Sahib, p.57
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       Sahib, p.57

           Richard Holmes

  John Pearman came home with his regiment in 1853, and wrote how returning soldiers found themselves something of a raree show:

  It was a fine day, but it seemed very cold to us. I thought I was never so cold with my cloak on. The pleasure steam boats from London came down with the roses of old England, dressed in white. They threw their pocket handkerchiefs to us, and some flowers, as the boats went round us, and kissed their hands, but they were not allowed very close.

  After being quartered in the casemates at Chatham they were then

  left to ourselves to be robbed, for on that night several men lost their medals and money. There was a continual scene of drinking, from seventy, eighty or ninety prisoners to be taken before the Colonel every morning for being absent and drunk.10

  Frank Richards landed at Southampton, whence time-expired men were sent to nearby Fort Brockhurst to be issued with ‘a cheap ready-made suit … ’. But before setting off home to Wales:

  we first said a lingering goodbye to one another over our mugs of neck-oil in the Canteen, and it was a queer experience being all in civilian clothes. When we first gathered around the bar we had a job to recognise one another: a man of my company remarked to me that it was like a couple of caterpillars that have been bosom pals all their life, nibbling away at the same cabbage-leaf, day in, day out, and suddenly they begin to meet as moths or butterflies and begin to address each other as ‘Mr’ instead of Jack or Dick.11

  Richards was called up as a reservist in 1914 and served with his regiment throughout the First World War, winning the DCM and MM, but scorning promotion.

  In ‘Shilling a Day’ Kipling described the plight of ex-Troop Sergeant Major O’Kelly, waiting in the cold and wet by the door of the Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue in London, in the hope that somebody might give him a letter to deliver. The poem concludes:

  Think what ‘e’s been,

  Think what ‘e’s seen.

  Think of his pension an’ –


  Robert Waterfield, steadfast opponent of flogging, of drunken officers and unfeeling discipline, ended his own journal with just the same words, and Frank Richards, the eternal private soldier, admitted that when he heard of the death of King Edward VII he was as shocked as if he had lost a close family member. Few men who fought in India were sustained by any abstract concept of Empire, but they liked to feel that they were doing the monarch’s business. The men of the 93rd Highlanders often reflected, during the Mutiny, on how proud the Queen would be of their day’s work. They were usually monarchist in the same way that they were religious: by simple acceptance, without abstruse notions of politics or theology to get in the way.

  A fortunate handful found their lives governed by ‘God above and duty below’. But for most men there was an unshakable, often edgily jingoistic, belief in the superiority of all things British laced into the conviction that his own regiment (even if down on its luck at the moment) was the best in the army (inter-regimental rivalry always being an important factor in combat motivation). In the claustrophobic world of the barrack room, as Nathaniel Bancroft affirmed: ‘A soldier was nobody unless he had a comrade.’ Mates were comrades and brothers, accomplices and advocates, and the infantry section or gun detachment often fought as much for their comrades as against the enemy.

  Many returning warriors – officers and men alike – never forgot India. When Richard Purvis died in 1885, doctor of divinity, justice of the peace for Hampshire and for forty-four years ‘rector of this parish’, his memorial plaque also remembered that he had once been a captain in the 30th Bengal Native Infantry. Major General Henry Daly received his knighthood in 1875 but told his old friend Sir George Lawrence that it ‘came with a deep shadow. The three to whom it would have been pride and joy knew it not’: over a short period he had lost his only brother, his mother-in-law and his wife. ‘My life in India seems a thing of yesterday,’ he told Lawrence, ‘and when I call up the incidents and time, it is passing strange, for until this dark blow came I felt no older or colder than when I landed a boy of seventeen.’12

