Crest Rock, Cherat Postcard

Cherat was a hill station in Nowshera province of the Peshawar District that was set up as a sanitorium for troops in 1861 before becoming a cantonment in 1886. The garrison was to be home to troops throughout the time of the Raj, with as many as 1000 in the camp during the hot season. One tradition that rose up amongst the units garrisoned in the station was to carve their regimental crests into a rock overlooking the base. Over time many crests were to be squeezed into the cliff face. This postcard dates from around World War One and by this point twelve had appeared:

As best I can work out the badges represent these units:

  1. Royal Scots Fusiliers
  2. King’s royal Rifle Corps
  3. 51st Foot
  4. Royal Warwickshire Regiment
  5. Royal Welsh Fusiliers
  6. Devonshire Regiment
  7. Northumberland Fusiliers
  8. Royal Irish Fusiliers
  9. Somerset Light Infantry
  10. Duke of Edinburgh’s Regiment
  11. Seaforth Highlanders
  12. Black Watch

Walter Reeve was a boy when the British pulled out of India and remembered the final days of the Empire at Cherat:

To escape the temperatures of summer on the plains – often reaching the 100 F and over – my father took some leave which gave us the opportunity to visit Cherat; a hill station quite close to Peshawar.  Cherat was first considered as a refuge from the oppressive plains in the 1850’s when Lt. Roberts, later to become the aforementioned Field Marshal Roberts, did a survey of the rocky ridge with a view to establishing a sanatorium for troops.  The road to Cherat first crossed flat scrubby country for some miles and then, on getting to the foothills, started to climb steeply up a twisting and windy road, the affect of which was to bring on car sickness. On arriving at the summit one was immediately taken by the peculiar topography of the hill station. The houses and military establishments were perched precariously along the narrow spine of the ridge. To build a house it was necessary to hack out ledges in the hillside to accommodate a building. The views were spectacular and uninterrupted; looking down on the plains for miles around. Hardly any houses, because of their position on the ridge, would have been deprived of a virtual aerial aspect of the scrubby flat plains.  Barracks, roads and parade grounds had to be carved out of the rocky hills. Cherat was not endowed with much natural beauty; very little in the way of trees and vegetation prospered in the rocky and unforgiving ground. Despite its altitude I don’t recall the temperatures being significantly cooler than Peshawar. I recollect watching some members of the Black Watch Regiment returning from a route march along a road that passed directly below our house; the heat had reduced them to a disorderly group of stragglers strung out for some distance with a piper at their head urging them on. We shared our bungalow with another family. The house was large enough for two families to live separately in their own quarters. The other family had two children, both of whom were looked after by an Anglo-Indian nanny, the latter was a delight; she had the wonderful gift of being able to communicate with children without appearing patronising or condescending. We would while away an evening playing board games or cards with her.

This battalion of the Black Watch was the last British regiment to leave Pakistan and was very prominent in Cherat at the time. They provided the transport to get children to school, organised sports days and parties for the children They even supplied the school percussion band with new drum skins. The barracks where the troops were housed were a favoured place for us to visit; talking to soldiers, watching them drill and listening to their tales were the stuff of fantasy. Their drills were interesting to watch because they were done to a drumbeat and shouted commands were kept to a minimum. I have always found the disciplined marching and drilling of soldiers fascinating. There is an aesthetic appeal to witnessing a group of men all marching and manoeuvring in unison to the beat of a drum or a martial band. The pipe band of the regiment would practice their music and marching to a large audience of bystanders. There were occasions when the side drummers would rehearse by tapping their drumsticks on the concrete steps rather than their drums, with a solitary piper accompanying them. There was also a Gurkha regiment stationed in Cherat and it was arranged that the two regiments would march in a farewell parade utilising the massed bands of both regiments. During the dress rehearsals, when the Black Watch was in full regalia, I took some photographs of the band. Some fifteen years later, when I was working in Croydon in England, our cleaning lady in the shop where I worked mentioned that her husband had served in India and had been in the Black Watch. She brought in some photographs that he had taken of the band and they were almost identical to those I had taken. Her husband had been there at the same time at the same rehearsal; a remarkable coincidence.

The final parade was a poignant affair for both the Black Watch and the Gurkhas. The Black Watch was heading home once independence was declared, and the Gurkhas, although native to Nepal, were part of the British army and would be returning the Britain as well. With these two regiments went the last tangible vestige of British power. A large audience watched as these two regiments marched and counter marched on the parade ground. The two bands combined to create a heart-stirring spectacle of massed drums and pipes sending the skirl of the pipes echoing through the hills and reverberating from the rocky surrounds. Cherat, like the Khyber Pass had a tradition of regimental carvings on the rocky faces of the hillsides. The Black Watch already had their badge there from a previous visit and had merely added the date 1947 to the other dates; thus ending an era in British military history.

One comment

  1. The badges are still there. The area, which is in a military restricted zone, is the HQ of the Special Service Group of the Pakistan Army.

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