Remembering Maiwand

Posted 27 April 2016 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

Tags: , , ,

The massacre of the 66th Foot at Maiwand!

The year was 1880. The heat in the Afghan countryside was fierce. As
the troops formed up the approaching Afghan hordes spanned the horizon
– there were 25,000 Afghans and Ghazis while the small contingent of
three battalions, one British, H.M. 66th Regiment, and two Indian –
Jacob’s Rifles and Bombay Grenadiers took position and readied
themselves. With them was a half-company of the 2nd Company, Bombay
Sappers and Miners, led by Lt Thomas Rice Henn, R.E. They took their positions
in the centre with two guns of the Royal Horse Artillery.

Lt Thomas Rice Henn, R.E. posted with the Bombay Sappers

Lt Thomas Rice Henn, R.E. posted with the Bombay Sappers

The Second Afghan War had seen events going well for the British. They
had defeated Afghan tribesmen at Ali Masjid, Peiwar Kotal, Kabul, and
Ahmed Khel, and they had occupied numerous towns and villages,
including Kandahar and Jalalabad. Ayub Khan, the younger son of the
Emir of Afghanistan, Sher Ali, who had been holding Herat during the
British operations at Kabul and Kandahar, set out towards Kandahar
with a small army in June, and a brigade under Brigadier General
Burrows was detached from Kandahar to oppose him. Burrows advanced to
Helmand, opposite Gereshk, to oppose Ayub Khan, but was there deserted
by the Afghan troops of his ally, the wali of Kandahar, and forced to
retreat to Kushk-i-Nakhud, halfway to Kandahar. In order to prevent
Ayub from passing to Ghazni, Burrows advanced to Maiwand on July 27
and attacked Ayub, who had already seized that place.


The Afghan onslaught fell on the left flank comprising the Indian
infantry who gave way and rolled in a great wave to the right, the
66th Regiment, the backbone of defence, were swept away by the
pressure of the Ghazi attack. The 66th were in turn swept away and
decimated. Only the artillery and the Bombay Sappers under Lt Henn
stood fast, an island of calm in themaelstrom, covering the retreat of
the entire British Brigade. Seeing that they were covered by the
Bombay Sappers the British artillery fought till their their
ammunition was expended,and then abandoned their guns. Henn made his
men stand up and fire a volley at the crowd of Ghazis and Afghan
regulars pouring down upon them. Then he gave the order to retire
steadily. He had been wounded in the arm some time before this, but
remained with his men to the last.

The Royal Horse Artillery flees from the Afghans at Maiwand

The Royal Horse Artillery flees from the Afghans at Maiwand

Henn and 14 of his men followed the line of retreat of the 66th
towards the wall of the first garden across a large
nullah, and in a small water-channel in that garden, which was in a
place called Khig, they joined some remnants of the 66th and Bombay
Grenadiers. The battle churned on with the Afghans wiping out the
several small parties which had formed after the line had broken up
until only one remained, that of the 66th, the Grenadiers and Sappers
at Khig.

Here, in this small garden, at a spot undistinguished except for the
bravery shown there, a determined last stand was made. Though the
Afghans shot them down one by one, they fired steadily until only
eleven of their number were left, and the survivors then charged out
into the masses of the enemy and perished. Henn was the only officer
in that band and he led the final charge. He died while fighting,
firing a rifle all the while, from a shot to the head.

The Battle of Maiwand was one of the principal battles of the Second
Anglo-Afghan War. The Afghan followers of Ayub Khan defeated the
British Army in one of the rare nineteenth-century victories of an
Asian force over a Western power. For this however, Ayub Khan paid a
heavy price: between 2,050 and 2,750 Afghan warriors were killed and
probably about 1,500 wounded, while killing 969 British and Indian
soldiers and wounding 177 more. The British were completely routed,
and had to thank the pity and apathy of the Afghans for escaping total
annihilation. The 2nd Company, Bombay Sappers and Miners lost 16 dead,
including Henn, and 6 wounded.

As the survivors trickled in, of the Bombay Sappers Of the Bombay
Sappers who did not perish at Khig, a party of about a dozen men
reached Kandahar. One of this party added that, when a few men had
collected together, they decided that it was improper to straggle into
the city and accordingly fell in under the senior Sapper to make a
suitable entry and marched into Kandahar as a formed body. Others,
mostly wounded, arrived on camels, wagons or limbers. Thus, even in
defeat the discipline of the Corps held good.

While, the battle dampened morale for the British side, it was also
partly a disappointment for Ayub Khan, Governor of Herat and commander
of the Afghans in this battle, because he had lost so many men to gain
a small advantage. Ayub Khan did manage to shut the British up in
Kandahar, resulting in General Frederick Roberts’s famous 314-mile
relief march from Kabul to Kandahar in August of 1880. The resulting
Battle of Kandahar on September 1 was a decisive victory for the
British, ending operations in southern Afghanistan during the War.