  The dog Bobby, veteran of Maiwand, came home to the 66th’s depot at Brock Barracks on Reading’s Oxford Road. Sadly, a cab wheel succeeded where jezails and Khyber knives had failed, and the terrier was run over. Harry Smith’s black Arab charger Aliwal (renamed from Jim Crow after the battle) carried him stylishly when he commanded the Northern and Midland Districts in the 1850s: he enjoyed galloping up to lines of infantry and stopping suddenly when he reached them. Smith was briefly considered for the post of commander in chief in the Crimea, but ‘impaired health and liability to excitement’ ruled him out. Fred Roberts’s little grey charger, Vonolel, died peacefully in 1899 at the age of twenty-seven and is buried in the grounds of the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham in Ireland. Roberts himself died of pneumonia in France in 1914 while visiting Indian troops. His father, Major General Sir Abraham Roberts, of the Company’s service, had been born in 1784. Their two long lives arc out across most of the period described in this book.

  Harry, the eldest son of Henry Havelock, would eventually die on Indian soil, as his father and uncle had. He received a VC for Lucknow on his father’s recommendation. It was resented by some, not for this fact in itself, but because, as a staff officer, he had rallied troops and therefore cast an implied slur on their regimental officers. His baronetcy and VC were both gazetted in 1858, and he was also granted £1,000 a year for life. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1873, and then sat in Parliament as a Liberal Unionist MP. In 1897 he was visiting the North-West Frontier with a parliamentary commission, but had never acquired the habits of caution: he was sniped by an Afridi and bled to death.

  For most officers and administrators coming home was a case of readmission into the middle classes: ‘one of ten millions plus a CSI [Companion of the Order of the Star of India]’, as Kipling was to put it.13 Their houses had Benares-ware brass trays and rugs made in Agra jail: there were tulwars in the hall stand, prodigiously tusked boars’ heads on the dining-room wall, and hog-spears rusting gently under the stairs. Generations of India hands knew that it would eventually happen to them, and speculated, in those sporting days and banjo evenings out on the kadir of Meerut, on what must come.

  After years as you sit, perchance, in some less happy spot smoking your pipe before the fire, the old scenes shall rise again before you. You shall, it may be, take the dull grey road and cross the river in the dawn. You shall hear the piteous whine of the beggars, and the terrible cry of the lepers at the tollgate … You shall see the women washing in their red saris, the horses slipping on the creaking boats … You shall face rising sun, while before you stretches the dead white sand with purple line of grass and blacker sky above …

  You shall, in fancy, return once more when evening shadows fall, past streams of carts laden with sleepy contented people drawn by still more peaceful mild-eyed oxen. The raiyet at his plough, the well man singing to his cattle, as they labour at the well, ‘Ram Ram, my children, turn again, for the chursa is now full’ – they shall live in your thoughts again.14

  But too many soldiers drew a blank in the great Indian lottery. For every one who saved enough pay or prize money to make a decent start there were a dozen who returned broke, former apprentices in pipe-clay and bayonet-drill, masters of a trade that nobody wanted. But they would have been well aware that, despite this, they were – in a sense – the lucky ones: the twenty years from 1874–94 costs 5th Fusiliers 232 dead, almost all of them killed by disease. The poet Aliph Cheem was right to allow a soldier about to leave India to reflect on his dead comrades:

  Good-bye, my friends: although the bullet did not lay you low,

  A thought, a tear upon your graves, at least your brothers owe;

  Ye died for England, though ye died not ‘midst the cannon’s boom,

  Nor any ‘mentioned in dispatches’ glorified your tomb.15

  We began with one drummer, and let us end with another. Drumm
er Thomas Flinn of HM’s 64th Foot won the VC at Lucknow when he was still short of his sixteenth birthday, for dashing into a battery through heavy fire, and taking on two of the gunners although he was already wounded. He celebrated his investiture well but not wisely, and two days later he was imprisoned for drunkenness. He left the army in 1869, the latter end of his career a catalogue of minor disciplinary offences, and died in a workhouse in Athlone in 1892. A Napoleonic general once told a British officer that if his soldiers were as good, he would look after them better: that is no unfair comment on the men who won and held India. Like their grandsons and great-grandsons, they deserved better of the land that bore them.


