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About this blog

This blog is about 22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery. The battery formed in 1915 and deployed to India in 1916. It spent the rest of war patrolling the North West Frontier, and then fought in the Third Afghan War of 1919. Among the soldiers was my grandfather, Cpl, A/Sjt Ernest William Macro.

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Arrival in Rawalpindi

Around this time 103 years ago, late March 1916, 22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery arrived in their new home, Cambridge Lines, Rawalpindi. We know the Beltana docked on 20 March. Gunner John Manton Travell Gough later recalled that " On landing at Bombay we were met with the information that we had four days railway journey to Rawalpindi. We arrived safely, but before there was time to settle down we were called out for inspection, very shortly afterwards proceeding on a tour of the N.W. Frontier".

More to follow about the tour of the North West Frontier in a later blog. 

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Action at Badama Post published

My book, Action at Badama Post has just been published by Casemate UK. Details to follow in the book reviews topic. In the meantime, I remain very keen to establish contact with any other descendants of officers and soldiers of 22 Battery MMGS (see my thread below) or of anyone involved in the action at Badama Post.banner.jpg.96fc8ca00d6d5af60ad20f59e65cd8e5.jpg

 

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22nd Battery Mobilises

On the Khyber, having pushed back the initial Afghan invasion, on 13th and 14th May 1919 the British advanced into Afghanistan to Loe Dakka. Meanwhile 22nd Battery, having recovered  from policing operations in the Punjab to Rawalpindi, was warned for further operations. On 14th May, the battery left Rawalpindi by train at 0200 hours, arriving in Kohat at 1300 hours the same day. The following day, 15th May, all the baggage cars, with the guns of Number 1 Section, formed a road convoy to move forward from Kohat to Parachinar, taking forward a supply of petrol for the motorcycles. This petrol convoy arrived back in Kohat, having successfully completed its mission at 1900 hours on 16th May; it had covered 232 miles in 28 hours, including halts. Battery headquarters, along with Number 2 and 3 sections, then left Kohat on the morning of 17th May and arrived in Parachinar that evening. Number 1 Section then left Kohat at 1630 hours on 19th May, arriving in Parachinar at 1100 hours 20th May, having overnighted at Thal. Thus, the battery was complete in Parachinar, in the Upper Kurram Valley. 

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Patrolling the North West Frontier (3)

Having patrolled up the Khyber Pass on 11 April 1916 to Landi Kotal Fort, 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service returned to Peshawar the same day, a distance of 75 miles. Sgt Fielder commented in a letter to the Motor Cycle magazine, "The road was very dangerous, being twisty and right at the edge of the cliffs. On the 12th we were inspected by the Chief Commissioner, who was very satisfied with our work. On the 13th we went to Chubcudda [I cannot determine where this might be - can anyone help?] for field firing (this was where a big ‘scrap’ took place last August), returning afterwards to Peshawar; distance fifty miles. The 14th (day of rest) was spent overhauling the machines. On the 15th we were inspected by the General in Command before leaving for Kohat; distance forty miles." 

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The Beltana Sails from Devonport

103 years and 1 day ago, on 26 February 1916, the SS Beltana sailed from Devonport. Onboard were 5 officers and 68 men of 22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery. Among then was my grandfather Ernest William "Bill" Macro. Also onboard were the Battery's 19 motorcycle combinations, 8 motorcycles and 8 cars. I assume their Vickers Machine Guns were also onboard! It was the start of a journey which would take the Battery to Bombay and then Rawalpindi. The next three years were then spent on the North West Frontier. The majority of the men saw action during the Third Afghan War of 1919. For some, including Bill Macro, the culmination of this would come in late July 1919, during the Action at Badama Post.

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On 5th May 1919, Capt Ewing's mobile column marched in two parties to Harpoki on the Chenab Canal. The cavalry party moved across country. The other party, 22nd Battery Motor Machine Guns, "went along banks of canal, visiting village of Chiohoki Mallian. Camped at Harpoki the night." Although those involved in policing operations in the Punjab were almost certainly unaware,  the Afghans had already invaded India - on 3rd May they had crossed the frontier on the Khyber and captured the village of Bagh. The British declared war oAfghanistan on 6th May 1919 and ordered a general mobilisation of the British and Indian forces. 

On 7th May Ewing's column returned to Wazirabad. It is assumed that the elements of 22nd Battery then returned to Rawalpindi. Ewing's evidence records that the 19th Lancers horses had covered about 300 miles in the preceding 3 weeks of policing operations; the motorcycles of 22nd Battery must have covered considerably more.

