|Private James Allan 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders
However, he felt that he required more excitement in his life and decided to join the regular army. The road south-east from
Rothes led directly to Aberdeen, where the Gordon Highlanders had their regimental depot. James reported there on the
25th January 1893 and after examination, was attested into the 2nd battalion of the regiment with a service number of
4763. He was described as being 5’ 4” tall and weighing 119 lb, with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and light brown hair.
He was noted as belonging to the Presbyterian Church.
James now had to join his regiment, which was then currently based in Dublin. By using ship and train, he reported for duty on
the 28th January 1893. He then underwent training to become an accomplished solder, before the regiment moved back to
Scotland, being based at Glasgow by July 1894. By January 1895, James Allan was receiving an extra 1d per day as good
conduct pay. The regiment remained at Glasgow for the next two years but on the 18th January 1896, James was boarding a
troopship as part of a draft to join the 1st battalion of the regiment, which was then currently based at Rawul Pindee in India.
This transfer between battalions was confirmed on the 26th January 1896.
Within a few months of his arrival, it became apparent that there was a great deal of unrest with the Afridi and Orakzai hill
tribes from the Tirah region of Afghanistan. This erupted with a series of risings, which began in the Swat valley. Success
there was followed by further revolts at Malakand and the Tochi valley. This created a threat to the entire north-west
frontier region. Despite punitive expeditions sent against the tribesmen, large amounts of territory was lost to British
control, which culminated in the loss of the Kyber pass on the 25th August 1897 and potentially threatened the security
of India. A further punitive expedition was planned as a response to this threat. By driving the tribesmen back from the
they had occupied south of the Kyber pass, it was hoped to pacify the region and regain British authority over the frontier.
It was planned to invade Tirah with a main column of troops from Kohat, whilst being supported by flanking columns from
Peshawar and Kurram. For this purpose, two divisions, together with divisional troops, were selected for the forthcoming
campaign. Each division would consist of two brigades and in total would amount to over 1,000 British officers, 10,880 British
troops, 490 native officers and 22, 100 native troops. The invading columns were to be known as the Tirah Expeditionary
Force and would be commanded by General Sir W. Lockhart.
The 1st battalion Gordon Highlanders were selected to join the 3rd brigade of the 2nd division. In command of this brigade
was Brigadier-General F. Kempster, while the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders would be commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel H.
|Officers of the 1st battalion Gordon|
Highlanders - photographed in 1896.
Lieutenant Colonel Mathias is seated in the
By September the columns of troops and thousands of carts carrying supplies were starting to move towards Kohat. The 80
miles of railway line from Rawul Pindee ended at Khushalgarh, which meant that the Gordon Highlanders had to march 32 miles
to reach their destination. As soon as the brigade had assembled at Kohat, the troops moved on to Shinawari, which was the
most advanced base, just five miles before the heights of the Samana range of mountains. The task ahead of them was
formidable. The Tirah region had never been entered by a hostile army before. The tribesmen boasted that it was impregnable
and that huge numbers could be called to defend the region. They were well armed with the most modern rifles and had
obtained vast amounts of ammunition when the forts guarding the Kyber pass had fallen to them in August.
Finally, on the 17th October1897 the order arrived for the 3rd brigade to advance to Karappa. However, it was noticed that
the tribesmen could be seen actively building defences across the pass through which the brigades had to advance. Orders
were received that the Dargai and Narik Suk positions were to be cleared on the 18th October. The plan of operation was
for the 4th brigade to launch a frontal assault while the 3rd brigade was to attack the enemy in their flank and rear.
At 4 a.m. on the 18th, the 3rd brigade left the Shinawari camp and advanced towards Dargai. This village lay on the northern
side of a small plateau of sloping ground, from which a razor like spur protrudes, with the track on the northern side. The spur
was connected to a cliff by a narrow saddle, 100 yards long and devoid of all cover. The ridge had to be crossed to reach to
path ascending to the summit. The 3rd brigade found the terrain ahead of them exceedingly difficult to advance over and
impossible for mules to carry forward the mountain battery artillery. By 12 noon the 4th brigade had driven the tribesmen
from the village, who then came under fire from the advance units of the 3rd brigade. It was decided that this position could
not be held and at 2.30 p.m. the regiments of the 4th brigade began to move down the spur. They were followed at 4.30 by
the 3rd brigade but by now 8,000 Afridis had returned and the troops had to conduct a withdrawal in the face of
overwhelming numbers. The Gordon Highlanders and the 15th Sikhs were the last two regiments to withdraw from the
village and they had to bear the brunt of the fighting which ensued. Separate companies had to cover the retirement of
the others on a continual basis, while the tribesmen closely followed them all the way down the slope. It was starting to
become dark and once the troops reached the foot of the spur, the pursuit was abandoned. Casualties to the regiment were
Major Jennings-Bramley and two men killed, and 15 others wounded. The Gordons only managed to reach the Shinawari
camp at 11p.m, having been under arms for 19 hours and marching at least twenty miles during the day.
|The ridge and heights of Dargai|
The towers and defences at Dargai had been destroyed and the village burnt but this did not stop the tribesmen re-occupying
the abandoned heights.
