"Winning the
Victoria Cross"

(notes edited
by John McGivering)

the story

[Feb 5 2007]


First published in Youth’s Companion for June 1897 and the Windsor Magazine for June the same year; collected in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides in the United Kingdom and Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls in the United States of America. In 1924 it was re-issued as Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Scoutmasters. The title-pages of some editions describe the author as “ Commissioner, Boy Scouts.” See Charles Carrington pp. 316 and 416.

The stories

After an account of the Victoria Cross, the highest British decoration for bravery in battle, Kipling describes the exploits of a number of winners of the Cross, from the 'Indian Mutiny' of 1857 to the Great War of 1914-1918.

There is a Preface in verse beginning : 'To all to whom this little book may come' - reprinted from the Boy’s Own Paper of February 1936, where it was titled “Be Fit.” and collected, with slight variation, in Inclusive Verse (“A Preface”) Definitive Verse and The Works of Rudyard Kipling in The Wordsworth Poetry Library. (See ORG Verse, p. 5463)

Critical responses

This story has been somewhat neglected by the commentators. For background it may be useful to see the following:

Notes on the text

[Page 3 line 3] Queen Victoria (1819-1901) Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, who ruled from 1837.

[Page 3 line 4] peace with Russia the end of the Crimean War of 1853-1856.

[Page 3 line 5] Cunard the famous shipping company founded in 1839 and amalgamated with the White Star Line in 1934.

[Page 3 line 6] Persia a good-looking iron vessel built and engined at Glasgow in 1854.

[Page 3 line 13] little ugly bronze Maltese cross (right)

[Page 4 line 2] four hundred and eleven men … Up to January 2007 there had been a total of 1352 Crosses awarded, plus three bars to existing holders (in effect further crosses). One Cross was also awarded to the American Unknown Soldier.

[Page 4 line 4] the Great War in this context, the war between Great Britain and allies against Germany and allies from 1914-1918.

[Page 4 lines 7-8] bravery in the early morning … etc. an echo of Napoleon’s observation: As to moral courage, I have very rarely met with the two o’clock in the morning courage…

[Page 4 line 20] heaves a lighted shell overboard Midshipman (Acting Mate) Charles Lucas, H.M.S. Hecla in the Baltic - the first Cross to be awarded, 1854. (Glanfield p. 4, passim)

[Page 4 line 21] stockade a fort made of large timbers driven into the ground – used in Indian and other jungles, New Zealand etc.

[Page 4 line 22] Burman or Burmese.

[Page 5 line 22] Crimea a peninsula in the Black Sea, scene of much fighting in the Crimean War – see the Note to page 3 line 4 above.

[Page 5 line 23] Indian Mutiny the revolt of the Bengal Army in 1857-1858, mentioned in much of Kipling’s prose and verse.

[Page 5 line 28] Inkerman a battle of the Crimean war, fought on 5 November, 1854.

Alma another battle, of 20 September 1854.

[Page 6 lines 12-22] One man shut up in the Residency... Lieutenant R.H.M. Aitken, 13th. Bengal Native Infantry. (Glanfield, p. 51).

[Page 6 line 23] a lieutenant in the Southern Mahratta Horse ORG identifies him as W A Kerr, and Arthur refers to William Alexander Kerr, 24th Bombay Native Infantry.

[Page 7 line 1] a lance-corporal Abraham Boulger, 84th Foot (2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment.) Engaged almost daily with the enemy at Lucknow. (Arthur, p. 68)

[Page 7 line 6] two brothers Major Charles J. S. Gough rescued his brother Lieutenant Hugh H. Golugh (already a holder of the Cross) (Glanfield, pp. 53-54.) Major J.E. Gough, son of Charles, won a Cross in Somilaland in 1903 (de la Billière, p. 16.)

[Page 7 line 9] a private “of persuasive powers ….” J Hollowell, (also known as Holliwell) 78th Foot (2nd. Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders, (The Ross-shire Buffs.) At the relief of Lucknow, he was, with others, left to tend wounded with Surgeon Home - also the holder of a Cross; they took refuge in a house which was set on fire, but were eventually relieved. (Arthur, p.72)

[Page 7 lines 17 – 22] a little man in the Sutherland Highlanders… William M’Bean (McBean). When congratulated on his achievement he observed 'It did not tak’ me twenty minutes !' He eventually held every rank from Private to Major-General. (Arthur, p.85)

[Page 7 line 20] claymore a large and heavy two-edged broadsword used by Scottish regiments.

[Page 7 line 22] two troopers T Hancock and J Purcell – both Privates in the 9th Lancers, who. with Rooper Khan, saved the life of their commanding officer, Sir Hope Grant when his horse was shot at the siege of Delhi. (Arthur, p.52)

[Page 8 line 8] a man in the Mounted Police Lieutenant Charles George Baker, Bengal Police Battalion, who later commanded the Egyptian Police. (Arthur, p. 92)

[Page 8 line 12] Three Bengal Civilian Government officers one of which was Kavanah below.

