Creagh was a soldier first and foremost. He was commissioned ensign in the 95th foot in October 1866 and went to join the regiment in India in 1869. In February 1870 he transferred to the Indian army, taking up an appointment on the Bombay staff corps as a lieutenant. He served briefly with the marine battalion, 25th Bombay light infantry, Deoli irregular force, and the Merwara battalion. He was promoted captain in 1878 and served during the Second Afghan War of 1879-80. He was sent with 150 men to protect the village of Kam Dakka on 21 April 1879, where he was attacked by 1500 Mohmands. He retired to a position in a nearby cemetery where his men repulsed every enemy assault until they were relieved late in the afternoon. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. The commander-in-chief in India, General Sir Frederick Haines, reported that but for Creagh's coolness and gallantry his detachment would probably have been destroyed. He was mentioned in dispatches, and promoted brevet major.
Between 1882 and 1886 Creagh commanded the Merwara battalion and in the latter year was promoted major. In 1890 he participated in the Zhob valley expedition on the north-west frontier of India. He assumed command of the 29th Bombay infantry later the same year and was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1892. In 1896 he was promoted colonel and became assistant quartermaster-general at Bombay. Creagh was promoted brigadier-general in 1898 and appointed political resident and general officer in command at Aden. He was called away to help deal with the Boxer rebellion breaking out in China.
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