The Telegrapher OR How to build an Empire

This is an experiment with writing a story entirely as telegrams. It is based on an Indian Army legend of the Afghan war told by my father. I was particularly impressed with the emphasis paid to salary disbursal at the height of fighting. I’m not sure which Afghan war, for I cannot trace any historical archive of the incident. The telegrams are all addressed to the Imperial Headquarters at Calcutta, from the Afghan Frontier.

(This was originally written on Feb 17, 2006 and published on

Here goes:-

Reinforcements arrived Landi Kotal fortress. Seventeen officers, seven hundred men. Scouts dispatched. Colonel Sanderson. 14 July, 5 PM.

Fortress on high ground. Overlooks Khyber. Afridis cooperative. Col. Sanderson. 20 July 5 PM.

Pass secured. Defences mounted. Rations for three months. Col. Sanderson. 25 July 5 PM.

Telegrapher tower top. Movements across frontier. Col. Sanderson. 25 July 5 PM.

Afghans assembling west of Khyber. Three thousand infantry. Col. Sanderson. 27 July, 5 PM.

Van at saddle. Forty men. Ghurkhas. Col. Sanderson. 28 July, 5PM.

Skirmishes at frontier. Three fallen. Urge reinforcements. Col. Sanderson. 29 July, 3 PM.

Van overcome. No quarter given. Urging Battalion at Peshawar advance. Col. Sanderson 29 July, 9 PM.

Going to men. Fortress besieged. Corp. Dulai Ram will telegraph. Col. Sanderson. 30 July, 6 AM.

Whither reinforcements? Seige continued. Four down. Telegrapher. 30 July, 5 PM.

Seige holding. Six down. Telegrapher. 31 July, 6 AM.

Outer north wall weakening. Gunpowder running low. Telegrapher. 31 July, 3 PM.

Outer north wall sapped. Eighteen. Reinforcements urged. Afghans four thousand plus. Telegrapher. 31 July, Midnight.

Inner north wall holding. Outer South wall breached. Six. Telegrapher. 1 August, 5 AM.

Salaries disbursed. Maj. Withers fallen east wall. Nine men. Afridis defected. Col. Sanderson. 1 August, 9 AM.

Outer south wall sapped. East wall undermined. Lt. Johnson, thirty-three. Telegrapher. 1 August, 10 AM.

Inner north wall breached. West wall holding. Gunned at east wall, Capt. Millikan, seventy-three. Where reinforcements? Telegrapher. 1 August, Noon.

Topkhana blown. Dynamite exhausted. Cartridges seized Afghans. Telegrapher. 1 August, 1 PM.

Maj. Saunders, Capt. Wilkins, Capt. Morgan, forty-five men east wall. Telegrapher. 1 August, 4 PM.

Afghan mules destroyed west wall. Gunpowder finished. Telegrapher. 1 August, 5 PM.

Lt. Col. Montmorency, thirty-nine men inner south wall. All defences breached. Telegrapher. 1 August, 7 PM.

Temporary truce. Afghans surrender terms. No quarters given. Telegrapher. 1 August, 8 PM.

Men vote. Fight to death. Maj. Rawlings, Lt. Muckerjey sixteen men. Rations seized. Telegrapher. 1 August, 9 PM.

North flank Capt. Clowdisley, Capt. Grierson, Lt. Perkins, One hundred fifty-three men. Captured and slaughtered. Telegrapher. 1 August, 10 PM.

Central citadel defended by three hundred. Lt. Michelin, Sixty fallen east wall. Telegrapher. 1 August, 11 PM.

West wall gunned. Lt. Thatcher, Twenty-three. Telegrapher. 1 August, Midnight.

Col. Sanderson, Lt. Sprightly, fourteen men east citadel gate.. Telegrapher. 2 August, 2 AM.

Maj. Lawley Command. Seventy-nine. Final fight. Telegrapher. 2 August, 4 AM.

Eighty-three, east gate breached. West gate thirteen. Telegrapher. 2 August, 6 AM.

Maj. Lawley fallen. Nineteen. Afghans stalled below tower. Bayonetting. Telegrapher. 2 August, 7 AM.

Tower entered. Twenty four. Telegrapher. 2 August, 8 AM.

Three men standing. Afghan commander bayoneted by Sgt. Ramgulam. Telegrapher. 2 August, 9 AM.

Sgt. Ramgulam, Pvt. Joti Persaud fallen. Am last survivor. Telegrapher. 2 August, 9 AM.

This last telegraph. Picking up gun. Long live the Queen! Telegrapher. 2 August, 9 AM.


Afghans pushed back from fortress. Telegraph recovered. Six thousand infantry, horse and guns. Brig. Josephson. 2 August, 5 PM.

Landi Kotal Avenged. Afghans surrender. Brig. Josephson. 7 August, 5 PM.

509 words (telegrams only).


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