In early March 1899 the 1st Hampshires returned to Peshawar from an uneventful five-month stint in Afghanistan as part of the Khyber Brigade. However, on March 23, just a fortnight after returning, the Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Henry Le Marchant, was shot dead by a ghazi – a Muslim fighter dedicated to killing the enemies of Islam – while attending the District Assault at Arms. According to an eyewitness report published in the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper:
‘… a foul assassin sprang out from behind a tree and shot our poor Colonel, Lt-Col Le Marchant, in the back with a pistol. The bullet penetrated through the lungs and the poor man died in ten minutes, where he lay, to the inexpressible grief of the whole Regiment. Everyone in the Regiment loses in him a personal friend. Never was there a kinder, more generous, more considerate, and thorough English gentleman as a Commanding Officer than the late Lieut-Col. E.H. Le Marchant. May he rest in peace.’
An officer who was present when Le Marchant was shot wrote:
‘The murderer was one of a crowd of thousands looking on, and he was seen suddenly to raise his hand over the shoulder of a shorter man who was with and in front of him, and sghoot his victim with an old pistol from three or four yards off … [they] were chased for about 200 yards by Tommies and caught. I am sure their mothers would not know them when they were rescued from the Tommies’ hands. They did hammer them.’
A private in the Royal Scots Fusiliers who attended the garrison sports that day wrote to a friend and described how the troops had to be restrained:
‘It took the officers all their time to keep the men from killing [those responsible]. There were four altogether in the murder. The one who fired the shot was hanged next morning and the three other men have been imprisoned for life … One of the men of the murdered Colonel’s regiment, a colour-sergeant, went forward to bayonet the murderer but was prevented from doing so by an officer … the ladies who were there, that is the officers’ wives and others, were fainting by the dozen. It was pitiful to see them.’
Le Marchant, aged 45, had been CO for less than two years. He had previously been second in command of the 2nd Battalion, having transferred to the old 67th from the 47th as a Lieutenant in 1874. In the regimental History he is described as ‘one of the very best regimental officers, who lived for the regiment, never spared himself for it and his men; helpful and competent, he had set a high standard and left a fine example’.
Colonel Le Marchant was buried with full military honours at Taikal Cemetery in the presence of the entire Peshawar garrison. His grave inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of Edward Henry Le Marchant, Lt. Col. Commanding 1st Battn Hampshire Regt. Who was shot dead by a fanatic in this station on the 23rd March 1899, aged 45 years. Erected by the officers, NCOs and men of both Battalions.
‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace,
Until the day break and the shadows flee away’
To comfort Le Marchant’s grieving family a friend, who visited the grave in December 1899, wrote:
‘It is a pretty little cemetery. I think it is a spot where you would quite like those you loved to rest, a little out of Peshawar, lying in the direction of the beautiful hills. It is full of trees and flowers, even now when everything in India is so terribly waterless, and it is all very nicely kept. Over the entrance is a pointed arch, one mass of bougainvillea … The turf on the graves was very nice and short, there was a pretty cross of white roses and a jar of pink ones, and the grave was edged with lovely violets, of which I send some. I don’t think anything could be nicer, and he lies in the midst of his comrades. The cemetery is full of lovely roses and poinsettias.’
The following year a memorial plaque was erected by members of the Hampshire Regiment in Winchester Cathedral.
The attack on Colonel Le Marchant – the third ghazi outrage along the Indian frontier within a few weeks – was followed a few days later by the murder of another member of the Hampshire Regiment. The assassin had come to Peshawar reportedly ‘with the express purpose of murdering a Christian’.
Le Marchant’s father, Robert, was rector of St Peter’s Church, Little Rissington, Gloucestershire. On receiving the news of his son’s death he recorded simply in his diary: ‘Heard this morning … the sad intelligence of the death of Robert while in command of the 1st battalion of the Hampshire Regiment at Peshawar.’ Although his words betray little sign of emotion, the rector was unable to take either of the services in church the following Sunday.
Le Marchant’s wife, Mary, was left to bring up their only son, Edward, alone. After leaving Harrow, Edward followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Hampshire Regiment in April 1914. A year later he was wounded at Ypres and invalided home. In July 1916 he returned to the front in command of a company with the acting rank of captain. On October 23, 1916 Edward Le Marchant was mortally wounded whilst leading his company during an assault near Guillemont in the face of very heavy machinegun and rifle fire. He was buried at St Sever Cemetery, Rouen.
After the war, Mary Le Marchant lived for a time in Lucerne, Switzerland, where she died in 1933.