THE RETREAT FROM KABUL 1842
Captain Robert Salusbury Trevor, 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry
St. Mary the Blessed Virgin, Eastham, Merseyside
Captain Edward Macleod Blair, 5th Light Cavalry
St. Michael's and St. Paul's, Bath
Captain John Bascombe Lock, 5th Native Infantry
St. Peter's, Dorchester, Dorset
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas John Antequil, 42nd Native Infantry
St. Helier Church, Jersey
Some stories on this site feature some serious blunders, but for incredible incompetence, doltish decision-making and sheer stupidity the First Afghan War stands alone. From the initiation, through the various stages of its execution, down to the debacle of its denouement, the British ineptness defies belief. Tragically, it also cost thousands of lives.
There was never any need to invade Afghanistan anyway. In 1838 the Governor-General of India, George Eden, Baron Auckland, and his chief adviser, William Macnaghten, had two major concerns about Afghanistan: one, they feared that the western city of Herat, which was being besieged by Persian forces influenced by and supported by Russia, would fall, and thus allow Russia easy access into the country; two, they did not trust the Afghan monarch, Dost Mohammad, who was making noises about regaining control of Peshawar, at the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, having lost it to the Sikhs a few years previously. As the East India Company regarded the Sikhs as an ally, and a useful buffer protecting India, there was no desire to support Dost Mohammad with his demands. By 1839, however, both perceived threats were over - the siege of Herat had been lifted, and Dost Mohammad had agreed not to pursue his claims on Peshawar. Shame that Auckland and Macnaghten had already decided that, no matter what, regime change had to happen, and they had a ready replacement at hand; Dost Mohammad's predecessor, deposed two decades earlier, Shah Shuja ul-Milk. And so the British army, fifteen thousand strong, not counting the thirty thousand camp-followers, marched into Afghanistan.
They did not encounter much resistance. Dost Mohammad was not so popular, nor Shah Sujah so unpopular, that the various tribal chieftains felt compelled to challenge such a strong and well-armed invading force. So the British entered Kabul, and felt that they were welcomed and secure. Dost Mohammad had fled into exile, and Shah Sujah assumed the throne, guided, of course, by British advice. Macnaghten, who had accompanied the army, provided that advice, using information supplied by his chief intelligence man, Alexander Burnes. Kabul held no problems, Shah Sujah was secure on his throne, all was peaceful content. That Shah's support was essentially underpinned by bribes, paid to tribal chieftains in exchange for them supporting the new monarch and guaranteeing keeping the passes between Kabul and the outside world open, did not seem to worry the British. All was quiet, and so they were happy. It was, presumably, this complacency that led the British to set up their base in an open cantonment, overlooked by low hills, in a relatively open area outside the city. They left the attractions of an existing fortress inside the city, on the grounds that it was cramped and uncomfortable. A number of senior officers, concerned about the defensive implications, protested, but they were overruled. the situation was thought to be so secure that half the army was dispatched back to India, and the wives and families of British officers were allowed to leave India to join them in the cantonment. Macnaghten and his entourage seemed to have overlooked that they were a Christian invading army in an independent Islamic country.