Home of the Infantry Regiments of Berkshire and Wiltshire

Opening of the Afghanistan Exhibition

The new Afghanistan exhibition has been officially opened by the Mayor of Salisbury, Mrs Bobbie Chettleburgh.

Our picture shows (from left to right) Bobbie (the dog), Bobbie (the Mayor) Michael, (the Curator), and Jackie (the Assistant Curator).

The Mayor read from a speech which was made for her by the Rifles Museum which highlighted the reasons why we put the exhibition together. The speech reads as follows.

'This new exhibition, which is entitled simply 'Afghanistan', has been produced as a tribute to the soldiers of the Rifles Regiment and their antecedent regiments of Berkshire and Wiltshire who have fought in battles past and present in Afghanistan.

The British public are aware that British forces are currently operating in Afghanistan, but very few know that we have been there before! In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British forces that participated in fighting in Afghanistan were largely overlooked because of operations in other parts of the world that were more readily understood such as South Africa - against the Zulus and the Boers -  and Egypt and the Sudan - against the Mahdi and Haddendoa whom the Victorian soldiers referred to as  "Fuzzy Wuzzies"!

One hundred and thirty years ago our armies fought an army of tribesmen in Afghanistan. In 1880, on the arid plain of Maiwand, just North of Khandahar, a British/Indian force of 1,500, including 530 officers and men of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, fought against an Afghan force of around 30,000 and who outnumbered our artillery 6 to 1. After several hours  of fighting the order to withdraw was given; up until that point the 66th had hardly lost any men, though the Indian army had suffered badly. In the withdrawal our forces had to cross a deep ravine and they took heavy casualties. Eventually 120 survivors withdrew through to the village of Khig. A group of Officers and nine other ranks who stayed in a walled garden gave covering fire to their comrades to effect a safe withdrawal and in doing so paid the ultimate price.

In 2005, the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry, one of the antecedent units of The Rifles, was one of the first Regiments to be deployed in Afghanistan during 'Operation Herrick'. Although two soldiers were lost, these were to be only the first of many more to come.

Between December 2008 and the 4th April 2010, the Rifles have lost forty four soldiers and many more have been left horribly maimed. They are fighting (as did their forebears) in harsh terrain across deserts and mountains, and although the scale of the losses may be small in comparison to those at the Battle of Maiwand, the fighting today is no less horrific. Instead of rifles, guns, swords and knives it is now rockets, rifles and I.E.D.'s or the Improvised Explosive Devices, which beside killing their victims, can cause horrific injuries. As we all see on our television screens, the Taliban have proved to be a formidable army of fighters, just the same as the Afghan tribesmen of 1880!

On behalf of the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, I (the mayor), hope that this new display of past and modern artefacts, photographs, text boards, moving images and a Rifles Roll of Honour which is being kept updated, will enable people to understand what life was and is like for our soldiers serving in Afghanistan.'