Letters from William Eaton


William Eaton was a Lance-Corporal who was sent to Afghanistan when he was only 20 years old. He served in the Prince of Wales' Own West Yorkshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 14th Foot. He wrote of his experiences to his brother Joseph in Bradford. Unfortunately, William died of an unspecified disease in 1880 - this was not uncommon when serving in such an inhospitable place. This account was kindly donated by John Bastow the great grandson of Joseph. William was not involved in any of the major battles, but he was able to give a fascinating account of what it was like to be a fairly typical soldier as he saw the campaign from the ground up. The writing is a contemporary account with some contemporary views on race in particular - the term 'black' was a catch-all phrase for Indian or native soldiers which represented the vast bulk of the British Army fighting in Afghanistan. The account does shed an interesting light on the differing expectations on the British and local forces.

DEOLALU
12 February 1880

Dear Brother
I now take the opportunity of writing these few lines to you hoping to find you well as this leaves me well at present.
We have had plenty of hardships coming out and we had but little to eat, we had to be up on deck to watch all night every third night and I have been many a time three nights and never had my clothes off, but slept when or where I had chance. I could tell you plenty but I have borrowed this pen and ink and we have plenty work to do, we are only stopping here three days and then we are going to Lucknow where the depot is and we don't know whether we shall have to stay there or not, for the regiment is at the front fighting and I suppose they will send us if they want reinforcements.
I would like you to write as soon as you get this, and if I am not at the same place they will send it to me.
It is a bad place is this as far as I can see of it, and is not fit for a white man to live, they seem a very bad lot of people, but I perhaps shan't think so bad of it when I get settled. There is a deal dying just now in this division. They have buried three since I came but they are not of our regiment. Give my love to all at home and to all enquiring friends. When we get settled down I will send you something, there is plenty of nice articles here and they are very cheap, you must excuse this writing, when you write send me a long letter. We had a very nice voyage coming out we had only 2 rough nights, we set sail on the 7th January and arrived at Bombay on the 3rd February, but we did not leave the ship until the 19th. Then we had to march in the night as it is too warm in the daytime, it was 3 nights march to here we have some hundreds of miles to go yet before we get to Lucknow. We shall suffer a good deal if the heat keeps as it is, I wish we were at our journeys end, we get very good food now. No more at present from your affectionate brother W. Eaton.


