The Horse Marines

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are largely based (some 60%) on the ORG. The page and, line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of A Diversity of Creatures, as published and reprinted between 1917 and 1950.


[Title] The title is an example of Kipling’s borrowing a phrase only superficially linked with its subject, but at least the theme is of a mainly naval force operating ashore with equine assistance. ‘The Horse Marines’, like ‘Fred Karno’s Army’, were a mythical organisation, usually capable of raising a smile from a loyal British music-hall audience. [ORG] A fair enough explanation, and so far as this Editor is aware, the Royal Marines have never had a mounted arm – which is not to say that at some time or other in their long and distinguished history they haven’t made use of horses to increase their manoeuvrability. Modern dictionaries cite one of the nicknames of the 17th Lancers as “The Horse Marines” from their service in HMS Hermione in the West Indies in 1795.

However, in the USA, as Kipling probably knew, the ‘horse marines’ referred to a detachment of mounted Texans, in the Texas-Mexico war of 1836, who repelled a Mexican sea-borne invasion, capturing and using some Mexican ships against other Mexican ships (thus themselves becoming effectively marines, who had originally been mounted – hence ‘horse marines’.)

As regards the rest of the ORG explanation, it is probably necessary to explain to younger readers that ‘Fred Karno’s Army’ dates from World War 1: Fred Karno was a theatrical impresario who encouraged a group of young comedians (among them Stan Laurel) who specialised in slapstick: they became known as Fred Karno’s Army, and the phrase passed into the language to refer to any organisation which operated in a chaotic way. The young men of Kitchener’s New Armies used to refer to themselves, with typical British self-depreciation, as ‘Fred Karno’s Army’ – they sang, to the tune ‘Aurelia’ by Samuel Wesley, usually used for ‘The Church’s One Foundation’:

“We are Fred Karno’s Army
No bloomin’ use are we
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot
What bleedin’ use are we? …

[Page 301 Preface, line 16] Woolwich the reference is to Woolwich Arsenal, in south-east London, which made all manner of stores for the Army.

[Page 301, line 18] engineer the word was a survival from the earlier days of motoring, when high technical skill was needed to keep a car on the road. In “Steam Tactics”, Kipling refers to Leggat(t) as “my engineer” on a number of occasions. Pyecroft uses “chauffeur” on page 309, line 24 – and this was more generally used by 1910 (and often pronounced ‘shover’ by those who had no knowledge of the French tongue). However, the origins of “chauffeur” are rooted in steam engineering, since the word in French was used to refer to the stoker (fireman) on a steam locomotive.

[Page 302, line 2] on completion of annual overhaul, from Coventry, via London, to Southampton Docks an interesting illustration of the mechanics of car-ownership at that date: no local garage, agent for that manufacturer, with all the most up-to-date diagnostic equipment to service your car according to a set routine. The car was sent back to the manufacturer – driven there by your chauffeur – and he went to the factory to collect it when it was finished. Coventry was then the centre of the British motor industry (although the Lanchester company which enjoyed Kipling’s patronage up to this time was based in Birmingham, some 15 miles away.)

To go from Coventry to Southampton via London is scarcely the most direct route – but then, it would be easier for Kipling, if taxed with this point, to suggest a convincing reason, rather than to have to invent a reason for picking up Pyecroft and Jules along the direct route – such towns as Banbury, Oxford, Newbury and Winchester scarcely suggest themselves as a good run-ashore for Jack and Jacques.

[Page 302, lines 8-10] Irresilients: Treble-ribbed, diamond-stud sheathing details contrived to suggest the best and most expensive tyres.

[Page 302, line 20] leaf “leave” was often so pronounced by the Lower Deck. Kipling has used this before, in “Steam Tactics” and “A Tour of Inspection”.

