Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

ABDUL, HAZARA.

BY SHALIMAR.

I. THE COMING OF ABDUL.

ABDUL was well known to a large number of British officers in Mesopotamia during the earlier part of the campaign there. Not only did he serve with me at different times in both the 6th and 12th Divisions, but his age and his personality alike attracted attention. What his age really was no one, least of all himself, knew, but it was probably somewhere between the sixty years which he claimed to be when I engaged him and the aussi ki ooper, or over eighty, which he sometimes felt at the end of a particularly hot day in the desert.

After the war broke out I, in common with most officers in the Indian Army who hoped to get away on service, stipulated when engaging a new bearer that he would undertake to go overseas with me. This promise was, however, not always kept, and on that evening at the beginning of 1915, before the day on which I was to leave Peshawur for Bombay en route for Mesopotamia, the bearer of a brother officer with whom I was staying informed me that if I thought my servant intended to accompany me I was mistaken.

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

"I am certain, your honour," was the reply. "If you ask him, he will tell you that his wife is sick and he cannot leave her. If you insist, he will simply not be there in the morning."

Here was a predicament: I was due to leave by the Bombay mail early the next day.

"But, your honour, I can get you a man," said my friend's bearer. In India when you are engaging a new servant you are indeed fortunate if you can get one who is recommended by a good man of his own class, so I became interested.

"Where is be?" I asked.
'Waiting outside," was the

66

[blocks in formation]

medal ribbons, from which the medals were suspended. The latter were, however, stuck in the pocket of the tunic, the reason being, as I discovered later, that they were the copper ones which up to that time were issued to followers.

At the first glance I thought him a Gurkha, but his height, and his Mahommedan headdress, contradicted that theory, and all through the conversation that followed I was trying to place him. It was not until it was nearly over that it struck me that he was а Hazara, one of that strange race of Shiah Mahommedans of Mongol origin who come from Ghazni in Afghanistan. He spoke Hindustani in a curious clipped sort of way with a very soft voice, and professed not to know English. Indeed, as I afterwards discovered, he knew very little.

On my inquiry as to where he had worked he handed me a bundle of chits. Some of them were hoary with age, but they were sufficient to show me that he had taken part in Lord Roberts' march from march from Kabul to Kandahar, and in practically every war in which the Indian Army had been

engaged since then. The latest chit was dated 1908, and referred to the last Zaka Khel campaign.

66

Where have you worked since then?" I asked him.

"I have not worked with any Sahib since then, your honour," he said with one of his smiles. "I am now too old and too ugly to be employed in peace time. I only get a chance when there is a war."

"Well, the present war has been going on for some time now. Couldn't you have got a job before this?"

"I have been hoping for trouble over there," he said, waving his hand in the direction of Afghanistan. "But the border has never been so quiet, so I have given up hope and am ready to go over the sea again."

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

II. THE KARUN.

During the long journey by train from Peshawur to Bombay and from there up the Persian Gulf to Basra, I had opportunities of judging that I had not made a mistake when I

VOL. CCXXII.-NO. MCCCXLIII.

engaged Abdul. Although my wellbeing and comfort seemed to be his first consideration, he was not insensible to his own, and his ripe experience of many campaigns had taught

M

him how to adjust himself to any circumstance. Certainly he never came to me and complained as other followers did that he could not get his rations or find a sleeping-place. He had various ways of attaining his ends, some of them perhaps rather questionable, and he was always cool and unruffled. In his single-minded devotion to his master he resembled the best type of Indian servant, but differed from that type in that he had the strong sense of humour and sturdy independence of the Hazara.

Wherever he had been since he was last employed he had not lost touch with the Indian Army, for he was a regular encyclopædia regarding it. He not only knew most of its regiments by name and number, but could also say to which brigade and division many of them belonged. also had a wonderful memory for the names of officers with whose regiment he had served.

He

On our arrival at Basra we found a mild form of despondency prevailing, for at the time things were not going too well. The strategical situation was bad, for we had detachments up the Karun River and at Kurna forty miles farther up the Shat-el-Arab, at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates; while the Turks were concentrating for an attack on Basra, which, if successful, would probably mean the end of Indian Expeditionary Force "D"; for every Arab

in the country would then rise against us. I found that my regiment was at Ahwaz, seventy miles up the Karun, ostensibly guarding the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's pipe line from the oil-fields down to Abadan; and I embarked for there in one of the paddle steamers belonging to Lynch & Company, whose vessels, with various captured Turkish paddlers and stern-wheelers commandeered locally, were the sole river transport available in those days.