PESHAWAR VALLEY
April 10 1880

Dear Brother
We have now got to the Peshawar Valley, you will know that it is near the mouth of the Kyber Pass, I am tired and my feet are sore. We have only had 6 days rest since we left England 2 days at Deolalu and four at Lucknow.
We have plenty to do just now we are in tents at a place called Jumbrood and we have to keep a sharp look out for the Afghans, we can see the mouth of the Kyber Pass from here.
The pass is in the middle of the mountains, it is very wide at the opening but it gets narrower as they get farther in. I can assure you we feel more dead than alive, when we got to Lucknow we had four days rest and then we had to start again to go to the Regiment to the front, so since leaving England I have only slept four nights on a bed. When we left Lucknow we had 5 days ride and 14 days march before we marched here, we have plenty of work and little rest.
We're in tents, and there are is 24 men in a tent, we have one blanket to lie on and a rug to put over us, when I get up in a morning my back and sides are very sore with the stones under us, I have seen more life and hardships since I came here than ever I thought I should see. No one knows but themselves what a soldier has to go through, it is all very well when you are in England but come out on an expedition like this and they will soon find out what soldiering is. I cannot tell you hardly all the duty we have to do, we have to be up at 4 o'clock in the morning we drill from 5 to 6, we have to do our piquet and guard duties we have to patrol around the camp all night in our turns, and there is not so many of us here. We have had no fighting yet except last night about 40 Afghans were trying to break into our camp our sentries fired at them and killed three of them and wounded one, and we brought him into camp he told our Doctor that there was 2000 of them on the hills and they had sent them to murder our sentries and they would steal upon us and murder us all in our tents. We expect a fight every night for that they are always prowling about at night but they keep at a respectable distance. They are very big men between 6 and 7 feet,, the least of the three that was shot was 6ft 7 inches. They wear very wide trousers and long coats and a piece of cotton tied round their heads, they have a broad belt and a long sword and knives in the belt. They can throw these knives a hundred yards and hit anything. There has been some fighting about Cabul, but we have not heard the result yet, we hear little news, you will know more about the war than we do, although we are so near, we know nothing only about our own division.
We have a few black soldiers with us and we are waiting of some more joining us, then it will make things easier for us, you would laugh if you heard the black men talk, I could not understand them at first, but I can understand a few words now, and I can speak a few.
We saw some very course places when we were on the march, the houses the blacks live in are all built of mud and they burn all wood. Some of them worship wooden gods, they have them fixed under trees which they have decorated with flags. There are others that worship the sun. They are very superstitious. They knead dough for baking out of doors and if a white man goes past and his shadow falls on it they will throw it all away. They think they would die if they was to eat it. You would be surprised if you saw our dress. We do not wear a red coat, we have clothes the colour of dust, when we are laid down we are like stones. When I first came I could not sleep for the wolves and jackals shouting at night but I have got used to them now. I have not seen a tiger yet, but we have passed through the jungle. I have seen plenty of monkeys, leopards, stags, snakes, wolves, jackals and several wild beasts I don't know the name of.
We have only lost one man of our draft since leaving Bradford, you see when we were on the march we used to start at 2 o'clock in the morning and march till about ten. One day we got to a place called Jubebad, there was a river at this place and as soon as we got an opportunity, a lot of us went to bathe. This man they called him Moore he was a Bradford man, he was hurrying to get in first, as soon as he got in some alligators sprung up and took him down and we never saw him after. We used to go to bed and be up again at 12 and get our tents pulled down and packed up. We have bullocks to pull the carts and they go very slow. We always carry 70 rounds of ammunition. I have met James Lanes you would know him and a few other Batley men.
I passed my examination last Monday and got my certificate, so I am going in for another stripe now. Our Colonel is very strict, some of the blacks get flogged almost every day and men will get cells for crimes that he would get 3 days to Barracks for at Bradford.
So you can judge how we have to mind ourselves. All the men that are wounded have to pass here. There are some come with their arms off some with their legs off.
HMS Serapis
HMS Serapis
I will now tell you something of our voyage out. We set sail on the 7th of January on board HMS Serapis. It is a very fine vessel there was the 30th Regt 10 hundred men, a draft of the 60th Regt 30 men, a draft of the 12th Regt 60 men, a draft of the 78th Highlanders 70 men and a draft of 14th Regt 74 men. Then there was married people and officers and the crew and marines. We passed France the first day, and we passed Queenstown the morning after. Then we did not see land for three or four days then we passed the coast of Spain. It was the finest I ever saw. The hills was very high and we could see the little white houses, but we could not decifer any people. We passed plenty of Spanish ships. The next place was Portugal that was another fine place but we could not see much. The ships are very queerly built and they seem a queer sort of people. The next place was Malta. We stopped there 24 hours to get provisions. It is a very nice place and strong fortification. The people are copper colour. The bells was ringing for service and there is some hundred of bells in the place. The sound was beautiful. It is a very warm place.