The 3rd and 4th brigades were rested on the 19th October in anticipation of their involvement in leading the advance to the
Khanki valley on the 20th. It was expected that the tribesmen would abandon the heights when the column began to threaten
General Kempster’s brigade was given the task of storming the heights if resistance was offered. They left the Shinawari
camp at 4.30 a.m. on the 20th October and were by 9.a.m. massed on a position about 2,500 yards from the Dargai crest.
From here it was obvious that the enemy numbered even more than before, with an estimated strength of 12,000 men. It was
decided that the position would be captured by a frontal assault and to that purpose the 1/2nd Ghurkhas, 1st Dorset’s and
Derbyshire regiments would advance in lines, while the Gordon Highlanders would assist by firing long range volleys. The
mountain batteries consisting of 24 guns were moved into position and opened fire at a range of 1,800 yards at 10 a.m.
The infantry then slowly moved forward, using all of the cover available until the Ghurkhas were close enough to launch their
attack. As they charged forward the tribesmen opened fire and within minutes had stopped the assault. The Derby’s and
Dorset’s vainly tried to push forward, either singly or in small groups, but few managed to reach the surviving Ghurkhas.
The artillery found it hard to locate the hidden enemy and their role became virtually ineffectual. By noon the position was
one of stalemate as the Afridi marksmen fired at any movement below them. The whole advance had only covered six miles
before being stopped and General Kempster was told that the position now had to be taken at all costs. He directed the
artillery to fire a three minute barrage at the Afghan positions which unsettled the tribesmen but did not dislodge them.
The Gordon Highlanders and 3rd Sikhs then moved forward in preparation for a further attack and halted behind the last
|The Gordon Highlanders preparing to |
The troops then fixed bayonets and were told by Colonel Mathias that:-
“The General says that the position must be taken at all costs. The Gordon’s will take it!”.
With that encouragement, Colonel Mathias dashed forward across the open space, followed by his entire regiment and the 3rd
Sikhs. The Afghans were by now extremely confidant and poured a volley of fire into the advancing men. Lance corporal Milne
and Piper Findlater were both shot down immediately, as they played their bagpipes to encourage the men forward. Findlater
took cover behind a rock and despite being wounded in both legs, continued to play as the regiment advanced. For this action
he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Major Macbean was dangerously wounded but urged on his men while he lay on the ground. Lieutenant Lamont was killed as he
rose to run forward, while Private Lawson carried Lieutenant Dingwall and Private McMillan out of danger from heavy rifle
fire and also earned a Victoria Cross for his actions.
As the Gordon Highlanders reached the position held by the Ghurkhas, they paused for breath before advancing again, this
time joined by the other regiments who had been previously pinned down under the rifle fire of the Afridi tribesmen. With an
irresistible mass of men advancing rapidly towards them the tribesmen quickly abandoned their positions and fell back to the
Khanki valley. As the Dargai heights were captured, the Gordon Highlanders gave their commanding officer three loud cheers.
Casualties to the Gordon Highlanders
amounted to 1 officer and 2 men killed, with
6 officers and 35 men being wounded. Total
casualties for all of the regiments involved
amounted to 193.
The dead and wounded were carried back to
Shinawari, which was where the base
hospitals were established. The rest of the
regiments involved remained to spend the
night on the Dargai heights.
The forward movement of the column along
the Kanki valley, from Chagru Kotal to
Karappa, resumed on the 21st October. The
march was 13 miles but along a rough track
barely a foot wide. The men, their baggage
and animals had to follow this track in single
file and the rear of the column had barely
left their base before the head of it had
arrived at the new camp. The Gordon’s
descended from the Dargai heights and
spent the morning burning the villages
which they encountered on their march.
On the 22nd, General Sir William Lockhart
had the Gordon Highlanders paraded and
addressed the men regarding their conduct
on the 20th :-
“Your records testify to many a gallant action
performed by you, and you have now added
to them another which may worthily rank
besides those that have gone before. There
is more hard work ahead for us all, and I
am confident you will do your share of it
well when the time comes to call upon you
for a fresh effort”.
