Brigadier General Thomas Anquetil

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A scene from the Afghan war as Anquetil's retreating troops are attacked
Brigadier Anquetil's force is ambushed in the Jagdalak Pass

Thomas John Anquetil (1784-1842)

The loss of British troops in Afghanistan is not just a 21st century phenomenon. It happened before 170 years ago and Jerseyman Brigadier Thomas Anquetil lost his life while attempting to lead the British troops out of the country.

Early career

At the age of 20, Thomas, the son of Thomas Anquetil and Marie Poingdestre, was entered as a cadet in the Bengal Infantry. He reached India the following year and was rapidly promoted to Lieutenant. He served in a number of Indian conflicts over the next 13 years and was then promoted to Captain, subsequently taking part in the First Burma War. By 1833 he was a Lieut-Colonel and Deputy Adjutant General of General Stevenson's force in the Shekawat Expedition, before becoming Brigadier of the Oudh Auxiliary Force.

Afghanistan

Not for the first time, nor the last, Britain became involved in Afghanistan politics when the Indian Government decided in 1838 to depose the reigning Shah and bring back an earlier one. It was Anquetil's responsibility to train native Afghans to form an army for the new Shah.

But frequent attacks by tribesmen living in the surrounding hills led to a decision to pull out the remaining British troops under a treaty which should have afforded them safe conduct to the border. However, the troops, led by General Elphinstone, with Anquetil in charge of the rearguard, plus thousands of camp followers and women and children, were constantly attacked. On 11 January 1842, with Elphinstone withdrawn for a conference with the Afghan leader, Anquetil led his diminished force into the Jagdalak Pass and an Afghan ambush. He was killed by gunfire and only one wounded member of his force survived to tell the tale.

Monuments

There are monuments to Brigadier Anquetil in St John's Church, Calcutta, St Peter's Church, Fort William, and in St Helier's Church, Jersey.

  • Memorial in St Peter's Church, Fort William - "In testimony of affection and regret, this tablet is dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas John Anquetil, 44th Regiment B N I, who was massacred in the performance of his duty during the insurrection at Jugdulluck in Afghanistan, at Cabool, while commanding Shah Soojah's force, on the 12th January 1842, aged 60 years. He was an officer of undoubted ability and highly versed in the science of Military tactics, was warm-hearted and possessed of the strictist integrity and the most honourable feeling. Erected by his surviving son, Charles Anquetil."
  • Memorial in St Helier's Church, Jersey - "In memory of Brigadier Thomas John Anquetil, Lieut Colonel in the Bengal Army. A native of this Island who was killed on the 12th January 1842 in Command of the British and Bengal troops whilst fighting hand to hand with the enemy near Jugdulluck, in the Cabool Passes aged 52 years. From the testimony of the Governor General of India 'He was one of the very best and the most deserving of officers in the Indian Army in the office of Adjutant General in the organisation of the Oude Force and on the field of battle, he was, as he had ever been throughout his career, distinguished by the most honourable and the most able.'"

Sources

G R Balleine's Biographical Dictionary of Jersey

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