After we left Malta we never saw land or a ship till we got to Port Said a place in Egypt. We stayed there twelve hours to get coal on the ship. The blacks was not long getting the coal on board they worked very hard. The houses are all made of wood and painted red. The people are very black and they had nothing on except a cloak.
There was some Turkish ships in the harbour and one of them was full of Turkish soldiers and as soon as they saw us they shouted Allah speed the good ship. They were dressed like you have seen them in pictures. There was a lot of little black boys came in little boats and if you threw them anything in the water they would dive in and bring it out with them. We would have enjoyed ourselves very much but we had nothing to sit on when we were tired. When we left Port Said we entered the Suez canal. It is very narrow, only 2 ships can pass at a time. For a long way we could see nothing but desert then we saw a few old temples and then we came to the rock that Moses struck to get the water. We had to stop all night in the canal as it is too dangerous to sail at night.
In the morning we started and passed Mount Siniai on our right. We saw the place where Christ fed the people with the five loaves and two fishes, then we entered the Bitter Lake. Some said this was the place where Moses was found. Next we entered the Red Sea, we saw all kind of things in the water. We saw some flying fishes, sea pigs, sea dogs, sea horses and then we passed two great rocks called the Brother Rocks then we did not see anything more.
Three days then we passed HMS Jumbler a troopship homeward bound. Next we passed 12 rocks called the twelve apostles.
On the 30th January we could see land all day then we left the Red Sea and entered the Indian Ocean. On entering we sailed between 2 great rocks which is called the gates of hell. It is so hot here the water nearly boils. On the 31st January we passed Aden. This is one of our strongest Indian Forts and is said to be impregnable and there is no doubt by the look of it that it would be no easy matter to take it by storm. Every one was glad when we passed Aden because we were only four days sail to Bombay.
As the day wore on it became very rough. We were tossed about from one side to the other when we were getting our dinner we could hardly keep our tin plates on the table. We had to hold them with one hand and eat with the other. It was rough all night and next day and then it became fine again. We did not gain much weight with the diet on board, we had breakfast at 6.30 coffee and hard biscuits like the biscuits you used to see the men pitching with at Bradford. Dinner at 11.30 soup and salt-beef, tea at 3.30 tea and biscuits.
On the 4th February we arrived at Bombay. The water was not deep enough for us to go into harbour so we anchored about 2 miles off. Some small boats came and took the baggage off and then we landed on the 9th of February. We got on the train at 6 o'clock and rode till 3 next morning then we marched to Deolalee. The trains here are more like an omnibus than a railway train. They rock and jump worse than the cars in Dublin. The engine drivers are all white men but they have a black man along with them. The white men get very good wages one of them told me he had only been in this country 3 years and he had saved as much as would keep him all his life.
The coin is not like the English. We get more pay but we have no bank here we shall have one as soon as we get in Barracks. We shall leave here as soon as the war is over.
I forgot to tell you that we passed Gibraltar on our way but it was dark and we could not see much.
These are the distances we have travelled on train and foot. From Lucknow to Jumbrood Barruly 10 hours ride. To Murrat 11 hours, then 14 hours, to Shelmm 12 hours. Then we marched to Deana 12 miles, to Sohowan 14 miles, to Coopur 12 miles, Chian 11 miles, Katah 13 miles, Rawal Pindi 10 miles, Montshera 10 miles, Akham 9 miles, Javer 16 miles, Prak Sivar 14. The miles are a lot longer than English miles, our last march to Peshawar Valley I don't know how far it was. It was bad marching it was very hilly in some parts and where it was sandy we used to sink. That was worse than the hills.
We went through a jungle where there was all kinds of beautiful birds, and there was as many jackdaws and parrots as there are sparrows in England. The parrots here are small and are hard to learn to talk. Those they get about Calcutta are the best. Some of the men spend their money on nothing but drink. Rum is very cheap, they can get a glass for one Anna or 1 penny farthing. Beer is the dearest as it has to come from England. It is 3 Anna a pint. Drunkeness is punished very severely. The black soldier is punished worse than the whites, a black soldier got 20 lashes last week for striking one of our privates. If you saw the blacks washing you would laugh your sides sore, they put the clothes in water then hammer them with stones.
All the bread is baked by blacks. They get the dough on a table and there is six men stand around and thump into it as hard as they can then they get it into their hands and clap it together. We have to eat it or pine and we don't want to pine in a place like this.
I have not much more to say this time. I haven't got a black woman yet when I do I will send you her likeness.
You must excuse the writing as I have nothing to rest the paper on, only my knee. I kneel on one knee and rest it on the other, when I am tired that way I have to lay on my belly and rest the paper on a stone.
I remain your affectionate brother, W. Eaton. Lance Corporal.


