The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Winter in the Khyber Pass

After the war, Walter's 204 Battalion Machine Gun Corps shipped out to India and the Northwest Frontier. After a few months at Rawal Pindi, his battalion was sent to the Jamrud Fort area, one of the main gateways of the Khyber Pass. According to Walter:

After a few weeks in Mhow, we left to go to the North West Frontier. We were sent to Rawal Pindi, and the other battalions went to Quetta, Lahore, Peshawar. The Afghan troubles were taking place in the Kyber Pass at the time. We stayed in Rawal Pindi for a few months, then we were posted to the Jamrud Fort area, including the Kacha Ghari area, which was a perimeter camp. There was an Indian regiment quartered in this perimeter camp besides our battalion. It was like a concentration camp, surrounded by barbed wire with blockhouses situated all around it, so as to afford security.

The camel convoys come to pass through on their way to Peshawar, 12 miles away, but they are denied admittance after sundown. It was situated in the Afridi country, as warlike tribe, who tended their flocks of goats and sheep by day, and went marauding by night, mainly to steal rifles. We always kept ours locked up with a chain passing through the trigger guards. There was a “camel cemetery” just outside the camp. When the camels die, they are dragged along the ground by two other camels, to this cemetery, and just left lying there. Soon, the vultures begin operations, and what they do not eat, the jackals come at night to have their supper. I might say there is a very unpleasant smell pervades the air for miles around!!

Today, Kacha Ghari (or Gari) is one of the main refugee centers for Pakistan/Afghanistan. According to the Afghan Women's Resource Center, "Kacha Gari is the oldest refugee camp in the Peshawar area being founded in 1979. There are approximately 150,000 people who live in the camp with the majority of women coming from Jalalabad and Laghman."

Walter's letters give a personal and time-stamped view of a region that was troubled in 1919-20 and is still roiling in 2007. I wonder if this would surprise Walter Wildgoose?
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posted by MaryB @ 3:21 PM  


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