24 June 1917
On 24 June 1917, a punitive military expedition began burning the villages and crops of the Mahsud people in the Khaisara Valley on the North West Frontier. The British Army considered it a necessary collective punishment to deter raids into British held territory in India, explaining that it was ‘an act of temporary but not ineffectual retaliation for our recent losses’ and their ‘present defiance, which would perhaps at the same time afford a warning for the future.’1
Accordingly, the official report of the operation noted, ‘the villages of Abbas Khel, Warza, Manzai, Nana Khel and Ghazi Khot were set on fire and destroyed.’2 The column also arrived just in time to burn the crops which the villagers depended on for their survival, having been ordered to advance on the valley, ‘without further delay, so that the standing and newly harvested crops could be destroyed before they had been threshed and buried.’3
Major General William Beynon, commanding the raid, was astonished and alarmed by the determined resistance of the inhabitants. At Abbas Khel, the Mahsuds made a rush to within three hundred yards of the occupying British force, before eventually ‘being driven off by rapid fire.’ During this and other engagements, five soldiers were killed and 26 injured. Beynon had hoped it would be a laid-back operation against mostly defenceless civilians. He had planned to spend two entire days to ensure the complete destruction of every property and field of crops in the valley but was now relieved when he received orders late in the day to withdraw. It was important, however, not to appear faint of heart, so at dawn the following day, just before commencing the retreat, he ordered the destruction of one more unnamed ‘large village’ because it had served as a ‘nest’ for snipers.4 The Mahsud had been committing the unforgivable crime of defending their own homes.
- General Staff Army Headquarters India, Operations in Waziristan, 1919-1920, Superintendent Government Printing, Calcutta, 1921, p. 40.
- Ibid., p. 50.
- Ibid., p. 42.
- Ibid., pp. 57-58.
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