PESHBULAK
May 24TH 1880

Dear brother,
I received your kind letter and the newspaper and I was very thankful for it. I would like you to send me a few song papers. I like to have something to read when I have nothing to do, it keeps me from studying of home. We have not much time for ourselves but the bit I have I would rather be reading than anything else. I am on Piquet today, tomorrow I shall be on guard, the day after on patrol duty, that is going round about the camp to see that there is no Afghans. You see we have got right up to the seat of war now, we had to go through the Khyber Pass. It is a terrible place it is very rocky and hilly, in some parts it is so narrow only 2 can pass at one time, and to look up it would almost frighten you, about a hundred yards high with great massive rocks hanging over your head, which looks as if they would fall every minute, we saw plenty of caves in the rocks where the Afghans live.
They laugh at us we are so little. Last night some Afghans came rather close to our camp. Our sentry challenged them but they did not speak, and before he could challenge them again they fired at him, but they missed and then he fired and shot one through the heart. We were all in the trenches directly. They were very quiet for about five minutes then our Colonel fired his revolver, then they fired seven shots back, our Colonel would not let us fire. Then he ordered me to take twenty men and creep out to them, we crept up to them within about twenty yards and then we fired, they were taken by surprise and they ran away. The Colonel had a narrow escape, a bullet went through his helmet. I don't know how many was killed, but I saw seven myself.
For the last 3 weeks we have been keeping the line of communication. The Afghans are always looking out for the convoys of provisions and then they sweep down on them. We have to protect the convoys so we have had plenty of fighting, but I dare not tell you about it the Colonel has forbidden it, he would not allow a correspondent while we were on this mission. He is a very good soldier and we all like him. A private of the 25 got 15 lashes last week for sending word home how we were treated. Sometimes letters are opened.
An Afghan chief came the other day to tell our Colonel he would have to pay for the ground we were camping on. So he told him to come again and bring his men and he would pay him, the scouts have just come in to tell us we are going to be attacked the day after tomorrow, but we don't know whether it is the same man or not. John prior is near dead, the doctor says he won't live long. I went to see him the other day, he asked me how you were he said give my kind love to him for I shall never see him again.
It is very hot here, we are almost roasted and it is very cold at night. Some reinforcements have just come in, there is the 3rd Hussars, the 9th Lancers and a battery of artillery and a newspaper correspondent, so I think we are going on some expedition.
The Afghans are very great thieves we caught some walking with the Colonels horse which had been grazing.
It's getting late so I will close for today.
Good night.


May 25TH 1882.

Dear brother,
I was to go on guard today but we have got fresh orders, I have to go with my company and the four companies of our regiment, 6 companies of black soldiers, a draft of the third hussars and a draft of the 9th lancers, the newspaper correspondent is going with us. I don't know what mission we are on, but if we have any fighting you will see it in the papers now. If there is anything in the papers send me one. It is now nine o'clock and we start at 11 and I am to get ready yet, so goodbye for the present.


MARQUINA BATTLEFIELD - no date.

