'Major-General Sir Robert Sale GCB, Colonel of the 13th of Prince Albert's Regt of Light Infantry The Defender of Jellalbad [sic]'
Lithograph by R J Lane, 1846 (c). Published by J Dickinson and Son, London, 1846.
Robert Henry Sale (1782-1845) was commissioned into the 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot in 1795. His initial service was with the 12th (East Suffolk) Foot in India where he took part in the Battle of Mallavelly and the capture of Seringaptam during the 4th Mysore War (1799). Promoted captain in 1806, two years later Sale was engaged in the Malabar against Velu Thampi, the rebellious Dalawa of Travancore. In 1810 he accompanied the expedition to Mauritius, and in 1813 obtained his majority before transferring to the 13th (Somersetshire Light Infantry) Regiment. During the 1st Burma War (1824-1826) he led the 13th in all the actions up to the capture of Rangoon. Sale was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, wounded at the Battle of Malun (1826) and ended the campaign commanding a brigade. For these services he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the Bath (CB).
At the start of the 1st Afghan War (1839-1842), Brevet-Colonel Sale commanded the 1st Bengal Brigade during the advance on Kandahar. He then took part in the march to Kabul and led one of the storming columns at Ghazni in July 1839. For his services Sale was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and received the local rank of major-general. In late 1841 Sale's brigade was sent back to India; but it encountered such hostility from the Ghilzai tribesmen of the Khoord-Kabul Pass, whose subsidies had been cut, that it had to seek refuge at Jellalabad fort on 12 November 1841.
Despite being ordered to return to Kabul following the murder of the British envoy, Sale decided to ignore these instructions. Resisting his personal desire to return to protect his wife and daughter who were in the Afghan capital, he at once set about preparing the half-ruined fortress for a siege. The ramparts were widened and parapets raised. In addition, cover outside the walls was removed by demolishing buildings and filling ditches. The garrison withstood a siege from mid-November 1841 until April 1842 when the besieging Afghans retired partly as a result of Sale's own sorties, including a brilliantly planned and successful attack on Akbar Khan's lines on 7 April, and partly upon the approach of Major-General George Pollock's Army of Retribution.
Sale was promoted to Knight Grand Cross (GCB) and to mark his heroic leadership during the siege salutes were fired at every cantonment in India. Sale then accompanied Pollock to Kabul where he rescued Lady Sale and their daughter in person after advancing into hostile territory at the head of a cavalry detachment. Sale later received the thanks of parliament.
Despite his reputation as a ferocious disciplinarian, Sale was very popular with his men as he invariably led from the front, often engaging in single combat with the enemy during battles in Burma and Afghanistan. This earned him the nickname 'Fighting Bob'. In 1845, as quartermaster-general to General Sir Hugh Gough's army, he took part in the 1st Sikh War (1845-1846) and was killed in action at Moodkee on 21 December 1845.
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National Army Museum, Out of Copyright
National Army Museum, Study collection
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