When he left the High School, Percival Henry Biddulph Furley went immediately to sit the Army Entrance Examination. He scored a record 10,000 points, over seven hundred more than the candidate in second place.
Dab was immediately sent out to India. During his short time there, he was described as…
“…specially marked as a man to keep on as a future adjutant…the officers and men loved him.”
And that was it for Second Lieutenant Percival Henry Biddulph Furley. His game was up. He was mere hours from buying his farm.
The Grim Reaper put his newspaper down, switched off the radio, got to his feet and reached for his trusty scythe:
Dab Furley was only nineteen years old, but, instead of letting him get used gently to military life in India by posting him to some nice peaceful place, the authorities immediately sent him to the North West Frontier. Most probably, Dab went straight to the recently constructed Miranshah Fort, which the British had built in 1905 to control North Waziristan. There could have been no place more dangerous in the whole of the British Empire:
Here, operations were continually being carried out against the Wazirs and the Mahsuds along what would nowadays be the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is a condensed version of the official record of events:
“Reports had been very persistent at Miranshah of an impending advance by Afghan troops, but these were discounted by a reliable report that these forces were short of transport and supplies, and were adopting a defensive role.
Their leader continued to incite the Wazirs to attack and by May 31st large numbers of tribesmen had assembled. The General Officer Commanding the 67th (Bannu) Brigade decided to disperse these hostile tribesmen. They would also destroy certain villages whose inhabitants were known to have committed offences, and to have participated in attacks on the posts:
The following day the North Waziristan Militia moved out with 250 men and fought a very successful action. The enemy was put to flight with a loss of about 90 and the towers from where he had been sniping the Miranshah Fort were destroyed. Our casualties were Second Lieutenant PHB Furley, of the 1st/41st Dogras, and two Indian soldiers killed, and five Indian ranks wounded.”
Dab Furley was killed on June 1st 1919. He was just nineteen years old. His family church back in Nottingham expressed their sympathy in the All Saints Church News of August 1919:
“The sympathy of the Church goes out to the bereaved. Percival Henry Biddulph Furley, 72 Cromwell Street, 2nd Lieut. 41st Dogras Indian Army; killed in action at Miranshah, W India, June 1st 1919; age 19; Communicant; educated Nottingham High School, Captain of School and Cricket XI; first in all England Examination for Indian Army. Letters from his CO and Company Commander speak very warmly of his character and soldierly gallantry.”
The Grim Reaper opened his back door, put his trusty scythe back in the kitchen cupboard alongside the vacuum cleaner, got a beer out of the fridge and went off to watch the football.
By 1919, various wars in this benighted land had already dragged on for the best part of a hundred years. They continued on and off during the 1920s. In the 1930s, the struggle was eagerly taken up by Mirza Ali, the Faqir of Ipi, who intensified violence in the region. Here he is. He reminds me very strongly of somebody, although I can’t quite put my finger on it:
The interminable cycle of wrongdoing and violence still continues to this very day. In the early 1950s, the Pakistan Air Force carried out operations from Miranshah Airfield and Miranshah Fort against a serious revolt led by another rebellious Faqir.
After 9/11, the “War on Terror” saw almost countless strikes by pilotless drones of the US Central Intelligence Agency, in an attempt to kill militants and terrorists hiding in Miranshah or the surrounding area:
Dab’s death is commemorated on the Delhi Memorial in India, on Face 3.
Dab’s remains were actually buried in 1919 in the garden of the local political agent at Miranshah. At the time of writing, though, this grave was unfortunately not one of the many, many thousands to which the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is able to extend its protection, and Dab’s last resting place is nowadays presumably neglected or even lost for ever. It would be a very brave person indeed who tried to place a wreath on it at the present time. Here is Miranshah after a drone strike:
Talking of the Great War, the school magazine “Highvite” had previously spoken of the keenly felt losses of such talented young men as Harold Ballamy, Charles Boyd, Walter Howard, James Turpin and John Wootton, but this last death of Dab Furley seems to have hit the High School very, very hard. It came after some 300 previous deaths in the Great War but worse than that, at a time when the country was preparing to celebrate peace at last.
“finest type of English boy…keen, intelligent and thoughtful ; all manly sports… gifted …hard-working, loyal and unselfish…straight and true… unfeignedly modest… of a stainless purity.”
How foolish our nation had been, to throw away the lives of so many hundreds of thousands of its most talented young men in these blood soaked and pointless conflicts.
13 responses to ““Dab” Furley Part Three”
A nice piece of thoughtful writing John and a very perceptive conclusion. Unfortunately, as a historian myself one thing I know to be true is that we learn very little from history and there is no truer saying than what goes around comes around.
Yes, it is all very sad. And even now, we seem to be preparing for another costly conflict.
Very good set of posts about Dab. I learned a lot here. Looking forward to your next subject.
Thanks very much for your interest. Hopefully, I will think of something!!
Such an inspired way of presenting the folly of war
Thank you very much for your kind words. I just think we need to weigh one human life and the happiness of all the people who love them against some desperately important military objective.
What a terrible waste of a young and talented man. Summed up so well John. This region will no doubt always have unrest and violence in its nature. It’s what they do.
Yes it is. And we should try to be a little bit more imaginative on how we combat them. Why, for example, are we not crop spraying their fields, which produce, supposedly, 95% of the world’s heroin?
An interesting idea John. Attacking the problem from a different angle may well yield better results.
An Afghani tow truck driver once told me that no one could hate as well as his people. Proudly, he proclaimed “It is what we do best and always have.”
And always will. No doubt.
Well, they certainly seem to have practiced long enough!
Dear John, it has been amazing to find this on the internet as we were looking up family history, and to find that you chose my great uncle to home in on and write 3 full pieces about! My dad was Oliver Furley, uncle David Furley, and I made many visits to 72 Cromwell Street when my grandparents were alive. That was Athelstane, percival’s elder brother.
What a sad sad story. I tried to ask about his grave in Pakistan and even found a local administrator from Miranshah who confirmed his grave was near the wall of the fort, but indeed, too hairy a place to actually visit. Since I have not brought my own children to Notttingham yet (they are half Russian and we don’t live in UK). can we find you one day when we do?! It would be a great pleasure for us.