This ‘Diary' originally appeared in the Indian Temperance Magazine-On Guard-and at the request of friends interested in the welfare of our soldiers in India, I now publish it in a more permanent form. There is no attempt on my part to make a book; my sole object has been to give permanency to a simple record of work among soldiers in the late Afghan campaign. Having shared their trials and dangers, I have much pleasure in bearing my testimony to their courage in battle, and to their patience in sickness-cheerfully enduring privations for the maintenance of the honour of their country, and dying at the post of duty rather than be faithless to their trust.
As Secretary to the Soldiers' Total Abstinence Association it was my duty to visit our regimental societies in Afghanistan, as well as the Cantonments in India, which will explain the object I had in visiting Cabul. In every camp we had members of the Association, and we have the gratification of knowing that our men were better able to discharge their duties than those who drank their rum. A lower percentage of sickness among the abstainers is ample proof of the fact that abstainers are better able to endure fatiguing marches than non-abstainers, and more to be relied upon in the hour of battle, when steadiness is essential to victory.
In every camp between Peshawur and Cabul men were punished for drunkenness; at Jellalabad the whole guard got drunk by breaking into the Commissariat rum-store, which not only disgraced the regiment, but the whole brigade, as a native sepoy had to supersede a British guard. How different was the condition of the Jellalabad Garrison in 1842, when, under more trying circumstances, Sir Robert Sale's brigade had to defend the city against overwhelming numbers, and also fought a pitched battle against Akbar Khan, thoroughly defeating his army, and taking the whole of his camp. To quote the words of Sir Robert Sale: 'The European troops, besides having insufficient rations, were without their allowance of spirits. I will not mention this as a privation, because I verily believe that this circumstance and constant employment have contributed to keep them in the highest health and most remarkable discipline. These facts are so striking, that officers and men acknowledge that we were much better off without the ration of spirits than we could possibly have been with it.'
This garrison would never have gained the title of 'Illustrious' had spirit-drinking been possible. It always has been most productive of insubordination and sickness in the ranks of the army. Whenever British troops have been deprived of this dangerous ration, they have always done their duty more cheerfully, and endured hardship more patiently. It is to be expected, as evidence accumulates on this subject, that the spirit ration will be abolished, and tea substituted for men on active service.
Frequent reference is made to the distribution of Afghan Temperance honours. The honour consisted of a silver bar, with ‘Afghanistan, 1879,' in raised letters, being presented to every man who faithfully kept his pledge through the campaign; and, according to our returns, 422 bars were distributed.
The army in India presents a vast field of labour for Christian workers. Our soldiers are on foreign service, and in a heathen land where they are isolated from the people amongst whom they live, and separated from their friends at home, they specially appeal to our sympathy and need our ministrations in the cantonments in which they arc garrisoned. Those who have been privileged to work amongst them are sensible of the gratitude they manifest for any interest that may have been taken in them. No class of men are more grateful to those who labour amongst them than British soldiers in India. If in any degree the perusal of this record of work among them should arouse in the hearts of my readers a desire to do something for their welfare in India, I shall feel amply repaid for the privations I endured and the dangers I encountered in walking through the Khyber Pass to Cabul.
-J. Gelson Gregson, Mundesley Villa, Southsea, December 1882.
Gregson, Rev. J. Gelson, "Through the Khyber Pass to Sherpore Camp, Cabul. An account of Temperance Work among our soldiers in the Cabul Field Force" (1883). Books in English. 113.
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