Retreat from Kabul

Remnants_of_an_army2

Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Butler

The painting above immortalised the moment, on the afternoon of Jan 13th, 1842, when Dr. William Brydon reached the British outpost at Jellalabad, 140 km east of Kabul.

He was the first survivor of an army of 4,500 troops and 12,000 civilians who left Kabul on January 6th under a promise of safe passage out of Afghanistan.  For seven days they were set upon by Afghan tribesmen as they tried to struggle through snowbound mountain passes.  Their column was broken up, groups became separated, snipers fired constantly and they were subjected to massed attacks when the terrain permitted.

Brydon arrived at Jellalabad on a horse which collapsed and died when it was stabled.  He had a sword cut on his scalp and was saved more serious injury because his hat was stuffed with pages of a magazine in an attempt to keep him warm.  The paper absorbed much of the sword cut.  He became famous as the “only” survivor, although others subsequently made it back to safety.

The subsequent defence of the fort at Jellalabad became the stuff of legend in the British Army and was celebrated in boys story books for the next century.  The 2,000 men of the 13th foot (Somerset light infantry) held the fort for five months until a relief force reached them.  Under the command of General Robert Sale the troops turned an old ruined fort into a defensible position.  Instead of sitting behind the walls they sortied out to raid the Afghans.  On one occassion they stole a herd of sheep to keep themselves suppllied.  Then they raided the Afghan camp and stole all the supplies.  So successful were they in this that the Afghans gave up and returned to Kabul.  Sale also personally freed his own wife and daughter from captivity.

When the 13th returned to India every garrison on their path celebrated them with a 10 gun salute.  Queen Victoria had them designated as a Light infantry and they were called “Prince Albert’s Own”.

 

From “The Young British Soldier” ; by Rudyard Kipling

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Visions of War

Yesterday the USA dropped the largest ever non-nuclear weapon ever used, the GBU-43/B.  They dropped this massive piece of ordnance in a cave system in Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.  The stated intent was to deny a system of caves and tunnels to ISIS fighters.  A truer intention is Donald Trump flexing his muscles for the Russians and the Chinese to show he is a serious military threat.  But that too is secondary, because his primary audience is the American people.  I’m sure the people of the USA feel a little bit safer today knowing that several miles of caves in Afghanistan have been destroyed.  (That last sentence is called sarcasm)

Today I have three images for you, all stolen from the Guardian photos of the day.  Image 1 is of US troops marching in step at a NATO rally in Poland.  Hey Mr Putin, look at those gung ho young American boys, marching in neat lines.  We have big bombs too.  Boo Yah!

BooYah

The second photograph is from further east, in the city of Mosul, Iraq.  The smart uniforms and the neat lines of troops give way to the true face of war.  A man pushing his daughter through a blasted landscape in a wheelchair.  It is pathetic.  As you sit down to your Easter Sunday dinner spare a thought for what awaits this family on their table.  What did he do to deserve this fate?

Al-Abar

The final image is of a pretty girl taking a selfie in a field of flowers.  It could almost be in Holland, with the bright blossoms in neat lines, except for the fact that the girl in question has a machine gun on her back.  Nir Yitzhak is a kibbutz on the border of Israel with the Gaza strip.  If ever there was an image of the absurdity of war this is it.  Page down to a war poem by Yeats!

Nir Yitzhak

On being asked for a War Poem : By William Butler Yeats

I think it better that in times like these
A poet’s mouth be silent, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;

He has had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.