[Page 302, line 29] Regulars professional soldiers, the ‘mercenaries’ of whom A.E. Housman was soon to write:

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended
And saved the sum of things for pay…

Thus the ORG. Again, we make little excuse for explaining more fully what our predecessors meant. The British Expeditionary Force of 1914 (cf. the notes on Lord Haldane above) was comprised of the flower of Britain’s Regular Army, and was widely regarded as the most effective force of its size in the world. And all British soldiers, whether Regulars of the B.E.F. or the Special Reserve or the Territorials were volunteers. The European armies (in particular the French, Russian and German) relied very heavily on conscripts to make up their numbers.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Kaiser was reported as saying that the German armies would soon sweep away Britain’s “contemptible little army of mercenaries” – hence, those divisions who went to France in August 1914 were known as ‘the Old Contemptibles’. As individual fighting units they suffered very heavy casualties in the opening days of the war, and their manpower thereafter was diluted among Kitchener’s New Armies.

In recognition of the part, and price, paid by ‘the Old Contemptibles’ in stopping the German Schlieffen plan for a lightning thrust through Belgium towards Paris, A.E. Housman wrote “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” of which the verse above is the second. The full poem was:

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.


Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended
And saved the sum of things for pay.

This Editor has vivid memories of the nuances of this poem being explained to him at school in 1949: his teacher suggested that the word “mercenary” in the third line of the first verse should be given ironic emphasis and that the last line of all should be read:

And saved the sum of things – for pay?

[Page 302, line 30] Whitsuntide Whitsunday and the days following it. Until the introduction of the May Day bank holiday in 1978, the movable feast of Whitsun commemorating the day of Pentecost was the Spring bank holiday in England (although May Day was, bank holiday or no, treated as a holiday in many parts of the country). Since Whitsunday was set by the Church’s calendar as seven weeks after Easter, its date was always variable, in May or early June. Today, known as the Spring bank holiday, the last Monday in the month of May is the fixed date of the holiday. Whitsunday (White Sunday) was so called because it was often an occasion for christenings and therefore white robes.

[Page 302, line 32] Downs a system of two ranges of chalk hills south of the River Thames. The South Downs run close to the south coast in Sussex and Hampshire: the North Downs are some 25 miles further north in Kent and Surrey. Kipling had a particular affinity with the South Downs. See Michael Smith’s article on “The Sussex Landscape”.

[Page 303, line 1] Portsmouth Town Railway Station now known officially as Portsmouth and Southsea, it was the original terminus of the joint London and South-Western, and London Brighton and South Coast lines on Portsea Island. A later extension took the line down to Portsmouth Harbour. The streets of little houses around the Town station were badly damaged during air raids in February 1941, and the whole area has been very much rebuilt.

[Page 303, line 2] green-grocery ‘a retail shop selling vegetables and fruit, in England a trade not yet monopolised by Greeks.’ Thus the ORG. It is not quite clear what prompted the remarks implying the take-over by Greeks of much of the retail trade – so far as this editor remembers, it was never an issue in his salad days in the 1960s. However, the back-street green-grocer is undoubtedly an endangered species: in country districts his place has been taken by the farm shop.

[Page 303, line 8] beltin’ thrashing (see “Gunga Din”; “Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,”).

[Page 304, line 8] virgin ear a fresh unsullied mind.

[Page 304, line 9] Junior Service in 1910 this meant the Army, as Pyecroft so patronisingly remarks. The Royal Air Force did not come into being until 1st April 1918, when the Royal Flying Corps (114,000 personnel and 4,000 aircraft) merged with the Royal Naval Air Service (55,000 personnel and 3,000 aircraft)

[Page 304, line 14] shutters many such small shops were open-fronted, with the goods out on display in the open, in the original boxes, sacks, baskets, etc., in which they came from the wholesaler or the market gardener. In fact, they were more like an immobile market stall than what we would recognises as a shop, with plate-glass windows and most of the produce ready-wrapped. At the end of the day, the remaining fruit and vegetables would be taken into the recesses of the shop and wooden shutters fixed to the front to make all secure for the night. Here, the shop is just being opened up in the morning, and the narrator is helping to take down the shutters, and open up the shop. (cf. Mr Marsh’s shop in “His Gift” in Land and Sea Tales, p. 87, line 10).

[Page 304, line 15] curl-papers a cheap and simple, if unbecoming and temporary, substitute for a permanent wave for a lady’s hair. The mechanics of permanent waving were discovered towards the end of the 19th century, but, as a fashion, it only came in during the 1930s.

