tagMatureThe Tides Of War Pt. 03

The Tides Of War Pt. 03


Chapter 12

After their mid-day meal the men lined up on the parade ground, standing alongside their horse, Havildar Turin standing a little in front.

David mounted the stallion and walked to Turin "Carry on Havildar Turin" he ordered.

Turin shouted over his shoulder "detail prepare to mount, mount". The twenty-six men moved as one. "Left by twos, forward" he cried giving the sign with his arm.

David sat on his horse has the men passed their rifles slung over their shoulders, the last man leading the two packhorses.

He trotted to the front of the column taking his place alongside Havildar Turin.

The joined the caravan road and followed it, has it snaked higher into the hills.

It took nearly five hours for the slow moving column to reach the entrance of the Pass.

The eighteen men detailed for guard duty were surprised to see them especially with the Colonel Sahib in charge.

He told the Havildar in charge that they were relieved of duty and could return to the Fort in the morning.

Turin in the meantime had set up a picket line for the horses, and had them unsaddled. His men would sleep alongside of them that night; they're not being enough room in the crude building used by the guards.

Later that night after a meal, David sat alongside Turin by the campfire.

"We will have to do something about housing the men, but I'm not sure this is the right site for a guard post. I intend to take a small section and scout the pass for a better location in the morning.

David had an uncomfortable night feeling the cold.

The next morning the guard detail marched away. But leaving behind their cooking equipment and blankets.

David, Turin and four Riflemen mounted up and rode up into the Pass.

At this point in the Pass the walls slopped down to the road with outcrops of rocks.

A difficult place to defend if the Afghans got amongst those rocks he realised.

They followed the road has it rose up into the mountains, the sides becoming steeper. After two hours of climbing they came to a section of the pass where the walls were almost vertical and a buttress jutted out, and the distance between the walls reduced to only about thirty feet, beyond this point the road continued to climb, and the walls started to slowly recede.

David returned to the vertical point of the Pass. "This is where we need to make the guard post Havildar" he said. A bitterly cold wind blew down the Pass the steepness of the wall let in very little sunlight.

He discussed at length the logistics off setting a guard post up there. Water and firewood would need to be brought up from the entrance and a building to house the men erected and provision for the horses found.

Once he was satisfied Turin understood his requirement, they returned to the entrance.

On the way back he said he would dispatch wagons with building materials and large earthenware jars to hold water. The men would require warmer cloths and more blankets. In the meantime Turin would have to make the best off it.

It took him three hours to return to the Fort pushing the stallion. Handing over the stallion to Hanga, he collected Subedar Major Para and the Quartermaster and told them off what he needed.

The Quartermaster was dispatched to the city to purchase warm coats and thicker blankets along with four of the largest earthenware jars he could locate.

Para said there were four wagons pulled by bullocks, currently in the Fort. Unloading materials, he said he would have them reloaded with sufficient materials and equipment, to build quarters for the men, and have it sent back to the Pass that day.

He returned to his quarters and had a bath and changed his cloths. Hanga saw to his saddlebags and rifle scabbard.

He walked out to the paddock to see the horses; before he had even arrived they saw him, and galloped across the paddock their tails held high whinnying.

Both vied to push their heads against his chest, has usual Kahn won. He stroked their velvet noses talking softly to each.

He decided that he would start to accustom Kahn to the saddle in the morning, if time permitted.

When he returned to the Fort he sought out the Naik commanding the other section of Tiger. To have four riflemen with a Lance Naik, to draw ammunition to accompany the supply column that had set out for the Pass. They should catch them up before they reached the caravan road he reasoned. He also said he would need another detail to guard another wagon when the Quartermaster returned.

He had an early dinner that night and was in bed has the bugle sounded Last Post, exhausted from lack of sleep and the hard ride from the Pass.

He started on Kahn has soon has he had him in the paddock with the horse blanket. By the afternoon he had the saddle on him, he had trembled and rolled his eyes, but had stood still. Sulkie looked at him has to say what's all the fuss. He left him with the saddle on to grow accustomed to it, and returned to the Fort.

