|Private Charles Camm 1st Battalion 59th Regiment
Afghanistan 1878-1880 with clasp for Amhed Khel
Charles Camm was born at Worksop, Nottinghamshire, in the winter of 1852. His parents were Edward Camm and Phoebe
Smith, and they had married in the autumn of 1845 at Nottingham. He had an older sister called Caroline, who was born in
early 1852, a younger brother called Joe, who was born in 1854 and a younger sister called Phoebe, who was born in 1861.
His father died at East Retford, Nottinghamshire in the summer of 1860, leaving his young family short of income. When he
was old enough, Charles Camm became a whitesmith, working with light metals and alloys.
In January 1877, he made the decision to enlist in the army, which he did on the 17th. He attested at Burnley, Lancashire, on
the 20th January 1877, becoming Private 1156 in the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire regiment, part of the 15th Brigade. He
was described as being 5’ 4 5/8,, tall, with brown hair, weighing 134 lb with grey eyes and a fresh complexion.
From Burnley, he was stationed at Chatham from February 1877. Here he remained for over a year, suffering from a bout of
Lumbago and also Pneumonia, for which he was in hospital for six weeks between April and May 1878.
Meanwhile, the majority of the 59th regiment were abroad in India, being based at Dagshai since the end of January 1877.
When hostilities with Afghanistan broke out, the 59th were immediately ordered to the front. It proceeded under the
command of Colonel Lacy to Multam, where it formed part of General Sir D. Stewart’s division. It remained at Multam
until the 8th November 1878, when Colonel Lacy was appointed a Brigade commander and Lieutenant Colonel Lawson
assumed command of the regiment. It resumed its forward movement by rail to Rohri and after a halt of a few days,
crossed the Indus at Suhhur and marched to Jacobabad, arriving there on the 25th November 1878.
On the 3rd December one company marched to Quetta, two other companies escorted the guns of G/4 and D/2 batteries
Royal Artillery, and four more companies followed on the 7th December 1878. The final company remained at Jacobabad
to escort the siege train which marched on the 13th of the same month. On the 27th December the regiment advanced and
took part in the capture and occupation of Kandahar on the 8th January 1879.
Early in 1879, several drafts of men at Chatham, including Charles Camm, received notification that they would be sent
overseas to join their regiments. On the 15th January men from the 5th Fusiliers and the 59th boarded the troopship at
Portsmouth, which would take them to India.
By the 20th of March, Charles Camm was in India and had been vaccinated for the various diseases he may have encountered
in the Indian climate. By early April he was affected by Bronchitis. He had still not crossed the Afghanistan border so
was presumably being given time to acclimatise to the intense heat.
The 59th remained in Kandahar until August 1879, when the left half battalion was ordered to proceed to the Pishin valley. On
the 8th September, the right half battalion with head quarters left Kandahar, but had only reached Abdul Rahman when news
of the massacre of the Kabul embassy, gave rise to their immediate recall to Kandahar. On the 23rd September 1879 they
started again for Kalat-i-Ghilzai, forming part of the flying column engaged in the operations threatening Ghuzni, which
terminated in the action of Shah-Jui on the 24th October 1879. In this encounter, two companies were engaged with the
enemy and Head quarters and two other companies occupied the fort of Kalat-i-Ghilzai. On the return of the column from
Shah-Jui, Head quarters and two companies accompanied it to Kandahar, while two companies were detailed to garrison the
fort at Kalat-i-Ghilzai. After the arrival of Head quarters at Kandahar, the regiment occupied the citadel for a period of
five months. Finally, on the 9th December, Charles Camm crossed the border and arrived at Kandahar to join his regiment.
As a constituent part of General Stewart’s division, the 59th took part in the advance from Kandahar, which commenced on
the 31st March 1880, to Ghuzni and Kabul. On the 8th April 1880 it reached Kalat-i-Ghilzai, and the two companies which
had remained there, rejoined the Division when it resumed its march.
On the 19th April the column marched at daybreak and was soon strung out along some six miles of road. The advance was led
by the 19th Bengal lancers, 19th Bengal native infantry and six guns of the Royal horse artillery. General Stewart with his
Head quarters and Hughe’s brigade followed next and then the transport column escorted by Barter’s Brigade. When the
column stopped for breakfast, General Stewart was informed that a large group of 15,000 Afghan tribesmen were in place
along the hills and blocking the road. At 7.45 a.m. General Stewart sent back orders to Barter, to bring up a substantial
part of his Brigade, which was still some five miles back, but resolved to attack the Afghans without waiting to consolidate
his forces. The artillery, consisting of “A” Battery Royal Horse artillery and “G” Battery Royal Artillery, deployed along the
road, supported by the 2nd Punjab cavalry and a squadron of Bengal lancers to its right rear. The infantry formed facing west
along the line of the road with one and a half squadrons of 19th Bengal cavalry on the left flank.
