3b: Field Marshal Sir George Pollock Bart., GCB, GCSI

4 June 1786 – 6 October 1872

Sir George Pollock George Pollock entered the Royal Military Academy of Woolwich on 21st January, 1801. On leaving he entered the Bengal Artillery and sailed for India in September 1803.

His first action was the Battle of Deig (November 1804), against the Mahrattas under Holkar and he was present at the siege of Bhurtpore (January – February 1805).

After a period of staff appointments, he took part in the 1814-16 Nepal War. He returned to his staff duties until 1824 when he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. At this time he was ordered to take sick-leave in England but he managed to get appointed to the British forces in Burma where he played a conspicuous role which won him the CB.

He returned to England in 1827 on sick leave where he remained until 1830 when he was posted to Cawnpor. He received his King’s commission as Colonel in 1835 and in 1838 became Brigadier-General in Dinapore. That same year he became Major-General at Agra.

In 1838, the Governor-General of India decided to invade Afghanistan to proclaim a pro-British former ruler as king of Afghanistan. The initial campaign was a success but at the end of 1841 the 5000 British and Indian troops and 12000 camp-followers, wives and children withdrew from Kabul. Legend has it that only one (Dr. Brydon) reached the British garrison at Jellalabad in January 1842. There was now almost nothing between the Afghanistan forces and India.

After this disaster, General Pollock was given command in February of the British army in Peshawar, whose very shaky morale he restored by the strength of his personality. He advanced through the Khyber Pass to Jellalabad, whose garrison he relieved in April after defeating an enemy force of 10,000 for the loss of 135.

At this moment General Nott, who had advanced from India to Kandahar through Quetta, was authorised to retreat to India through Kabul and Pollock was authorised to do what was necessary to protect the British troops. Both generals took advantage of the badly-written orders to advance on Kabul. Pollock reached Kabul on September 15th after fighting the battles of Jugdulluck Pass and Tezeen; and Nott arrived the 17th, after fighting the battle of Ghuzmee.

Meanwhile the Afghan leader had fled towards Turkhistan with his prisoners, and Pollock ordered his military secretary, Sir Richmond Shakespeare, to rescue them, with Sir Richard Sale, the commander of the Jellalabad garrison, in support. Shakespeare caught up with them on the 17th and delivered them to Sale on the 20th. Amongst the rescued captives were Sale’s own wife and daughter.

Pollock and Nott withdrew to India in October after wreaking huge destruction including the demolition of the huge and ancient covered market. Once again they had to fight their way through the Khyber Pass. Pollock’s division passed through with the loss of one or two men, but the other divisions did not take the same precautions and suffered more, but in any case the “retreat” had been another great victory.

In December, 1943, Pollock became political President at Lucknow, a post a that time of considerable difficulty, and in 1844 was transferred to Calcutta as military member of the Supreme Council of India.

On his arrival in the city of Palaces, the British inhabitants who had lived through the panic that prevailed in the disastrous days of the Cabul massacre, and were therefore well able to appreciate Pollock’s great merits, raised a subscription of 11,000 rupees to perpetuate the memory of his great services by instituting a medal, to be presented twice a year “to the most distinguished cadet at the East India Company’s Military Seminary, at Addiscombe, on passing the biennial examination for a commission,” and sent him an address, in which after recapitulating the achievements of the army he commanded, they say:

“We honour you for the reluctance you evinced to return to the provinces from Jellalabad, a return, with that (the march to Cabul) unattempted, which, by your perseverance, was at last accomplished, would have left a stain upon your country, that not time nor circumstances could ever have effaced. . . .

“Your short but glorious career of service in Afghanistan, now assumed a character of intense and painful interest, requiring the most cautious discretion, combined with an energy and decision that seemed scarcely compatible with its exercise. Too much or too little of either, in however slight a degree, and we still had to mourn – how many of our countrymen, women and children, held in hopeless captivity by an exasperated enemy, who had every motive to insult, and none to spare them . . . . The courage and ability demanded and displayed were in the cause of humanity, a cause which was hallowed and approved by heaven, and those who, abandoned, had pined and sunk to an untimely grave, live to bless the name of him who restored them to freedom and to life.”

Pollock, in replying to this address, on the 2nd of November, 1844, wrote with his accustomed modesty:“I feel it impossible adequately to express my sense of the obligation you have conferred on me, by the desire you have shown to perpetuate in my native country your too flattering estimation of my military services, by the presentation of medals to students at Addiscombe. Though not educated at Addiscombe I concur most unreservedly in the very high respect and estimation justly bestowed on this institution by public opinion. You have thus conferred on me a lasting distinction, at once delicate and far beyond my deserts.”

The Pollock Prize was transferred to the Royal Military College at Woolwich when the East India Company’s Military Academy at Addiscombe was closed after the transfer of military power in India to the Army.

The medal was later remodelled. A gold version was sold at auction in Baltimore in March 2010 for $3,068. These images are reproduced by permisson of the auctioneers Bowers & Merena, who catalogued it as:45.16 mm; 65.0 gms. See Brown-2058. Military bust of General Pollock left, inscription around./Ten-line inscription. Edge inscription: LAMBERT CAMERON JACKSON AUGUST 1895. Medal by B. Wyon. House in original fitted Wyon case. Very light hairlines, primarily on the obverse.

It can certainly be argued that Pollock has subsequently been treated unfairly. Many have argued that his victories for such small losses were due to the superiority of the British forces over the Afghans, and not to the care with which he planned the campaign. If this is true then we are forced to ask why the initial forces were so easily defeated with catastrophic consequences and why other campaigns in the Afghan mountains have also failed.

George Pollock retired in 1870 with the rank of Field Marshall and was made Constable of the Tower in 1871. He was awarded the GCSI in 1861 and the GCB in 1873, and made a baronet in 1872. Sir George died 6 Oct 1872 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Sources: http://www.pollock.4mg.com/Memoir.htm. See also William Dalrymple: Return of a King – the Battle for Afghanistan (Bloomsbury, 2013)

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