[Page 304, line 22] a court-martial or a post-mortem enquiry a court-martial involves an accused and a prosecutor: the former facing a specific criminal charge under military law. A post mortem inquiry is, initially at least, fact-finding , in that it seeks to establish the cause of death. Pyecroft wishes to know whether Kipling merely wants to know what happened, or whether he’s out for someone’s blood, because of the (suggested) misuse his car might have been put to.

[Page 304, line 28 on Westminster Bridge laying his course for the Old Kent Road the ORG wrote, quite correctly: ‘from the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge crosses the Thames in a nearly easterly direction; the most direct route after that leads to the Old Kent Road running south-easterly towards Peckham and Greenwich, whereas Southampton, of course, is south-west of London.’

The implication (reinforced by the phrase about “swinging for compasses” four lines later, is that Leggatt was going in the wrong direction. But in fact, the eastern end of Westminster Bridge was the recognised starting point for three of the major roads leading from London: the Dover Road (A2), the Brighton Road (A23) and the Portsmouth Road (A3). The Portsmouth road was as valid a means of getting directly to Southampton (branching off at Guildford to go via to Alton to Winchester, thence to Southampton) as via the Exeter Road to Basingstoke, and thence via Winchester to Southampton.

[Page 304, line 32] swinging the car for compasses a far-fetched nautical analogy devised by Pyecroft to laugh the matter off on Leggatt’s behalf (though, as suggested above there was really no need to do so – the route to Southampton via Alton was as practicable as that via Basingstoke, and very slightly shorter). The Kipling narrator has betrayed an un-Kipling-like misunderstanding in saying (line 30 above) “that doesn’t lead to Southampton” – which is correct as far as it goes, but the junction of the A2 and the A3 is only another quarter of a mile further on, where Kennington Road diverges from Westminster Bridge Road.

A ship’s magnetic compass has an error, known as deviation, altering with the ship’s head and certain other factors. To compile a deviation table, showing the amount of error on any given course, it was necessary periodically to swing the ship slowly through 360º, taking compass bearings of an object whose actual magnetic bearing was known. (For example, in the middle of Portsmouth Harbour there is “the swinging buoy”, while, some five miles away, on the top of Portsdown Hill, is the conspicuous Nelson Monument. The positions of these being fixed on the chart, the magnetic bearing is known.

A ship’s bow was secured to the buoy, and a small tug to the stern, which would pull the ship round through 360º. As the ship’s head passed through each point of the compass, the Navigating Officer would take a compass bearing of the monument, and note the difference from the actual one. All in all, an unexciting way of spending a forenoon. The same thing could be done in the open sea by finding a convenient transit of two objects marked on the chart, and then steaming across it in different directions, noting the difference between compass bearing and the actual bearing. These are the circumstances Pyecroft had in mind, because the ship will appear to be going in almost any direction except the one in which her passage requires her to go.

[Page 305, line 1] latitude loosely used by Pyecroft to mean general position. Strictly speaking, it gives only the angular distance north or south of the Equator.

[Page 305, line 2] ong route is, of course, the author’s approximation of Pyecroft’s rendering of en route – French.

[Page 305, line 2] Waterloo the London terminus of the London and South Western Railway, whose lines served the south coast of England from Portsmouth westward, and the south-western suburbs of London. Until the opening of St. Pancras International in 2007, it was the London terminal of the Eurostar rail services via the Channel Tunnel, and was regarded, apparently, by some sections of French passengers as a typical bit of British tactlessness (the fact that there was a Gare Austerlitz in Paris seemed not to register!)

[Page 305, line 5] cassowary-cruiser another Pyecroft-ism. The French is cuirassé = ‘armoured’. So Jules’ ship was an armoured cruiser, of which the French had many, intended to act as commerce raiders in time of war. Their cruisers and battleships went in for a multiplicity of funnels, most having four, five or even six funnels, giving rise to the British ‘matlow’s’ generic nickname for them of “packet of woodbines”, from their apparent similarity to the paper packets of five Wills’ ‘Wild Woodbine’ cigarettes. [This Editor suggests, rather presumptuously, that Kipling would have liked this, and might well have used it, had he known it.]

