Lieutenant Rory Stewart – Traveller, Soldier, Gentleman

DH, Going Postal
Rory Stuart MP CC Licence

In the year of our Lord 2002, a remarkable young soldier by the name of Roderick James Nugent Stewart took some good old fashioned shooting leave in Afghanistan. Upon his return to Britain, he documented his remarkable journey, taken on foot across thousands of miles of perilous terrain. He writes of gallantry, unbridled courage and ingenuity during his travels through lawless, savage provinces, hostile tribal fiefdoms and arid, scorched steppes. This incredible manuscript was recently discovered concealed within the walls of a derelict farmhouse near Kirkby Stephen in an ornate wooden box labelled #roryeasteregg,

Today, Going Postal presents an exclusive excerpt taken from what we were able to transcribe from the manuscript before some men, who said they worked’ for the government’, turned up, forced us to sign the official secrets act and held us at gunpoint whilst they burned it in the back garden.

Here, we pick up Lt Stewart’s journey as he attempts to traverse Helmand province.


The awesome, spiritual expanse of dust that is Helmand Province remains, to this day, my favourite place in which to have totally deep and cosmic early morning #rorythoughts.

The gay laughter of children in the distant opium fields is punctuated by the warm crackle of Kalashnikov fire and the jolly, knockabout Pashtun chit chat of Taliban fellows off to tease the Americans by leaving sparkly fireworks beside the road. All this seems to make the dust seem somehow dustier and the the sunrise somehow even more glimmery and instagrammable #nofilter.

I’d been in a spot of bother before I started doing my special #rorythinking Tae Bo workout that morning. My pack mule, Mr Farringcloth, who had been with me since I’d crossed the Harut six weeks earlier, had fallen ill in the heat and collapsed. It almost tore my heart out. It was like that bit in The Neverending Story where the horse gives up the will to live and sinks into the swamp. But I was not Atreyu (yet!) and luck dragons aren’t even a real animal (yet!). In a flash of #roryinspiration, I caught all my tears in my canteen for my trusty mule to drink. But alas, this act of #rorycompassion wasn’t enough to revive the poor old boy. As he slipped away, he looked into my eyes with an almost human but still uniquely mule-ish expression that literally screamed: “You did your best, Rory. You did your best.”

Being Rory, my natural instinct was to turn this tragedy into a positive by noting down “Learn to abandon your masculine pride. Let yourself cry more – it might save a mule’s life” in my little book of #rorywisdom and began busying myself building a shelter out of Mr Farringcloth’s hide and skeleton. Rory has always been a born survivor with impeccable #rorybushcraft skills. The art of not letting a perfectly good mule carcass go to waste was later passed on to Ray Mears, who is on record as saying this #rorytip has saved his life on no fewer than seven occasions.

However, the fact remained that I was alone in rural Washir without a mule to carry all my #rorywisdom notebooks and “Rory Stewart – life coach, guru, friend” business cards across the plains and mountain passes of Afghanistan. A lesser man would have found himself at a low ebb and in a poor fettle but not Rory. Rory knows there is nothing that cannot be solved with early morning Tae Bo and a level of deep contemplation bordering on astral projection. Some mornings I think so deeply that I actually have face-to-face conversations with God, who seeks my guidance and counsel. For the record, God is a sort of sheep-sized lemur-like creature. I know this wasn’t in the Bible, but #rorythinking wasn’t around in those days and Rory wasn’t around to enlighten people as to how to unlock its powers.

It was during this resplendent Washiri morning that the most incredible, inspirational #roryplanofaction yet came to me. I remembered I still had the old Soviet dog tags I’d found next to a skeleton near a burnt out tank back outside Hirat two months earlier. Call it luck, call it #roryintuition, but I knew right away that they might come in useful further along the road.

I straightened up my tribal garb, darkened my boyish face with Mr Farringcloth’s blood, gathered up my precious #rorywisdom notebooks and began marching to a point eighteen miles to the East, where upon my map there was marked a small village.

I was greeted with suspicion as I entered the village of Al Kapesh, which was made up of of little more than a handful of mud huts and free-roaming goats and pigs. The women and children ran indoors, confused by the raw, unfamiliar energy and charisma of Rory moving into their auras. The men approached me tentatively, daggers drawn. But it was okay –  nobody can stay angry with Rory for long, especially when he flashes them a fancy smile and addresses them in their own Pashtun tongue.

“Allah bless you, my brothers,” I told them. “I am Rory, from the tribe Stewart. I have travelled far from Towraghondi with news of your fallen kin, Abdul.”

Everyone in Afghanistan has a fallen family member called Abdul. This was one of the many #roryobservations I’d mentally noted along my epic journey. They stared at me, this magnificent stranger from the North, a little longer, bathing in the overpowering magnetism I had brought to their humdrum settlement. Eventually, an old man spoke to me.

“What of Abdul?”, he grunted. “What of our brother who left to join the mujahideen in 1983 and has never returned? Tell us stranger…is he alive?”

