Shootings, killings, sudden attacks by Afghan tribesmen on the British army- not 2010 but Afghanistan in 1842.

In 1838 a British force was sent to Afghanistan to stop a Russian plot to annex that country. They were successful in deposing the ruler who favoured Russia but remained in the country as an occupying army. The Afghans bided their time and at the end of 1841 rose in revolt. By managing to separate the British from their supplies the native tribesmen caused starvation along with hypothermia and frostbite that the soldiers suffered in the winter. Indecisive leadership meant that the British army had no other option than to retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad 150 km away.

One of the medical officers was William Brydon (1811-1873) who had studied at the North London Hospital, which later became University College London. He then gained practical experience in Edinburgh before being appointed assistant surgeon in the Bengal Medical Service through the East India Company. His biography ‘The Last Man’ by John C Cunningham gives a blow by blow account of the retreat and massacre of the British army. The Afghan horsemen slashed and looted the soldiers whose passage was marked by a trail of the dead and dying. Unbelievably William Brydon was the first and seemed to be the only soldier to reach Jalalabad. Thus his name: ‘The Last Man’. However other survivors drifted in later and hostages were released in the following months.

A picture by Lady Elizabeth Butler is titled ‘The Remnants of an Army’ and depicts William Brydon arriving outside the walls of Jalalabad. Dr Brydon continued to serve in the Indian army after Kabul. In 1857 he was severely wounded in the siege of the Lucknow Residency and retired soon afterwards. In 1860 he settled near his wife’s home in Nigg across the Cromarty Firth in the Black Isle. There he provided free medical services to the local population until his death in 1873. He and his family are buried at Rosemarkie. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath for his outstanding service.

Because of the many traffic accidents, the Kabul Jalalabad highway is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world.