Colonel Mathias and his officers were
then thanked for their gallantry before the
parade was dismissed.
By the 27th October, over 6,800 British and 10,200 Indian troops plus transport were gathered at the new Karappa camp site
but found that supplies could only gradually be brought up and these were consumed nearly as soon as they arrived. Transport
animals could not be sent back as the narrowness of the track prevented a two way flow of traffic. However, both divisions
were assembled and were within six miles of the foot of the Sampagha pass. Lack of supplies meant though, that an immediate
attack could not be carried out. Regiments roved around the countryside foraging for any supplies that they could find.
As the two divisions waited it was reported that all of the Afridi clans were represented at Sampagha and numbered between
10,000 to 12,000 men. It was also stated that they were strengthening the defences there by digging trenches and building
walls. The Afridi tribesmen also fired their rifles into the camp at night which resulted in a constant flow of casualties.
On the 28th October, both divisions marched to camp Ghandaki, where during the evening, the 1st brigade were issued with
orders to attack the Sampagha pass the following morning. Their decisive attack and feeble resistance ensured that the pass
was captured by 11.a.m. The 2nd and 4th brigades then moved up and finally the 3rd brigade brought up the rear of the column.
Immediately the Sampagha position was secure, the troops were ordered forward again into the Mastura valley.
Here they rested on the 30th October while the route to the Arhanga pass was reconnoitred, with the 3rd brigade acting as
escort to Sir William Lockhart. This pass led directly into the heart of the Tirah region.
The planned attack for the 31st October involved the 3rd brigade swinging out to the left of the Arhanga position and to act
as a reserve, while the 4th Brigade advanced towards the centre. As the troops came closer, any resistance from the Afridi’s
disappeared and they abandoned the position entirely. The advancing columns of troops, after suffering just two casualties,
continued their march and finally chose a camping site in the Maidan valley, three miles north of Arhanga. It appeared that the
campaign would shortly be over.
James Allan was born in Rothes, Morayshire on the 23rd July 1874. He was the son of John Allan and Euphemia Moat, who had
married in Dundee, Forfarshire on the 25th January 1861. Their first child, named John, had been born in Dundee in 1859,
followed by Jean, born on the 17th May 1861. These children were followed by Jane in 1862, Euphemia in 1864, Alexander in
1867, Jessie in 1869, William in 1870 and Mary 1872. After the birth of James, there followed George, born in 1876 and finally
another John in 1877, indicating that the first one must have died by this time.
James’s father had originally been employed to shoe horses, but by 1881 was working as a journeyman blacksmith in Rothes.
James helped his father in the forge and he too eventually worked as a blacksmith. He also served in the local militia battalion
of the Gordon Highlanders.
|Above: Storming the Dargai Heights|
Below: Gordon Highlanders carrying wounded down from Dargai
|Gordon Highlanders on the march.|
During the evenings of the 31st October and the 1st November, the Afridi’s launched a series of raids on the transport
columns struggling to join the main camp and made off with supplies, rifles and ammunition. Orders were quickly issued to
stop the movement of supplies along the road after a certain time.
The Gordon Highlanders spent the next two weeks patrolling the surrounding countryside, destroying observation towers and
carrying out foraging raids. On the 10th November Lieutenant Cameron was wounded by a long range shot, while commanding
such a foraging party. At night the camp came under long range fire from the tribesmen, who proved extremely difficult to
locate. Offers to negotiate were prepared to be sent out to the Afridi but meanwhile the whole camp waited.
On the 11th the troops of the 3rd brigade carried out a massive foraging raid and destroyed the remaining fortified towers
and positions. By the 12th November, while 100 men from the Gordon Highlanders formed a guard of honour, the Orakzais
indicated that they were prepared to settle on an indemnity.
On the 13th November, the troops of the 3rd brigade visited the village of Waran and found the inhabitants friendly and no
attempt made to attack the column. While the 3rd brigade formed camp near the village, hostile tribesmen entered the village
and tried to incite the tribes-people to rise up against the troops.
Brigadier General Kempster was ordered to return to Maidan on the 16th November. The brigade left at 9 a.m. leaving the
15th Sikhs to hold the pass while a company of the Gordon Highlanders formed part of the rear guard. For a while all was quiet
but soon the column came under long range rifle fire. The rear guard were soon being attacked and suffering casualties.
