Sirmooree 85, Spring 2024: Supplementary Articles

Tales of the Unexpected : Serving with Gurkhas
by Major John Harrop

Amongst those posted to the 2nd Battalion as it fought an exhausting rearguard action against the Japanese was a Lt Murray John Dowty.  In 1939 he had gone out to Malaya as an Assistant on the staff of the Perak River Hydro – Electric Co Ltd , Ipoh.  He was serving as Lieutenant in the 1st (Perak) Battalion Federated Malay States Volunteer Force when the Japanese invaded Malaya.  On 11 January 1942 he joined the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas as it was regrouping at Tampin.  The local knowledge of  such an officer was of especial value.

It was about a week later and further down the peninsula that the 2/2 GR Navy came into existence commanded by Dowty, now nicknamed ‘Admiral’, who with a small group of Gurkhas for protection commandeered a motor launch which had been abandoned by HM Customs & Excise.  He was ordered to carry out a recce of the island of Kukub situated about 15kms SE of Pontain Kechil, Johore and if unoccupied to establish an OP in order to report on enemy activity.  This required a round trip of approximately 20kms to be carried out under cover of darkness without any knowledge of tides or currents, a considerable test of seamanship at the best of times let alone at night and with the threat of attracting Japanese interest.

Dowty was with the 2nd Battalion as it crossed the Causeway into Singapore on 30 January 1942 but within a week the enemy could be seen on the mainland foreshore . On 8 February 1942 ‘ Admiral ‘ Dowty together with other British Officers daringly crossed the Straits and reconnoitred the Johore foreshore.  They returned to report intense activity , but were unable to advise as to the imminence of the attack.  Shortly after the surrender on 15 February 1942, Dowty together with three other officers from Federated Malay States Volunteer Force asked for and were given permission to escape.  His three companions were captured , but Admiral ‘ Dowty was never heard of again.  He was posthumously mentioned in dispatches.  His name is inscribed on the Singapore Memorial (column 321) ,Kranji War Cemetery – which appropriately looks over the Straits of Johore.

Afternote: Dowty’s younger brother Ianan engine, er living in Australia, made the fateful decision to travel to Malaya in order to spend Christmas 1941 with the ‘Admiral‘.  He too joined the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force and was mortally wounded whilst trying to rescue the wounded from Japanese
aerial bombardment on Singapore Docks.

1. Regimental History Volume III
2. 2nd Battalion War Diary
3. Register of British Officers
4. London Gazette 25 September 1947
5. Commonwealth War Graves Commission
6. Elizabeth College , Guernsey Roll of Honour


Gurkhas in the First Afghan War 1838-1842
A short account of the 4th Goorkha Regiment in the service of Shah Shuja

by Major Andrew Duncan

The first Afghan War came about when the British in India attempted to place the deposed ruler,  Shah Shuja, back on the throne of Afghanistan in order to create a friendly buffer state between India and the perceived threat from Russia. It was an ill-advised move that was to end in disaster.

Gurkhas became involved in this conflict when the British raised a force to support Shah Shuja’s claim to the throne. In particular an Engineer regiment, known as Broadfoot’s Sappers contained roughly one third Gurkhas (200 men). Also raised at that time was what became known as the 4th Goorkha Regiment. Initially comprised half of Gurkhas and half of Indians from the plains, it was later to become almost totally Gurkha.

Under GOCC of 28 April 1840 volunteers were called for from the Nusseree and Sirmoor Battalions to serve in this contingent, the men being offered promotion on transfer. The regimental history of the 2nd Goorkhas records that from each battalion 3 Havildars went as Jemadars, 4 Naiks as Havildars and 6 Sepoys as Naiks. The survivors of these units went to the Nusseree, Sirmoor and Kumaon Battalions after the disaster in Afghanistan. There is also mention of a Corps of Jezailchees, which included a number of Gurkhas, in this campaign.

The 4th Goorkha Regiment was a part of what was known as Shah Shuja’s Levy. In theory it was under the control of the Shah, who financed it, but it was under the operational command of the British Army of the Indus. Further, the regiment was to be raised, officered and trained by officers detached from the armies of India.

Accompanying the main British force through the Bolan Pass in 1839, the regiment saw action at Ghazni (still celebrated by the Queens Gurkha Engineers to this day) and at Bamyan. The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register of September to December 1840, recording the action at Bamyan, states: “The conduct of the Goorkhas on the 30th (of August 1839) and the following day has in no small degree added to their reputation”; and later, “in dislodging (the enemy from the heights) the Goorkhas suffered, but they are reported to have done their work well and have won great credit”.