  Most of these terms are English renditions of words originally in Persian, Sanskrit or Hindustani. I have generally adhered to the spellings in Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell’s work, Hobson-Jobson, but the usual caveats apply: bheestie, for example, sometimes appears as bhisti, beastie, and much else besides. Kipling preferred bhisti for his hero Gunga Din, and favoured dooli rather than dhoolie or doolie for the Indian stretcher.

  Akalis – Sikh regiments of religious enthusiasts

  anna – one-sixteenth of a rupee

  ayah – nurse, lady’s maid

  babu – properly a term of respect attached to a man’s name, but by extension an Indian clerk who wrote English or sometimes, with a note of disparagement, an ‘educated Indian’

  bat – language, especially soldier’s slang

  batta – extra financial allowance

  bazaar – market or street of shops; market-place

  bhail – bullock

  bheestie/bhisti – water-carrier

  bibi – lady, but in the British context, Indian mistress

  brinjarry – itinerant dealer, especially in grain or salt

  budmash – knave, villain

  bundook – gun; the common term for a matchlock, but might be used colloquially for rifle or shotgun

  chapatty – flat circular cake of unleavened bread, patted flat with the hand and baked on a griddle

  charpoy – bed

  chatty – spherical earthenware water pot

  congee-house – prison, especially a regiment’s lock-up, where the regime was more liberal than in its guard-room

  crore – one hundred lakhs

  dâk – post or transport by relay of men or horse, thus dâk-ghari for post-cart and dâk-bungalow for travellers’ accommodation at each stage of a journey

  dal – Indian dish of lentils

  dhobi – washing, and so dhobi-wallah for washerman

  dirzi – tailor

  doolie – curtained stretcher, covered litter, light palanquin; thus doolie-bearers

  doray – south Indian equivalent of sahib, and so doresani for memsahib

  dubash – literally ‘man of two languages’, and so strictly interpreter, but by extension servant, especially in Madras

  duck – slang term for inhabitants of the Bombay presidency

  firman – Mogul emperor’s edict

  gingall or jingall – heavy musket or wall-piece

  golandaz – literally ball-throwers, and thus gunners

  gorchurra – Sikh irregular cavalry

  iqbal – notion of luck or good fortune

  jagir – landholding assignment

  jemadar- Indian infantry officer, roughly equivalent to lieutenant

  Khalsa – the Sikh army

  khansamah – housekeeper, or head waiter

  khitmagar – waiter

  kotwal – tribal policeman, magistrate

  lakh – 100,000 rupees

  lal bazaar – literally red bazaar; British regimental brothel

  lascar – originally an inferior class of artilleryman, or a tent-pitcher in camp, but soon widely used to mean sailor

  log – people, as in Kipling’s bandar-log, monkey-people

  looty – plunderer

  lota – spherical brass pot used for the carriage of water

  mansabari system – system of ranks in the Mogul empire, related (at least in theory) to the obligation to provide a specified number of soldiers

  mansabdaryaboo, or yaboo – Afghan pony

  maranacha poshak – literally ‘clothes of the dead’, long saffrondyed gowns worn by Rajput men going out to fight to the death

  massaul – torch

  mate, matey-boy – assistant servant, especially in Madras

  mehtar – sweeper or scavenger

  memsahib – European woman, by implication European lady

  Misls – Sikh confederacies

  mofussil – country stations and districts, as opposed to the sudder, the chief station of the area

  mohur – gold coin pre-dating British arrival in India but widely used after it

  mull – contraction of mulligatawny (a spicy soup) applied as a distinctive term for members of the Madras presidency

  munshi – interpreter, language teacher, and secretary or writer more generally

  nawab – Mogul title for governor/nobleman

  nullah – ravine or gully

  palankeen – a box-litter for travelling in, with a pole projecting fore and aft, carried on the shoulder of four or six men