Dear brother,
After leaving the camp we crossed the Kabul road we marched all day in the heat of the sun. When we came to the road that leads to Heart the 9th Lancers left us and went to join their regiment, we had some shots fired at us from some caves in the mountains. After we had marched 12 miles we came to the Kabul river so as we had no other way to get across we had to wade it, in one place it was up to our necks then we had to march on in our wet clothes, but they soon dried up by the heat of the sun. After going about 3 miles further on we came to another river which we had to wade through, then we marched 2 miles so that our clothes could dry. Then we had half an hour rest. We started again and marched another 3 hours, then we halted for the night. Never was I so tired before, we had marched 22 miles as the crow flies, but you know there is no roads here like you have in England, some times we have to go round miles before we can find places where we can proceed in the direction we want to go, so when we stopped for the night I daresay we should have marched nearly 40 miles over rocks, mountains and through water. The sun was dreadfully hot, my feet were full of blisters, at night we slept very little there was two or three false alarms, the Afghans were prowling about, so the outposts had plenty to look after. We were up and off again at 4 o'clock next morning and about 6 we came in sight of some villages, we expected having some fighting, we all loaded our rifles but as soon as they saw us they put a white flag up and when we were passing they came out and said they would not fight against white man. After going 2 miles further we came to another village. We got ready for action again, we could not see any people until we were passing then a big man came out on a black horse, he was dressed in white, he rode up to our Colonel and asked him what he wanted. The Colonel told him we had come to fight Afghans. The chief said then I will fight the whole British Army in 3 days if you will find me with arms. The Colonel only laughed at him and sent him away. We went on about 4 or 5 miles further and we were getting very tired and hungry, we have ninety rounds of ammunition to carry, it is very heavy. It was about 2 o'clock and we were going to halt for the day, when the scout came in to tell us the Afghans were advancing to meet us.
We were ready for action directly, we crossed a hill and we could see them about a mile off. They had their positions on the top of a high hill, they were coming to meet us and as soon as they saw us they commenced firing at us, but they were a long way out of their range, their rifles only carried about 200 yards, while ours, the Martini Henri, carry two thousand yards. We kept advancing and when we got within range we kept giving a volley into their midst. There fire fell far short of us while our fire was telling on them, they began slowly to retire until they got to the foot of the hill, then they made a dogged resistance, we had to force them at the point of the bayonet then they began to retreat with their face to us, up to the hill. I noticed one of the Afghans particularly he was dressed in white and was wielding a great long sword, I think he must have been their commander by the way he was leading them on. Our captain saw him and he said to us, leave him to me men, I'll settle him. A few minutes after I saw him engage in a desperate sword combat with the Afghan chief. And another Afghan was running with his sword uplifted to strike our captain in the back, there was not a moment to lose, I knew I could not get to him before he struck. I presented my rifle, I knew if I missed the Afghan would kill the captain. I took aim and the Afghan dropped dead, almost at the same time the captain dropped the Afghan chief. I now saw 2 more rush at the captain, he fought desperately with them, in a while one of them cut the captain badly in the hand and he dropped his sword. In an instant he had his revolver out but it miss fired. It would have gone badly with the captain, but by this time I had got up to him and I shot one and ran my bayonet through the other. We forced the Afghans to the top of the hill, and then they made a stand and faced us like loins, but we charged them with our bayonets, and then they ran away into a wood and got behind the trees then they came firing at us. We were in an awkward position if we fired at them we could not hit them behind the trees. Just then the bugle sounded the lie down. We kept laid down until the artillery got up the hill, then they fired a few shells amongst the trees. This soon brought them out, there was a lot of mud huts about a mile off and they all ran towards them. We were ordered to pursue them but we could hardly walk, we had marched 8 hours, and then five hours hard fighting, with the Indian sun blazing onto us all day, and without anything to eat. It was no wonder that we could not run after them with our feet blistered so that we could hardly put them down but we followed as well as we could. The artillery sent a few shells among the huts and blew them down. They fled for their lives all that could toward Heart, the cavalry followed them up and killed plenty of them. The assembly was then called, all the men came in we buried our dead. A guard was then mounted for the night, I then laid down on the ground. I remembered no more until I awoke this morning. The reveille was just going. I got up and looked round, the scene looked desolate, there was hundreds of dead Afghans laid about, I found that had slept all night with a dead Afghan for my pillow.
The men were sleeping huddled together in groups to keep warm. I felt very cold for although the sun is so hot at daytime it is bitterly cold here at nights. But the sun was just rising so I knew we would soon be warm again. We are going to stop here today, then we shall start again tomorrow. I don't know where we shall go to, but our task is accomplished here, we came to dislodge this band which had been threatening the communications with Kabul.
Our Captain came this morning and presented me with the sword that belonged to the Afghan Chief. The Captain has taken it and put it with the baggage for safety, he will give me it when the war is over and I shall bring it to England. We searched all the huts this morning for whatever spoil we could get, we have all got something. There is some beautiful gardens with all sorts of fruits. Our clothing is all in rags with the roughing we have had, and the soles of our boots are worn through, the officers are as bad as us. When I think about the battle now, I wonder how I escaped, the bullets were flying as thick above our heads. We numbered just over a thousand, the Afghans between five and six thousand they were very heavy. But if we had not been so tired when the fight began, they would have been worse. We had about ten killed and a lot wounded. Our doctors are attending to the Afghan wounded.
It is now getting late and we shall start early in the morning. I will write again in a few days when we get to some convenient place, I must conclude for the present.
I remain your affectionate brother W Eaton. Lc Corporal.