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At about this time 103 years ago in 1916, the SS Beltana, passed through the Suez Canal as she carried the officers and men of 22 Motor Machine Gun Battery to India. Whether the men were allowed to go ashore at either Alexandria or Port Said is not recorded, although having been onboard for 2 weeks since sailing from Devonport on 26 February, it would be nice to think they had the chance to stretch their legs. At least the Beltana was a modern, oil fired ship, so the troops were spared the misery of coaling ship which would have been inflicted on previous generations of soldiers trooping out to India. 

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Amritsar Massacre

Today, 13 April, marks the 100th anniversary of the Armitsar Massacre. 

On 10 April 1919, there was a protest at the residence of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. This was to demand the release of two popular leaders of the Indian Independence Movement. For the next two days Amritsar was quiet, but violence continued in other parts of the Punjab. Railway lines were cut, telegraph posts destroyed, government buildings burnt and Europeans murdered. By 13 April, the British government had decided to put most of the Punjab under martial law. The legislation restricted a number of civil liberties, including freedom of assembly; gatherings of more than four people were banned.  On the evening of 12 April, the leaders of the hartal in Amritsar held a meeting at which it was announced that a public protest meeting would be held the following afternoon in the Jallianwala Bagh.  The Hunter Commission estimated that, on 13 April, a crowd of 10,000 to 20,000 had assembled by the time Brigadier-General Dyer reached the Bagh at 1730 hours an hour after the meeting had started. The main entrance was blocked by armed troops backed by armoured cars. There was no attempt to warn the crowd to disperse or even, it appears, that the troops would open fire. Firing continued for approximately 10 minutes. Many people died in stampedes at the narrow gates or by jumping into the solitary well on the compound to escape the shooting. The official British count of casualties was 379 dead with 1100 wounded.The Indian National Congress estimate was that about 1000 were killed, with over 1500 injured.

22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery were not involved in the massacre; whether they had already been deployed to Punjab is not clear. From evidence given at the Hunter commission they were certainly involved in subsequent policing operations in the remainder of the Punjab.  Along with half squadrons from the 18thand 19th Lancers, they were operating in the Sialkot and Wazirabad areas of Punjab on policing and patrol duties from 19 April 1919, with Maj Molony linking in with Capt JAS Ewing of the19th Lancers.

 

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Onboard the Beltana

Onboard the SS Beltana, 103 years ago in late February 1916, lifejackets were worn until the ship cleared the U-boat danger area of the Western Approaches.

 

 The SS Beltana was Clyde built, by Caird & Co. of Greenock and launched in 1912, for the P&O Branch Line.  She had carried up to 1100 passengers on the UK to Australia route via Cape of Good Hope.

 

Thanks to JP Jamieson, grandson of Gnr (later A/Cpl) James Petrie Jamieson, for the photo.

 

 

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June and July 1919 in the Upper Kurram

This blog has been quiet for the last month - because life in the Upper Kurram was quiet over this period 100 years ago. News that the amir had ceased hostilities and of the relief of Thal was received in Parachinar 3 June. However, there were reports that the Afghans were still holding the road to Parachinar north of Thal. 60 Brigade placed Alexander Molony in command of a small column to proceed south from Parachinar to check and open the track to Thal. The column was made up of Number 3 Section of 22 Battery, with Bill Macro, and 70 soldiers from 57th Rifles Frontier Force, who were transported in four motor lorries. It departed from Parachinar at 1130 hours and managed to drive right through to Thal without encountering any enemy. Having reached Thal, the column returned to Parachinar that night.

The Afghans, however, continued to make threatening moves, particularly in the area of Peiwar Kotal, and resumed their attack on 5 June. The Kurram Militia outposts were driven back from the border and the post at Teri Mangal was threatened. Reinforcements, consisting of 100 infantry and 30 mounted infantry from the Kurram Militia, along with Number 1 Section of 22 Battery, were sent from Parachinar. These stabilised the situation, but the fighting continued all through the night and then into and through 6 June as the Afghans then threatened Shalozan. A further reinforcement of the Kurram Militia was made from Parachinar with a company of 57th Rifles, Frontier Force. This enabled the Kurram Militia to attack back onto the Teri Mangal ridge from which they had been driven the previous day. On 7 June, the Afghans withdrew back over the Peiwar Kotal but made no move, however, to withdraw from the frontier as required by the armistice. The rest of the battalion of 57th Rifles now arrived in the Peiwar area and, on 8 June, they relieved the Kurram Militia to allow them to withdraw back to Parachinar for recuperation.