We ran swiftly down the palm-fringed main river to Mahomerah, where we turned up the Karun, which was in full flood, and I was introduced to one of the drawbacks to river transport in that country. The steamer was deeply loaded, as were the two large iron barges which she was towing, one on each side; and as we faced the full force of the brown muddy current we could only make progress by hugging the concave bank so closely that often the barge would be scraping along it. When we had occasion to sheer across to the other bank the whole outfit would in mid-stream go drifting backwards. We took two and a half days, steaming night and day, to cover the seventy miles to Ahwaz. The first part of our journey lay through the territory of our ally, the Sheik of Mahomerah; afterwards the river ran through desert occupied by potentially hostile tribes, and an armed naval tug convoyed us through.

She took up her position about a hundred yards astern.

Amongst the passengers were three R.A.M.C. officers, who were going up to join a field hospital at Ahwaz, and they had on board, in a coop right aft, two beautiful geese for their mess. About three hours before we arrived at the camp, one of these got free, and flapped its way overboard. Abdul, who was packing my kit, and I stood and watched it. We saw the officer on the bridge of our escort wave his hand to alter course; the bow wave from the tug swept the goose slightly clear, but her stern was cleverly swung toward it. A strong arm shot out, and the goose disappeared. "That's all right," I remarked to Abdul.

[ocr errors]

apathetic ignorance was displayed by all ranks on board. They returned to the steamer considerably crestfallen, having learned their first lesson in actual war.

We found the mess-quite a comfortable one-in a corner of the camp. It was dug out to a depth of four feet below ground level, the part of it above the ground being of corrugated iron covered with sand-bags. I was chaffed a good deal about the age of my bearer, one bright subaltern suggesting that I had forgotten that it was a young man's war. Although most of the mess servants were Hindus, Abdul, probably never a very devout Mahommedan, soon settled down, and appeared to be popular. The camp was on the right bank of the river opposite the towns of Ahwaz It was

"For whom, your honour ? he asked. "For the doctor Sahib log, and Bandar Nasiri. of course," I replied.

Abdul gave me a look, in which doubt, and I imagine pity for my simplicity, were combined. Whether his doubt was inspired by his knowledge of the Royal Navy acquired in China during the Boxer rebellion, or by what he would himself have done under the circumstances, I do not know, but it was certainly justified. When we arrived at the camp and tied up to the bank, two of the doctors went down to the tug to retrieve their bird. They were met at the gangway by a frozen-faced marine, who appeared not to know what a goose was, and a similar

situated on the bare desert, with a small mud Arab village at the up-stream end, and was well entrenched and surrounded by barbed wire. All pretence of guarding the pipe line had already been given up, as the hostile tribes had breached it, and our presence there was mainly meant to stop, if possible, a general rising of the tribes to the east of the Karun.

As it was reported that Ghazban, the chief of the powerful Beni Lam tribe-a gentleman who was a continual source of embarrassment to friend and enemy alike,-was, with the Beni Turuf, about to join the enemy, the general decided to

gunners, the frenzied howling mob got within fifty yards, and several of our officers got in some pretty work with their revolvers, especially at their mounted men, who were firing from the saddle. In addition to many of our men, horses and mules were hit, and these plunging about caused a certain amount of confusion, which was aggravated by the columns of dust through which at times the enemy could hardly be

attack the latter, who were efforts by the cavalry and encamped eight miles to the north-west, before the junction could be effected. For this purpose the little force, leaving two double companies to guard the camp, moved out at two o'clock one morning. Two hours later their camp fires could be seen across the desert -there seemed to be a terrible lot of them. We halted, and as the light grew, the fires changed into black camel hair tents. Still there seemed more than there ought to have been, and on these our gunners opened fire at 3000 yards' range. It was soon evident that the junction had already been completed, for immediately large bodies of Arabs could be seen streaming out of their camp, and had it not been for the stopping power of magazine rifles, the fight that followed might well have been another Isandula or El Obeid.

About the only military virtue which the Arabs of Mesopotamia possessed at that time was mobility, and the swiftness with which they covered the ground either mounted or on foot was incredible. Almost at once orders were issued for our force to retire, and before long the situation became distinctly critical. Spreading out like the horns of a Zulu impi, the Arabs, taking full advantage of such cover as was given by dust, mirage, and folds of the ground, closed in on the force. Their attack was strongest on the right flank, where, despite desperate

seen.

At one time it looked as if the horns of the impi would lock between the force and our camp, for through the dust it was seen that a large number of the enemy had got on to a ridge which completely blocked the way. Fortunately, that

source of inspiration to Indian troops, the British soldier, was there in the shape of a platoon of infantry, which promptly, with audacious gallantry, led a bayonet charge at the ridge, while at the same time the half squadron of Indian cavalry dashed round the flank. The way was cleared, and the retirement slowly continued. Just as we got sufficiently near to the camp to allow the two double companies there to cover our retiral, some obviously welltrained Turkish gunners began to take a hand in the game, and pitched some shells accurately into the middle of the harassed column.

Safe behind the barbed wire, we had at last time to collect our thoughts, for the whole

« AnteriorContinuar »