A large wagon with three earthenware pots almost has tall has a man sat inside it. The Quartermaster along with the tailor waited for him by the office.

"Colonel Sahib I could only get three pots, the merchant said he could get another in a weeks' time. I have bought twenty-six sheepskin coats, the warmest I could find, from this thief of a tailor along with the heaviest blankets available."

The tailor looked pained at being called a thief. "Colonel Sahib I understand that you require warm clothing for your men. I have brought some samples that may be of benefit for you".

He proceeded to show David fine woollen long johns and woollen shirts. While David examined them he rummaged around in the pile of sheepskin coats finally selecting one. "I have brought this for the Sahib has it is the longest in my store".

David tried it on, there was no doubt it was warm and it had a high collar that when fastened protected his ears, and came down to his knees. The only problem was you couldn't ride in it.

David explained to him he needed a heavy winter coat, but with a slit up the back that a man could sit on a horse with it on.

The tailor assured him he could make such a garment from wool. David also said it would need epaulets on the shoulders.

He asked if he could supply twenty-six long johns and shirts immediately, one set of long johns and shirt to fit him.

The tailor said he could have them at the Fort in two days' time.

David watched has the wagon set off for the Pass guarded by the detail, knowing the men there would welcome the coats and blankets.

He decided to wait for the tailor to return, and then he would take the long johns and shirts to the pass himself.

The next morning after breakfast he saddled Kahn outside of the stable, and then fitted the bridle on to him, having to adjust it due to Kahn bigger head, Kahn rolled his eyes at the bit but remained still has he talked to him.

David was surprised at how easy it had been with Kahn so far, has he led the two to the paddock.

Later that day he returned to fit the reins on and tighten the girth.

He was sat in Subedar Major Para's office when he asked about the pigeons.

Para, told him that Ali had said that ten off the birds have to recognise the dovecote has their home that way they would return to it when released from somewhere else. But the remaining five birds were kept in their baskets.

These when released would return to the Palace.

He opened a drawer and removed a small cylinder with a soft ribbon attached to it and a strip of rice paper half an inch wide and two inches long.

This is the message paper, it's rolled up and slipped into the cylinder Para explained.

Back in his own office he began to give some thought to what code could be used at the Pass.

Logically, the only time a bird would be sent is in the event of an attack. In which case the numbers off the enemy would be important, the only other emergency, he could at the moment envisage was a shortage of ammunition.

The next morning he made a big fuss over Kahn has he saddled him, much to Sulkie's displeasure.

In the paddock he repeated what he had done with Sulkie, once sat in the saddle he lent foreword talking to him, has he felt his trembling.

David could almost feel what was going through his mind.

Torn between his love for him, and anger at this weight upon his back.

For fifteen minutes David didn't know how he would react, then slowly the trembling ceased.

He waited a few more minutes, and then gently tapped him in his ribs, with his boots, and Kahn began to walk. He let him find his own way around the paddock at first. Then he started to guide him, responding to the bit. He stopped him and dismounted, then went to the front to make a fuss of him scratching between his ears has Kahn lowered his great head "Oh you cleaver brave boy" he said kissing his nose.

He remounted and they set of walking again, he gave another light kick and Kahn started to trot. They started doing figure of eights has Kahn responded to the reins and knee pressure, they'd stop and reverse the direction. Sulkie trotted alongside of them has if it was a game.

He rode him into the Fort that evening with Sulkie walking along side of them. They men cheered and clapped has they saw him.

Has he unsaddled him, he realised that if the tailor arrived he wouldn't be able to ride him the next day. Once in the stalls, he fondled both of them has Hanga brought him the apples.

The tailor arrived shortly after breakfast. He brought a package over to David's quarters "Colonel Sahib the cloths you requested" David thanked him, and told him the Quartermaster would pay him, but he needed a further 100 sets.

