Since Lord Roberts made his famous march from Kabul to Kandahar the Indian Army has perhaps taken part in no campaign so rapid, brilliant, and successful as the operations which resulted in the relief of the sorely pressed garrison of Chitral. No element was wanting to call forth the keenest instincts of the soldier, or to arouse the anxious interest of those who watched with breathless suspense the keen struggle, as the columns pushed forward over high mountain passes, girth deep in snow, across rivers broad and deep, swollen with rain and melting snow, and fiercely opposed by the desperate bravery of mountain warriors born and bred to the sword. When therefore within three short weeks the welcome news was flashed down the wire that Chitral was relieved, and that the British Agent and his escort had been snatched from a horrible fate, there was perhaps hardly a corner of the British Empire which did not feel proud of the hardy leaders and brave men who had so signally upheld the proud standard of British resource, pluck, and endurance.

The general plan of operations was this. The 1st Division of all arms, some 15,000 strong, be- longing to the I St Army Corps was to mobilise at Peshawur, and moving from a southerly position as rapidly as possible, was to pass through Swat and Dir, falling on the rear of Umra Khan. At the same time a small column some 400 strong was to move from Chilas and taking the wide circuit through Gilgit and Mastuj was to endeavour to force its way to Chitral from a north-easterly direction.

Before the opening of the campaign our know- ledge of that portion of the theatre of operations which lies between the Peshawur Valley and Chitral territory was limited almost entirely to such information as had been collated from the reports of natives. This information though defective in accuracy of detail yet described with sufficient exactness the main physical difficulties to be overcome. Speaking generally, the theatre of war was crossed transversely by ranges of high mountains and rapid rivers, each in itself a formidable obstacle, culminating in the lofty range through which a pass 10,450 feet high alone gave access to Chitral. Of the country which lies between Chilas and Chitral, by the route followed by Colonel Kelly's column, we had accurate know- ledge, the route having been frequently traversed by troops and an accurate survey made. The stupendous task placed before Colonel Kelly, moving at this time of year, could therefore be fairly gauged beforehand.

With the fuller knowledge wie now possess it is possible to give more in detail the physical features of the country through which the Relief column from Peshawur passed. Skirting the broad open plain in which Peshawur is situated is a range of mountains varying from 3,000 feet to 6,000 feet in height and known locally and collectively as the "border hills," for, generally speaking, the British border runs along the foot of this range. Beyond the border range lies the richly cultivated Swat Valley, varying in width from two miles to three miles, and having an extent of some thirty-six miles lengthways. Down this valley flows the Swat River, a considerable stream at all times of the year, but after the snows begin to melt, and the summer rains burst, a large and rapid river. Some estimate of the size of the river may be gained by noting that at the point first bridged by our troops, it is about half a mile wide from bank to bank, being split up into seven channels each requiring a separate bridge. The north side of the Swat Valley is formed by the Laram range of mountains varying from 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet in height. Beyond the Laram range we come to the southern extremity of the Principality of Dir, down the main valley of which flows the formidable and treacherous Panjkora River. This river which one day is fordable may the next be found a roaring torrent, many feet deep ; indeed on one occasion it rose fourteen feet within a few hours, with little or no warning. The Panjkora Valley throughout its length is narrow, with steep rocky spurs constantly running down to the water s edge, and except in the depth of winter when the water is at its lowest, was not suitable, without extensive road making, for the passage of troops.

Lying to the east of the Panjkora Valley, and separated from it by high ranges, we find the broad open fertile valleys of Jandul and Bajaur, the former of these being the original home and limited territory of the chief Umra Khan, against whose power the British expedition was mainly directed. Skirting the north end of the Jandul Valley comes the Janbatai range, varying from 6,000 feet to 10,000 feet in height, crossing which we drop into a series of narrow rocky valleys which betoken the approaches to some great mountain range. Such are the Baraul and Upper Dir Valleys, with no room for cultivation on any scale, and barely capable of supporting a miserably poor and backward race. Running transversely across the north corner of Dir territory we come to the mighty range of mountains, from 10,000 feet to 20,000 feet in height, over which the Lowarai Pass alone gives military access to the Chitral Valley. The Chitral Valley is itself very narrow and rocky much on a par with the Panjkora Valley,, and was, till a track was cut, very difficult for the passage of troops.

Briefly it may be stated that four high ranges^ of mountains, and three considerable rivers, besides mountain torrents, had to be crossed by the Southern column of the Relief Force. The country through which the small Northern column under Colonel Kelly had to pass was still more rough and rugged. Moreover he was practic- ally isolated and had to depend entirely on his own resources for those necessities which are requisite for pushing an armed force through a difficult country under the most unfavourable climatic conditions. The highest pass which was crossed by this column was over 12,000 feet, the account of the passage of which will appear when the heroic struggle of this column is dealt with in detail.

Speaking generally then, the theatre of war may be described as a mass of mountains, amidst which wind deep and rapid torrents, whilst here and there may be found small open valleys with sufficient supplies only to maintain the inhabitants.

