The Road to Kabul: British Armies in Afghanistan, 1838–1919

At present there is a temporary exhibition at the National Army Museum in London, The Road to Kabul: British Armies in Afghanistan, 1838–1919. It is open until “spring 2011”, and I went along on 9 January 2011.

It is quite interesting (and free), although I think it probably helps to go armed with at least some background knowledge on the three Anglo-Afghan wars. It is a very traditional exhibition, with medals, photographs and objects “associated with” various people involved in the wars. There are some interactive touch-screens, and while I am of the view that such things are the work of the devil, these ones were actually functional and do provide access to some interesting photographs.

The only railway content is, unsurprisingly, in the photographs forming part of the display on the Third Afghan War. There is an interesting picture of a narrow gauge troop train in [what was then] India on show in the museum, but not on the website (as far as I can tell).

There is also a photo showing the “Ropeway transit system at Landi Kotal c.1919” (Photo NAM 1963-09-633-12). This is the first photo I have seen of the Khyber Pass ropeway, which is mentioned in passing in PSA Berridge’s book Couplings to the Khyber, which says “Two roads and an aerial ropeway preceded the inflexible iron road” in the Khyber Pass.

Finally, the exhibition highlights this quote:

In Kabul in 2001 I was sent with a unit to meet with an Afghan government minister. We had to explain that we weren’t Russian, we were British. As soon as we did he rounded on us and shouted: ‘British? You burned down the covered market!’ My first thought was s***, what have the Paras done now? I apologised and we got on with the meeting. Back at base I asked who had burned down the market. Blank faces all round, until someone at the back said he thought we had burned down the covered market. In 1842.
Warrant Officer, 1 Mechanised Brigade

Also coming up this year is an exhibition at the British Museum called Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, which is open from 3 March to 3 July 2011.

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