The Kabul River, Jellalabad; the scene of the disaster.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
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 first British soldiers inside Afghanistan after the taking of the Khyber Pass were from the 10th Hussars. Raised in 1715, they came to be known as the Prince of Wales's Own Royal Regiment of Hussars, after the then Prince of Wales became their commanding colonel in 1784. In the middle of that dark night of March in 1878, a squadron had just crossed the Kabul river and the Hussars were following a pack of mules close to the first group. Finding themselves in deep water their horses panicked, and in the confusion men, animals and baggage were swept by the fast waters to their death. 49 members of the Hussars perished. 'All that morning and day the search was continued but only nineteen bodies were recovered. At half-past seven the next morning the burial took place in the little cemetery which has been made a short distance from the camp.'