"A Sahibs' War"

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Traffics and Discoveries, as published and frequently reprinted between 1904 and 1950.



[August 26 2007]

[Title] Sahib A respectful form of address by Indians to Europeans and also to Indians of rank – see Hobson-Jobson, p. 781.

[Page 77 line 2] the rél the railway.

Kroonstadt now known as Kroonstad, the third largest town in the Free State province of South Africa, For a short while in 1900 it was the capital of the Orange Free State.

[Page 77 line 3] Estellenbosch Stellenbosch, an important base and remount depot, some 25 miles from Capetown. Indians often prefixed an “E” to a word not in their language - e.g. 'Eshmith Sahib' etc.

[Page 77 line 5] Gurgaon a city in the northern Indian state of Haryana, one of Delhi's four major satellite cities.

[Page 77 line 6] 141st Punjab cavalry a fictitious regiment.

[Page 77 line 8] Kaffirs In Arabic Kafir means an unbeliever, and the name was given by Arab traders to the native races of the east coast of Africa. The term was later used by the Dutch and English in Southern Africa as a derogatory expression for African peoples.

Sikh one who belongs to the religion established mainly in the Punjab by Nanak (c. 1469-1539) See Hobson-Jobson, p. 835.

[Page 77 line 16] Protector of the Poor ! Heaven-born ! Extravagant expressions often used by Indians to Europeans. 'The Heaven-born' was also an ironical nickname for members of the Indian Civil Service (Ferguson, p. 180).

[Page 78 line 13] Lahore the second city of Pakistan and capital of the Punjab. It was Kipling’s home and place of work for four years, and the scene of a number of his stories.

[Page 78 line 14] Attaree Between Lahore and Amritsar

[Page 78 line 17] the Great Queen Queen Victoria (1819-1901) Queen of the United Kingdom from 1837 and Empress of India from 1876.

[Page 78 line 19] Sirdar Dyal Singh Attareewalla a man named Dyal Singh from Attaree who was a Sirdar (Persian, meaning 'leader' or 'chief')

[Page 78 line 21] Hind Hindustan the country watered by the Indus, from Persian hundu (water), and stan (district or region); also meaning India as a whole. See Hobson-Jobson, p.416.

[Page 78 line 23] Surtee woman she came from Surat, about 150 miles north of Bombay (now called Mumbai).

[Page 79 line 4] the Arder of Beritish India the Order of British India, originally instituted by the East India Company in 1837 for long, faithful and honourable service. The company's powers were removed after the Indian Mutiny; it became a part of the British honours system in 1859 and obsolete after India became independent in 1947

[Page 79 line 17] Jullundur The administrative headquarters of Jullundur district, Punjab State

[Page 79 line 20] Sobraon the final decisive battle of the Sutlej campaign in the first Sikh war of 1846.

[Page 79 line 23] Lance Duffadar Lance Corporal.

[Page 79 line 24] dun a dull greyish-brown colour.

[Page 80 line 3] Buwwa how the child pronounces Burra – big.

[Page 80 line 24] Johannesburg the largest city in South Africa and centre of important gold and diamond mines; see Martin Marix Evans, The Boer War, South Africa, 1899- 1902 (Osprey, 1999) Part I for the background and origins of the war.

[Page 80 line 26] the Boer-log the Boer people.

[Page 80 line 31 onwards] not a gun cocked some weapons being made ready for firing give a characteristic click-click.

[Page 81 line 5] the pedlars and the vegetable-sellers there were (and still are) many Indians in South Africa.

[Page 81 line 10] the long war in the Tirah this was the British campaign of 1897 against the Afridis and Orakzais in the Tirah valley on the N W Frontier.

[Page 81 lines 12-20] we shall fight ... a penetrating statement and one of the unspoken causes of the Boer War. The Cape is an alternative route to India if the Suez Canal is not available and British prestige would suffer if Britons continued to live under such unfavourable conditions. See also the Headnote to “The Captive”.

[Page 81 line 19] ringstraked usually of horses which have bands of colour round the body.

[Page 81 line 25] men of the Tochi tribes inhabiting the basin of the River Tochi which flows from Afghanistan into the Indus.

