William Barr. Journal of a march from Delhi to Peshawur. London, 1844.

William Barr. Journal of a march from Delhi to Peshawur. London, 1844.

In 1837, with Russian backing, a Persian army besieged the city of Herat in western Afghanistan. The British government saw this as a threat to their interests in India, and began to fear a Russian invasion of the North-Western frontier.

To deal with the threat, the Army of the Indus was assembled and ordered to drive out the besiegers from Afghanistan. It comprised 5000 Punjabi Muslims from the army of staunch British ally Ranjit Singh, a force of 4000 raised by deposed and exiled former Afghan King Shah Shuja, and 380 regular troops of the East India Company.

After initial successes, the army of the Indus was defeated and in January 1842 the Kabul garrison of 4,500 British and Indian troops with 12,000 camp followers marched out of the city with the promise that it would be allowed to retreat to India in safety.

However, it came under immediate attack as it struggled through the cold, mountainous terrain. Just one hundred people survived to be taken prisoner and only one person reached the safety of Jellalabad alive. Lieutenant William Barr of the Bengal Horse Artillery wrote a journal of his involvement in the first twelve months of the campaign.

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