the magistrate, in order to attack, capture, and burn a hostile village lying twelve miles off the road. If, therefore, these halts "by order" are deducted, it will be found that the Guides took actually twenty-one days and five hours to march five hundred and eighty miles. This works out to an average of over twenty-seven miles a day. As a contemporary historian remarks, such a feat would be highly creditable to mounted troops, and was doubly so to the infantry portion of the corps. To add to the credit of this high achievement, it may be added that the march took place at the hottest season of the year through the hottest region on earth.

The record of a march along the Grand Trunk Road of India does not lend itself to much picturesque description, but perhaps it may be in this case of some interest to follow the stern resolve and steady endurance which carried the stout-hearted regiment through those never-ending miles along the straight and scorching road to Delhi. And in this endeavour we are singularly fortunate in having for reference a diary written from day to day by Henry Daly, who, in the absence of Lumsden on a special mission, commanded the corps.

The first night's march took the Guides sixteen miles to Nowshera, where after barely two hours' rest came orders to push on to Attock, another eighteen miles. To add to the hardships of this march, it so chanced that the Mahomedan fast of Ramzan was in observance, during which no follower of the Prophet may eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. Parched, hungry, and weary, the thirty-four mile march was completed, and the Indus crossed at ten in the morning of the 14th of May.

Halting by order forty-two hours at Attock, to allow of the arrival of a relief garrison, the Guides pushed on thirty-two miles to Burhan, on the night of the 15th-16th, in the midst of a violent dust storm. Many of the men were very footsore from their long march of the previous day, but all were cheerful and light-hearted, making naught of their hardships.

Another thirty-two mile march brought the corps to Jani-ki-Sang, and took them the next morning fifteen miles in to Rawul Pindi. On the road Herbert Edwardes passed the corps, and drove Daly on into Rawul Pindi, there to meet the great hearts of the Punjab, John Lawrence, Neville Chamberlain, and John Nicholson.

A day was spent here in consultation on the broad aspect of affairs, and locally as to the advisability, or otherwise, of using the Guides to disarm the native artillery in garrison. Finally it was decided not to do so, and thus with the gruff but kindly farewells of John Lawrence, and the light-hearted chaff and high spirits of Herbert Edwardes, Daly and his men again set forth, and on the night of the 19th—20th made a twenty mile march to Mandra. There was no falling off in the cheerful endeavour, nor was any man so tired or footsore that he would be content to be left behind.

The next march brought the corps to Sohawa, twenty-four miles, made trying by hot scorching winds and the deep and intricate nullahs which had to be crossed. Then followed twenty-eight miles, and in delightful contrast the vicinity of great rushing waters made a little heaven of the camp on the banks of the Jhelum. But it was not for long; at dusk trumpets and bugles again sound the advance, and amidst a great storm of dust and rain the second of the great rivers of the Punjab is crossed, and in addition to the great difficulty and delay of a night passage, yet another twenty-one miles are added to the marching score before daylight. The 24th being a cooler day, Daly resolved to push on another fifteen miles to the Chenab, and to cross that river during the course of the night. This was safely accomplished, and by early morning on the 24th all were on the eastern bank at Wazirabad. That night the men were called upon for another thirty-two mile march, and daylight saw them at Kamoke. Resting all day nightfall again found them on the road completing another thirty miles into Lahore, the capital of the Punjab. The hour was six in the morning, and the date the 26th of May, from which it will be seen that the Guides had so far covered two hundred and sixty-seven miles in ten and a half marching-days.

At Lahore Daly picked up some recruits to replace casualties, as well as to have a few in hand to meet future vacancies. Marching on, the banks of the Sutlej, close to the battlefield of Sobraon, forty-three miles from Lahore, were reached early on the 29th, and the passage of this, the fifth great river of the Punjab, was at once commenced. Then on again at dusk thirty-two more miles to Mihna; a more than usually trying march this, for a cross-country road caused many to lose their way, and it was twenty-four hours before all the baggage was in. This necessitated making the next a short march, in order that all might get into trim again; so at midnight, at the fourteenth milestone, Daly called a halt, and all slept the sleep of those who have endured much. June 1st saw the corps march into Ludhiana at three in the morning, after covering twenty-four miles. Here all was silence, and the officers, using the lowest step of the court-house as a pillow, slept soundly till dawn.

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


A pleasant restful day in the great cool house of the Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Ricketts, with such unheard of luxuries as cold water and iced ginger-beer to drink, and cool sheets to lie on, put fresh vigour into the little band of British officers, and off they went at half-past seven in the evening for a twenty-eight mile march to Alawi-ke-Serai. Another march, next night, of the same distance brought the corps to Rajpoora. They were now close to Umballa, and another night march brought them, at one in the morning of June 4th, to the deserted cantonment.