PISHELBANK - 22ND May 1880

Dear Brother and Sister,
I write these few lines hoping to find you in good health as this leaves me in good health here. At present, thank God for it. I got your letter yesterday but I got the paper 4 days since and was thankful for it for I am very lonesome when I have nothing to read. I hope you will send me another and a song paper and when I come home again I will not forget you. I hope you will keep your promise and send me your likeness as you said you would and if you cannot send yours try and send me little John William's' for I would like his very much. He will be a fine boy now I would like to see him but it will be a long time yet before we will see each other. I hope God will spare us all to meet again. I have a deal of hardship out here. If I did not keep my spirits I would not live long. All I want is to hear from my friends and to get a paper to read. Tell Willie that I was grieved when I had to go so far away without seeing him and you all, but I hope and trust in God to see you all again, and when we meet again I hope to see you in a better way than you was before.
I am very glad to hear that Willie has plenty of work. You will soon get on your feet again now did you -------- or did you let them ------.
Dear Brother and Sister that young man that came to see you last Easter did not come out here and if I know as much as I do now I would never have come out. For it is a bad place, it is very warm and we have to keep out of the sun or it would kill us. When I come to the regiment we buried 5 men and we bury one or two every week. Since we have had very little rest since we left England when we got to Lucknow in India we was there a few days. That was where I wrote to you and then we had to go on the march when we got to the regiment. They was in a place called Jumrood. We was there three days then we got an order to go to the front to fight. So we had to go on the march again through the Khyber Pass and it was a very bad road, sometimes up high hills then down and we had a river to march through. And in some parts of it the water would be up to our body. When we got out we had to march away and in about twenty minutes all our things was dry on our back. So you can tell how warm it is and how much hardship we go through. I have never slept on a bed since we left Lucknow. We are in tents now, we have a blanket and we lie on one and as the other over us and my sides is very sore with lying in the hard ground. When a man dies here they only make a hole and roll him in his blanket and put him in, so it is dreadful to think we sleep on the ground he might be buried in. We had no fighting yet only one night we had a bit of a fright with men that came to steal our camels and elephants. They killed one of our men and we killed 9 of them and made one prisoner. The Colonel asked him what he had to say for himself. He would not say anything only he said white man didn't fight fair, he does not take time to shoot, that was with us firing so fast.
There was a man come a few days since to the Colonel for 100 rupees for the land that our tents is on. He said that if we did not pay the money he would kill all the white men, so he told the Colonel he would give him 7 days to have the money ready. So the Colonel told him to come in 7 days and bring all his men with him and he would give him the money. So we expecting him in two more days we have made trenches all round the camp and when we see them coming we can lie in the trenches and fire at them and they will not be able to see us.
We get very little rest for we have to keep good look out. I have not brought my little black boy with me we had to leave them all behind in Lucknow. He was 14 years old and he was a fine boy, he could speak English and he learned me to say some words in Indian language. When I was leaving he said Corporal Sab me come be your servant when you come back, me like to go with you now, me help you fight and me not leave you. When I told him that I could not take him he began commenced to cry and he knelt down and kiss my feet and the morning when we was marched away he run after us for a few miles and ----------- more with him and they was. I ------- the way Allah, allah aberia that is God spare them. When we got on to the high road he come to me and bowed his head and said Salam Sab, that is goodbye. As you wanted to know his name is right name was Lalgey but I used to call him Monday after Jack Herkeys black. If I ever go back to Lucknow I will have him again.
I showed him my Aunt Julie's likeness and I said to him what is that and he said that am angel she make star shine. I had a Poll parrot and it could talk a little but I had to leave it behind but when I am coming home I will try and bring one with me. They are very cheap when they are young, we can get them for three Annas. That is sixpence in English money.
Dear Brother and Sister I would send you some little things if we was out of this place but I can not get anything to send from this place. We only get half our pay and things is very cheap so when the war settles and we leave here we will have all our back pay to get, so I will have plenty of money coming home, we do not know when.


