A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

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A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 20 Dec 2016 02:27

Hello all, perhaps you can assist with a puzzle! And thank you for this very interesting forum.

This British Royal Artillery sword , made by Thurkle, approximate date 1850-1890, has a typical Afghan Pulwar hilt applied.
It was service sharpened, but shows no actual combat damage. Provenance unknown, save for being purchased at a show in the US. My conjecture is this sword was captured from a British Officer in Afghanistan, and an Afghan hilt applied to suit the new owner. Alas I do not have the scabbard, although it was obviously present when the hilt was applied, otherwise there would be no reason to cut off the lauguets on the hilt.

It has one distinguishing feature, an engraving that looks like a Seal with two soldiers with flags shaking hands. A little imagination would conclude they were of different units, perhaps a Gurkha and a Highlander, or something of that nature.
Experts at the Sword Forum have mentioned this is an unusual feature to find on the ricasso.
Have you any idea on what that Seal could be, or where to search?


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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby RobD » 20 Dec 2016 10:20

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Is it reminiscent of the design on the India General Service Medal 1895?
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 21 Dec 2016 18:47

Thank you RobD, The Indian Service Medal does have a similar motif- I was unaware of this.
Here is another Native-British friendship motif - The Arms of Lord Roberts- this is the only representation of those Arms I could find- Shows troopers from the 72nd Highlanders and the 5th Gurhkas supporting his arms.
Perhaps someone associated with the Indian or Afghan wars decided to use this motif as a Regimental or Family seal.

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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby Will Mathieson » 21 Dec 2016 19:41

The sword may have been a gift to an Indian officer/
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 22 Dec 2016 01:59

Will, that is certainly a possibility. I would love to see some other examples of British blades with Indian or Afghan hilts, especially ones that were not "trade" blades.

You know, there is a question- I have heard reference to many Martini's, etc. being found in Afghanistan, but what did happen to all of the British swords and other accoutrements that must have been picked up by the Afghans? Have any been found? One would think the bazaars of Kabul must have had some interesting British relics. On some of the arms forums there are servicemen who have brought swords back, but all the ones I have read about were native pieces.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby Will Mathieson » 22 Dec 2016 02:08

British sword blades were usually made of good spring steel, and this is just a guess, the Afghans could have used sword blades as spring steel for other purposes such as making springs for their firearms. Afghan swords were not made of spring steel and generally poorer quality steel so those survived while British swords were repurposed.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 23 Dec 2016 02:40

I don't know a lot about Afghan culture, but suspect they would more likely treat a captured weapon as a war trophy and family heirloom. Maybe one of the folks who have served over there can comment on what they saw in the markets.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby jonc@adelaide.on.net » 23 Dec 2016 11:20

stoneaxe wrote:Will, that is certainly a possibility. I would love to see some other examples of British blades with Indian or Afghan hilts, especially ones that were not "trade" blades.

You know, there is a question- I have heard reference to many Martini's, etc. being found in Afghanistan, but what did happen to all of the British swords and other accoutrements that must have been picked up by the Afghans? Have any been found? One would think the bazaars of Kabul must have had some interesting British relics. On some of the arms forums there are servicemen who have brought swords back, but all the ones I have read about were native pieces.


In 1965 (yes some of us are that old) I bought a Martini bayonet in the Kabul bazaar plus a Brown Bess with Local stock that I think was entirely locally made ( I posted pictures of the musket somewhere on this forum.
The only other items on the stall were pre revolutionary rouble notes and samovars. This was all I saw of early "western" items. I
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 24 Dec 2016 03:09

Somewhere on this forum, there was reference to a current Military member who was working near Maiwand. IIRC, he made mention of the local boys having an extensive, 400 year knowledge of the communities history. This is the sort of thing that makes me think they may have retained battle trophies as family heirlooms.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby RobD » 24 Dec 2016 12:08

Not Afghanistan, but on the theme of adapting something of significance, as a boy in Zululand I was shown traditional womens' beadwork with 19thC QVC military buttons incorporated into the pattern. This was the mid 1960s.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby Garen » 11 Jan 2017 12:34

Just a couple of thoughts looking at this ...

The engraving of the two figures and its immediate surrounding decoration do not look professional, in contrast to the usual British sword patterning on the blade. The circle is thick and slightly uneven and the scroll across the bottom is similarly amateurish. Is that writing around the circle? It doesn't quite look like formal Arabic or Pashto (I'm no expert), but may be a hand-written form of some kind. If it's not writing it's an odd and somewhat random pattern.

This leads me to think the figures were engraved by a tribesman, possibly at the same time as the handle was 'localised'.

I don't see anything explicit to help recognise the figures. The headgear of the one on the right looks kind of Sikh, but could also be Afghan, with its protrusion from the turban (?) - but it's pretty crude.

A fantastic item though!

Your question about swords being found reminds me of Lt. Harford who drowned in the Kabul River in 1879. When his body was found his sword was missing - it turned up 15 years later during the Chitral expedition, hidden in the roof beams of an Afghan hut.

http://www.garenewing.co.uk/angloafghan ... okabul.php

Best - Garen
The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-80 www.angloafghanwar.info
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby Will Mathieson » 11 Jan 2017 16:04

I'd have to disagree that tribesmen etched a blade, definitely not their artistic style at all.
The slight imperfections in etching, realizing how small it is, is understandable and it is not the main focus of the overall design.
The circle is maybe 3/8" in diameter and I'm amazed the figures are as detailed as they are. Even Wilkinson etching is not perfect under a magnifier and would result in similar imperfections.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 12 Jan 2017 08:33

The circle is about 3/8" dia , the figures are about 3/16" tall. So the work is finer than at first it may appear, because of the scale.

There must have been a lot of swords lost in the various campaigns in India and Afghanistan, yet I have had no success in finding other examples online. Of course provenance is everything, if someone found an intact example at a market in Kabul, and brought it back, how would we know? The only clue to provenance on this blade is the replaced hilt. And who knows? It could have been done by some bored bodger in his garage. The hilt is a bit loose on the blade,the old mastic having dried out, and I have been tempted to gently drive out the retaining pin and examine the tang, to see what it looks like. A shiny new hacksaw cut would tell a completely different story than an old chisel cut.

It would be very interesting to talk to some Afghan descendants of the warriors who fought in the first and second wars and see what they had to say about family heirlooms!
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby Will Mathieson » 13 Jan 2017 15:27

I would refrain from disassembling the sword. Once disassembled the retaining pin and any other bit that gets marred up in the process would strongly suggest a recent marriage of parts. This would also devalue the piece.
You can tell by the patina that this has been together a long time.
I'm sure there are others in similar form, I've found just because web searches don't find them does not mean they are not out there.
This sword has a lot of history going for it.
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Re: A Afghan captured sword? With unknown insignia.

Postby stoneaxe » 15 Jan 2017 06:19

Will, Thank you for the advice. It makes good sense. I will leave it alone. May the original owner rest in peace. His name may never be known but it is unlikely he gave up his sword willingly.
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