A marble monument to Thomas Rice Henn can be seen in St. Patrick’s
Cathedral in Dublin and a memorial window in Rochester Cathedral. The
inscription on the monument records that “having led into action a
detachment of the Bombay Sappers and Miners he perished gloriously on
the fatal field of Maiwand on July 27th, 1880, covering with a small
but indomitable band-eleven in number-the retreat of the entire
British brigade.”

The memorial plaque for Thomas Rice Henn in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

The memorial plaque for Thomas Rice Henn in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Maiwand went into British military legend. Rudyard Kipling
wrote of the plight of the 66th :

“There was thirty dead an’ wounded on the ground we wouldn’t keep –
No, there wasn’t more than twenty when the front began to go;
But, Christ! along the line o’ flight they cut us up like sheep,
An’ that was all we gained by doing so.

I ‘eard the knives be’ind me, but I dursn’t face my man,
Nor I don’t know where I went to, ’cause I didn’t ‘alt to see,
Till I ‘eard a beggar squealin’ out for quarter as ‘e ran,
An’ I thought I knew the voice an’ – it was me!

We was ‘idin’ under bedsteads more than ‘arf a march away;
We was lyin’ up like rabbits all about the countryside;
An’ the major cursed ‘is Maker ’cause ‘e lived to see that day’
An’ the colonel broke ‘is sword acrost, an’ cried.”

When Arthur Conan Doyle had to find a suitable foil for his
idiosyncratic detective, he portrayed him as as a regimental medical
officer injured by a Ghazi jezail at Maiwand to give him an excuse for
his spare time and availability to Homes.

Watson & Holmes

Watson & Holmes

So as great stories go, Maiwand was added to Islandlwana and Dunkirk
and other military tales. Henn and his gallant Bombay Sappers are
little remembered today.

So why remember Maiwand?

To remember, in the face of certain death, Bombay Sappers stood true
and lived up to the highest ideals. They did not show fear, cowardice
but weathered the storm though they themselves perished. So it must be
in today’s scenario – when faced with ambiguous moral choices, we must
reject the improper ones, even at the cost of promotion or convenience
or material advancement.

For only, if we remember Maiwand and stand
true like Henn, in our professional lives, can we regain honour lost
at Adarsh Society, and a hundred other places in our lifetimes.

Rare plants need to be propagated to protect them!

Posted 16 May 2015 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

Tags: ,

Guest post by Nandan Kalbag

Certain wild plants, native to India, need to be introduced in gardens. One such climber is Oxystelma esculentum. Its common names are Dudhani and Dugdhika (in Marathi) as well as Rosy milkweed vine (in English). It is a medium size climber with very dense foliage. Flowering occurs mainly in Summer & Monsoon.The common variety is with flowers having pink center. However, I als0 found a pure white variety in CME Pune.

It is easily propagated from stem cuttings. It is a host plant for caterpillars of Common Tiger butterfly.

Purple variety of

Purple variety of “Oxystelma esculentum” creeper, also called as “Dudhaani” (Marathi).


White variety of “oxystema esculentum”


Twin pods of Dudhaani, typical of the family it belongs to, Asclepiadaceae


Elongated, narrow leaves of Dudhaani


The Striped Tiger “Danais genutia” is a milkweed butterfly (subfamily Dadiinae, Family Nymphalidae) commonly found in India. It has a variety of host plants, including “Oxystelma esculentum”. (Image credit : JM Garg on Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-SA 3.0)

The caterpillar of the Striped Tiger. Watch out for these on “Oxystelma esculentum”. (Image credit : School of Ecology and Conservation, UAS Bangalore , Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-2.5)

Note: Images other than those with specified credits are copyrighted to Nandan Kalbag.

Ock ohem ocktei wies Barsoom!

Posted 9 October 2014 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature, space

I’m taking a trip on the first Flight Test of the Orion Spacecraft. Here’s my Boarding Pass…

Orion Boarding Pass Flight Test 1 (Dec 2014)  for Ashwin Baindur

Orion Boarding Pass Flight Test 1 (Dec 2014) for Ashwin Baindur


Care to join me? Sign up here!

Do it RIGHT!

Posted 14 February 2014 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature


Agar Khuda na khasta ho jaye snake bite!
We have a weapon for the good fight!
Its not miracle, magic, faith or myth,
The first aid is called DO IT RIGHT!

R is for Re-assure!
Tell the patient you will be ok for sure!
Because non-poisonous snakes are percent 70!
Of the zahreela, dry bites are percent 50!
The rest of the cases, we can cure!
You can still have a full life, sure!

I is more Immobilise!
You can move nothing but your eyes!
Stop the poison spread!
Dont walk or move, dont even nod your head!

GH is for Get to Hospital!
This is the step that is most vital!
Dont wait for jadi booti or pandit or prayer!
Speed him to the doctor, fly through the air!