Before General Stewart could order his troops to advance, at about 9 a.m. masses of Afghan tribesmen rushed over the hills
and attacked the infantry position along the entire line, while more tribesmen charged towards the 19th Bengal lancers on the
left flank. The Bengal lancers were driven back into the 3rd Ghurkhas, throwing that regiment into total confusion. Some of
the Afghans, many of whom were mounted, managed to get through the infantry in the centre, and very nearly succeeded in
reaching General Stewart and Head quarters, who occupied a hillock behind the centre of the line. The 2nd Punjab cavalry,
under Colonel Kennedy, made several brilliant charges and managed to stop this attack and also defend the guns on the right.
The situation was so desperate that it was necessary to place every man of the reserve into the firing line. The enemy
continued to push forward and approached to within a few yards of the guns. As the whole of their case shot was expended,
the guns withdrew a distance of 200 yards. Some well directed shell from the 40 lb guns of “G” Battery checked the
forward movement of the enemy horsemen around the left flank.
The 59th regiment, numbering 430 of all ranks, were in the centre of the line together with the 2nd Sikhs. They were
unprepared for the attack and had not managed to even fix their bayonets. A high wind whipped up the dust and significantly
reduced the visibility, making the battle conditions even more difficult. The line hesitated and then fell back a small distance,
trying to change formation. Then a regular line was formed and volley firing commenced. In front of the 59th line at the end
of the battle were counted over 300 corpses, showing the deadly effect of the Martini-Henry rifle.
The action lasted for about an hour, after which time the enemy retired off the hills and out onto the plain on the left, leaving
over one thousand dead on the field and removing as many wounded. At 11 a.m. the cease fire was sounded, as it was obvious
that the enemy attack had failed. Several soldiers were wounded by Ghazis lying wounded on the field. The troops halted for
two hours, during which time the dead were buried and the wounded received the necessary attention.
The British casualties amounted to 17 men killed and 126 wounded, mainly by sword and spear wounds. Lieutenant Watson of
the 59th regiment was slightly wounded. Enemy losses were considered to be between 2-3,000 men.
The troops then marched nine miles further to camp, having accomplished 18 miles since morning. The cavalry were sent on to
Ghuznee, which was captured without resistance. On the 23rd of April, the 59th was again engaged with the enemy at Arzu.
Marching from Ghuznee on the 25th April, the regiment entered the Wardek valley, where communications were opened with
the force under the command of General Ross, which had been detached from Kabul to meet it. Shortly afterwards, the
Ghuznee field force was absorbed into the Kabul command. On the 29th April, the 59th regiment, as part of the force
detached to movements of Mohammad Jan, marched from Zaidabad for the Logar valley. Two companies, under the command
of Captain Stoyte, were employed in constructing a road for the passage of guns over the Yambroak pass. Head quarters
and the remaining companies accompanied the main body of the Division to its destination by a different route, which was
impractical for artillery. As part of General Hill’s Division, the regiment remained in or about the Logar valley from the
3rd May until the end of July, when it proceeded to Kabul. Here it remained until the final evacuation of the city. The
regiment then returned to India, crossing the border on the 29th August and arriving at Peshawar on the 4th September 1880.
The losses sustained by the 59th by death from the first to the last during the war were two officers and sixty one other
ranks. During the battle of Ahmed Khel, it lost only a single man killed, number 1299 Private George Rutherford.
The 59th did not stay in India long after its return. By the end of October they had boarded H.M.S. Orontes and by the
25th November 1880 had landed at Portsmouth and then marched to Gosport on the following day.
Charles Camm received a medal for his service in Afghanistan. It was issued to cover all operations between 1878 until 1880.
His clasp was for the battle at Ahmed Khel, for which 719 were issued to the 59th regiment.
Afghanistan medal with clasp for the action at Ahmed Khel
However, he was not to be one of the men returning to England. He was destined to spend some further time in India. Firstly
he served at Umballa, where the pleasures of the Bazaar proved to be irresistible and he was treated for Primary Syphilis
in October 1880. Then he was stationed on Christmas Eve 1880 at Ramikhut, which was a hill station and cantonment town in
the Almora district. It was 1,869 metres above sea level and offered an ideal climate as a retreat from the heat of an Indian
On the 25th April 1883, after four years overseas, he was sent home to England. On the 3rd May 1883 he was transferred
into the Derby district Army reserve and remained there until the 7th June 1884 when he entered the 30th Regimental
district Army reserve. Finally, on the 19th January 1889 Charles Camm’s engagement expired and he was discharged from
the army at Burnley, Lancashire.