[Page 81 line 26] Tirah see the note to line 10 above.

Buner a vally on the Peshawar valley border of the North-West Frontier Province of modern day Pakistan.

[Page 82 line 26] the Black Water the sea. Many Indians from inland had never seen it.

[Page 82 line 30] trunks in this context the leather or metal boxes with hinged lids used for carrying clothes, etc

[Page 82 line 32] Watson’s Hotel Perhaps the earliest surviving example of cast-iron architecture in India. Named for the initial owner John Watson, the building was prefabricated in England and erected on site between 1867 and 1869. With 130 guest rooms and a lobby, restaurant, bar, and atrium at ground level, it was situated in the heart of British Bombay and was a popular hotel until it was converted to dwellings and commercial use in the 1960s.

[Page 82 line 30] trunks in this context the leather or metal boxes with hinged lids used for carrying clothes, etc.

[Page 83 line 1] Khalsa pure from the Arabic khalisa and here applied to the remodelled Sikh religion by their spiritual leader or Guni, Govind Rai. See Hobson-Jobson p. 479.

[Page 83 line 9] men afoot to fight men ahorse an old controversy – the superior mobility of mounted men versus the ability of infantry to form square with riflemen on four faces, machine-guns at the corners and baggage in the middle, as in The Light that Failed p. 24.

In South Africa the British formed regiments of Mounted Infantry – members of which fought on foot after arriving at the scene of action on horseback. See the verse “M.I."

[Page 83 line 14] us Indian cavalry units

[Page 83 line 23] dak-bungalow a rest-house for travellers maintained by the Government of India and placed some 10-15 miles apart on principal thoroughfares. (dâk is Hindi for 'post'. (Hobson-Jobson) See “My Own True Ghost-Story” (Wee Willie Winkie) and Early Verse, p. 394 for “A Ballade of Bad Entertainment” with the alternative title “ A Ballade of Dak-Bungalows”

Maun Nihâl Seyn Mount Nelson, an important hotel in Capetown, opened in 1899 and still (2007) going strong.

[Page 84 line 6] grass-cutter a caste or social group of men and women employed to cut and bring home forage for the household horses – see “The Smith Administration" (From Sea to Sea Volume 2) “At the End of the Passage” (Life’s Handicap), and other Indian stories.

[Page 84 line 20] Pathans A group of semi-nomadic tribes - probably some sixteen million people - in Paakistan and Afghanistan, once known as Afghans and now Pushtus or Pashtu. Fierce fighters, they have always fiercely resisted invaders – including the British in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who eventually offered them a semi-autonomous area on the Border.

[Page 84 line 23] Muzbees The name of a class of Sikhs, from the Arabic mazhab, meaning 'religious belief.' The original corps of Muzbees, now represented by the 32nd Bengal N.I. (Pioneers), was raised among the men labouring on the Baree Doab Canal. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 606

[Page 84 line 24] Madras monkey-men a derogatory expression we are unable to trace.

Jhind central Haryana state in north-western India, 70 miles south-east of Delhi.

Nabha a city in north-western India, lying to the south-east of the state of Punjab in Patiala District.

[Page 84 line 26] the Khalsa see the note to page 86, line 20 below.

[Page 85 line 3] Fingoes a South African tribe.

[Page 85 line 4] Red Kaffirs a tribe mentioned in Swallow, A Tale of the Great Trek by H. Rider Haggard (1898) but not otherwise traced.

[Page 85 line 6] water and feed, and sweep and rub down basic stable management, hard and time-consuming work.

[Page 85 line 24] Jehad Arabic jihdd, an effort or striving. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 458. In this context it means 'Holy War'.

[Page 86 line 6] a Border regiment in this context the Indian border – probably the North-West frontier.

[Page 86 line 13] Make truce until we see the Indus again The Indus is the great river of the Punjab. In “William the Conqueror” (The Day’s Work p. 203) when the butler and policemen object to herding goats during the famine, they are told: “When we cross the Bias River (Beas) again we will talk of izzat (honour).

[Page 86 line 15] beef he holds the cow to be sacred and not to be killed or eaten.

