The March to Lhasa
C. G. Rawlings
I will try and tell you something about recent events in Tibet. The first part of the march was through the steamy heat of the Teesta Valley made no pleasanter by the monsoon. From Lingtam to Jeyluk we climbed 5000 feet in six and a half miles. It was wonderful to see the way in which the mules struggled up the narrow path that more resembled badly made stairs. The climb was a very stiff one all the way up to the Jelap La Pass (14,300 ft.) and here most of us got frightful headaches on account of the high altitude. We played hockey at Tuna, which is 15,000 ft. and defeated our opponents by 20 goals to 4, but we nearly all died from it!
The next day we marched through the Red Gorge to Saotang. The Tibetans were holding the monastery at Niani. We advanced to the attack, but it seemed as if the enemy had bolted. However when we were 200 yards off they loosed off with every conceivable kind of weapon. Their shooting was very erratic, however, and, as we were very widely extended, did no damage beyond making holes in two men's clothes.
We then rushed the village, and accounted for everybody who had not bolted inside the big wall. There we sat and blazed away at the men on the walls at a range of about 150 yards. It reminded one of 'pop and dodge' on the range in hot weather! Eventually we managed to get in by a part of the wall that was broken down, the Tibetans barricading themselves in the houses. Then began house-to-house fighting of a most exciting nature. The Tibetans, having no way of escape fought like cats. We had no explosives, and some of the houses were very hard to break into. The fight continued till the General called us off, and we went on into Gyantse. Here we were greeted with a royal salute from the jong as we marched into camp, and very tired and sleepy we went to bed to be lulled to sleep by the 'jinglings of the jingals in the jong'
The Tibetans are far better shots with boulders than they are with guns, and usually seem to prefer this means of offence. One of them landed a brick on my head and sent me flying down the khud, and then put out his tongue and turned up his thumbs, which is the Tibetan salaam!
The next day the Taping Monastry and village was attacked and captured, the enemy losing about 100. The camp moved again, but as it was war all over deep watercuts, I moved with my ekkas into the Mission Compound only 1,000 yards from the jong, so it was perpetually bombarded, but being splendidly protected, it was almost as safe as London. Then an armistice was made, the Ta Lama, who is next to the Delai Lama and the Grand Secretary having arrived. Younghusband is the ideal man, and gave them a fine time of it. Nothing was agreed to, as our first condition was the giving up of the jong, which, of course, they would not do.
At 2.30 a.m. the following morning the troops took up their positions. A surprise was intended, but the Tibetans were found to be fully awake and ready. A perfect blaxe of fire met the advancing force, but fortunately all the shots went high. The outskirts were soon captured and house fighting continued throughout the day. Several attempts were made to work up the precipices. Only one spot held out a hope, and this the ten pounders finally breached. The Tibetans did not care a little for our shells, maxims, or rifles, just bending double and rushing right through a storm of bursting shells and a rain of bullets, and what's more, they nearly always got away again under cover unhit. If the fire became hot from any house, shells were poured in there, but were they silenced? not a bit. Three seconds afterwards, pop went the rifles again, sometimes through the very holes the shells had made.
At about 4.30 started the finest sight I have ever seen, the storming of the breach. Had the defenders been backed up, we should never have taken the place. Each of those men, six in number, should have the V.C., for they fought almost to the last. Every gun, about 14, 12 maxims, and many infantry poured in a cloud of shell and shot right into these men. They were at times absolutely hidden by the bursting shells and clouds of splintered rocks and stones, and yet there they worked hurling down rocks on the advancing party. Almost up the sheer precipice the plucky little Gurkhas and a few of the 7th crawled, splendidly led by two officers, right in the thick of the falling rocks urging on their men. The actual assault could only be done by one at a time, climbing on to the shoulders of another. A Gurkha climbed on the shoulders of his officer first, but got a rock on his head. Down he went. Then the officer had a try and down he came. It was at this point that the six defenders fled. Then up went another Gurkha, then one by one they clambered up, and the jong was won.
Looting, I mean to say foraging, went on for several days all around it was back luck on the people, for there was not much left when we had finished. Everyone wants to get back to India. Personally I like this country immensely, and I would not mind stopping here for a long time. It was nasty work at first for our men are mostly criminals, the sweepings of the bazaars of India.
Light Bob Gazette, 12/4 (1904), pp. 8-10.