Here they were received in friendly fashion by the troopers of the Maharaja of Patiala, who had been left in charge, and were conducted to a grove of great trees near a tank, probably in the vicinity of the present racecourse. After a good day's rest under the trees the march was continued to Pipli, twenty-six miles, where a letter was received from Mr. Barnes, the Commissioner, giving news of the force at Meerut, and inferring that they were not much more than holding their own.

At Karnal, twenty-four miles onward, and now nearing their goal, two causes of delay crossed their path. Cholera, that ancient scourge of the East which finds its easiest prey when men are physically impoverished with great exertions, now attacked the dusty road-worn corps, three Gurkhas being the first victims, while seven or eight more men were down the same evening. At the same time came a call from Mr. Le Bas, the magistrate, strongly backed by Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, to turn aside in order to burn a mutinous village. Greatly demurring at any delay in reaching his main objective, the demand was so urgent that Daly felt bound to comply with it. His compliance cost him small loss, but the delay cost the British cause the help of the Guides at the battle of Budlika-Serai. Though too late for that fight, however, they were in time for many another before the walls of Delhi.

The moral effect of the arrival of the Guides in Delhi was perhaps in some measure greater even than the actual fighting strength thus brought into line. The fame of the march from the far distant frontier, the fine physique and martial bearing of soldiers drawn from warlike tribes new to the eyes of their British comrades, the encouraging and enheartening effect of the arrival of reinforcements however small, all tended to give the approach of the travel-stained Guides a high significance. Some such thought perhaps intuitively occurred to all; and every soldier who could claim to be off duty rushed to the dusty road-side, and hoarsely cheered the gallant fellows who had overcome so much to reach the side of their British comrades, hard set to uphold the great Empire of Clive and Warren Hastings. It is interesting, at this distance of time, to find recorded the impression of an eye-witness who was amongst those who watched and cheered as the Guides, after a last thirty mile march, strode manfully into the camp at Delhi, on this, the morning of the 9th of June, 1857. "Their stately height and martial bearing," says this onlooker, "made all who saw them proud to have such aid. They came in as firm and light as if they had marched but a single mile."

At the end of this great march rest and peace for a day or two had assuredly been earned. But no; as the Guides approach the historic Ridge, a staff officer, sent out to meet them, gallops up, and after giving friendly greeting, with the General's compliments, asks, "How soon will you be ready to go into action?" "In half an hour," is the gallant Daly's cheery reply. And thus it came about that history added one more touch of glory to a great achievement. A little space of time there was for partial rest and hard-earned food, and then the trumpet calls to seize their arms and face the foe they had come so far to fight. And in that fight both horse and foot showed great and glorious valour; but when evening came, and beaten back the rebels hid behind the walls of Delhi, the roll-call told its sad undying story. Full many a Guide had made that strenuous march but to lay down his life e'er yet he had pitched his tent. And brightest lights, as was meet, amidst these heroes, were the little band of British officers, for of those, in that one first fight, all were killed or wounded. Amongst the latter was the lion-hearted, ever-cheerful Daly; and amongst the former the first of the great soldier-name of Battye to die a soldier's death. And as he died in that great agony his face lit up, and calm and smooth came the grand old Roman verse:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

The story of the Guides before Delhi is the story of all that gallant band who through the blazing heat, 'midst sickness and disease, fought the good fight right through the summer of 1857, and with them shared in the crowning glory of the final assault and capture of the capital of the Great Mogul. Hence after a few months' harrying and chasing of rebel bands, with sadly diminished numbers, but still stout of heart, the order came for the Guides to return to their home on the distant frontier.

In the midst of so much treachery, such dastardly deeds of murder and rapine, the bright light of unwavering fidelity, sealed and confirmed by surpassing gallantry in the field, so appealed to the hearts of the storm-pressed Englishmen, that the Guides received little short of an ovation when they returned to Peshawur. By order of Major-General Sir Sidney Cotton the whole of the garrison was paraded to receive the shattered remnants of that war-worn corps. On their approach a royal salute was fired by the artillery, and cavalry and infantry came to the salute while the massed bands played. The General then made a most eloquent and affecting address, welcoming the corps back to the frontier, and expressing the pride and honour felt by all in being associated with men whose deeds of daring had earned for themselves and their noble profession undying fame. They had taken six hundred men to Delhi and their casualties had reached three hundred and fifty. During the siege the whole strength in British officers had been renewed four times, and all these had been killed or wounded. One officer indeed had been wounded six times and yet survived, another four times, and others at least twice.

After his stirring speech, the General called for three cheers for the little band of ragged and war-worn heroes, who stood before them. A feu de joie accompanied by a salute of twenty-one guns was then fired, and after this the Guides, taking the place of honour at the head of the line, marched past the flag.