The Battle of Charasiab was fought this week (5th and 6th October) in 1879, as part of the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War. This is one of the Regiment’s Battle Honours, from the 67th Regiment of Foot.
As a part of Kabul Field Force, made up of both British and Indian troops, on 3rd October 1879 they began the final thirty-six mile march to Kabul, under the leadership of General Roberts. The 67th had begun as the brigade rear-guard, escorting artillery and the baggage train, while keeping off the sniping from the enemy. Some of the 67th were then used to head back to scout out several villages for opposition and weapons, but finding them mainly deserted.
On the evening of 5th October 1879, Roberts reached Charasiab village near the River Logar and encamped with the main body of the Brigade. To the north of the camp, by the river, the route to Kabul lay through the Sang i Nawishta pass. It was Roberts’ intention to remain in Charasiab while the transport animals returned to Safed Sang and brought up the supplies left there with the remaining troops. As evening drew in, Afghans could be seen gathering in the hills either side of the pass.
Half the 67th had remained behind to await and escort the returning transport, and the other 4 companies under were under the command of Major Kingsley.
On the morning of 6th October 1879, a force comprising 23rd Bengal Native Infantry and 92nd Highlanders with cavalry and 2 guns advanced to the Sang i Nawishta, with the task of making sure the route along the Logar River was passable. But the Afghan force was now moving forward and it could be seen that this was not a mass of tribesmen, but regular Afghan troops equipped with artillery, around 8,000 in number. The Afghans took position occupying three miles of the crescent of hills.
To further complicate Roberts’ position, Afghan tribesmen were gathering in his rear. Roberts resolved on immediate attack on the Afghan army blocking his road to Kabul. Brigadier Baker advanced with the force already deployed; 72nd Highlanders, troops of 5th Gurkhas and 5th Punjab Infantry, cavalry and 5 guns.
Baker’s force divided in two; Major White leading a contingent from the 92nd and 23rd Pioneers into the pass, while Baker took the remaining companies to attack the Afghan right. White stormed the hill overlooking the pass, only to find himself threatened by overwhelming numbers of Afghans. In spite of this, White detached two companies of Highlanders to assist Baker’s attack.
Baker’s troops stormed the hills forming the first line on the Afghan right, driving the Afghans back to the second line of hills. The 72nd, 5th Gurkhas and the remaining companies of the 23rd Pioneers assailed the second line. This attack was suddenly supported by the two companies of 92nd Highlanders, sent by White to launch an assault in support of Baker on the left flank of the Afghans.
The Afghan centre and right, under attack by Baker the 92nd, crumbled and fled, taking the troops facing White with them.
The 67th under Major Kingsley were in reserve, guarding the camp, and did not make it into the main action, although the HQ wing fought off an attack on their camp, and then escorted ‘an immense string’ of transport animals, earning great credit by bringing it in without losing any to the Afghans.
British and Indian casualties were 78. Afghan casualties were around 500. The medals for the Afghan campaign were awarded to all those who participated, including the 67th. The medal’s reverse shows a transport elephant being escorted – perhaps by the 67th?
The Battle of Charasiab opened the last section of road to Kabul for the British and Indian army. Moving forward, Roberts concentrated his army before taking over the city on 9th October 1879. The Regimental History mentioned that Major Kingsley’s men had a hard time of it in the following days from Charasiab, marching 45 miles in 48 hours with no food rations.
There are various spellings of Charasiab – the medal clasp does not have the final ‘b’ on it, and sometimes it is spelled with a K to start.