Talk about being a survivor. On January 13, 1842, Dr. William Brydon arrived at the British garrison in Jalalabad—the only person out of an original company of 4,500 military personnel and 12,000 camp followers to complete the journey from Kabul and live to tell the tale.

Brydon, an assistant surgeon with the British East India Company Army during the First Anglo-Afghan War, was stationed at Kabul when the killing of two British representatives made the army go “we are so out of here,” and pack up for the 90-mile trek to Jalalabad, the nearest garrison. The 16,000+ people making the trip (through mountain passes in January, no less) were under the impression they had been granted safe passage. They were tragically mistaken. Afghan tribesmen intercepted them and took their sweet time taking prisoners (about 50 of them) and massacring the rest.

On January 13, the troops at Jalalabad, probably wondering what was taking the Kabul contingent so long, were astonished to see a single man ride up to the town. It was Brydon, who was in pretty bad shape: part of his skull had been sheared off by a sword, and the only reason he’d escaped death had been because he had a copy of Blackwood’s Magazine stuffed into his hat. The magazine had taken the brunt of the blow.

Brydon was treated and recovered. A Greek merchant that had been part of the group from Kabul arrived two days after him, but dies shortly thereafter. The captives were eventually released.

Undeterred, Bryden went on to fight in the Second Anglo-Burmese war in 1852, and he was the regimental doctor at Lucknow during the siege, which he also survived, despite being badly wounded in the leg. He died at his home in 1873, aged 60, truly a man of steel.

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