4TH June 1880

Dear Brother,
We started off at 6 o'clock the morning I wrote to you. We marched across country in the direction of Kabul, we marched all that day and part of the next and then we halted about 10 miles from Cabul to await orders from General Roberts. A messenger came the same evening then we started the next morning back in the direction of the Kyber. We marched all day and about three hours next day then we halted at a place situated between four towns. We got our tents out and prepared for camping when an Afghan chief came with a lot of men and he told our Colonel he would have to pay 4000 Rupees for the ground we were camping on, or he would drive us away. The Colonel told him he had no money but if he would come in seven days and bring his men he would pay him.
When they had gone he called us all together and told us what the Afghans wanted. He said, now lads I want you to work with a will and fortify this place, and when his men come back we will pay him with fire and shot. We set to work, made some trenches before we camped for the night. We were up again by three o'clock in the morning and worked hard all day building a big wall all round the camp. We worked until 8 o'clock at night.
We were at it again at three o'clock in the morning, we rest two hours in the middle of the day, the sun is so hot it scorches us. You would hardly know me now I am like a red indian with the sun. The Colonel has sent to Cabul for the 9th Lancers and some more artillery. We shall give the Afghans a warm reception if we have our defence completed before they come. The second day we were here some Afghans came while we were at work to steal our elephants and camels. They fired at us when they saw us going towards them, they missed, we fired back and killed five of them. We got their rifles, they are twice as long as ours. The black soldiers work with us, they are not bad soldiers and at the battle of Marquina they fought very well. But you must not think I am boasting when I say they have not the dash about them that the British soldier has. The fourth night we were here I was told off for patrol duty. I had charge of twelve men and the Sergeant had twelve. We both went different ways but kept within signalling distance of each other. When we had marched about a while we stopped behind some rocks to rest and listen. We had been sat about fifteen minutes when we heard the sound of voices. I signalled to the Sergeant as he had an interpreter with him and they came to us. They were saying they go fight with white man, he very good man, the Afghans give no pay. We rushed out and caught them, they had no arms about them, then we took them to the guard room. They were freed the next morning, the Colonel agreed to keep them for spies. They know me and when they meet me they bow and say salam sahib, that is good morning sir, so you see I am sir out here.
It is now six days since the chief was here, tomorrow is the day for him to come again. We have had to work hard, but we have all in readiness for an attack. There is now 2 thousand of us but if the enemy brings 20 thousand we shall be able to hold our own. We have made the place so strong. The artillery is fixed to shell all the four towns. The other morning we caught 3 Afghans trying to steal our horses. The Colonel let them off but cautioned them that if they were caught again they would be shot. They were caught again stealing the same night. He ordered them to have 25 lashes each instead of shooting them. The first one stood it well. The other 2 stood looking on and kept laughing and talking to each other. But when it came to their turn they soon altered their tune, they could be heard shouting almost a mile off.
I composed a few verses about the battle of Marquina, they are not so good but the men seem pleased with them. They have made a tune for them and they are singing them all over the camp.
Dear Brother, the mail goes tonight, so I shall have to finish for the present. I will write again at the first opportunity.
We have one great drawback here, we have no one to minister religion to us. I have never heard a single prayer since we left Lucknow. I think the government ought to do something in the matter.
Hoping I shall live through the next battle and be able to send you all particulars, I remain your affectionate Brother, William Eaton.


THE BATTLE OF MARQUINA (Mazeena ?). Now comrades rally round me and list to what I say,
Concerning gallant conduct we displayed the other day,
To the battlefield of Marquina we bravely marched away,
And gained a glorious victory,
So shout hip hip hooray.
Shout boys shout for the battle of Marquina
Shout boys shout for the victory of Marquina
The enemy was five to one but still we fought away,
And took from them their standard and gained the glorious day.
There stands our brave commander upon the battlefield,
Leading his men to victory for soon we'll make them yield.
We made a grand and gallant charge,
Which filled the heart with fear,
And soon we bravely won the day so give a hearty cheer.
By some we have been slighted,
Which I think it is a shame,
To write and tell the parliament that they are much to blame,
For sending youths upon the field but young were brave and won,
And worthy of our title boys, the Prince of Wales own.
I now must end my little song with a cheer for Captain Noyes,
Who stood before the enemy and proudly led his boys,
Likewise for Doctor Thorburn a gentleman so brave,
Who worked away with noble skill our wounded for to save.
God bless our noble Empress,
With a long and happy reign,
May she live in peace and happiness
From trouble and all pain.
Whilst we rally round her standard,
That proudly floats on high,
Tis a terror to our enemies,
For the world we can defy.