"The coat you requested Sahib should be ready in four or five days, once I have found suitable material"

He called out to a passing Lance Naik to pack the cloths the tailor had brought onto one of the training horses, while he brought his stallion over to the stable. Hanga saddled it while he changed into the long johns.

He packed the shirt into his saddlebag and Hanga took it out to the horse. He placed the ammunition belt over his shoulder, and had a last look round to see he had everything. Outside he saw Hanga had tied the sheepskin coat over the bedroll has he mounted. He gathered up the halter rope of the packhorse, and led it out of the Fort.

It took nearly five hours to reach the Pass due to the fact you were climbing.

Four Riflemen were chopping up firewood when he reached the entrance.

He continued up into it coming at last to the vertical buttress that closed in on the Pass. He saw at a glance that Havildar Turin had not been idle.

A low block building had been built against the vertical wall of the buttress where it jutted into the Pass.

Horse lines were near to it offering some protection from the cold wind that blew constantly through it. Turin came hurrying up followed by two riflemen who took charge of the horses.

David congratulated him in the work he has achieved. He was shown a small hut that had been made from blocks and boulders, which housed the food and ammunition.

But Turin was most pleased, that they had found a lookout point, which could look down the Pass for some miles.

David followed him has they walked some two hundred yards back along the Pass,

until they reached a path of sorts that climbed up the side off the wall, in places steps had been cut out, and the path widened. The path angled up until at last they were higher than the buttress that nearly blocked the Pass.

David's legs were aching by now, they continued climbing then he saw the glow of a fire. The path suddenly dipped down and he saw the entrance to what appeared to be a small cave.

Two riflemen were sat huddled over a fire set further back inside it, both wearing sheepskin coats. They needed them; he thought the wind cut through you up here.

Turin waved to the men, then started climbing up again, David followed. They reached the top, and David could see the track snacking down the Pass, for almost two miles before it was lost in the haze.

Turin asked something, he turned and realised the question was not directed at him, but at rifleman sitting behind a wall off boulders.

The wall had been to protect the sentry from the bitterly cold wind that screamed this high up. He had a sheepskin coat on too, buttoned right up with the collar snug around his ears, and he noticed he had socks on his hands.

They turned and went back down to the cave, the men inside were about to stand but David told then to stay has they were.

Turin explained that three men spent twenty-four hours up here on guard. The lookout spent three hours on and six hours off. When the light failed at night he retreated to the cave, they cooked and slept init. The next relief group would bring their rations and firewood up with them when they were relieved.

When they reached the valley floor again he was grateful for the fire the Riflemen had blazing.

He had told Turin about the long johns and shirts, and he ordered them to be distributed.

A rifleman came to him with his coat and a mug off steaming hot tea. He shrugged on the coat grateful for its warmth and the tea.

Turin came out of the building where he had been changing into the new clothes.

"Colonel Sahib the men asked me to thank you for the coats and clothes"

David smiled to himself, the Gurkha was a hardy soul used to harsh conditions in the mountains of Nepal, but even they could experience cold and discomfort. But unlike others, would never complain.

They sat down on a log by the fire; the light had almost gone down here on the valley floor.

He took out two cheroots and offered one to Turin.

"Sahib a small caravan passed this morning, our look out spotted it. I told all the men but five, to go into house and stay there until they passed. It may be the Afghans will send someone to see what we do. When you arrived the men were making firing points"

David considered what he had said, "I understand it takes a caravan five days to reach Kabul, off course the Afghans may have men closer. Tomorrow we will prepare positions. When the next lookouts go, up they can take my telescope with them"

His saddle and rifle case, had been put in the building, on top of a crude but effective bunk bed, the bed had rope crisscrossed along it to support the bedroll.

A new thick blanket lay on the bed. The temperature was falling fast now, the light had gone has he spread his bedroll. He removed his jacket and put on the shirt from his saddlebag, before putting on his jacket again. A rifleman came in bringing a tin plate full off strew and a slab off bread and a spoon.

He ate it with relish, not realising how hungry he was.

