Chitral; Story of a Minor Siege

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Chitral; Story of a Minor Siege, G. Bowman Jackson
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, August 23 2004 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Chitral; Story of a Minor Siege

G. Bowman Jackson

Publishing Date: Monday, August 23 2004

Author: George S. Robertson
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1977
Introduction by M. E. Yapp

Many accounts of the siege of Chitral have been written, some by eyewitnesses, but none of them are as authoritative, or as exciting, as this one, written by the principal actor in the drama, and now reprinted by the Oxford University Press, in its series, "Oxford in Asia Historical Reprints from Pakistan".

M. E. Yapp, in his brief but informative introduction, describes the historical
background to the action, and traces the subsequent fortunes of the actors, with special reference to those young British officers who lived to find fame in greater wars. He does not explain how, in 1895, this son of a Southwark pawnbroker, a medical man, came to be in overall control of an Imperial military venture. He does not mention the fiery surgeon-major's previous exploit, in which his do-it yourself forward policy provoked another small war, in Chilas. Nor does he tell us much about the subsequent fortunes of Sir George S. Robertson, KCSI, MP for Central Bradford in the Liberal interest.

The story of the siege has all the makings of a "rattling good yarn". There are heroes in plenty, on both sides. There is tragedy, in the death of Ross and his Sikhs in the Koragh defile. There are cunning strategems, such as the capture of Fowler and Edwardes on the Reshun polo ground; and miraculous escapes, as when the gallant ex-sowar, Rab Nawaz Khan, who had been seen to go down before a rush of swordsmen, and whose body had been stripped by the enemy turned up alive, days later.

What humour there is, is unintentional. The author's intervention, in his nightshirt, in the disastrous sortie from the fort, and his rescue by the splendid Raja Sifat Bahadur of Punial, and later by his Gilgitti groom; who brought up his horse under a rain of bullets, has elements of comedy. And his Victorian attitudes sometimes appear decidedly quaint to the modern reader.

The siege took place long ago, and very far away. Attitudes have changed, and many old values have been discredited. But Robertson's action did put a stop to the aggression of the expansionist Umra Khan of Jandol, who aimed at conquering Chitral, and it gave the Chitralis fifty years of peace under rulers of their own royal house. It is a good tale, well told, and worth the reprinting.

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Chitral; Story of a Minor Siege, G. Bowman Jackson
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, August 23 2004 (http://www.khyber.org)