In the Spring of 1840 a serious rebellion broke out in the Afghan province of Kohistan and was only subdued with much difficulty towards the end of that year by troops under the command of the British General Sale. Subsequently it was felt that an armed presence was required to keep order in the province and to that end a small regiment, which became known as the Kohistanee Regiment, was raised for the purpose and stationed at Charikar, the principal town of that province, under the command of Lieutenant Maule of the Bengal Artillery.

The town of Charikar lies some 69 kilometers North of Kabul, close to what was, until recently, the American airbase of Bagram. Kohistan, at that time, had an Afghan Governor. In addition, a British Political Officer ( Major Eldred Pottinger), Assistant ( Lieutenant Rattray) and a doctor (Dr. Grant) were stationed at Lughmanee, some 3 miles distant from Charikar. In early 1841, clearly under pressure from increasing insurrection, the small regiment under Lt. Maule was considered insufficient for the task and the 4th Goorkha Regiment were sent to take over responsibility for maintaining security in the area. They were supported by two six pounder and one eighteen pounder guns from the Shah’s own artillery manned by Muslims from the Punjab.

Before posting to Charikar the regiment had been remodelled by substituting Gurkha recruits for the Indians. These young recruits had yet to see any action and now comprised the bulk of the regiment. The British officers were drawn from the regiments of the British-Indian Army. The commanding officer was Captain Codrington, of the 49th Bengal Native Infantry and he had under his command Lieutenant William Broadfoot, of the Bengal European Regiment as second-in-command; Lieutenant John Haughton, 31st Bengal Native Infantry as Adjutant; Ensign Salisbury, 1st Volunteer Regt., Quartermaster; and Ensign Rose of the 54th Native Infantry, Subaltern. There were two European non-commissioned officers, Sergeant-Major Byrne and Quartermaster-Sergeant Hanrahan. There were sixteen native commissioned officers and 745 rank and file. Some of the Gurkha officers and NCOs were accompanied by their families, so including the families, muslim gunners and camp followers the garrison must have comprised nearly 1,000 souls.

On arrival in Charikar the regiment was obliged to live in tents whilst a barracks, started by Lieutenant Maule, was constructed. The design and location of this barracks, and the budget to build it, were controlled by the Afghans and did not meet with the approval of the 4th Goorkha officers who considered it to be indefensible, consisting as it did of simple mud huts surrounding a central square or courtyard. A major drawback was the lack of an adequate water supply. The barracks, close to the town of Charikar, was also overlooked from many places in the surrounding countryside and a mud ‘fort’ between it and the town. The regiment also provided a security detachment of company strength at Lughmanee on a weekly rotation.

Many of the independent tribal chiefs in the surrounding district had not submitted to Shah Shuja and it was not long before indications of possible trouble ahead began to be received by the Charikar garrison. A number of petty acts of thievery took place and Haughton was warned by a fakir, to whom he had given alms, to spend the winter in Kabul. When Captain Codrington, the CO, wrote to Major Pottinger (the Political Officer) expressing concern, he was reassured by a written reply from the latter that adequate warning would be received of any impending rebellion. However it would seem that Pottinger was himself concerned about the situation and had applied, unsuccessfully, to Sir William Macnaghten, in charge of the British mission in Kabul, for reinforcements towards the end of October.

Events came to a head on 3 November when, at a meeting of tribal chiefs called at Lughmanee, Lt. Rattray was assassinated. A Goorkha Moonshee (Interpreter/Translator) named Mohun Beer was with Rattray, but managed to escape by dodging under the bellies of the assailants’ horses. The small force at Lughmanee were soon surrounded and it was their good fortune that Lt. Haughton, hearing firing in the direction of Lughmanee from the barracks at Charikar, came to the rescue with 2 companies of Goorkhas, Capt. Codrington having earlier gone to be a part of the meeting at Lughmanee  whilst Broadfoot, the 2ic, had been recalled to Kabul to become secretary to Sir Alexander Burnes. (He was later killed in the uprising there).