The actions north and west of Parachinar on 6 and 7 June were the last engagements between regular troops of the war, and as Thal had been relieved, the British undertook the reorganisation of troops within the Kurram-Kohat Force. Troops not originally belonging to the force were gradually removed to other stations. As they did so, the pattern of life in the Kurram valley gradually returned to normal and the Kurram Militia resumed their normal manning of posts, whilst maintaining picquets on the border.

Having returned to camp in Parachinar on 7 June, 22 Battery was destined to remain in camp for the rest of June and most of July. (Photo courtesy of the Tank Museum, Bovington)

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Aircraft Down

On 30 July 1919 a 20 Squadron Bristol Fighter, piloted by A/Capt George Eastwood, was shot down by Afghan tribesmen near Badama Post. Pilot and observer survived the crash landing and were rescued by the Kurram Militia. Both were then given first aid and dispatched to hospital via Kohat on one of Sjt Macro's Ford vans. Sjt Macro and Maj Percy Dodd (Commandant of the Kurram Militia) then climbed down to the wrecked aircraft and, under sniper fire, stripped the guns, bombs and ammunition, sending them back to Badama Post.

Lance Daffadar Miru Mian, Kurram Militia, was killed during the course of the action.

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Capture of Amir Thana

On 2nd/3rd June 1919 Thal had been relieved and the Kurram Militia with 22 Battery Motor Machine Guns took the battle back across the Durand Line and invaded Afghanistan. The attack had been planned on 1st June and at 1800 hours on 2nd June Maj Percy Dodd, Commandant of the Kurram Militia, led a column out of Parachinar and up to Kharlachi, arriving after dark. The column consisted of 100 infantry and 50 mounted infantry of the Kurram Militia, No 2 Section of 22 MMG, a company of 3rd Guides, 2 troops of 37th Lancers, a section of guns from No 28 Mountain Battery and 2 light trench mortars from 57th Wilde's Rifles, the last commanded by Lt Jack Maude.

The Machine Gun Section and the Guides company then occupied a ridge overlooking the Afghan fort at Amir Thana. At dawn on 3rd June the guns opened fire and under their cover the Kurram Militia assaulted the fort which surrendered. The advance continued and the Afghans abandoned their HQ at Mir Kalai. In total 2 Afghan forts and 6 villages were burnt. The Kurram Militia lost 2 killed and 5 wounded, the last including Lt Carter.

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February 1919

In February 1919 the men of 22 Motor Machine Gun Battery were taking part in a Machine Gun Concentration and Demonstration Camp in Gondal, to the North of Bombay. On the evidence of A/Sjt Macro's photo album this also seems to have also involved air-ground cooperation and familiarisation training with aircraft of the RAF. These were almost certainly from 31 Squadron, and despite the caption, they were BE2E's, not BE2Cs. Given the soldiers had been in India for nearly three years, and the war in Europe had been over for more than three months, the thoughts of most of the men must have been focussed on getting back to their families in the UK. They were probably completely unaware that Habibullah, the Amir of Afghanistan, had been assassinated while on a hunting trip at Laghman Province on February 20, 1919, setting in train the events which would lead to the Third Afghan War. The majority of the men present at the concentration would be fighting in that war just three months later.

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Policing in the Punjab

One hundred years ago, in April 1919, the Punjab was in flames.  Following the Amritsar massacre on 13 April, trouble had spread throughout Punjab. Railway lines were cut, telegraph posts destroyed, government buildings burnt and Europeans murdered. The British declared Martial Law on 15 April. When exactly 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service became involved in policing operations is not clear - but they were involved by 19 April.  In evidence given to the Disorders Inquiry Committee, more widely known as the Hunter Commission, Captain J. A. S. Ewing, of the 19th Lancers, states 'Mobile column composed of half squadron 19th Lancers, two sections Motor Machine Gun Battery, under command of Major Maloney [sic], left Wazirabad for Lyallpur.’ The patrols appear to have been effective because the following day Ewing reports ‘Motor Machine Gun Battery proceeded to Jaranwala to make arrests there, and arrested 12 men.’  Although only two sections are mentioned it seems likely the whole battery were involved so this would have included No 3 Section, which now was under the command of A/Sjt Ernest Macro.