  palkee-gharry – coach shaped rather like a palankeen on wheels

  panchaychats – Sikh army all-ranks committees

  pandy – colloquial name for sepoy mutineers, from Mangal Pandy,

  one of the first of them in 1857 pani – water, and thus brandy-pawnee, brandy and water

  pettah – the suburb of a fortress, often with its own defensive wall

  pice/pie – small copper coin worth one quarter of an anna or one sixty-fourth of a rupee

  pucka –ripe, mature, cooked; often used of solid building materials like local bricks and mortar, and by implication permanent or reliable

  puckrerow – the imperative of the Hindustani verb ‘cause to be seized’: British army slang for to lay hold of or steal

  puggaree – turban, but generally used for cloth/scarf wrapped around hat

  pultan – Indian for regiment (probably derived from the French peloton for platoon)

  punkah – swinging fan hung from the ceiling; operated by a punkah-wallah

  qui-hi – literally ‘Is any one there?’ used when summoning a servant. Nickname for a member of the Bengal presidency

  rissaldar/ressaldar – Indian cavalry officer, roughly equivalent to captain

  rissaldar-major – senior Indian officer in a cavalry regiment

  rupee – standard coin of the Anglo-Indian monetary system, existing in several local versions until standardised in 1836: of 180 grs weight and 165 grs pure silver

  ryot – peasant farmer

  sepoy – Indian regular soldier

  silladar- cavalryman who furnished (at least in theory) his own horse and equipment

  sleetah – large saddlebag usually slung from a camel

  sowar – Indian trooper

  subadar – Indian officer, roughly equivalent to captain

  subadar-major – senior Indian officer in an infantry regiment

  sudder—the central station of a district (see mofussil)

  suttee – the rite of widow-burning

  syce – groom

  taluqdars – large landowner, especially in Oudh

  tattie – grass mat used to cover windows

  tattoo – Indian-bred pony

  thermantidote – enclosed fan used to propel air into a room, usually through a wetted tattie

  thuggee – murderous practice carried out by thugs, an organisation of assassins largely suppressed in the 1820s

  tulwar – sabre, typically with a curved blade, cruciform guard and disc-shaped pommel

  wallah – person employed or concerned with something, as in dhobi-wallah for laundryman. Developed to make words like box-wallah, initially a native itinerant pedlar but then (somewhat derisively) a British businessman; and competition-wallah for member of the Indian Civil Service
appointed by competitive examination. Like so much of bat it slipped comfortably into army use outside India to produce words like machine-gun-wallah for machine-gun officer

  woordie-major – Indian adjutant of a cavalry regiment yahoo – Afghan pony

  zamindar- landholder, in theory holding land for which he paid rent to the government, not to any intermediary

  zenana – apartments of the house in which women were secluded

  zumbooruk – light swivel gun, usually fired from a camel’s saddle




  Gen. Sir Charles Napier, ‘Report on the Restoration of Corporal Punishment in the Indian Army 1844’, Add 57561


  Record of offences 1878, WO 88/1


  Papers of:

  Sgt William Henry Braithwaite, 7605-75

  Capt Willoughby Brassey, 6807-459

  Col Thomas Cadell, 6702-90-1

  Lt Kendall Coghill, 7207-4-1

  Sgt Thomas Duckworth, 1990-06-391-1

  Sir William Gomme, 1987-11-116-143

  Lt Montague Hall, 5705-11-1

  Lawrence Halloran, 199-9075-101

  Capt John Lyons, 8311-76

  Lt Col William Patterson, 7410-195

  Cpl William Pattison, 6702-66-2,3

  Pte Richard Perkes, 7505-57

  Capt George Rybot, 7907-99

  Lt Charles Scott, 8405-22

  Sir John Shore, 6404-74-2

  Capt Henry Davis van Homrigh, 6305-55

  Pte Samuel West, 1996-04-220-4

  James Williams, 6404-74-17


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