[Page 86 line 17] swine’s flesh presumably tinned ham; Muslims believe pigs to be unclean.

[Page 86 line 18] the Koran Arabic Qur’an, “recitation”; the Holy Scripture of Islam, regarded as the Word of God by Muslims.

[Page 86 line 20] the sword-point picks up of sugar and water at a baptism Sikhs who have been through the Amrit Ceremony of initiation become baptised, take new names, and wear the 5 Ks. The Amrit Ceremony is the initiation rite introduced by Guru Gobind Singh when he founded the Khalsa in 1699. A Sikh can go through this initiation as soon as he is old enough to understand the full commitment that they are making.

The ceremony takes place before the Guru Granth Sahib, and in the presence of 5 initiated Sikhs (who represent the Panj Piyaras, the first 5 Sikhs to be initiated).During the ceremony, hymns are recited from the Sikh scripture, prayers are said, and the principles of Sikhism are affirmed .Then amrit, a mixture of sugar and water that has been stirred with a double-edged sword is prepared and drunk by those present.

[Page 86 line 28] indents and requisitions official forms for the supply of stores

[Page 87 line 4] vine-leaf it resembles the Maple Leaf, national emblem of Canada. These were clearly not regular British soldiers, but perhaps a locally raised troop of volunteers, probably from Canada. That they 'spoke through their noses' (line 1) seems to confirm that that they came from North America.

[Page 87 line 5] Rajputs Hindi, from the Sanskrit Rajaputra, meaning 'King’s Son', a great martial race of India. See Hobson-Jobson, p.754.

[Page 87 line 6] Ustrelyahs Australians.

[Page 87 line 11] No-feeah 'No Fear !', a slang expression in vogue at the time meaning 'not likely', or 'do not be afraid'.

[Page 87 line 29] Khaibar the Khyber Pass which leads from India to Afghanistan.

[Page 87 line 31] Wallah ! a word with an extraordinary number of meanings – here used as an exclamation of surprise.

[Page 88 line 8] no bazaar, no pulse, no flour he longs for India with ample opportunity for shopping for food !

[Page 88 line 20] the cloth of war fighting troops conventionally wear the uniform of their service, men in plain clothes under arms are likely to be treated as guerrillas and shot out of hand. Generally speaking, however, only the Boer artillery and police wore uniforms, the rest were in plain clothes of one kind or another, so when they concealed their weapons they became peaceable farmers as will be seen later.

[Page 88 line 28] Hlinedatalone the country in Burma through which a river of that name flows.

[Page 88 line 29] Cavagnnari Sahib Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (1841-1879) of French and Irish parentage. Naturalised as a British subject in 1857, he joined the service of the East India Company and was murdered at Kabul with his escort after negotiating a treaty with the Emir of Afghanistan.

[Page 88 line 31] pushed off the verandah in front of the Bala Hissar an ancient fortress in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, siuated to the south of the modern city at the end of the Kuh-e-Sherdarwaza Mountain. The Walls, 20 feet high and 12 feet thick, start at the fortress and follow the mountain ridge in a sweeping curve down to the river.

[Page 88 line 33] Commander-in-Chief Lord Roberts had been C-in-C in India where Kipling knew him (Something of Myself, p. 56). He was appointed Commander-in-Chief, South Africa, in 1899. See Julian Ralph, War’s Brighter Side (C Arthur Pearson, 1901 p. 99). ORG volume 4, page 1889 has a note on his long and distinguished career.

[Page 89 line 20] pickets in this context the scouts sent out ahead of the main body of troops to warn of attack.

[Page 89 line 28] the Gurkhas a famous race of hillmen from Nepal who have been recruited into the British service since 1815. Kipling admired them and mentions them in many stories.

[Page 89 line 33] white flag a signal of surrender.

[Page 91 line 3] farmers today and fighters tomorrow classic guerrilla tactics, see page 88 line 20 above.

[Page 91 lines 7-12] eight wars details are given in ORG Volume 4, page 1891.

[Page 91 line 8] Burma see “A Conference of the Powers” (Many Inventions).

[Page 91 line 23] glasses in this context binoculars or field-glasses.

