Near the close of “The day the Clocks Stopped. The Peshawar Club and Library,” Tim Willasey-Wilsey reminds us that the end of British India
when it came was not pleasant. Peshawar was the scene of a bloodbath as scores were settled by the some of the local Pashtun population against Sikhs and Hindus. The small British contingent was a mere spectator as is well described by Edward Behr, the journalist, in his autobiography (43-66). A nasty but enduring myth grew up that the departing master of fox hounds had shot all the dogs before he left. I always suspected this story and was pleased finally to disprove it when I read Peter Malins’ memoirs. Just a few months after Independence and Partition in 1947 he was invited to ride out with the hunt, now run by a Pakistani Lieutenant-Colonel. The hounds were in fine form; alive and well. [140-41]
Nine months after the essay about Peshawar went online, I received an e-mail fron Robert Burrage with the subject line “very important factual correction - NWFP - Peshawar Vale Hunt - hounds - death of etc,” in which he quotes a letter from a Pakastani friend:
I always bombard my father with questions about some little incident or the other about the history of the frontier province or Afghanistan, and he always has a tale to tell. Yesterday he came to visit when I was feedng my 3 Labradors, and he started talking about the hounds of the Peshawar Vale Hunt (of which your grandfather was, I am certain, an active member) and how at feeding time, after the hundred odd hounds had eaten, they would all sit expectantly in a line, and the Master of the Hunt would call each dog by name to come up and get a biscuit. And how at partition in 1947 the then Master of the Hunt, a certain Major Gough, after feeding the dogs called each one up and personally shot each one of them because he couldn't bear to let his beloved hounds fall into the hands of the 'locals' who would be left behind. (They had to import a whole new pack of hounds from England).
I forwarded Mr. Burrage’s letter to Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who responded that on the very day it arrived he also received an article written by a retired Pakastani general on the history of Peshawar Vale Hunt after the British left South Asia, which at no point mentions this incident. Mr. Willasey-Wilsey found these two contrary bits of evidence interesting and reported he would to check into it again. On May 25th, he e-mailed the following:
I have consulted two old Pakistani friends; both of whom have close family links to Peshawar and both still live in the region. Here are their replies.
"My father would have surely mentioned such a drastic episode had it taken place. It is surely an invention." His father was one of the people mentioned in the article on the PVH which I sent you.
"The dogs were never destroyed. In fact the hunt contiued after partition. As a boy I took part once or twice on FC horses. The hunt would go towards Charsada, no fox but the occassional jackal. The English army officer was incharge of the dogs and lived in the same premises. I cannot say when the hunt ended and where did the dogs go. There were pictures of the Peshawar Vale hunt in Peshawar club on the wall which are no more there."
So I am happy to leave my article in its current form.
Given that a million people died during partition and that in Peshawar, where the British officer supposedly killed dogs, a “bloodbath” occurred as large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs were murdered, the question arise why this tale of killing animals has endured so long. As far as I am concerned, the death of 1 million people would seem vastly more important then the death of even 100 dogs. Why then has this story — an obviously false story — taken hold so securely in the Pakistani imagination? One answer surely must be that to the formerly colonized it epitomizes the sins of the colonizer. A second answer is that such tales have an important function in creating a newly formed nation’s sense of itself. It is in other words a nationalist myth, one of those tales (like George Washington cutting down the cherry tree) that serves an important purpose in a nation’s self creation. The George Washington of Parson Weems (who made up the story) had to be an absolutely honest person, man and boy. The British, who so humiliated the former conquerors of South Asia making them the conquered, had to be evil. The truth or falsehood of the story has little importance here. What matters is story feels right because it conveys the kind of actions that the colonizer could have done or should have done or must have done because that action matches the resentments of the postcolonial imagination.
Behr, Edward. Bearings: a Foreign Correpsondent's Life Behind the Lines. New York: Viking, 1978.
Malins, Wing Commander Bill. Coming in to Land. Cirencester. Memoirs, 2010.
Willasey-Wilsey, Tim. Historical Asides. Britain and Pakistan. Rawalpindi, 1996.
Created 25 May 2015