“I had fortunately only one ball in my arm: three others passed through my poshteen near the shoulder without doing me any injury.
-Lady Sale, A Journal of the First Afghan War (1843)
The wife of Sir Robert Henry “Fighting Bob” Sale, a British Army officer, Lady Sale earned the attribution “Grenadier in Petticoats” due to her constant presence abroad with her husband as his regiment served across the European and Asian continents from the 1820s to the 1840s.[i] She was born Florentia Wynch to second-generation civil servants working for the British East India Company in Madras in 1787. After marrying Sale in 1808, the couple traveled during much of their marriage, living in England, Ireland, and Mauritius before returning to India at the start of the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824. With Sale, she had a total of ten children, five of whom survived into adulthood. She raised her children in Calcutta and Agra until her departure in 1840 to join Sale in Kabul. Lady Sale’s popularity in the Afghan cantonments was due as much to her elevated rank—married to a Brigadier General, she was ranked second among the officer’s wives—as it was to her “formidable personality” (Waller p. 160). It is telling that more than one century after the Afghan War, Lady Sale is remembered by Waller as “a remarkable woman” and by Jane Robinson as “a heroine” of the British imperial project.[ii]
Lady Sale’s Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan provides a detailed description of her time in Afghanistan before, during, and shortly after her captivity. She and the other captives were held in the camp of General Khan for the better part of nine months, until their eventual release and retrieval by Sir Richmond Shakespear.
[i] Don Schurman, “Review of The First Afghan War,” Military Affairs 33.3 (1969): 409.
[ii] Waller, Beyond the Khyber Pass (New York: Random House, 1990), 160; and Jane Robinson, “Foreword,” in A Journal of the First Afghan War, ed. Patrick Macrory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), xi.
[iii] Lady Florentia Sale, A Journal of the First Afghan War, ed. Patrick Macrory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 93. Subsequent references will be cited parenthetically in the text.