Mollie Ellis and her Pashtun rescuers

Pashtun rescuers of Mollie Ellis

Mollie Ellis (the young girl sitting in front) along with Pashtun men who played key role in negotiating her release from Ajab Khan Afridi (who had kidnapped her from Kohat).

Mollie Ellis and Ajab Khan Afridi
April 22, 1923: Lilian Starr is wrapped in blankets given to her by Kuli Khan Khattak (standing man on extreme left). Standing third from left is Nasrullah khan Orakzai

British government sought the services of following men (and a woman) for her recovery: 

1- Kuli Khan Khattak (a Khan Bahadur) 
2- Mughal Baz Khan Kuki-Khel Afridi (a Khan Bahadur) 
3- Nasrullah Khan Orakzai of Bhana Mari 
4- Malik Habib Khan Afridi of Babari Banda 
5- Malik Mir Muhammad Khan Bangash of Sadda and few others 
6- Lillian Starr (a British nurse working in Peshawar) 
Kuli Khan Khattak, Mughal Baz Khan and Lillian Starr were awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal by the viceroy on behalf of George V.

Ajab Khan Afridi, the Pashtun kidnapper of Mollie Ellis

In 1920, a gang of men broke into the armoury of the Cavalry Lines at Kohat cantt and carried off about 100 rifles. British suspected that Ajab Khan Bosti-Khel Afridi and his men were the ones who did it. British troops raided his village, and it is said that besides men they also subjected the women of the village to body search. British did not find any stolen rifles in the village. Ajab Khan avowed to avenge the insult of the body search of the women of his house and village by British. On the night of 14/15 November 1920, some men entered Kohat Cantonment from the south-east and broke into Bungalow No.36, occupied by Colonel Foulkes. They murdered both Colonel Foulkes and his wife. Soon after Ajab Khan sought refuge in Tirah. Later, he returned in February 1922 and broke into the armoury of Police Lines at Kohat and carried off 46 rifles. His village was immediately cordoned off and searched by the Frontier Constabulary. Thirty-three stolen rifles were recovered. The searching party also recovered certain items from Ajab Khan’s house that proved his involvement in Colonel and Mrs. Foulke’s murder.  Decades after the incident, Shahzada Khan (brother of Ajab Khan) admitted that once they attempted to kidnap a British officer and his wife but failed and ended up killing them both.  

On the night of 13/14th April of 1923, Ajab Khan and his men entered bungalow No.26 in Kohat Cantonment and broke into Colonel Ellis room to abduct the Colonel. The latter was out on some military exercise. In the absence of Colonel Ellis, Ajab Khan decided to kidnap his daughter Mollie Ellis. When wife of Colonel Ellis shouted for help, Shahzada Khan (Ajab Khan’s brother) stabbed and killed her with dagger to silence her. According to Kuli Khan Khattak, Ajab Khan told him that he had taken the girl by mistake, believing her to be a boy because of her short hair.

Ajab Khan took her to the Khanki Bazar village of Tirah. When Kuli Khan Khattak secured audience with Mullah Mahmud Akhundzada, an influential cleric of Tirah, the latter confirmed to him that Mollie was held by Ajab Khan in cleric’s home village of Khanki Bazar. At the urging of Kuli Khan, Mullah Mahmud persuaded Ajab Khan to hand over Mollie to his own protection. Talks between the Ajab Khan’s men and the British representatives took place at the Mullah Mahmud’s house while Mrs Starr cared for Mollie. Ultimately Ajab Khan Afridi surrendered Mollie Ellis in exchange for release of two of his men who were held in Kohat jail.

British pride was badly injured so 15 British warplanes flew over Tirah with the threat of bombing. Consequently, the representatives of tribes there were pressurized by British to declare Ajab Khan’s band as their enemies. They said the kidnappers and their families would not be permitted to enter their territories and it would be the tribes’ duty to hand them over if they tried it. Ajab Khan fled to Afghanistan, but the tribes of Tirah continued to harbor two of his men, defying the threats by British.

Mollie Ellis visited her mother’s grave after 60 years

In 1984 Mollie Eliss visited Kohat to visit her mother’s grave and on that occasion, she stated that she was gently and respectfully treated by her kidnappers. Inscription on her mother grave reads: “Dearly beloved wife of Maj AJ Ellis foully murdered at Kohat on April 14, 1923, aged 46 years.”

Mollie Ellis
Mollie Ellis in Kohat in 1983, visiting her mother’s grave
Kuli Khan Khattak
Morning April 23, 1923, Lilian Starr, wearing her khaki topi, Quli Khan Khattak, with necktie and turban, Mollie Ellis, white topi, with Major Ellis and Sir John Maffey, respectively on the far right
Ajab Khan Afridi
Mollie Ellis in Pakistan, 1984. Source
The house in Tirah where Mollie Eliis was kept after kidnapping, The man in the photo is Ajab Khan’s son Nek Muhammad. Source
Ajab Khan Afridi
Ajab Khan Afridi (man on extreme left) and his companions. Source
Lillian Starr
Three men of Ajab Khan Afridi’s band, and Mollie Ellis and Lillian Starr, at Tirah. 1967’s drawing by CL Doughty. Source

Names of the notable companions of Ajab Khan Afridi

1- Shahzada Khan (younger brother of Ajab Khan Afridi) 
2- Haider Shah Punjabi (he was married to Ajab Khan Afridi’s daughter) 
3- Sultan Mir Afridi 
4- Gul Akbar Afridi (son of Sultan Mir Afridi) 
5- Sher Khan Punjabi 
6- Allah Yar Khan (from Sumari village of Kohat) 
7- Alam Khan 
8- Kamal Khan 
9- Saaz Mir Shinwari


1- ‘History of the Pathans’, Volume-4, by Haroon Rashid
2- ‘Adam Khel Afridi Tarikh ke Aine may’ by Azeem Afridi

5- New details uncovered of British girl’s kidnap and rescue in 1920s Raj


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