Over the coming days the pressure on the garrison increased. An attempt to relieve Lughmanee on the 4th failed. Gurkha Subedar Singh Beer, Ensign Salisbury and Quarter Master Sergeant Hanrahan were wounded in the face of strong opposition on this expedition. That evening Lughmanee was abandoned, with Pottinger, Dr. Grant and the Gurkhas from that location making their way to join their comrades in the barracks at Charikar. Two Gurkhas were sent to Kabul with a message for Sir William Macnaughten, the British commander, but by this time the garrison at Kabul was also under siege and unable to help. The two Gurkhas were later to receive the Order of Merit on Haughton’s recommendation.

Casualties continued to mount as the barracks was subjected to repeated attacks. On 5 November Codrington was severely wounded and died later that evening. Lt Haughton now assumed command. Ensign Salisbury also died of wounds received the day before. Pottinger was wounded in the thigh and had to take to his bed. On 6 November Sergeant Major Byrne was killed and buried together with the corpses of some 200 sepoys in a mass grave. That night Codrington and Salisbury were buried in secret, as it was felt that to do so openly would discourage the men.

One of the problems faced by the defenders was that the soldier’s “Brown Bess” muskets had only limited range whilst the Afghans could stand off and snipe at them with their jezails, which had greater range. This was countered by pitching the officers’ tents on the roof and hanging a curtain of material across the main gate. This might not have offered cover from fire, but it did offer cover from view. The Afghans preferred only to fire at targets which they could see in order to conserve ammunition, so this proved very effective. Pottinger had also brought with him from Lughmanee his hunting rifles and these were issued to the better shots among the sepoys who used them to good effect.

By this stage word had started to filter through of the desperate situation in Kabul and it was readily apparent that it was not possible to hold out for much longer, but the garrison at Charikar felt that by continuing to do so they would help to tie up more of the Afghans who might otherwise have increased the pressure on the British under siege in the capital.

At one stage the enemy occupied a number of huts on the southeast corner of the barracks and commenced a vociferous singing. This was to cover the noise of an attempt at mining which succeeded in blowing up the front of the southeast bastion. However, they did not press home their advantage and Haughton was able to barricade the breach before further damage was inflicted. After this a piece of lighted port-fire was dropped over the walls at each bastion every half hour by night to see what was going on below.

On the 12th Havildar Mottee Ram records Ensign Rose being sent to try and get water with one hundred men, including the Havildar himself, and all the collected receptacles that could be gathered. On return from the water point they caught a number of the enemy napping. They were sleeping in the early evening after breaking their fast for Ramadan. Haughton recalls this group of enemy as being located between stables and a Mess house erected for the officers on the far side of the canal opposite Charikar fort. Ensign Rose immediately gave the order to open fire on the sleeping enemy, who had neglected to post sentries, and many were killed without waking up. Among the enemy dead was a chief, Mahommed Shah, whose Standard was carried back to Charikar in great elation. Haughton was less impressed when he found that they had brought back little water for the beleaguered garrison!

By the 13th it had become evident that their position was untenable and a meeting of the British and Gurkha officers was held in the room where Pottinger was lying wounded at which it was decided to evacuate Charikar and make for Kabul. That same day the muslim gunners mutinied and went over to the enemy. In the process the Subedar of the artillery assaulted Haughton with a sword incurring severe injuries to Haughton’s neck, shoulders and wrist.

That evening, the survivors, whom Haughton estimated to number no more than 390 worn out men, prepared to leave the barracks, leaving those too severely injured behind. Added to this they had over one hundred women and forty children plus some one hundred camp followers. The whole party had not a drop of water. They still had enough rations for about seven days and enough ammunition for 200 rounds per man.

Haughton recalled a Gurkha Jemadar, Hunooman Singa, handing out whatever cash remained in the regimental chest to whoever would take it. The doctor spiked the guns and it was proposed to blow up the magazine. This was however, vetoed by Haughton on the grounds that it would alert the enemy as to their intentions and would also likely blow up the wounded, of whom there were many now left in the barracks and who would have to be abandoned. It was agreed that the force should be divided into two parties, one leaving by the main entrance and one by the postern gate at the rear of the barracks. The two parties would then meet up and continue their withdrawal.

As a final act before departure Dr. Grant amputated Haughton’s useless right hand and stitched and bound the wound. Haughton was then placed on a horse with two Gurkhas to support him on either side, and a cushion under his chin to keep his head up, and in this manner he left by the postern gate. Discipline had, by this stage, largely broken down and in the confusion the two parties became separated. Pottinger, with Haughton led one party whilst Ensign Rose and Quartermaster-Sergeant Hanrahan (who had recovered from his wound) brought up the rear with another.

