Death on the Pale Horse


Contributed by David Gore



'Death on the Pale Horse'
Just west of the Khyber Pass on the hot dusty road to Kabul lies the town of Jalalabad. There the great fort was for centuries 'vital ground' in the bloody campaigns and skirmishes of British and Indian troops who protected the North-West Frontier of India. The Pathans, those warlike Muslim tribesmen of the border region, make a troublesome enemy. They are wild mountain men, prone to blood-feuds; but in a fight they give no quarter, take no prisoners and horribly mutilate the infidels they kill. It was into this inhospitable environment that a young Scotsman, Lieutenant William Mayne, arrived to join Jalalabad garrison during the FIrst Afghan War 170 years ago.

Remnants of an Army
William led the Bengal Cavalry at Jalalabad and was himself a fine horseman. He always rode out on a handsome grey charger, a distinctive figure to the enemy watching from the hills. In time they came to know him only too well. He had a huntsman's eye for country and used his cavalrymen to such good effect that on daily foraging expeditions he was often able to surprise the enemy with the speed and ferocity of his attacks. The Pathans with some respect came to call him 'Death on the Pale Horse'.

Young William Mayne greatly distinguished himself in the bloody but successful defence of his garrison in that war, and he was there to see the grim disaster that ended it. On 13th January 1842 a lone Scotsman, Dr Brydon, exhausted and on a failing horse, was brought into Jalalabad fort by William (a scene recorded in a famous picture by Elizabeth Butler). Brydon was the only survivor from the garrison at Kabul of 4,500 British and Indian troops and their 12,000 camp followers who had been slaughtered by the Afghans or had frozen to death in the deadly cold of the mountain passes. For many days anxious eyes continued to scan the horizon from the walls of Jalalabad on which by night fires were built and bugles sounded. No other survivor came.

Such was William's grisly introduction to warfare on the North-West Frontier. It was the start of an exciting career during which four major wars and many subsidiary campaigns were fought on the Indian sub-continent. William was in the
First Sikh War
thick of it and was twenty times mentioned in despatches. He had his horse killed under him on no fewer than eleven occasions, yet he survived unmarked for sixteen
Powis House
years until he died in Cairo on his way home. "Fever and dysentery have too surely effected that which the bullets of the enemy were never able to achieve and his gallant spirit is at last laid low" as the inscription on his tomb has it. William was one of many members of the Mayne family in India whose courage and panache brought them recognition - and sometimes a quick death.

These Maynes had originally come from Lochwood in Lanarkshire and had moved near Stirling in the 15th century. They were farmers and fighters both. Maynes had fought and fallen at Flodden in 1513 and had been in every Scottish battle since. It was William's great grandfather with his 22 children who founded what became a Mayne dynasty. Thanks to a fortune provided him by his bachelor brother in Portugal he was able to settle his growing family on the great estates of Powis and Logie on the southern slopes of the Ochil Hills overlooking the Forth. A fortunate family indeed were the Maynes of Powis who were described as being "set amid well-watered fields, comfortable and well-stored farmsteads and cottages". A generation later the Maynes became sick of home comforts and began to flock into India. There for the next two centuries Mayne son followed father, and nephew followed uncle in the service of the Empire. Few of them returned home.

William Mayne on Arab Horse
Soon after William's death came the cataclysm that was the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Of six brothers, cousins of his serving at the time, only two came home. The Mutiny was a blaze that started among native troops, spreading rapidly and took the British nearly two years and many deaths finally to quell. The eldest of the brothers, Henry Mayne of the Madras Cavalry, at the height of these troubles raised and led a regiment of irregular but loyal cavalrymen against the mutineers. The regiment exists as a unit in the modern Indian Army to this day, still known as "Mayne's Horse". Henry now lies in a grave alongside his brother Francis at Allahabad, but there is also a memorial to him at Westminster Abbey - appropriately it's in a cloister called Fighting Green!
Augustus Mayne's Grave

The wife and five young children of Henry's brother Frederic, a chaplain at Simla, were only saved from death at the hands of the mutineers by hiding for many hours in her husband's church. She was fortunate. A contemporary description of the aftermath of the first massacre at Meerut reads, "What a spectacle of terror met the eye almost simultaneously with the return of day. The lifeless and mutilated corpses of men, women and children were to be seen, some of them so frightfully disfigured and so shamefully dishonoured in death that the very recollection of such a sight chills the blood". Another brother, young Augustus Mayne of the Bengal Horse Artillery, was killed during the relief of Lucknow. He was a comrade of the great Lord Roberts who, on finding his body, "took his dear friend Mayne out at early dawn and dug his grave and buried him in his blue frock-coat and long boots, and as they laid him there, leant down and fixed his eyeglass into his eye as he always wore it in the heat of the fray. His grave now lies on the seventh fairway at Lucknow Golf Course, a cause of great frustration to golfers".

Saving the Guns
One of the present generation, Rupert Mayne, was in India when the British left in 1947, almost two hundred years since the first member of his family arrived there. Rupert tells of his grandfather, Mosley Mayne, who was a Captain in the 3rd Bombay Cavalry. In July 1880 they were part of a British/Indian force of about 2,700 men on the North-West Frontier. They found themselves near Maiwand, an Afghan village on a desiccated dusty open plain with shade temperatures approaching 120 degrees. Facing them with evil intent was a vastly superior force of 10,000 Afghan regulars and 15,000 tribesmen. A gallant effort was made to disengage and withdraw before being enveloped by this army but it was only partially successful and the British/Indian losses were great. Mosley survived the battle of Maiwand but on behalf of his fallen comrades he published an anonymous article criticising the handling of the whole operation. It was traced to him and he was forced to leave his regiment. A sad end to his career but part of the pattern of achievement and eccentricity with which the Maynes and many Scottish families like them have enlivened the history of the British in India.

On Rupert's last visit to India he met a pensioner from Mayne's Horse, a very old man who proceeded to bury his white beard on Rupert's chest and sobbed. Eventually the old man recovered and pulled up his trousers to show a very badly wounded knee. He explained that in a charge in Mesopotamia he had been hit by a Turkish bullet, had fallen off his horse and that Rupert's uncle, Ashton Mayne, had dismounted and carried him off the field. Of course such memories will soon fade and the Mayne memorials will crumble, but perhaps something of the tradition of the Scottish Maynes in India for courage, sacrifice and originality will survive.

William Mayne William Brydon Henry Mayne Augustus Mayne Ashton Mayne Mosley Mayne Ashton Mosley Mayne Rupert Mayne
William Mayne Dr William
Brydon
Henry Mayne Augustus Mayne Ashton Mayne Mosley Mayne Ashton Mosley
Mayne
Rupert Mayne



Bibliography




Share