“Sadly, no,” I told them. They bristled and drew their daggers once more. But Rory had an #roryace up his sleeve – the Soviet dog tags.

“Abdul is dead. Killed by the Soviet infidel,” I declared. Then, thrusting the dog tags in the air, I cried: “But brothers – he is avenged! AVENGED!” Rory is a fine actor with a flair for the dramatic. If he wasn’t too busy spreading his #rorywisdom across the world, he would undoubtedly be a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Because of this innate thespian ability, the villagers were now eating out of his hand. Not literally, of course. I would never treat a fellow human earth citizen like a sheep at a children’s petting zoo. It’s not in my #rorynature. However, my #rorywords were enough to convince them to provide water, shelter and the best sheep’s eyeball dinner I’ve ever had outside Tower Hamlets.

After a fine night’s sleep, during which I had a vivid #rorydream about sprouting majestic swan wings and being able to shoot healing energy from my eyes, I asked the village elders if they would be good enough to allow me to take a mule from the village so I could continue my epic #roryjourney across Afghanistan.

They were more than happy to do me this #roryfavour on one condition – that I travel with them to be introduced to their uncle, a holy man who lived in a cave nearby. Rory loves a stalagmite, so he was more than happy to join them on their little jaunt. Who could blame them for wanting to introduce me to as many people as possible? It’s not every day a man like Rory arrives in Al Kapesh, or anywhere for that matter. This day would live on in Afghan history for thousands of #roryyears.

The hike to the cave took around an hour, during which I imparted as much #rorywisdom to the villagers as I could. They seemed especially rapt by thoughts on mindfulness and the meditative, mind-cleansing qualities of playing Tubular Bells on a tuba for six hours straight. I was just about to share my #roryinsights into the skincare benefits of bathing in chilled TCP when we reached the cave. I was ushered inside by the holy man’s security guards. “Gosh,” I said. “This holy man must have a lot of unholy enemies to have this many armed guards.” It was an ill-timed #roryjoke that must have been lost in translation, because nobody laughed. For the record, Rory is able to light up any room in the world with his offhand quips and witty one liners, but upon his return to Britain he learned from a book in the British Library that all Afghans are born without a sense of humour – #roryfact.

Finally I was introduced to the uncle, a robed man with a long grey beard.

“This is uncle Osama,” said one of the Afghans.

“How do you do?,” I said, remembering the impeccable #rorymanners drummed into me at Eton.

“You are Rory, of the Stewart tribe?,” he asked, in obvious awe of the mighty, charismatic warrior-poet standing before him.

He gathered his composure and continued. “I fought the Soviet infidel alongside the Stewart tribe. It is good to see you again, brother.”

“And you too, uncle Osama,” I said, doing a little bit more RSC quality #roryacting.

“We need warriors like you here, Rory,” he said. “Will you stay and fight the infidel with me?”

Now, who could blame the old boy for asking? Before him was a fighting man with the ferocity of a honey badger, the strategic mind of Erwin Rommel and the looks of Carey Grant playing a soldier in an Oscar winning performance in one of those old war films. Of course he wanted Rory to stay. Everyone wants Rory to stay. But Rory couldn’t stay. He was needed elsewhere. He needed a #roryexcuse and had to think quickly.

“Uncle Osama,” I said, smiling beatifically as I told a #roryfib. “I was merely the quartermaster. All the best fighters from my tribe have moved to…..”

Rory has contacts all over the world, but for some reason, a childhood penpal from Pakistan sprung to mind. Rory had hundreds of penpals as a boy to enrich his knowledge of foreign cultures and customs and to impart #rorywisdom via the medium of the written word. Where was he from again?….I drew upon my incredible #roryphotographicmemory and found the answer.

“…..Abbottabad. All the best fighters relocated to Pakistan. You must seek the cream of the Stewart fighting force there for your holy crusade, uncle.”

I drew him a #rorymap to Abbottabad and took my leave. He seemed pleased. Rory always pleases people with his #roryness.

I heard later that Uncle Osama had bought a house in Abbottabad and lived there until 2011, when the US Marines tracked him down and shot him for masterminding the September 11 attacks.

And that, dear reader, is how Rory casually masterminded the eventual neutralisation of Osama Bin Laden in an unsung act of #roryheroism. Rory would have preferred his old regiment, The Black Watch, to have taken the glory but sometimes it’s nice to #roryshare the glory with people from other countries.

In the next chapter, I will detail my capture, enslavement and daring #roryescape from the mines of the savage tribespeople of the Uruzgan province. But first, some thoughts on how I helped my aunt Brenda beat alcoholism via the music of Bela Bartok and fashioning kitchenware out of twigs foraged from a copse near her home……

Rory likes a #rorydrink as much as the next man, but Aunt Brenda was the sort of woman who would start on the brandy at eight in the morning and be on to her third bottle by half pa………


© DH 2019

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file