Dr William Brydon of the British East India Company Army was the only survivor of an army of 4,500 men and 12,000 camp followers to reach safety at Jalalabad in Afghanistan.

Although it later emerged that a further 115 British officers and soldiers, along with their wives and children, had survived as hostages Brydon was the only Briton to have escaped from Kabul without being captured.

Part of the First Anglo-Afghan War, British troops had maintained a garrison in Kabul since 1839 following the restoration of the British-supported Shuja Shah. On 2 November 1841 a group of locals, under the leadership of Akbar Khan, launched an uprising against the occupying forces. The British commander General William Elphinstone, who had been called “the most incompetent soldier who ever became general” by his contemporary General William Nott, did little to re-establish control and instead agreed to the British withdrawal to the garrison at Jalalabad.

Having handed over gunpowder, new muskets and canon to Akbar Khan in return for safe passage approximately 16,000 British soldiers and civilians left Kabul on 6 January 1842. They were soon set upon by Afghan tribes, and within three days 3,000 people had died while the column had only moved 25 miles. Freezing conditions and desertions further increased the losses so that by 11 January the army had been reduced to just 200 men. A final standoff at the Gandamak pass finished off much of the rest of the British army leaving only Brydon, who had earlier become separated from the remnants of the army, to make it to Jalalabad alone despite his own life-threatening injuries. On being asked what had happened to the rest of the army Brydon is said to have responded, “I am the army”.

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