William Topaz McGonagall
The Last Berkshire Eleven
Poem by William Topaz McGonagall
'Twas at the disastrous battle of Maiwand, in Afghanistan,
Where the Berkshires were massacred to the last man;
On the morning of July the 27th, in the year eighteen eighty,
Which I'm sorry to relate was a pitiful sight to see.
Ayoub Khan's army amounted to twelve thousand in all,
And honestly speaking it wasn't very small,
And by such a great force the Berkshires were killed to the last man,
By a murderous rebel horde under the command of Ayoub Khan.
The British force amounted to about 2000 strong in all,
But although their numbers were but few it didn't them appal;
They were commanded by General Burrows, a man of courage bold,
But, alas! the British army was defeated be it told.
The 66th Berkshire Regiment stood as firm as a wall,
Determined to conquer or die whatever would befall,
But in the face of overwhelming odds, and covered to the last,
The broken and disordered Sepoys were flying fast
Before the victorious Afghan soldiers, whose cheers on the air arose,
But the gallant band poured in deadly volleys on their foes;
And, outnumbered and surrounded, they fell in sections like ripe grain;
Still the heroes held their ground, charging with might and main.
The British force, alas! were shut up like sheep in a pen,
Owing to the bad position General Burrows had chosen for his men;
But Colonel Galbraith with the Berkshires held the enemy at bay,
And had the Sepoys been rallied the Afghans would not have won the day.
But on the Berkshires fell the brunt of the battle,
For by the Afghan artillery they fell like slaughtered cattle;
Yet the wild horsemen were met with ringing volleys of musketry,
Which emptied many a saddle; still the Afghans fought right manfully.
And on came the white cloud like a whirlwind;
But the gallant Berkshires, alas! no help could find,
While their blood flowed like water on every side around,
And they fell in scores, but the men rallied and held their ground
The brave Berkshires under Colonel Galbraith stood firm in the centre there,
Whilst the shouts of the wild Ghazis rent the air;
But still the Berkshires held them at bay,
At the charge of the bayonet, without dismay.
Then the Ghazis, with increased numbers, made another desperate charge
On that red line of British bayonets, which wasn't very large;
And the wild horsemen were met again with ringing volleys of musketry,
Which was most inspiring and frightful to see.
Then Ayoub concentrated his whole attack on the Berkshire Regiment,
Which made them no doubt feel rather discontent,
And Jacob's Rifles and the Grenadiers were a confused and struggling mass,
Oh heaven! such a confused scene, nothing could it surpass.
But the Berkshires stood firm, replying to the fire of the musketry,
While they were surrounded on all sides by masses of cavalry;
Still that gallant band resolved to fight for their Queen and country,
Their motto being death before dishonour, rather than flee.
At last the gallant British soldiers made a grand stand,
While most of the officers were killed fighting hand to hand,
And at length the Sepoys fled from the enclosure, panic-stricken and irate,
Alas! leaving behind their European comrades to their fate.
The Berkshires were now reduced to little more than one hundred men,
Who were huddled together like sheep in a pen;
But they broke loose from the enclosure, and back to back,
Poured volley after volley in the midst of the enemy, who weren't slack.
And one by one they fell, still the men fought without dismay,
And the regimental pet dog stuck to the heroes throughout the day;
And their cartridge pouches were empty, and of shot they were bereft,
And eleven men, most of them wounded, were all that were left.
And they broke from the enclosure, and followed by the little dog,
And with excitement it was barking savagely, and leaping like a frog;
And from the field the last eleven refused to retire,
And with fixed bayonets they charged on the enemy in that sea of fire.
Oh, heaven! it was a fearful scene the horrors of that day,
When I think of so many innocent lives that were taken away;
Alas! the British force were massacred in cold blood,
And their blood ran like a little rivulet in full flood.
And the Ghazis were afraid to encounter that gallant little band
At the charge of the bayonet : Oh! the scene was most grand;
And the noble and heroic eleven fought on without dismay,
Until the last man in the arms of death stiff and stark lay.
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