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Badama Post

During the night of 30/31 July 1919, a relief column of 3rd Guides Infantry marched the 20+ miles from Parachinar to Sadda. Nearly 300 men strong, the column was based on B and D companies of 3rd Guides, supported by guns from 28th Mountain Battery and 40 additional mounted infantry from the Kurram Militia. The column was commanded by OC B Company Capt John Henry Jameson DSO. 

The column reached Sadda on the morning of 31 July and, supported by machine guns from 22 Battery, went into action at around midday. Picquets were established on the high ground, the engine from the crashed Bristol Fighter was salvaged and the body of Lance Daffadar Miru Mian was recovered.

By the evening, reports indicated that the tribesmen were dispersing.

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At least one member of 22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery was not destined to sail to India with his comrades 103 years ago. Instead he was to travel to the battlefields of northern France as one of the very first tank commanders. Herbert George Pearsall, known as George, was born at Smethwick on 17 July 1888. When war broke out George enlisted at Dewsbury on 6 April 1915 and joined the Motor Machine Gun Service at Bisley on 14 May. He was promoted corporal on 18 June and then serjeant on 14 August 1915 with 22 MMG. Whilst still on their unit strength, he applied for a commission on 1 Jan 1916. After completing officer training at Cambridge George Pearsall was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps on 14 April 1916. He then joined D Company of Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps, deployed to France with them and was commanding tank D11 Die Hard at Flers on 15 and 16 September 1916, the first occasion on which tanks were used in action. George earnt a Military Cross in the process. He remained with tanks for the remainder of the war, including Cambrai, which he survived, only to die from Spanish Influenza on 19 March 1919, 100 years ago today.

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22nd Battery Arrives in India

The SS Beltana, the ship carrying 22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery, arrived at Bombay 103 years ago today on 20 Mar 1916. The Battery commanding officer was Major Alexander Molony, attached to the Machine Gun Corps (Motors) from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The Battery Sergeant Mechanic was a well known pre-war motorcyclist, Sgt Alfred Fielder; he had ridden for the Hudson Motor Company.  Amongst the soldiers were 'Bill' Macro, JP Jamieson and Walter Patrick. Once the Beltana had docked there would have been much work to do to get the troops off and also the motorcycles, transport and other equipment transferred onto the train that was to take the Battery north to its ultimate destination of Rawalpindi.

Photos from the albums of JP Jamieson and Walter Patrick courtesy of James Jamieson and Alex Bodell.

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Patrolling the North West Frontier (1)

Having arrived in Rawalpindi in late March 1916, 22nd Motor Machine Gun Battery were not given much time to settle in. Despite the heat they were soon out on a month long 1000 mile familiarisation patrol on the North West Frontier. The Battery Mechanic Sergeant was Sgt Alfred Fielder. He recorded in a subsequent letter to the Motor Cycle magazine that the Battery left Rawalpindi on 5th April and drove/rode to Nowshera, a distance of eighty miles. On the way they passed Attock, the confluence of the rivers Indus and Kabul. Fielder records that they "had a decent journey, except for the dust, which was awful." He also records that the Battery stopped at Nowshera for 6th April, before on the 7th moving to Chakdara Fort, up on the frontier. 

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Patrolling the North West Frontier (2)

Having stopped at Nowshera on 6 April 1916, 22nd Battery's North West Frontier familiarisation patrol continued on 7 April. They moved 60 miles up to the frontier, in the Himalaya Mountains. In his letter to the Motor Cycle magazine, Sgt Fielder recalls, "it was a fairly stiff climb". On 8 April the Battery went field firing. This was to; "put the fear of God into the native chief and tribesmen, which we fairly succeeded in doing, returning afterwards to Mardan; distance fifty miles. In the evening we went to see an Indian war dance, which is a very impressive affair".  The following day, 9 April 1916, was a Sunday, so Fielder says the Battery spent the day tuning up their machines. On 10 April they rode to Peshawar in pouring rain and arrived covered in mud, having covered 45 miles. On 11 April they headed up through the Khyber to Landi Kotal .

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Battle at Kharlachi

On 28th May 1919 a force of Afghans crossed the Durand Line and surrounded the post at Kharlachi which was held by 75 Kurram Militia. Two troops of 37th Lancers, 25 Kurram Militia mounted infantry and an additional 50 Kurram Militia infantry were sent from Parachinar to assist along with Number 2 Section of 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service. The machine guns, under command of the battery commander, Major Alexander Molony, arrived first and opened fire on the enemy. When they arrived, the cavalry considered the ground unfavourable for a mounted attack, so they advanced on foot with the militia. The Afghans were driven back. Two Kurram Militia were killed and one wounded. Enemy losses were around 30 killed and more wounded.

