Soldiers of the Queen in India…..A Jewel In the Crown! British Army in the Afghan Wars..Punjab

2 May

Richard Sleath (4)Richard  Edward Sleath was my Great Uncle. I had seen pictures of this man in my Grannie’s steamer trunk, which also stored my Mother’s Christmas Decorations and which was hauled out annually in mid-December.  Being that he and others, whose pictures I came across, had been dead for years, no one really mentioned who they were. They were just pictures in a trunk.

He seemed especially interesting to a young girl as his picture was taken in the Punjab, India. Now I did know that my grannie, Sarah Jane Sleath Perkins was the only girl in the family. I knew almost nothing about the rest of her family, except for a brother, Jack Sleath, who had lived and died in Red Deer, Alberta long before I was born. It would be many years later when I began my Family History Research that I would learn all about these individuals.

Richard Sleath was only 18 years 6 months when he joined the  King’s Royal Rifle Corp (86267) at Winchester on September 23, 1889. He had been serving with the 4Bn North Staffordshire Regiment as a militiaman. He was posted to the Royal Horse Artillery Aug 8, 1891 in the Dublin District  and appointed Bombardier (a non-commissioned Officer)  May 26, 1892. He went to India  Sept  29, 1893 to fight on the  Northwest Frontier.

“The North-West Frontier region of British India was the most difficult area to conquer in the Indian subcontinent, strategically and militarily. It remains the western frontier of present-day Pakistan, extending from the Pamir Knot in the north to the Koh-i-Malik Siah in the west and separating the present-day Pakistani frontier regions of North-West Frontier Province (renamed as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), FATA and Balochistan to the east from neighbouring Afghanistan in the west. The borderline in between is officially known as the Durand Line and divides Pashtun inhabitants of these provinces from their kinsmen in Afghanistan.

 

 

india_britishindianempire

The two main gateways on the North West Frontier are the Khyber and Bolan Pass. Since ancient times, the Indian subcontinent has been repeatedly invaded through these northwestern routes. With the expansion of the Russian Empire into Central Asia in the twentieth century, stability of the Frontier and control of Afghanistan became cornerstones of defensive strategy for British India. Between 1849 and 1947 the military history of the frontier was a succession of punitive expeditions against offending Pashtun (or Pathan) tribes, punctuated by three wars against Afghanistan.”  ( Info taken from Wikipedia )DSCF1926

For many years suspicion had persisted in India that Russia would attempt to invade India  from Afghanistan. Russia dominated the approaches to the country  from the west and could not be allowed to extend its influence  in the capital, Kabul, in order to develop the infrastructure  required for a military invasion of India across tribal territory.   Afghan and Pathan tribesmen were fiercely independent, warriors  first and last, skilled in ambush, exceptionally courageous and       hardy, able to assemble in a few hours and disperse as quickly.

There was no international frontier with the Punjab until 1894 when the Durand Line was demarcated across tribal territory. Within it the tribesmen were deemed to be protected persons subject to British law. There were police, roads and schools, and revenues were collected. British political officers maintained contact       with the tribesmen who were subsidized as long as their conduct remained within bounds. When it did not, military operations were mounted to restore order and apply punishment.  As I read this info and see names familiar to me from present day wars and events, I see that little has changed in this region in the 120 years since Richard Sleath arrived with the British Army. His time there and the battles in which he fought are a story for another time after I do the required research.

Richard was discharged at the East India Railway station at Allahabad on the  September 29, 1901.

Richard Sleath on an outing with friends. Looks like Gwyndon is there as well.

Richard Sleath on an outing with friends. Looks like Gwyndon is there as well.

Where and how he met and married Gwyndon is unknown. The photo appears to show him and friends on an outing. Gwyndon is in the picture. She would have only been 16 or 17 when they met.

Richard Sleath and Gwyndon Ophelia Mathias

Richard Sleath and Gwyndon Ophelia Mathias

On September 25, 1902 he married Gwyndon Ophelia Mathias at Khaogole, Bengal, India .She was 17 years old. His death was reported in the newspaper in 1907. He died at College Hospital in Calcutta on  February 24, 1907  (of the Rajmehal EI Railway)  aged 35 years. I have no information save for a few pictures(no names) that were in my Grannie’s trunk.What was his life like and why did he die at such a young age?

Gwyndon Sleath married William Frederick Perris in  Dinapur, Bengal on May 12, 1908. He was born in Bareilly, Bengal on September 22, 1879, the son of Frederic and Amelia Perris. They had a son, William Mathias Perris on March 29, 1909.

Gwyndon's Mother Ophelia, possible sister or other relative and Father John Mathias.

Gwyndon’s Mother Ophelia, possible sister or other relative and Father John Mathias.

Of late I have been thinking that one of my next trips should be to India. AMA has a great tour this fall but I am already committed to going to England  to do  more research. Oh well, at least I am still a  Genealogist who Goes Wandering! India will just have to wait!  Doubt though, I will be visiting the Northwest Frontier region given the situation there today.

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