Captain Francis Stockdale in Waziristan, 1919
The BBC reports that the privately-printed memoir of a British officer deserves wider contemporary circulation, proving that, in that particular inclement corner of the world, little has changed in nearly a century, beyond precisely who it is the locals are sniping at.
In 1919, a young British army officer, Francis Stockdale, was deployed to the Waziristan area of British India.
The title of his book, “Walk Warily in Waziristan” seems no less appropriate now than it did 90 years ago, because today the autonomous Pakistani tribal region of North and South Waziristan is the centre of militancy orchestrated by pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.
It is also an area where many believe the al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, may be hiding after the September 2001 World Trade Centre attacks.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that Capt Stockdale’s family published a handful of copies of the book, only a few of which survive. But because or renewed interest in the region, the family in the English county of Norfolk are considering reprinting it.
The book provides a fascinating account of what was regarded then – as it is today – as a thoroughly dangerous area.
One of the main towns close to Waziristan is Tank. Capt Stockdale describes it as being “the worst station in British India”.
“It was known as ‘Hell’s door knocker’ because in the summer the temperature would rise so high that a village nearby rejoiced in the highest temperature in the world – a modest 131 degrees in the shade.
“But it was also an area where hostile tribesman waited, watched and pounced,” he wrote.
“My memories of Tank are characterised by sporadic outbreaks of rifle fire by night and spasmodic outbreaks of cholera during the day. The town fully deserved its poor reputation.”
Capt Stockdale goes on to describe just how dangerous the “hostile tribesmen” were in the Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, when a sniper infiltrated a British camp.
“Like all tribesmen in this area, he was a marvellous shot,” Capt Stockdale wrote, “and he killed the commanding officer with his first shot.
“He killed or wounded 11 other men before his hiding place was discovered.”
Ninety years ago, it seemed that British troops in Waziristan faced the same kind of dangers as Pakistani troops in the region do today.
Read the whole thing.