MuseumJigsaw : Going to the Front by W.C Horsley

“Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle”

These rhythmic lines from R.L. Stevenson’s ‘From a Railway Carriage’ convey the energy and thrill of trains. He compares a train’s movement to soldiers charging across the battlefield to defeat their enemies. The heavy use of imagery throughout the poem definitely paints a beautiful picture in our minds. Better yet, here’s an actual painting that reflects the excitement that surrounded trains in the 19th century.

In collaboration with Victoria Memorial Hall Kolkata, we bring you the painting ‘Going To The Front’ by W.C. Horsley.

The painting depicts Indian soldiers boarding a train to Peshawar, on their way to Afghanistan to fight the Second Afghan War (1878-80).

Can you piece this masterpiece together?

Try spotting the only woman in the painting. What is she doing? The painting also features a profession that hardly exists anymore. Can you take a guess what that could be?

Helpful Tips

# puzzle pieces might just be on top of each other – look carefully!
# make sure you have observed the painting before you start. In case you need to see the image again, scroll down or hit the picture icon on the bottom left
# hint: We found it faster to piece the two men sitting near the train together first!
#Share your finished piece with us using #MuseumJigsaw and tag @theheritagelab & @vmmkolkata on Instagram; on Facebook, use @heritagelab and @victoriamemorialhall ! Good Luck!

About the Second Anglo Afghan War

Afghanistan has historically been the buffer zone between the Russian and British Empire. It became the arena for the “Great Game” which was used to further their own military and imperial ambitions. Therefore it is not surprising to learn that many wars have been fought in this region. The painting probably depicts troops boarding a train for Second Afghan War (1878-80).

Delve deeper into this painting

In 1875, Lord Auckland was replaced by Lord Lytton as the governor general of India. He was tasked with countering the Russian incursion into Afghanistan and to secure a better frontier. The emir, ShirʿAli, denied Lytton permission to enter Afghanistan causing him to call it an ‘earthen pipken’ between two metal pots. Direct action, however, was only taken when when Russia’s General Stolyetov was allowed to enter Kabul while Lytton’s envoy, Sir Neville Chamberlain, who later went on to become the British Prime Minister, was stopped at the border by Afghan troops. In return, Lytton launched the Second Afghan War on November 21, 1878. The British army occupied Kabul, as it had in the first war, and a treaty was signed at Gandamak on May 26, 1879, recognising Yakub Khan, Shir ʿAli’s son, as emir who agreed to receive a permanent British embassy at Kabul. He also agreed to conduct his foreign relations in line “with the wishes and advice” of the British government.

Role of trains in Military

The pressure for building railways in India came from London in the 1840s. Governor General Lord Hardinge argued in 1843 that the railways would benefit the commerce, government and military control of the country. The railways played a significant role in increasing the mobility of the troops. This allowed the North West Frontier to be better protected. After the Second Afghan War, railways became the 2nd largest expenditure item in Indian military budget. Due to the lack of internal wars in the country, the use of railways for military purposes was minimal. Only during the World Wars did the railways play a major role in the movement of troops.

Walter Charles Horsley

Walter Charles Horsley (1855-1934) was born in Kensington, U.K., in 1855. He was the son of the historical painter John Callcott Horsley. He is most known for his series of ‘oriental’ paintings executed in Cairo during the British occupation of the city. In 1875, he was commissioned by a periodical as an illustrator to record Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales’ visit to India. This trip was followed by others to India as well as several painting expeditions to Egypt, Morocco and Turkey. Horsley is widely regarded as among the great late nineteenth and early twentieth century British painters.

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