T is for telling the doctor everything;
signs and symptoms and how you feel within.
Also if possible, the very snake
or a photo or an id for life’s sake.

This is no homely gyan or rhyme
This is WHO 2007 treatment line
no ice, no sucking, no permanganate
Forget your tourniquet, forget your blade
Follow my advice or badly it will end!
Do it right and save your friend!

Authorship for this post – Baindur, Ashwin; Hariharan, Manisha & Rao, Sanjay (in alphabetic sequence)

License – Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Sharealike Unported License”

100 Children (Nature song)

Posted 14 November 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature


by Tom Hall
One hundred children brave boys and girls (CHORUS)
They come from nations all over the world
One hundred children marching along
One hundred children singing their song.

Don’t blow up the world don’t kill all the flowers
Today this is your world tomorrow it’s ours
Leave us pure water and forest uncut
Think of tomorrow leave something for us.


Your God may be dead but ours is alive
We think without him we cannot survive
Punish all the bad men, praise all the good
Talk to your neighbors about brotherhood.


This is the song I was singing one night
While I was thinking of wrong and of right
I thought of good things that still could be done
The marchers now number one hundred and one.


One hundred children brave boys and girls
They come from nations all over the world
One hundred children marching along
One hundred children singing their song…


Watch it on Youtube :

DYK – The Bush Rat, the Indian National Congress & the Unreliable Servant

Posted 25 May 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: Do You Know?, nature

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What connection could the following have?

Did you know…

… that the Manipur Bush Rat (pictured) was described from the collection of A. O. Hume which he donated after his life’s work of ornithological notes were sold by a servant as waste paper?


The Manipur Bush Rat (Hadromys humei)
Painted by John Gerrard Keulemans (1842–1912) in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1886. (Public domain image)

Allan Octavian Hume Allan Octavian Hume CB (6 June 1829 – 31 July 1912) was a civil servant, political reformer and amateur ornithologist and horticulturalist in British India. Known to most of us as one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, a political party that was later to lead the Indian independence movement, few know that he was an extremely notable ornithologist who has been called “the Father of Indian Ornithology” and, by those who found him dogmatic as “the Pope of Indian Ornithology.”


Allan Octavian Hume
(Image: Frontispiece of “The Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds (Vol II) . Public domain)

Hume had a vast network of correspondents all over India who sent him many skins and much information. Read about his network here on Shyamal‘s blog:

The Power of Networks – A 19th Century Tale

His collection has been described as :

..of eight great rooms, six of them full, from floor to ceiling, of cases of birds, while at the back of the house two large verandahs were piled high with cases full of large birds, such as Pelicans, Cranes, Vultures, &c. An inspection of a great cabinet containing a further series of about 5000 eggs completed our survey.

Read more about his collection here.

Hume’s interest in life science was lost in 1885 when all his manuscripts were sold by an unscrupulous servant as waste paper and after a landslip caused by heavy rains in Simla damaged his personal museum and specimens.

The Manipur Bush Rat was just one of 258 new species of animals and birds described from specimens of his collection. 


Images: From Wikimedia Commons. Click image to reach source.

Text : Wikipedia articles on “Allan Octavian Hume” and “Manipur bush rat“.

DYK – The bacteria that could survive the shock of a supernova

Posted 25 May 2013 by Ashwin Baindur
Categories: nature

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Do you know…

… that an extremophile bacteria Paracoccus denitrificans has been found to grow even under 400,000 times Earth’s gravity, a fact having implications on the feasibility of panspermia?

Paracoccus denitrificans
(Image credit: Richard Evans-Gowing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. Colorized by Leila Hornick.. Click image to reach source)

That kind of gravity is found only in cosmic environments such as truly gigantic stars or the shockwave of a supernova. Such a bacteria would theoretically be suited for interstellar travel!

"On October 9, 1604, sky watchers -- including astronomer Johannes Kepler, spotted a "new star" in the western sky, rivaling the brilliance of nearby planets. "Kepler's supernova" was the last exploding supernova seen in our Milky Way galaxy. Observers used only their eyes to study it, because the telescope had not yet been invented. Now, astronomers have utilized NASA's three Great Observatories to analyze the supernova remnant in infrared, optical and X-ray light." - Chandra X-ray Observatory

Kepler’s Supernova
“On October 9, 1604, sky watchers — including astronomer Johannes Kepler, spotted a “new star” in the western sky, rivaling the brilliance of nearby planets. “Kepler’s supernova” was the last exploding supernova seen in our Milky Way galaxy. Observers used only their eyes to study it, because the telescope had not yet been invented. Now, astronomers have utilized NASA’s three Great Observatories to analyze the supernova remnant in infrared, optical and X-ray light.”
– Chandra X-ray Observatory
Image Credit : NASA, Public domain

A very, very interesting bacteria, read about it here :


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