[Page 91 line 29] Zenab valley perhaps the valley of the Chenab River which flows through the plains of the Punjab; Zenab is a female name.

[Page 91 line 30] blood-feuds a quarrel between families who avenge the death of a murdered man by murdering his killer.

[Page 92 line 8] nullah Hindi nalla, a watercourse – not necessarily a dry stream-bed but this is usually implied in Anglo-Indian usage. (Hobson-Jobson)

[Page 92 line 9] donga a ravine or gully (South African English). A usually dry, eroded watercourse running only in times of heavy rain.

[Page 92 line 10] sangar barricade (Persian ) a small temporary fortified position on the North West Frontier or Afghanistan, still frequently used by the British Army.

kraal a South African village of huts enclosed by a fence, an enclosure for cattle, (Afrikaans, from the Portuguese corral)

[Page 92 line 13] bulbul Acacia nilotica (Thorn mimosa) is a species of acacia or wattle native to Africa and the Indian subcontinent. It also has medical uses. See the verse “Lichtenberg”.

[Page 92 Line 19] a tall young man deprived of understanding Dr. Gillian Sheehan writes:

Congenital syphilis could account for the mental deficiency, the skin lesions around his nose and the alopecia. In this condition he would probably have a high forehead, a flat face, a small nose (saddle nose) a small mouth and possibly outward curving of his shin bones (sabre shins). But he wouldn't have a particularly small head. I think he had microcephaly. For some unknown reason he was born with an abnormally small brain. This is associated with retarded mental development. In this condition the circumference of the cranium rarely exceeds 45cm (18 inches) while the face and the rest of the head tend to be of a more normal size. A person with one congenital abnormality may have others and the alopecia may have been another. The skin lesions around his nose could have been due to a chronic nasal discharge. [Textbook of Paediatrics, Mitchell Nelson, 4th edition, 1946, p.431-4 and 1053-4.) See also page 94 line 29 below. (G.S.)


[Page 93 line 5] the hill behind him he saw instantly that they were in trouble if there were riflemen concealed in the bushes

[Page 93 line 29] shots came from the roof this is based upon an incident at Karee Siding, some twenty miles north of Bloemfontein, when Kipling and his companions were under fire from the Boers. See Andrew Lycett (p. 325), and Charles Carrington (p. 308) who quotes from Chapter 6 of Something of Myself (p.157).

[Page 94 line 29] I gave him water that he might pass more quickly With a shot in the liver, he probably bled to death. It is not clear if drinking would have hastened his end, but it may have been some comfort to Umr Singh to know that his Sahib was out of pain. [G.S.]

[Page 95 line 17] a certain thing… hung round his neck probably a locket with a photograph of someone dear to him.

[Page 96 line 20] sabres curved swords used by cavalry – they are referred to as “swords” below.

[Page 97 line 2] the flat in this context the side of the sabre.

[Page 97 line 30] lamp probably fuelled by paraffin (kerosene), and similar to those illustrated on the back cover of Mrs. Hauksbee & Co., ed. John Whitehead (Hearthstone Publications, 1998.)

[Page 98 line 11] the spirit of Kurban Sahib this is an opium-inspired hallucination which Dr. Tompkins examines with her usual insight. (p.145) The engineer Findlayson has a similar experience when he sees the gods in “The Bridge-Builders” (The Day’s Work).

[Page 99 line 12] pompom in this context an automatic gun firing at high speed with the sound that gives it the name. See the verse “Columns”.

[Page 99 line 28] cartouches in this context the French for cartridges – ammunition for rifles, pistols and shotguns. It is unclear why the word is used when 'cartridge' appears three times before.

[Page 100 line 9] bazaar-talk simple Urdu.

kidney in this context temprament or nature, but here rather implying social class.

[Page 101 ine 14] Sialkote about 70 miles north of Lahore.

[Page 102 line 21] Si monumentur requiris circumspicere If you would see his momument, look around you (Latin). This is the inscription over the north door of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, commemorating the achievements of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) designer of the cathedral. In this story, there is nothing to see, as all is destroyed; what became of the Boers can only be surmised.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved