Robert Sale was born on 19 Sep 1782, nicknamed Fighting Bob on account of his bravery and reputation for always being in the thick of the battle. At the age of 14 he was an ensign, carrying the Colours for the 36th Regiment. As a lieutenant in the 12th Regiment he was in Baird's Brigade fighting against Tipoo Sahib at Malavalli and Seringapatam. He was appointed commanding officer of the 13th in 1824, leading the regiment in the First Burma War. At Kemmendyne on 10 June an attack was mounted involving 3,000 men. General Sir Archibald Campbell reported, 'that the first man who appeared on the top of the work was I believe, Major Sale of His Majesty's 13th Light Infantry.' Another attack was made at Kumaroot, a stockaded defensive Burmese village that needed ladders to gain access to the enemy. The 13th and 38th stormed the works and a melee ensued in which Major Sale parried a blow to a soldier's head from a Burma chief. Sale's sword broke so he grabbed the chief's large gilt weapon and aimed a blow at his waist which almost cut the Burman in half. After being promoted to lieutenant-colonel in June 1825, Sale commanded a brigade of the 13th and 38th Regiments.
During their time in India the regiment was always highly praised by inspecting generals as being one of the finest regiments in the country. The command of the regiment appears to have been taken over by Major William Dennie in 1833. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel later in the year. Robert Sale is referred to as Colonel Sale in 1835 and still served with the regiment which makes it difficult to say who was the CO at that time. At the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan in 1838 Sale was placed in command of the 1st Brigade which included the 13th and two Indian Regiments, the 16th and 48th NI, while Dennie was temporarily in command of the 2nd Brigade. Sale was wounded in the face at Ghazni but continued, and was again engaged in single combat with an Afghan which would have ended badly for him if it had not been for the timely assistance of Captain Kershaw.
Sale was wounded in the ankle when in action in the Khoord Kabul Pass in October 1841. On 5 Nov he marched his brigade out of Gandamak to capture the fort at Mammoo Khel. On returning to Gandamak he was informed that there was an isurrection at Kabul, and Sir Alexander Burnes had been killed. He was ordered by Sir William Macnaughton to return. But he could not comply with the order because he was encumbered with 300 wounded. He controversially proceeded to Jellalabad instead, even though his wife and daughter were still at Kabul. The fate of the soldiers and their families as they tried to escape from Kabul was a terrible tragedy. The defence of Jellalabad by the Illustrious Garrison, the rebuilding of the walls and the sorties were organised by Sale and Dennie, and the eventual defeat of the besieging Afghans enhanced Sale's reputation and ensured his elevated place in military history. Unfortunately, Colonel Dennie was killed in the sortie on 7 April 1842.
The leader of he Afghan army, Akbar Khan had Sale's wife and daughter in his custody, and threatened to have Lady Florentia Sale tortured in sight of the walls to force her husband to surrender. After the defeat of Akbar's forces he sent his prisoners under escort to Bameean in the Hindu Khish with the intention that they carry on into Turkestan. They were under a guard detail led by Saleh Mahomed Khan who, on hearing of General Pollock's recapture of Kabul, decided to take the prisoners back there and claim ransom. Meanwhile Pollock sent Robert Sale off with a brigade to rescue the prisoners. The infantry were left behind at the pass near Kote Ashruffee while Sale pushed on with the 3rd Dragoons and met the prisoners somewhere before Tarkhana. The fate of the Afghan captors is not recorded but the meeting between Sale and his wife and daughter, on 30 Sep 1842, must have been extremely emotional. It is sad that only three years later he died of his wounds at the battle of Moodkee.
1782 Born, 19 Sep
A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan: A Firsthand Account by One of the Few Survivors. by Lady Sale Florentia (1843)
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