In the event the two parties failed to meet up and Haughton, Pottinger, Haughton’s Orderly, Maun Singh and Pottinger’s  moonshee, Mohun Beer, pressed on alone, accompanied by Pottinger’s bull terrier which he did not wish to leave behind.

After further adventures these four (plus, presumably, the dog) finally made it to Kabul where Mohun Beer elected to be dropped off at the house of a hindu merchant. Maun Singh, Haughton and Pottinger eventually made it to the British lines where, after being challenged, they were finally admitted and Haughton was taken off his horse to have his wounds dressed. It was now the 15th of November, twelve days since the uprising began. The remainder of the Charikar garrison, including Ensign Rose, Dr. Grant and Sergeant Hanrahan, were largely either killed or captured. A very few Gurkhas eventually made their way back to India, including Havildar Motee Ram.

Haughton was too unwell to join the British retreat to Jellalabad and remained in Kabul. So, too, did Pottinger who was among several officers who were left behind as hostages against the British return. They both survived to welcome the British Army of Retribution, as it was known, under Major- General George Pollock when it finally fought its way into Kabul almost a year later.

Maun Singh was awarded the Order of Merit and promoted. After returning to India he joined the 48th Native Infantry with whom he fought in the First Sikh War, where he lost his thumb. Later he was pensioned and also had a small pension which was attached to the Order of Merit. Haughton records that in August 1848 Maun Singh travelled from Almorah to Chyabasa to see him, after which they did not meet again.

Many of the wounded who were left behind in Charikar were slaughtered, but some, including the senior Subedar, Oomer Singh and his wife, were taken prisoner. It was also learnt that the treacherous Subedar of artillery, passing the castle where Oomer Singh was being held prisoner caused him to be put to death. The poor Subedar’s widow, long a prisoner, used to go daily to weep over his bleaching bones.

It is to his credit that Haughton, on the return of the British, made extensive efforts to find as many of his former soldiers as possible and is recorded as having successfully found, and in many cases liberated from slavery, no fewer than 165 of his Gurkhas whom he managed to track down in the fields, streets and slave markets of Kabul. Some of these eventually made it back to India and joined, or rejoined, the regiments of the British-Indian Army

Haughton, then a Major, was part of an expedition that was sent to Bhutan and there met a number of survivors in January 1867 including Havildar Motee Ram, a Havildar Puddum Singh, and Naik Bullay Sarkie, who were serving with the 1st Gurkha Rifles there. Puddum Singh was a sepoy with the 4th Goorkha Regiment at Charikar and Bullay Sarkie was what would be called a “line boy” having gone there in the company of his sister who was married to Havildar Sookea Sarkie of the same regiment.

Mohun Beer, the Moonshee, who escaped with Pottinger and Haughton also survived and his statement, as recorded by Sir R Shakespear, appears, as do the recollections of the other survivors as an Appendix to Haughton’s memoir recording these events.

John Colpoys Haughton continued to serve and attained the retired rank of Lieutenant General in 1882. He was made C.S.I. in 1866, the only reward he received for his long and valued services. He died at Ramsgate, Kent, on 17th September 1887 at the age of 69.

The regimental history of the 2nd Goorkhas records that: “On conclusion of the (First) Afghan War certain of Sha Shuja’s forces were amalgamated with those of the Bengal Army and of these 36 Goorkhas from the 4th Afghan Regiment were drafted into the Sirmoor Rifles, which further received a few from Broadfoot’s  disbanded sappers.” Thus ended the short, but distinguished history of the 4th Goorkha Regiment.

With thanks to The Gurkha Museum, Winchester, for the references from the History of the 2nd Goorkha Rifles


Dalrymple, William, Return of a King, Bloomsbury, 2013

Eyre, Vincent, Lieutenant, Military Operations at Cabul, London, 1843

Haughton, John, Char-Ee-Kar, and Service There with the 4th Goorkha Regiment, Provost and Co., London, 1879


Letter from Major John ‘Boots’ Burlison to his Niece

Mrs Carol Ballett has kindly shared this letter which Major John ‘Boots’ Burlison wrote to her shortly after she was born (before she had been named – hence ‘Dear Thing’).  She, and others who knew John who have read it agree that it strongly evokes his kindliness and sense of humour:

The book referenced in the ‘PS’ was The Wind in the Willows.

Sirmoor Club Activities Report May 2023 – April 2024

Download (PDF, 3.36MB)

Sirmoor Club Membership as at 29 February 2024