Chapter 3

Chapter 3


I suppose every generation of Englishmen were taught the history of our country and became imbued with a love of adventure and an ambition to emulate the deeds of bravery on land and sea of their forefathers from earliest times and I was no exception, my desires being fired by the books of adventure I loved to read, and so it is easy to imagine my pride and happiness at being admitted as a trooper of the Queen in Lumsden’s Horse, and with men of one’s own education and way of living; what adventures we were going to have! And what deeds of “derring do” we would perform and how we would charge the enemy as at Balaclava and in the Sudan. I felt dedicated and I can look back now with amusement at my enthusiasm and my constant endeavours to imitate those who had served in the Army. Such as “A” Company Commander Captain Jim Beresford of a Sikh regiment, but more especially the one or two Regular non-commissioned cavalry men who had been “lent” to the Corps from their own regiments and who taught us all the details of how to look after one’s horse, one’s rifle and one’s accoutrements and keep one’s self fit and strong.


I hardly knew the taste of alcohol and so drink was not one of my temptations; in fact all through the campaign in S. Africa I regularly exchanged my ration of rum with the Bimbashi of Egyptian Police (a man of about 36) for his ration of jam. Years afterwards I was to see in the Times obituary columns a long account of his life, as he belonged to a well known family in Cheshire, and it truly was like a novel of adventure; he was indeed an exemplary soldier with his upright carriage and his fierce yellow moustaches and he has served in many small wars and skirmishes, but never stayed long after the fighting stopped. He seemed to think it part of his duty to help the Infant and I was fortunate to be in the same subsection of four with him, the judge from the Punjab and the fourth a Police officer from the Punjab; they were all over 30 and I realize that none of the three pushed work on to me, but rather the opposite when I was behind hand in cleaning my horse or kit or rifle one of them would take hold of the rifle or kit and finish off the job in a few minutes which I learned to do in time, as I imitated them. I think it must have been because of the Bimbashi that our subsection were nominated to be the Scouting subsection and we always every morning rode out first a half mile or so ahead of the extended column; each of the sections of the Companies, Nos 1 and 2 also had their Scouting sub-section, who rode ahead of their respective sections in extended order to draw the fire of any small groups of Boers hiding on the kopjes.


I must now return to the camp on the Maidan in Calcutta where we were all together for the first time “A” and “B” Companies and the fifty men recruited to look after the transport of the Corps, together with our horses, transport carts and ponies. Our camp was very close to the Zoo and the roaring of the lions and tigers there during the night disturbed our sleep a good deal at first. The camp was laid out in proper military style with the horse lines between rows of tents for troopers and the officers’ tents and orderly room at one end.


Reveille was sounded at the first light of dawn and as quickly as possible we went to our hoses, cleaned and groomed them and took them to the water troughs for “watering”; then back to the lines and each horse given his ration of oats and hay and the straw and dung swept away and put on the small transport carts to be taken away and burnt. Then back to our tents to wash and clean ourselves and get into uniform and to breakfast, the latter being supplied by a catering contractor. Then a parade where every man and horse, rifle and equipment was inspected by the officer commanding each section, who reported to the Company Commander that all were present and correct. After an interval, drill, firstly foot drill until we learned to march in time and obey orders instantaneously; most of us had gone through this infantry drill and so very shortly we were marching and countermarching and doing our rifle drill with fair precision. The month was December (1899) and so the weather was pleasant in the day time and cold at night. After that came mounted drill, to mount and dismount at exactly the same moment at the word of command; also forming troops and getting the horses to know each other as were always in the same order, sub-section by sub-section and to walk, trot, canter by the feel of the rein and a touch of the spur blunted on purpose. In the afternoon lectures from the officers on tactics and at times an inspection of rifles and kit – sometimes practical demonstrations by the non-commissioned officers in shoeing a horse and at other times lectures by the veterinary officer (all Regulars) on common ailments of horses and what to do in each case and how to detect any illness or indisposition in a horse and general rules how to keep one’s horse in good health. Of course we could get permits to leave the camp and go to Calcutta in the evenings – a certain percentage only; sentries were posted every evening and relieved every four hours, a proper roster being kept for these duties. In short as far as possible we were being trained to do everything as if we were near the enemy on a war footing. There is no purpose in going into more detail of the day to day happenings, but before the final inspection of the Corps by the General Commanding in Bengal, we were a compact and well trained body of men, and striving to do our mounted manoeuvres like a crack cavalry regiment; the G. O. C. complimented the Corps on its general steadiness and good drill and said he considered we were now fit for active service. How we all longed to get on board and sail, but owing to shortage of ships we did not sail till the beginning of February when the Viceroy Lord Curzon came and reviewed us and bid us farewell. The voyage was pleasant enough as regards weather, but looking after the horses, each man his own down below decks in a confined space was pretty trying and the smell of ammonia etc rather overpowering in the closed in lower deck; every afternoon, a certain number of horses were brought up at a time on to the top deck and walked around, for a specified time, then taken down and tethered again each in its place; these horses could never lie down, but were standing for three weeks and so on landing had to have a weeks rest in a field and exercised daily. On board the transport Lindula, we were continuously trained in rifle shooting at targets towed behind, though of course we had a good deal of recreation as well – boxing, wrestling, concerts at night, but we were overcrowded, sleeping on a deck on a thin straw mattress side by side with no place to put our kit except at the foot of the mattress and the food was atrocious with no fresh vegetables or fruit and the result was that most of us had mumps by the time we landed at Cape Town, which however was soon cured by the abundance of fruit and vegetables we had while in camp at Cape Town – bought by ourselves. I can truly say that never again on active service in S. Africa did we have such bad food. Some contractor in Calcutta should have been shot – or at all events the officer who passed such food for our consumption – not one of our officers.


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