Personal info

  • Name: Harry Frederick WHITCHURCH
  • D.O.B: 22nd Sep, 1866
  • D.O.A: 3rd Mar, 1895
  • D.O.D: 16th Aug, 1907
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Surgeon Captain, Bengal Medical Service, Indian Army
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 1
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Chitral Fort, North-West Frontier, India 3 March 1895

3 March 1895

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INDIA and BURMA 1889-97 

Chitral was a small state, a little larger than Wales, on India’s north west frontier with Afghanistan. Its strategic position inevitably led to British involvement in its internal affairs. In August 1892 the Mehtar, Aman-ul-Mulk, who had ruled since 1857, died. During the next three blood-soaked years various of his relations struggled to obtain a secure grasp on his throne. The British found themselves supporting his son Nizam-ul-Mulk but on New Year’s Day 1895 Nizam was murdered by one of his brothers, Amir-ul-Mulk, who had been conspiring with his uncle, Sher Afzul, an exile in Afghanistan, whose ruler supported his own claims. The situation was further complicated by the invasion of Chitral by Umra Khan, ruler of the neighbouring Pathan state of Jandola. On 31 January 1895 Surgeon Major George Robertson, British Political Agent at Gilgit, occupied the Fort at Chitral with a force of 400. Deeply suspicious of Amir-ul-Mulk, on 2 March Robertson deposed him and appointed his young brother Shuja-ul-Mulk as Mehtar. On the following day, justifiably concerned that Sher Afzul might attack the Fort, he sent out Captain Colin Campbell with 200 men (half the garrison) to reconnoitre. Campbell was soon confronted by Sher Afzul’s forces and the British, who suffered heavy casualties, had no option but to retreat to the Fort. Amongst the last of the stragglers to return was Surgeon Captain H F Whitchurch, who had placed himself in extreme danger in order to bring in Captain John MacDonald Baird, 24th Punjab Infantry, Robertson’s military secretary. Baird was so badly wounded that he died the following day, but not before he had secured Robertson’s promise that Whitchurch’s gallantry should be recognized. The fort was besieged for the next six weeks. Major General Sir Robert Low set off north from Nowshera through the Malakand Pass with a Chitral Relief Force but in the event the siege was raised on 20 April 1895 by Colonel James Kelly who had marched west from Gilgit. Sher Afzul surrendered on 27 April. Shuja-ul-Mulk ruled as Mehtar until his death in 1936. It was also during this campaign that Lieutenant F A Maxwell, subsequently awarded a VC in the Boer War (see below), distinguished himself by retrieving the body of Lieutenant- Colonel F D Battye on 13 April 1895.


 During the sortie from Chitral Fort on the 3rd March last, at the commencement of the siege, Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch went to the assistance of Captain Baird, 24th Bengal Infantry, who was mortally wounded, and brought him back to the fort under a heavy fire from the enemy. Captain Baird was on the right of the fighting line, and had only a small party of Gurkhas and men of the 4th Kashmir Rifles. He was wounded on the heights at a distance of a mile and a half from the fort. When Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch proceeded to his rescue, the enemy, in great strength, had broken through the fighting line; darkness had set in and Captain Baird, Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch, and the sepoys were completely isolated from assistance. Captain Baird was placed in a dooly by Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch, and the party then attempted to return to the fort. The Gurkhas bravely clung to the dooly until three were killed and a fourth was severely wounded. Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch then put Captain Baird upon his back and carried him some distance with heroic courage and resolution. The little party kept diminishing in numbers, being fired at the whole way. On one or two occasions Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch was obliged to charge walls, from behind which the enemy kept up an incessant fire. At one place particularly the whole party was in imminent danger of being cut up, having been surrounded by the enemy. Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch gallantly rushed the position, and eventually succeeded in getting Captain Baird and the sepoys into the fort. Nearly all the party were wounded, Captain Baird receiving two additional wounds before reaching the fort. 

The London Gazette of 16 July 1895, Numb. 26644, p. 4021

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