Orders were issued for the regiments to relieve each other during the difficult process of retirement and when it was the
15th Sikhs turn they encountered strong opposition from the ever confident tribesmen. They were also badly hampered by
having to carry with them the casualties of the heavy fighting. It was by then becoming dark and the gradual retirement
continued under strong enemy rifle fire. The main body of men halted but being unable to see the enemy in the darkness,
continued their march back to the base camp. Throughout the evening, troops in small parties managed to find their way
back to camp but many were reported as missing.
Casualties from the days fighting amounted to 76 men killed or wounded.
By the 18th November the camp at Maidan began to break up with a gradual withdrawal over the next three days, being made
towards Bagh, which was about 3 ½ miles away. The move had become necessary as nearly all of the forage and grain in the vicinity
had become exhausted and it was still difficult to bring up fresh supplies.
The Gordon Highlanders began their journey to the new camp on the 19th November and on the 20th were involved in a smart
action against raiding Afridi tribesmen. They had been firing at the transport columns passing by and the noise of their rifle fire
had attracted the attention of the Madras sappers, who were working nearby. The sappers drove the tribesmen towards the
Arhanga pass, where two companies of the Gordon’s who were positioned and waiting, opened fire upon them causing 20-30
By early December, the decision was made to move from the camp at Bagh to an area where the climate was warmer. Winter was
rapidly approaching and the first snow was expected very soon. The Afridi always abandoned the highlands during the winter and
it would have been impossible to bring supplies to the present camp. All baggage and surplus stores were sent back to Shinawari
and Kohat and the men would be without tents until the movement back was completed. The 2nd division would be required to
march down the Bara valley to Barkai, where they would be reunited with all of their supplies. From here the division would be
in a strong position to conduct any further operations which may have been required after the winter.
The march commenced on the 7th December in 21 degrees of frost and with enough rations to last the men until the 14th
December. The Gordon Highlanders formed the rear guard of the division.
The distance of the march was only 40 miles but delays were expected because of the state of the road and an expedition would
also be needed to attack the village of Rajgul on their way. On the 8th December the men woke to a dusting of snow which showed
that the march had started not a day too early. On the following day the Gordon Highlanders came in from their rear guard duties
and took on the role of supplying picquets for the camp.
By the 10th December they were only four 8 mile marches away from Barkai but more snow was now falling. The Gordon
Highlanders again formed the rear guard with the baggage and field hospital between them and the 4th brigade in the lead.
That night the men had to sleep in drizzling rain and being without tents, were soaked through.
The 11th December found the Gordon Highlanders still in the rear and now having to fight off the increasing attacks of the
Afridi’s, who realised that the troops were leaving their country and fired at them from every piece of cover. The Gordon’s
had to fight desperately to hold the tribesmen at bay and slowly fell behind. They were hampered by having to carry wounded
men as well as covering the flanks and rear of the column against the heavy rifle fire. The heavy rain turned the ground to mud
which slowed their progress even further. By 5 p.m. the 3rd brigade was in sight of the 4th brigade’s camp but the men were
exhausted after two continual days of fighting and marching. As darkness began to fall Brigadier General Kempster decided to
push ahead and the main part of his rear guard column managed to struggle into camp. However, 70 Gordon Highlanders under
Major Downman, together with some Ghurkha’s, Dorset’s and Punjab infantry, were not as close to the main column as expected
and were encumbered by many native drivers and their transport animals. Major Downman made a decision to occupy some houses
and fortify them for the night. The Afridi’s saw what was intended and tried to prevent the occupation but Captain Uniacke with
some Gordon Highlanders made a dash for the buildings and secured them.
At daybreak the enemy poured heavy rifle fire into the buildings, killing 1 Gordon Highlander and wounding 3 more with a single
volley. Brigadier General arrived with some troops to relieve the situation and by 11 a.m. all of the rear guard had arrived back at
the main camp. The camp was bathed in sunshine for a complete change, although thick snow was on the surrounding hills, and the
decision was made to give the men some rest while the injured were given medical treatment.
The Gordon’s found that they had incurred casualties of 4 men killed and 11 men wounded in the last 24 hours.
On the 13th December it was the turn of the 3rd brigade to lead the column. Although they suffered little from the Afridi rifle
fire, the 4th brigade came under heavy fire the whole day. The 3rd brigade eventually camped at Narkandai, where the camp of
the 4th brigade was formed a little behind them. The campsite proved to have no water and the men had been warned to fill their
water bottles before leaving the river earlier in the day. This did not go too far though and there would be no more until the next
and final campsite at Swaikot was reached the following day.
