Gunner 3493 Francis Naylor (Royal Horse Artillery)


Annotated by

Richard J Stacpoole-Ryding




In contrast with the account of the battle of Maiwand written by Lieutenant O’Donel, published below is another account given by Gunner Francis Naylor of E Battery B Brigade Royal Horse Artillery who was in the thick of the action. Accounts given by ordinary ranks of the disaster at Maiwand are scarce and it is of interest to compare the differences in recounting the action, the style and grammar used between officers and ranks. This is part of the account he gave:


There we were, then, trapped in a valley, with thousands of Afghans hovering and flying about us; and only those who have fought against them in their native hills can really understand how swift they are in their movements. And they are so merciless with it! There were the few companies of the 66th, officers and men who were as brave as any that ever wore uniform, their Colours proudly borne amongst them, with the young subalterns[1] carrying them, full of the fire and spirit which always came to men into whose keeping these sacred folds of silk were given.


The artillery duel had developed suddenly. We had fired three or four rounds out of each gun, and I remember so well hearing Gunner Moorecroft say hopefully, as men like to speak at such a time of stress: ‘We’ll soon have ‘em out of action!’ Instantly, as it seemed, the very ground rumbled, and the air was filled with the flashes and thickened with smoke of thirty-two guns, sweeping upon and into us, and tearing into and through our huddled and disorganised masses.


Picture, if you can, the horrors and consternation of an onslaught like that, in a crowded space, with a cruel enemy in overwhelming numbers surrounding us, and animals wildly stampeding, and transport followers and drivers thrown into panic and confusion. There were Krupp guns as well as smoothbore guns, and these weapons outnumbered us altogether. In addition to our own Horse Artillery guns, we had the smoothbores which we had taken, and these were manned by men of the 66th, in charge of a few men of E Battery[2]. They were in the rear of our own battery, but did not do much mischief.


We were now fighting not so much for victory, which there was no hope of winning, as for our very existence. At No.2 gun, which in charge of Sergeant Mullane, who later in the day won the VC[3], I fired no fewer that 105 rounds. That gun and the other guns became almost red hot, and some of the men had their hands burnt in handling them. It was while serving the gun that I lost my hand. I was taking a tube out of my pouch to fire another cartridge, when a six pound shot ricocheted on the gun-wheel tyre, which is a broad iron band. The shot tore the tyre as if it had been India rubber, struck me on the left hand, and then broke one of the bones in one of our officers’ arms.


The 66th were fighting nobly, refusing to give way, and rallying on their Colours. Officer after officer, man after man, went down in defence of the Colours; but they remained flying until the enemy closed in upon us like a horseshoe, and even the most hopeful of us knew that there was only one chance of safety for us, and that lay in flight.[4]


It was a case of every man for himself. There was no time even to spike the guns – they had to be abandoned. One of our men tumbled an Afghan over by thrusting at him with his rammer, and then managed to get away; another cut through the stirrup-leather of one of the gunners, and ran along with his horse and managed to escape. Nearly half our horses were killed, and of those that were living some were shockingly wounded.


The two guns were lost – we knew that. The enemy had captured them. They had also made Lieutenant Maclaine a prisoner[5] – which in the case of the Afghans was worse than death itself. That was part of the price which we of the artillery were paying. As for the 66th, they were in as bad a plight. Desperate through their efforts were to save the Colours – even to the stripping of the poles, so that someone might perhaps get clear of the battlefield with the silk – that failed.[6]


The Afghans captured the Colours. What became of them I do not know, but the poles were used as rammers for own lost guns – which is, I daresay, an incident without parallel in our army[7].




Editor’s Note:

It is interesting to see how emotive and colourful Gunner Naylor’s report of the action at Maiwand is. Naylor became somewhat of a Maiwand celebrity in his time and gave many interviews on his experiences, no doubt making a reasonable living from his tales. His Afghanistan 1878-80 medal with the Kandahar clasp was auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb in London in September 2004 as part of the famous Brian Ritchie collection and went to America. It was last auctioned by the same auction house in September 2008 the hammer price being £5200 its whereabouts currently uknown.[8]





[1] Second Lieutenant Arthur Honywood (Regimental Colour)

 Second Lieutenant Olivey (Queen’s Colour)

[2] There were 47 men of the 66 th who manned the guns under the command of Lieutenant Granville de la Motte Faunce. Being attached to the RHA, technically they were commanded by Major Blackwood who had given the smoothbores to Captain John Slade, both of the RHA.

[3] This is incorrect, as Sergeant Patrick Mullane was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in rescuing Gunner Istead who was mortally wounded and under attack by the Ghazis and placing him on a retiring gun carriage. Istead subsequently died of his wound.

[4] Naylor is getting carried away with his account here. The Colours were under no real threat until they reached the nullah where the first stand was made and then they reached the walls of the gardens where a last stand was made.

[5] Lieutenant Hector Maclaine was taken prisoner during the retreat back to Kandahar and not on the battlefield as Naylor recounts.

[6] There is no substantial evidence to support this statement.

[7] The whereabouts of the Colours remains a mystery today as it was then. Reports were received of a possible sighting in 1902 and vigorous enquiries were made but to no avail.

[8] Details from the Maiwand Medal Tracker maintained by Richard J. Stacpoole-Ryding