[Page 8 line 16] “Lucknow” Kavanah disguised himself as a mutineer and, with help of a loyal Brahman found the relief column led by Sir Colin Campbell and guided it to Lucknow. (Glanfield pp. 48-49).

[Page 8 line 17] Ross Mangle’s heroism Ross Lewis Mangle, an assistant magistrate at Patna, joined a column going to relieve Arrah which was ambushed on the way; he carried a wounded soldier for six miles to a boat although wounded himself.

[Page 8 line 18] the Little House at Arrah See KJ 032/119, frontispiece & 101; KJ 094/16. See also Uncollected Prose No. 97 in ORG Volume 4, p. 1972 from from the Pioneer of 24 February, 1888.

[Page 8 line 23] McDonell’s cool-headedness William McDonnell, Bengal Civil Service, acted as a guide, and rallied troops when they reached the boats which he also released under fire. (Glanfield, p. 47-48)

[Page 9 line 3] a chaplain The Rev. J W Adams rescued several Lancers in danger of drowning in a flooded ditch whikle under fire in the Second Afghan War, 1878-1880. (Glanfield, p. 66.) Under the Geneva Convention of 1864, (and later revisions) Chaplains and Doctors are supposed to be unarmed and do not take part in fighting but must be able to protect themselves when opposed to troops of nations who have not signed the Protocol, and, in fact, may not have heard of it. See page 11 line 3 onwards below.

[Page 9 line 14] hurrying to attend to them Afghans. the women in particular, mutilated any dead and wounded left on the battlefield, see the verse "The Young British Soldier”. Page 10 line 8] doctor see above - two out of the three recipients of Bars to their Crosses are doctors.

[Page 11 line 2] tourniquet a device for stopping bleeding.

[Page 12 line 13] Another V.C. of my acquaintance ORG believes this to be Lord William de la Poer Beresford, recorded by Arthur (p. 128) as Lord William Leslie de la Poer Beresford, Captain, 9th Lancers, who went to the assistance of Sergeant Fitzmaurice whose horse had been speared by a Zulu saying 'If you don’t get up I’ll punch your head for you!'. They were joined by Sergeant O’Toole, who fired at the enemy, held the wounded Fitzmaurice upright in the saddle and received a Cross himself after Beresford told Queen Victoria that he could not accept a Cross unless O’Toole received one as well. (i. 129)

[Page 13 line 6] Maoris the original inhabitants of New Zealand.

[Page 13 line 27] football in this context, Rugby football.

[Page 14 line 1] shot over a little an echo of the German general quoted in ”The Drums of the Fore and Aft” (Wee Willie Winkie), page 371, line 23: 'they wanted to be shooted over a little, that was all.' .

[Page 14 line 7] Ulysses known as Odysseus in Greek mythology – he survived the siege of Troy and a twenty-year journey (Homer’s Odyssey)

[Page 14 line 21] ambulances at that time these would be covered litters.

[Page 15 line 8] fuzee or 'fusee', in this context a match with a large head that will stay alight in the wind.

[Page 15 line 27] transpontine across a bridge - on the South side of the River Thames in London, where the theatres were, so here meaning 'theatrical'.

[Page 17 line 7] Kaarakoram Mountains a section of the Himalayas in Kashmir.

[Page 17 line 12] Kanjuts Kanjut is a mountain in Jammu and Kashmir.

[Page 17 line 26] Goorkhas now usually 'Gurkhas', hardy hillmen from Nepal who have provided excellent soldiers for the British Army since 1815.

Dogra Sikhs Sharad Keskar writes: There are Dogra only regiments in the Indian Army as distinct from the Sikh ones. The Dogras have a Rajput lineage. They are from an area which loosely covers North East Rajasthan, Southern Punjab, and impinges on the lower slopes of the Garwal Hills of the UP (Uttar Pradesh). But just as there are Jat Sikhs and Jat only regiments, there are Dogra Sikhs. Sikhs who are proud of their distinct origins do qualify by including their antecedents – i.e. Dogra Sikhs and Jat Sikhs.

[Page 17 line 29] shoot should be written 'chute' – a gutter-like gully.

[Page 18 line 15; kukri the famous weapon of the Gurkhas and more like a short curved sword than a knife.

[Page 18 line 26] aide-de-camp got a deserved Victoria Cross ORG has two candidates – C.J.W. Grant, (Arthur, p. 140) Manipur 1891, and D. MacIntyre. (ib, 111) The Looshai Expedition of 1872.

[Page 19 line 5] one volley in the early morning shot at dawn – the usual punishment for captured spies. For background see Playing the Great Game by Michael Edwardes (Hamish Hamilton 1975) and Kim.

[Page 19 line 9] No Man’s Land in this context the land between opposing armies.

[Page 19 line 10] Khudajanta Mountains not traced.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2007 All rights reserved