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Kelly’s 12 Christmas Days – No 4, Tibet 1903

December 15, 2016

Thomas Kelly found himself deep into Tibet on Christmas Day 1903 but with a decent meal and a ‘Best Beard’ competition to take his mind off the hardships he faced. He was a medical officer on the Tibet-Sikkim Mission, sometimes called the Younghusband Expedition, although not by Kelly who loathed Francis Younghusband.

Kelly’s medical unit crossed the Himalayas and arrived at the main expedition base at Chumbi on Christmas Day 1903, just in time to enjoy the one break he was going to have from the monotonous diet of porridge, mutton stew, biscuits, jam and chapatis with the occasional ration of butter. The officers at Chumbi sat down to a Christmas dinner of turkey, ham, plum pudding, mincemeat, cake and champagne, which must have tested the supply lines to the limit. The champagne arrived almost frozen, however, not something that would have bothered Kelly as a teetotaller. This was to be the last culinary treat for a long time as Charles Allen comments in Duel in the Snows: “Almost ten months passed before any of those present enjoyed another meal even half as good”.

Firewood was in short supply and was limited to cooking so the men, officers included, had to rely on the many layers of winter clothing they had been issued to keep warm, much of it not removed for days on end. Just about every man abandoned shaving, prompting the commanding officer General Leslie Macdonald to jokingly offer a prize for the best beard by Christmas. Unfortunately, we don’t know who won the prize.

The picture shows Kelly – with beard – back right. General McDonald is seated centre.

The Kelly story is told in Fighting for the Empire.

Follow his remarkable life through 12 Christmas Days.

Next: No 5 – Iran, 1906

Previous: No 3 – Chitral, North West Frontier 1900

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