The cavalry and machine guns were withdrawn to Kharlachi after dark, as was Number 3 Section 22 MMG, under A/Sjt Bill Macro, which had been in action in the area of Peiwar through the 27th and 28th May.

(Photo Alex Bowell)

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Trouble Brewing at Badama Post

Towards the end of July 1919 the situation in the Upper Kurram Valley could best be described as quiet but tense. The peace negotiations dragged on, the tribes remained restless and Afghan troops remained in positions in close proximity to the Durand Line. On 28th and 29th July 1919 reports were coming into Parachinar that a tribal lashkar was gathering near Badama Post, with the intention of attacking the posts at Badama and Sadda or a northbound convoy from Thal to Parachinar.

Major Percy Dodd, Commandant of the Kurram Militia, took a party of 50 mounted infantry to reinforce Badama Post on 29th July. A/Sjt "Bill" Macro was sent with his No 3 Section of 22 Battery in support.  Aircraft from 20 Squadron RAF were also tasked to fly reconnaissance missions and in protection of the convoy.

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 103 years ago in 1916, 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service's thousand mile familiarisation patrol of the North West Frontier concluded.  In his letter to The Motor Cycle magazine Sgt Fielder concludes with masterly understatement; "On the 29th [April] we returned to Peshawar, the hardest climb in the whole journey. On May 1st we left Peshawar for Pindi, a distance of 117 miles, in the pouring rain, and so ended a month's hard travelling. Being the sergeant mechanic,  in charge, I had a fairly busy time of it."

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In action in the Upper Kurram

On 26th May 1919 the Afghans attacked the Kurram Militia outposts protecting the Peiwar Villages in the Upper Kurram Valley. Afghan regulars and tribesmen,  supported by artillery fire, advanced across the border near Peiwar Kotal. Captain R W Wilson of the Kurram Militia  counterattacked with 200 men. The Afghans were driven back with considerable loss. The militia were reinforced by number 2 section of 22 MMG, who were relieved on 27 May by number 3 section, commanded by A/Sjt Bill Macro.

Also on 27 May, Number 1 section 22 MMG was despatched with men of 3rd Guides Infantry to replace the garrison of Alizai which had been withdrawn into Thal to redist Nadir Khan's siege.

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Patrolling the North West Frontier (4)

103 years ago in April 1916, 22nd Battery Motor Machine Gun Service continued their familiarisation patrol of the North West Frontier. Sgt Fielder's letter to "The Motor Cycle" continues: "On the 17th we left Kohat for Thal, a nice journey; distance sixty-one miles. On the 18th we left for Parachinar, right up on the hills, where it was very cold at night, snow being on the hills just above; distance fifty-nine miles. On the 19th we went field firing on the Afghan frontier, afterwards returning to Thal; distance eighty miles. Here the natives held sports in our honour, and some of the performances were very good, especially their horsemanship. On the 20th we left for Kohat, where we were inspected by the General in Command, afterwards going field firing; distance seventy miles. On the 22nd we left for Banu, a good journey, crossing several fords two feet deep; distance seventy-nine miles. On the 24th we left for Mirenshaw, over most awful roads; distance forty miles. One of the biggest frontier ‘scraps’ have occurred here. Quite a pleasant place to spend Bank Holiday in. On the 25th we left for Banu, a distance of forty miles, tuned up machines, etc. On the 26th we went field firing, and afterwards had a lecture by General Fane. On the 27th we returned to Kohat, a good journey; distance seventy-nine miles." The Battery would get to know Parachinar much better in 1919, during the Third Afghan War.

In a letter once back in Rawalpindi, dated 10th May [1916], to his wife to be Avis Prosser, "Bill" Macro records, "all that has happened is that a sniper struck one of our cars as we were coming thro' the Kohat Pass but although we searched the hillside we were unable to find the culprit as there were hundreds of small caves & crevices in which he could hide needless to say no damage was done."

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Policing in the Punjab (2)

Capt Ewing's evidence to the Disorders Enquiry Committee noted that on 29 April 1919 the "Motor Machine Gun Battery went to a village 57 miles away to make two arrests, returning same evening, distance 114 miles." On 1 May "Mobile column went to Sukeke where it picked up one troop of 18th Lancers having left one troop 19th Lancers, at Lyallpur. Motor Machine Gun Battery had to go on to Hafizabad to detain and come back by road. Camped Sukeke for the night."

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