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Introduction

This article provides an example of an Afghanistan Medal awarded to a survivor of the battle at Maiwand, which took place on 27 July 1880.

William Wright

William Wright was born in Ashton, Manchester, enlisting as a Driver in the Royal Horse Artillery when he was 22 years 9 months old on12 January 1878. According to his attestation papers, Wright's previous trade was a carter. His statistics on attestation are shown below.

Age   22 years
Height   5 feet 4 inches
Chest Measurement   35.25 inches
Eyes   Hazel
Hair   Light Brown
Religion   Methodist

For the period from his attestation until 20 September 1878, Driver Wright was stationed in the UK. On 21 September 1878 Wright began a 7 year 86 day posting to India. It was during this period that Driver Wright took part in the battle at Maiwand, as a member of "E" Battery, "B" Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery; which from 1890 became 58th Field Battery Royal Artillery.

Battle of Maiwand

On 4 July 1880 the following force had left Kandahar for Helmund under the command of Brigadier-General G.R.S. Burrows:

  • Cavalry Brigade (Brigadier-General T. Nuttall)
  • "E" Battery, "B" Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery (Major Blackwood)
  • 3rd Sind Horse
  • 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry
  • Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General G.R.S. Burrows)
  • 66th Foot (Colonel Galbraith)
  • 1st Bombay Grenadiers
  • 30th Jacobs Rifles
  • Half Company Bombay Sappers & Miners

The approximate strength was 2700 men with 6 guns.

Brigadier-General G.R.S. Burrows became alarmed at both the size of Ayub Khan's army, and the fact that it may avoid his force and advance on to Maiwand and become between Burrow's force and Kandahar. In an attempt to prevent this situation, Burrows advanced to Maiwand, leaving early on 27 July 1880. However, unaware to Burrows, Ayub Khan numerically larger force was also marching to the same place at the same time. Burrows had not issued his march orders until late on the 26 July, and so when the force set off at 7am on 27 July, many of the troops had not even had breakfast.

The morning of 27 July 1888 began misty and foretold that the weather for later in the day would be extremely sunny and very hot. Shortly after Burrows force had passed Mashak, while it halted to water, Burrows learnt that he had been outmanoeuvred and that the whole of Ayub Khan's force (approximately 6000 infantry and 4000 cavalry) was marching across his front to Maiwand. Despite of this information, Burrows continued his advance to Maiwand.

At approximately 10:30,  shortly after Burrows' force had passed the village of Mahmudabad, the advance guard of cavalry began to engage Ayub Khan's force. At this point, Brigadier-General Nuttall and Major Blackwood rode forward to reconnoitre, accompanied by Lieutenant Fowell's division of E/B Royal Horse Artillery. Once they had advanced forward, large masses of Ayub Khan's force became visible and the desperate nature of the situation quickly became apparent. Nuttal ordered his cavalry to fall back, while Burrows ordered the rest of his force to close up.

At about 11:45 Ayub Khan's force attempted to encircle the British line from the north and the right. Burrows realised that his advance guard was in grave danger of being surrounded, so his advanced his infantry and deployed them into a line from E/B Battery Royal Horse Artillery.

By 13:30 the situation had deteriorated further with Ayub Khan's guns now firing into the main part of the Burrows force. The ammunition for the guns had begun to run low and several officers had been either killed or badly injured. Also several soldiers had fallen back in an attempt to get some water.

At 14:30 Ayub Khan gave the signal for a general advance by his forces. The frontal attack was stopped by E/B Battery firing "grape shot" which took a huge toll of Ayub Khan's infantry. However, another advance from the right and across the guns of E/B Battery occurred. Lieutenant Fowell had been wounded, and Captain Slade was controlling the fire of the guns on the right flank when he became aware of events rapidly developing on his left flank. Slade had just ordered his guns to limber up (ready to be pulled back) when an enemy force swept into his left flank. Both the guns here were captured and most of their crews were killed.

Saving the guns

Saving the guns at Maiwand

The leader of the No. 2 gun team was shot while limbering up, and it was at this time that Sergeant Mullane managed to not only limber up his gun and get it away but also picked up Driver Pickwell Istead (who later died from his wounds) and placed him on the limber.

For this act of gallantry, Sergeant Mullane received one of two Victoria Cross medals award to members of "E" Battery, "B" Brigade for deeds performed at Maiwand. The other Victoria Cross was awarded to Gunner James Collis who deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire, allowing an officer to bring back a gun limber bearing wounded men.

In addition to these two Victoria Cross medal, E/B Battery members were also awarded 8 Distinguished Conduct Medals and Captain Slade received the Companion of the Bath (CB) honour.

For his participation in this campaign Driver Wright received the Afghanistan Medal with "Kandahar" clasp.

After Maiwand, Driver Wright went on to complete 12 years service in the Army. He was discharged from the Army at Woolwich on 16 January 1890.

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