Afterwards he climbed into bed between the blankets spreading the sheepskin coat over him.

He woke up, and stretched, his feet, sliding them over the edge of the bed. He smiled ruefully. The bed had been made for a Gurkha not a Sahib.

The building was empty, he looked at his watch, winding it has he did so.

It was seven am; he threw off the bed cloths and shivered in the cold air.

He slipped on his boots and sheepskin coat quickly, buttoning it up.

It was still semi dark outside, but the men were already hard at work.

Some feeding the horses, others cooking, Havildar Turin came over to him.

"We need to do something to camouflage the horse lines" he told him "I notices bushes on the approach to the entrance of the Pass".

Turin immediately realised what David intended, and dispatched six men on horseback, David noticed the men were taking all the canteens of the other men.

Turin saw his glance, they fill them with water at the well to replenish the water pots, he was told.

They began walking around the area where the Pass narrowed. David stood in it looking back down the Pass towards the entrance.

From here the house and horse lines could not be seen, only when you were out of the entrance, did they come into view.

The enemy would need to turn right to attack the house a distance off approximately 100 yards.

David outlined his plans to Turin. It would depend on how many were sent against them. But if the Afghans thought there were only five guarding it, then he thought no more than twenty or thirty. If that is the case then none must be allowed to escape to report back about our rifles. We must draw them all in, if they attack on horseback, we must prevent the horses escaping down the cleft.

Firing pits were dug in a crescent around the entrance about two hundred yards from it. Turin checked each to make sure that they were deep enough to conceal a rifleman.

He detailed five men to appear to be working around the building, when attacked they would take cover but to return fire slowly, has if using a single shot rifles.

Only when the concealed men opened fire could they use their rifles has intended.

By mid-morning the horse lines were obscured by the bushes the men had dragged behind their horses. Other bushes had been used to break the outline of the house.

David was writing in his notebook the items the men stationed here would need.

Palliasses, gloves, telescopes, and fur hats he wrote down.

It was September, but winter was approaching, soon the snow would fall and blizzards would rage down here has well has on the heights.

He added, potbellied stove, oil lamps to the list.

He showed what he had written to Turin and asked for his recommendations, and added warm boots and scarfs to the list.

Turin told him that the caravans would stop when the snows came and blocked the Pass in November, and the Pass would remain blocked until March or April.

Two days later one of the lookouts came scrambling down from lookout post above.

They had countered twenty-seven walking on horseback.

Turin ordered the horses taken back down the pass out of sight and tethered.

The men took up their positions, David and Turin checked to see they were out of sight, before jumping down into their trench.

David checked his rifle, loading a round into the breech then put the safety on.

From his position he could see down the narrow defile.

The riders appeared bunching up as they entered it. Fierce looking men with long beards and turbans, they stopped fifty yards from the entrance.

One dismounted and crept towards the entrance, dropping down on his belly he looked around the corner, seeing five unarmed men sat around a fire eating.

He returned to group and spoke to a man who in turn said something to the others.

David watched has some drew their wicked looking sabres; others removed their rifles from their backs.

The leader raised his sword, and then slashed it down giving out a wild yell the band galloped out screaming.

Has the last man cleared the entrance he and Turin fired, the signal for the riflemen to fire.

Utter confusion resulted amongst the Afghans, in less than two minutes it was all over.

Twenty-seven men lay dead or dying, the dying were finished off with a kukri, has was a wounded horse.

Two riflemen were dispatched to round up the horses, while the rest stripped the corpses of weapons and jewellery.

The only casualty amongst the riflemen was one who had a scratch from an ejected cartridge case.

Their weapons were a hodgepodge of, Jeziels the long barrelled single shot rifle similar to a Kentucky rifle, stolen or captured Martini Henrys, but two were quite new of a make he had never seen before. They were bolt-operated single shot, firing cordite rounds.

They had all carried sabres along with wicked looking knives, some with jewels in the hilts.

David ordered Turin to pack all the weapons and valuables up, to be taken back to the Fort.

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