Captain John Cook VC: 2nd December 1878 – Afghanistan 1878-80

Captain John Cook VC: 2nd December 1878 – Afghanistan 1878-80

Born in Edinburgh in 1843, John Cook was commissioned in 1860. In March 1973, after a series of other postings and being promoted to Captain, he joined the 5th Goorkha Regiment. Five years later, the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War ignited and 5th Goorkhas were attached to the Kurram Field Force (KFF), one of three columns under Major General Frederick Roberts, later Field Marshal Earl Roberts of Kandahar VC, in order to invade Afghanistan.

Upon arrival to the Afghan fort at Kurram, The KFF found it abandoned however reconnaissance showed that the Afghan Army was preparing a defensive position on a nearby mountain feature named Peiwar Kotal, some nine thousand four hundred feet above sea level. The position was well dug-in and so General Roberts ordered part of the KFF, lead by the 5th Goorkhas to advance just before daylight on December 2nd 1878.

Despite being spotted by Afghan sentries, the advancing Goorkhas formed up in line and charged straight at the Afghan barricade, led by Captain Cook and a Major Fitzhugh. The Goorkhas, joined soon after by the 72nd Highlanders (later the Seaforth Highlanders), swarmed the defences and managed to drive off the Afghans, but not before Captain Cook had managed to save the life of one Major Galbraith by personally overpowering an Afghan soldier who had come close to killing him. His citation reads:

“For a signal act of valour at the action of the Peiwar Kotal on the 2nd December, 1878, in having, during a very heavy fire, charged out of the entrenchments with such impetuosity that the enemy broke and fled, when, perceiving at the close of the melee, the danger of Major Galbraith, Assistant Adjutant-General, Kurum Column Field Force, who was in personal conflict with an Afghan soldier, Captain Cook distracted his attention to himself, and aiming a sword cut which the Douranee avoided, sprang upon him, and, grasping his throat, grappled with him.

They both fell to the ground.  The Douranee, a most powerful man, still endeavouring to use his rifle, seized Captain Cook’s arm in his teeth, until the struggle was ended by the man being shot through the head”.

Cook received his Victoria Cross from General Roberts personally, and continued to show bravery throughout the campaign, being promoted to Major in November 1879. In December 1879, during attempts to recapture defensive works outside of Kabul, Cook was seriously wounded and tragically died a week later.

He was later described by the Subedar-Major of the 5th Gorkhas (a man himself described as ‘the bravest of the brave’) as “The bravest man I have ever seen, braver even than Roberts Sahib Bahadur, whom all the Regiment considered very brave, above all other men”.

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