Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (23 September 2011)

Date of Auction: 23rd September 2011

Sold for £7,000

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

A fine Second Afghan War ‘Peiwar Kotal’ Order of Merit pair awarded to Havildar Wazir Sing Adkari, 5th Gurkha Regiment, who lead the charge at the storming of the Spin Gawai Kotal in December 1878, and was subsequently killed in the magazine explosion at the Bala Hissar in October 1879

Indian Order of Merit, 3rd class, silver and enamel, the reverse inscribed on three lines ‘3rd Class “Order of Merit”’, complete with ribbon buckle; Afghanistan 1878-80, 2 clasps, Charasia, Peiwar Kotal (Havlr. Wazir Sing Adkari, 5th Goorkha Regt.) nearly extremely fine (2) £4000-5000

Footnote

Order of Merit GGO 89 of 24 January 1879: ‘Naik Wazir Sing Adkari, 5th Gurkha Regiment. For conspicuous gallantry in leading the charge at the storming of the Spin Gawai Kotal on the 2nd December 1878.’

Two other third class Orders of Merit were won by the 5th Gurkhas for this charge: to Subadar Rugobir Nuggerkoti for ‘leading his company with great determination, though wounded’, and to Sepoy Munraj Poon, ‘the first to enter the breastwork of the enemy.’ It was also for this action that Major John Cook, 5th Gurkhas, won the Victoria Cross. The impressive painting of this famous action by Vereker Hamilton is now on display at the National Army Museum in London.

On 24 September 1878, the 5th Gurkhas were warned for active service, and on 2 October proceeded from Abbottabad to Thal, where it joined Sir Frederick Robert’s Kurram Valley Field Force. Major John Cook crossed the frontier with his regiment as part of Brigadier-General Thelwall’s 2nd Brigade on 22 November, and following the reconnaissance of Peiwar Kotal, won his Victoria Cross on the slopes of the Spin Gawai Kotal, or White Cow Pass. Cook’s brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Cook, of the 3rd Sikhs, recounted the details for a young relative in 1926:

‘The occasion was the taking of the “Peiwar Kotul”, - the first Pass leading into Afghanistan on the Kurrum side in which the late Lord Roberts, - Major-General Frederick Roberts, V.C. - commanded, the beginning, in fact of his career as a General. The force at Roberts’ disposal was small and poorly provided with guns while the enemy’s position was very strong and, as regards a front attack, practically impregnable. Unless, however, the position was attacked, and captured, at once, further advance was impossible and the tribes would rise and overwhelm Roberts’ small force. General Roberts decided on a night march with part of his force which moved up the “Spingwai nullah” with the object of falling on the enemy’s left flank at dawn, the remainder of the force covering the camp with the guns.

The night march was long and difficult, the route being up mountain torrent beds, in places precipitous, over ground which it had been impossible to reconnoitre beforehand without giving away the general’s intentions, and through pine forests. The leading Regiment had some Afghans in its ranks and, on nearing the enemy’s breastworks, two of these men treacherously let off their rifles. On this, the order of march was hurriedly changed, your Uncle’s Regiment, the 5th Gurkhas, taking the lead. There was no time to deploy and, instantly on sighting the advanced breastwork in the dawn, your Uncle with his leading files “charged out the breastworks with such impetuosity that the enemy broke and fled”. In the confused melee which followed the charge, a big Afghan, aiming at short range at the Staff Officer of the Column, Major Galbraith, was charged by your Uncle and, his sheepskin coat turning a sword cut, grappled with the Afghan. The Gazette account says “both fell to the ground” but, as a matter of fact, your Uncle cross buttocked the Afghan and, being an immensely powerful man, strangled him with his hands, the Afghan biting him in the arm. Some pretty stiff fighting followed but the enemy’s position being taken in flank was ultimately vacated and the position occupied. The safety of Robert’s Force and its further advance was thus secured but, while it lasted, the initial scrimmage was touch and go and one moment’s hesitation on your Uncle’s part would have given the enemy, already alarmed, time to man all his breastworks. The saving of Major Galbraith’s life was merely the official peg to hang the V.C. on, - so to speak, - the real service was the instant, and successful, onslaught on the breastwork. On this depended the safety of the whole Force and, it is not too much to say, the whole of the future Lord Roberts’ career as a great and successful General.’

On the renewal of hostilities after Cavagnari’s murder, the 5th Gurhkas joined the 2nd Brigade, under Brigadier-General T. D. Baker, and took part in the advance on Kabul and at the battle of Charasia. On reaching Kabul, the 5th Gurkhas were quartered in the Bala Hissar, where, on the morning of the 14th October 1879, a gunpowder store exploded killing the Subadar-Major, five N.C.Os. and six rank and file, a Royal Artillery officer, a Private of the 67th Foot and a number of natives. Amongst those killed was Havildar Wazir Sing Adkari. Cook, who had recently been promoted Brevet Major in recognition of his recent services, described the carnage as the ‘most appalling sight I have ever witnessed,’ and freely admitted to his sister in a letter written on 27 November, ‘We really had a most marvelous escape as we might just as well have been buried alive’. The cause of the explosion was never discovered.