The following morning saw the troops move off early, with the 3rd brigade in the lead once more but having to provide flank cover
for the column. The enemy had suffered large losses the previous day and were reluctant to come in close, contenting themselves
with long range sniping. About 4 miles from Barkai, the troops from another column were encountered and this helped ease the
pressure on the 4th brigade, who were still on rear guard duties. By 5 p.m. both brigades were settled in their winter quarters
campsite along the Bara valley.
The 2nd division was acknowledged as having had the hardest role during the campaign and General Lockhart confirmed this fact
in his despatches:-
“During the march from Bagh, through Dwatoi, down the Bara valley, the troops of the 2nd division were almost unceasingly
engaged with the several sections of the Afridis, through whose country they passed and towards the end of the march they
were followed up by a large gathering representing every section. The flanking, picquet and rear guard duties in the presence
of such an active and enterprising enemy were exceedingly onerous, while the line of march was along the bed of a river, the
water of which was of icy coldness and had to be repeatedly forded”
The total of Tirah casualties amounted to over 1,150 men, of which 70 belonged to the Gordon Highlanders.
James Allan reported sick to the field hospital virtually on his arrival at Barkai, with a mouth abscess. When he was examined, it
was found that the problem had originated from an untreated decayed molar, which had caused the glands in both sides of the
neck to have become inflamed and swollen. He was admitted into the field hospital on the 7th January 1898, where it was
decided to transfer him to the base hospital at Nowshera for treatment.
The journey from Bagh back to Shinawari was about 35 miles by a track which could only be traversed by mules or ponies. Those
unable to ride had to be carried, and all under the cover of a strong escort, as most of the road was in hostile territory.
On his arrival at Nowshera on the 12th January, he went straight into the base hospital, where he had the decayed molar removed
and the swollen glands lanced. He then remained in hospital where it appeared that the infection was responding to treatment. On
the 5th March it was noted that two further abscesses had opened, which was the result of a tubercle of the lymph glands. The
glands were still swollen and there was no immediate sign of recovery.
James Allan was discharged from Nowshera hospital on the 4th March 1898 and had to attend a medical board on the 10th March,
which recommended that he should be returned to England for further attention. He was to travel to Bombay, and wait for his
ship at the transit camp of Deolali, which was about 100 miles north east of Bombay. He was then ordered to leave the camp
on the 4th April and board the S.S. Jelunga. The ship had been built at Dumbarton in 1890 and had served as a troopship and
|Above: The S.S. Jelunga|
Below: The Royal Victoria hospital
James Allan embarked on “Jelunga” on the
6th April and by the 28th April the vessel
was moored at Southampton docks. From
here it was only a short railway journey
to the Royal Victoria hospital at Netley.
The hospital had opened in 1863, was 480
yards long and consisted of three storeys. It
had 138 wards and could accommodate 1,000
patients. James Allan was admitted on the
day he arrived at Southampton and spent
five months there.
The inflammation was now on the outside of
his jaw and the glands in his neck still showed
no signs of recovery. No further treatment
was available, although the disease was
classified a probably only being temporary,
and on the 19th August a medical board
met to recommend that James Allan should
be discharged from the army as an invalid.
They concluded that the disease would only
interfere to a limited extent with him earning
a livelihood and he was finally discharged on
the 6th September 1898.
James Allan received the India General Service Medal for his services in
the Tirah campaign. It was sanctioned in 1895 and issued in silver to
Some of the Gordon Highlanders who had served in the relief of Chitral
campaign had already been issued with this medal, but 348 medals were
awarded to men in the regiment who did not already possess one. The
clasps awarded with it were Punjab Frontier 1897-98 and Tirah 1897-98.
Evidence regarding James Allan being at Dargai.
Unless soldiers were killed, wounded or mentioned in dispatches, it is
nearly impossible to prove that they participated in a particular action.
The facts regarding James Allan are that the medal roll confirms he
participated in the campaign. He was with his regiment before the Gordon
Highlanders attacked Dargai. The regiment then never returned again to
India, before the conclusion of the campaign. He was still with the
regiment when it set up the winter camp in the Bara valley, which was
where he reported sick. The regiment never received any drafts of extra
men during the campaign and never provided any line of communication
detachments, so it must be concluded that he was serving actively with
the regiment for the entire duration of the campaign. It is therefore as
certain as it is possible to be certain, that he must have been engaged
in the famous charge at Dargai, where two Victoria Crosses were
earned by members of his regiment.
|The India General Service medal|
which was issued to James Allan