As mentioned before, incidentally, the plan of operations for the Relief of Chitral consisted of a combined movement from north and south, the Southern column being a strong force capable of holding its own against any combination that might arise, whilst the Northern column consisted of a mere handful of men lightly equipped, whose errand it was to arrive as soon as possible, and by the moral effect of their arrival more than by actual force of arms to prolong the siege sufficiently for the arrival of the main relief force. The Southern force was based on Nowshera (near Peshawur) whilst the northern column was based on Gilgit.

The enemy s main base of operations was Jandul, the home of the ruling spirit in the camp of the besiegers of Chitral. Hence Umra Khan drew the pick of his men, his treasure lay here, and such arms and ammunition as he possessed were drawn from here. If we look at Jandul on the map and examine its relative position to Chitral and Peshawur we shall at once see that a decisive blow struck from the direction of Peshawur must inevitably jeopardise Umra Khan's base of operations, with the probable result that he would be compelled to leave Chitral and retreat hastily to defend his own country. The Peshawur column in fact by the nature of its march must take him directly in rear, and he must either abandon his own country to the invader in the hope of first striking a decisive blow at Chitral, afterwards turning on his tracks to meet Sir Robert Low, or else he must perforce abandon the siege and concentrate his forces to meet the British before they could gain a footing in his territory. The relative position of the belligerents being thus, it is apparent that the first objective of the main column of the relief force was Jandul. But though at first sight the advantage of position lay with the British, yet one import- ant item entered into the problem which made the balance even, and that was the consideration of time. It was calculated that the Chitral garrison was only provisioned up to the end of April, and therefore to effect Its relief a decisive blow must be struck before that date. Such a possibility Umra Khan and his lieutenant Sher Afzul were inclined to dis- countenance. An organised army moves slowly, immense physical difficulties stood in its way, and the inveterate animosity of 30,000 tribesmen could infallibly be counted upon. In a matter which depended upon days and even hours here lay a distinct advantage on the side of the besiegers.

Orders were issued for the mobilisation at Peshawur of the ist Division of the ist Army Corps on March 19th, the base being afterwards shifted to Nowshera as more convenient. This being the first occasion on which a serious mobilisation of any part of the army had been attempted, the experiment was watched with much interest by military critics. It must be remembered that to mobilise a force on the Indian frontier is a far more complicated and difficult problem than to mobilise a force at Metz or Strasburg. In Europe many railways lead to import- ant points of concentration, the distances are comparatively short, and countries which are likely to become the theatre of war are intersected by numerous railways as well as roads suitable for heavy wheeled traffic. Large towns and flourishing villages are to be found at the end of every march, and the country invaded is capable of supplying to a very great extent the wants of the invaders in the matter of commissariat and transport. Far differently situated is a force on the Indian frontier destined to penetrate into the inhospitable mountains which frown along its whole length from the Bay of Bengal to the deserts of Beluchistan. For such a force, nearly all the grain, and much even of the hay, has to be carried up to the most advanced troops from the base in India, and carried not along macadamised roads in capacious carts, but by mountain paths where pack transport is alone possible.

There is a popular error that the impedimenta of an Indian Division is enormous ; indeed, it has been gravely stated by a serious military critic that it is no uncommon thing for regiments in India to take their mess tables on service with them. Of course only ignorance of the country and its ways, with a hazy recollection of Chillianwallah and the mess table of the 24th Foot, could be responsible for such an erroneous statement. As a matter of fact during this campaign the allowance per man for everything was 10 lbs., and per officer 40 lbs., and no tents were allowed. When we consider that an ordinary soldiers blanket weighs 4 or 5 lbs., an allowance of 10 lbs. need not be called extravagant in a country where snow and ice, heavy rain, and the fiery heat of the sun had in turns to be encountered^ Yet marching thus light 28,000 pack animals had to be collected to feed and maintain the force. It will be apparent then that the problem of mobilisation on the Indian frontier is very materially complicated by the conditions that exist. Not only the troops and their stores have to be concentrated, but also many thousands of pack animals, and the food for the entire force, man and beast, for as long as the campaign lasts. Add to this that units had in some cases to come in immense distances, that the line of railway was a single one, and that the detraining station was a small roadside station without platforms or conveniences for disembarking troops, animals, and stores, and we have a compendium of difficulties which would try severely the most perfectly organised scheme of mobilisation.

It must be a source of gratification to the military authorities that the scheme and the railway stood the severe test applied to them. On April 1st the Division, fully equipped and provisioned, made the first march of the campaign. The force consisted of three Infantry Brigades, each of four regiments, two of which were British and two native ; the Divisional troops consisted of two regiments of cavalry, four batteries of Mountain Artillery, one^ regiment of Pioneers, and three ^ companies of Sappers and Miners. In addition, three regiments of infantry were told off as lines of communication troops. The command of the force was given to Lieutenant- General Sir Robert Low, K.C.B., with Brigadier- General Bindon Blood, C.B., Royal Engineers, as his chief staff officer. The three brigades were commanded by Brigadier-Generals A. A. Kinloch, C.B., H. G. Waterfield, and W. F. Gatacre, D.S.O. whilst the lines of communication were entrusted to Brigadier-General A. G. Hammond, V.C., C.B., D.S.O., A.D.C. to the Queen.

The column under Colonel Kelly will be dealt with separately in a later chapter.