COMBE, Boyce Albert.

Letters from B.A.C.

(Afghanistan - 1878-80).

London: J. Davy & Sons (Dryden Press), 1880 Stock Code: 127470

"A marvelous unvarnished truth"

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First and sole edition of this important eyewitness account of the Second Afghan War, privately printed in a putative edition of 25 copies only, with the ownership inscription of the author's mother on a preliminary blank: "Eliza Combe, Jan: 1881". Library Hub cites copies at only two British and Irish institutional libraries (BL, Oxford), WorldCat adds Minnesota.

As a captain with the 10th Hussars Combe (1841-1920) was brigade-major of cavalry under Colonel (later General Sir) Charles John Stanley Gough with the Peshawar Valley Field Force, before serving as deputy assistant quartermaster-general attached to the Kabul Field Force. "Combe is posted to General Roberts's army for the duration of hostilities including the march on Kabul, the siege of Sherpur, and Roberts's famous march to Kandahar. Combe's letters addressed to his brother Charles, October 1871 to October 1880, are attractive for thier everyday detail describing the military life of that period. For example a dhoolie carrying a cholera patient was marked with a yellow flag, the double-barelled Wilkinson pistol adapted to fire the Martini-Henry cartridge was preferred for use against the Afghan, or the great advantages offered by heliographic communication between distant army units. On a occasion a trace of cynicism entered Combe's letters as he questioned political policy, the perks of the senior ranks, and the quickness displayed by army widows at remarrying. As private letters to his family, they retain a marvellous unvarnished truth" (Riddick). They also capture the several turns of fortune which befell the British during the winter campaign: "Sunday 14th December... last night we were all cock-a-hoop, thinking ourselves fine fellows, and that all we now had to do was walk around and burn some villages; and within twenty-four hours we are locked up, closely besieged, after a jolly good licking" (p. 114). With the exception of service in the Abyssinian campaign (1866-67), Combe served in India all of his life. In 1896, with the rank of major-general, he was appointed Commander of the Curragh District and in 1904 Colonel of the 14th Hussars.

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Octavo. Original red morocco-grain skiver, smooth spine divided into compartments with a blind double rule, front cover lettered in gilt "Private Letters", marbled edges and endpapers.


3 lithograph plates of battleplans showing dispositions and movements outside Kabul (actually the same plan reproduced thrice).


Spine cocked and a little worn, joints partially split but firm, wear to extremities. A very good copy.


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