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Group British officers (Q.O.) Guides.

Group British officers (Q.O.) Guides.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(44)

Item number: 44

Length: 20.3

Width: 28.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph taken by John Burke in 1878, with a formal group portrait of the Queen's Own Guides posed beneath an awning. The precise location is unknown. Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, assisting William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game were played out.

The Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) precipitated the Second Afghan War. Afghanistan was of strategic importance to the British in the defence of their Indian Empire, and the prevention of the spreading influence of Russia. They favoured a Forward Policy of extending India's frontiers to the Hindu Kush and gaining control over Afghanistan. An opportunity presented itself when the Amir Sher Ali turned away a British mission while a Russian mission was visiting his court at Kabul. The British had demanded a permanent mission at Kabul which Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit.

British suspicions of the Amir's perceived susceptibility to the Russians led them to invade Afghanistan.

The Corps of Guides was an elite fighting force originally raised in 1846 by Lt. H. D. Lumsden in Peshawar. It consisted of one troop of cavalry and two companies of infantry, with 300 English and native troops, and operated in the North West Frontier as the Trans-Frontier Brigade. In 1876 Queen Victoria conferred on the Corps of Guides the style of 'Queen's Own', making them one of the first units of the Indian Army to become a Royal regiment. For 60 years thereafter they fought 54 campaigns along the Khyber Pass which figures hugely in their annals, and they became the most famous of Indian Army regiments. (Lt. Lumsden is credited with the invention of khaki in his search for something more suitable to the terrain as uniforms for the Guides rather than the tight-fitting scarlet jackets of the British troops). The Guides had a huge role in the first phase of the Second Afghan War when many of the men in this photograph were killed. The most famous of these was Major Wigram Battye, seated at far left, whose family were known as heroic soldiers (he died fighting outside Jalalabad in April 1879). His brother F. D. Battye is standing third from right. His best friend Lt. Hamilton stands at extreme right, and received a Victoria Cross for his actions in April 1879, but died a few months later while leading the Guides' escort in Kabul. Colonel Jenkins, standing fourth from left, commanded the Guides during the war, except for a brief period (when this photograph was taken) when he served as a brigadier-general with the Peshawar Valley Field Force.

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