[Extracts of letters] from Flight Officer R. K. Callow, RAF Station Kohat, North West Frontier Province, India. [This is now the tribal area of Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan. R.K. Callow (1901 - 1983) was a biochemist in normal times. See also Kenneth Callow]
13 August 1942
Without going into details, you know that the North West Frontier is always in need of pacification, and Im part of the pacification outfit. Its a queer part of the world. Theres a considerable strip of country next to the frontier which is tribal - it is not administered by any part of the Indian Government, but by the tribal leaders themselves. By a gentlemans agreement we occupy certain posts and forts and have roads to them. Some of these roads through tribal territory are open highways, e.g. the road from Peshawar to Kohat, which I came through. Every man one sees is armed, mostly with what looks like a service rifle - homemade or taken in some raid, but one wont get molested, provided one doesnt behave in too blatantly Christian a manner. The rifle is the mark of manhood and the weapon for the blood feud. On other roads it may be necessary to pay a chap known as a khassidar to protect you. For a suitable fee he will stand in front of you and take the bullet, for the hostile tribesman knows that if he kills you he will get off scot free (with, perhaps, a little local bother), but if he hits the khassidar he will bring down on himself a blood-feud involving all the khassidars brothers, uncles, and nephews, sons and grandsons. The khassidars are a cheery lot of ruffians hung round with cartridges, and a large knife, and carrying an old but carefully preserved rifle. Cartridges, incidentally are worth a rupee each among the tribesmen, so you watch your stocks.
31 August, 1942
I have been dashing about the frontier and in Waziristan since I wrote last, and I shall write you a longer letter about it as soon as I can get a chance. I had a rather amusing time, going up to a place call Datta Khel, probably too small to be marked on any map you can lay your hands on. (You may find the Tochi River on the map - trace that). We had a pleasant before breakfast climb of about a thousand feet, i.e. up to about 5,500 feet, to admire the view, which included, up the valley, a place where, so I was told, probably no white man had ever been. Definitely an outpost of empire and so forth.
1 September 1942
I made my trip into the wilder parts of Waziristan last week to investigate some unexploded bombs - a safer business than it sounds, when you know exactly how the bomb is constructed. In this Gilbertian warfare against the tribesman, we bomb one of their villages for being naughty and harbouring a marauding gang. In due course the natives go back and survey the ruins. If they find any unexploded bombs they bring them along and sell them. We buy them because, if we didnt, then the Faqir of Ipi would, and his followers would put them under bridges, light a fire underneath and retire to a safe distance to watch the bridge blow up. I get a chance of investigating why they didnt go off, before destroying them as quietly as possible.
I set off from Miranshah with a couple of armourers and ten khassidars armed with miscellaneous rifles to protect me. Do you remember an advertisement in the Hampstead tube lift? Ten or twelve strong armed men offer their services for safe conduct over the wilds of Hampstead Heath and protection against robbers, footpads, highwaymen, etc. If you take that illustration and translate the stout fellows into Pathans, with Indian shirt and trousers, grubby turbans, coloured waistcoats, hung around with bandoliers, and with a knife handle sticking out of some unexpected place, then you get a rough idea of the nature of my escort. However, no-one sniped at us, and we had an uneventful journey of about an hour and a half over one of the worlds worst roads, squirming its way up the valley. Sometimes there were bridges over the dry watercourses, sometimes the road just curled about until it found a soft place in which to cross.
The fort itself is a square building of no great size, with mud or mati walls, crenelated. It is occupied by one British Officer, with a party of Tochi Scouts, irregulars. Their officers are Indian Army people who have volunteered in order to have a bit of excitement and get away from parade grounds. We made a few cracks [defused a few bombs], and then stayed overnight - very hospitably treated, and all ranks messing together. The B.O.s troops are big fellows, who drill smartly, have no respect for their officer when climbing hills, and love rather simple practical jokes. We were invited to join the B.O. in taking up a relief party to an adjacent hilltop post first thing next morning. This meant walking up about 800 feet at rather too fast a pace for our comfort, but it was fine to be on a hilltop again, and see a mountainy view.
On the way back from Datta Khel the khassidars had, or assumed, a slightly apprehensive air, and I was advised to take off my topi, in case barbarywallahs spotted me and considered me a suitable target. I gathered there was a further proposition to give me a pagri (turban) wound up from a very dirty piece of cloth, so that I might put the end over my face. I vetoed this very promptly, and the agitation died down. I have a strong suspicion that it was mostly a Pathan joke. At any rate nothing happened, beyond seeing a few more than ordinarily villainous tribesmen with black turbans by the roadside, and I reached Miranshah safe and sound, and from there flew back to Kohat to write up reports and so forth.