PESHBOLAK - June 25th 1880

Dear Brother,
You see we have got back to our camp, I don't feel very well just now. We have had a deal of work and hardship, it is getting fearfully hot now, but they say that the next month will be the warmest so if I get over these two months I think I shall be alright.
When I wrote last we were expecting an attack from the Afghans. They came as we expected. We were up very early on the seventh morning. On the look out we noticed an unusual stir about the towns. We had everything in readiness. About 8 o'clock the chief, with about a thousand men, came for the money. He came and asked the Colonel for it, and he refused. He then got into a rag and said he would bring his men and force us off. We allowed him to go away. We could see the Afghans congregating about two miles off. About an hour after they began their movements towards us, by deploying right and left so as to attack us on three sides. There would be at least 12 thousand. Up to now we had been silent spectators. We had not fired a single shot, but when the Colonel saw them begin their final advance, he ordered the artillery to open fire, which they did upon all the four towns. The Afghans were surprised when they saw their property going to ruin in this way. About half of them ran towards the towns, I suppose to save what they could, while the other half came on to attack us. The artillery then paid their attention to the advancing force by giving a few shells into their midst. When they were within range of our rifles we opened fire which was kept up so well that they never got within three hundred yards of our trenches. They were driven off with heavy losses.
We stayed two days then we got orders to march to our old camp Peshbolak. We had to go very steady as the sun is getting very hot and a lot of the men were ill. We had a few cases of sunstroke and since we came here we have buried a lot who have died of fever and sunstroke. It is hard to see the poor fellows dieing in the morning and buried at night in a country like this, away from home and friends with no one to care for you unless it be a comrade.
I was very ill when we arrived here, but I am rather better now we have been here a week now. If the war was settled I would rather stay here than in India as it is not as hot. But an officer told me the other day that the war was a long way from being settled as he said they had driven all the Afghans out of cabul and that the Afghans were coming down to the Kyber pass to stop our provisions and try to pine us out. If they do they will have to come this way so we will have plenty work to drive them back. They have sent us a lot more men from India and 2 more cannons.
There is 170 in hospital and there is plenty men here that was stout strong men a year ago and they are like skeletons now. With the hardships and the heat it would knock any man up if he were as strong as a horse. You could not believe how hot it is in the middle of the day, we can hardly breathe.
We heard the other day that we were going to be attacked and at night our patrols caught some Afghan spies. They took them to the Colonel and he told them if they did not tell whether there was any more or not he would shoot them. They said the Afghans were coming to attack us but they did not know how many. The next day we were on the look out and we saw a few hundred gathering about a mile off. The cavalry was ordered out. They rode off and then we got ready for a fight. Chance the horsemen were driven back, we loaded our rifles and the cannon were charged. The Afghans are very frightened of the cannon. When the cavalry got about 100 yards of them, they fired a volley to see if the Afghans would show fight, which they did, then the cavalry charged, cutting right and left and drove them right away.
It is a grand sight to see them charging cutting and lashing and driving them like chaff before the wind. It is better watching than fighting ourselves, it makes a fellow feel rather queer in the middle of a fight.
The cavalry brought some prisoners in, they said that we did not fight fair as we did not make time to load our rifles. They have a belief that if they kill a white-man they are sure to go to heaven when they die. Dick Carter has got a great name, the other day he went to bathe by himself. Whilst he was bathing 3 Afghan spies came and was spying about the camp. A black man told Dick where they were. He came out of the water and when they saw him by himself they came up to him and pulled out their knives but Dick had his belt and he knocked two of them down with it. The other ran away. He then tied them with cords and marched them before the Colonel. When Dick told his tale he would not believe him that he had mastered them by himself so Dick got no thanks for his bravery. But the men believed him, they talked about it a good deal and they consider him a hero.
You enquired about the band, we have a very good one but they have not much playing, now they have to fight more than play, it is the best that I have heard we have a Drum and Fife as well.
Last Friday a black soldier was on sentry and he allowed about 29 Afghans to come within 50 yards of him and steal a lot of blankets and he never fired at them. They saw the Afghans going away and then the blankets were missed. The Sergeant of the guard went up to the sentry and told him he would be made a prisoner. The sentry told the Sergeant to go down and see as he thought there was some more and as soon as he turned his back the sentry shot him dead and he was loading again when some of the guard collared him. He has not been tried yet, but he is sure to be shot.
When the war is over we shall get the medal and the bar and we shall get all our back pay, so when you see me again I shall have a medal on my breast.
I hope you will send me a paper regularly and a book now and then. I would be glad if you would send me a Yorkshire Post now and then with plenty of cricket matches in it, it reminds me of home to read about all the old clubs. We shall remain here 2 months I daresay, as the officers will try to avoid marching until the summer begins to fade.
If you see anything in the papers about our regiment, send me one.
They are saying here now that the men that has got into parliament now will try to settle the war. I have seen that fellow that used to go by the name of Cullet. We are going to bury five Privates and a Sergeant of our regiment this evening and there is plenty more not expected to live.
Jimmy Lanes is not as reckless as he used to be when he was in Batley, he comes to my tent almost every night to talk about old times at home. He is very well, he had not to go out with us on the expedition, he has been here almost all the time.
When I come home I shall be able to tell you plenty tales of my travels and adventures. I must conclude for the present. I will write again as soon as I have an opportunity.
I remain your affectionate Brother,
William Eaton.


Campaign details







by Stephen Luscombe