[Page 305, line 6] trusty and well-beloved a phrase conventionally applied by a British monarch to a subject who has served, or is about to serve, the Crown in some official capacity. The phrase appears on the appropriate warrant, commission or other document by which the appointment is made. Pyecroft might have encountered the phrase on a commissioned officer’s Commission seen in the Ship’s Office, perhaps. As a Petty Officer, he would not be so addressed.

But there is probably more to it than that: and this is an example of Kipling applying specialist knowledge. In the Royal Navy, and, it may be suggested, in ‘La Royale’ (as the French Navy was still known by those uncompromising Royalists who had so nearly restored the French monarchy after the Franco-Prussian War), short leave was only granted within the confines of the port. But parties of senior, and more reliable ratings (“trusty and well-beloved”), might be allowed to go on organised tours of an educational nature. In the Royal Navy, the Commander and the Master-at-Arms would have carefully vetted the list of those intending to go on the tour. Jules has clearly broken away from such a group, having been unable to resist the lure of London’s bright lights.

[Page 305, line 7] R.C. Roman Catholic.

[Page 305, line 10] copious many.

[Page 305, line 14] puristical formation a highly moral attitude. “Puristical” is Pyecroft’s version of “puritanical”; “formation”, a naval term meaning the disposition or arrangement of ships to meet given circumstances.

[Page 305, line 16] annealing a splendid metaphor, comparing the heat treatment applied in tempering a metal that is too hard and brittle with the use of strong drink to mellow Leggatt’s attitude.

[Page 305, line 26] monogomite here meant for ‘monogamist’, a believer in only one marriage (or, zoologically, one mate) at a time.

[Page 305, line 27] ong garçong en garcon unaccompanied by ladies: a stag party. At that date, it had been much used socially when King Edward VII paid a week-end visit to one of his more raffish friends, unaccompanied by Queen Alexandra.

[Page 305, line 30] gunny-bags rough sacks, such as were used for carrying vegetables, usually made of jute.

[Page 306, line 1] For a man with no Service experience the Navy was notoriously careful about the appearance of its ships. Two stanzas from ‘The Laws of the Navy’, by Rear-Admiral Hopwood, illustrate this:

Doth the paintwork make war with the funnels
And the deck to the cannons complain?
Nay, they know that some soap and fresh water
Unites them as brothers again.


Dost deem that thy vessel needs gilding,
And the dockyard forbears to supply?
Put thy hand in thy pocket and gild her —
There are those who have risen thereby.

And cf Bai-Jove Judson, and gold leaf (“Judson and the Empire”, pp. 356-358).

[Page 306, lines 2-4] If we’d been Marines . . . out hob-nailed socks a little mild irony. Marines were issued with boots with heavily-nailed soles for service ashore. Seamen in those days went without any form of boot whenever possible, and were sometimes seen ashore with their boots slung round their necks. Thus the ORG.

This Editor suspects that the ORG Editor was somewhat exaggerating. It is true that when one was working ‘part of ship’ or was a member of a boat’s crew, going barefoot was a comfortable and practical option – but boot-less gun-drill in a turret, or running up and down ladders with steel-cleated treads was uncomfortable, if not dangerous. Bare feet started to go with the passing of masts and yards, some twenty years before the tale was written. That said, this Editor recalls seeing two Spanish conscript soldiers ashore in Majorca, some fifty seven years ago, with their boots slung round their necks, exactly as the ORG suggests.

[Page 306, line 5] malleable pliable, a result of the annealing referred to above.

[Page 306, line 7] avec a fur coat the provision of both a fur coat and a mackintosh (vide page 308, lines 3-5 below) for a motor trip at Whitsuntide shows that the author and Leggatt took a grimly realistic view of English spring weather.

[Page 306, line 12] Mong Jews Pyecroft’s plural of Mon Dieu.

[Page 306, line 19] moist at the edges a little the better for drink.

[Page 306, line 25] The coffee, cleared with a piece of fish-skin the coffee grounds adhere to the skin. Another school of thought favours egg-shell for this operation. (cf. Captains Courageous’, p. 228, line 9.)

[Page 307, line 3] propeller ceasing to revolve the car stopped.

[Page 307, line 6] duster in one hand and a cup in the other the ORG commented that “duster” should obviously be “dishcloth”, a mistake excusable in 1910 when domestic help was more plentiful than it is now. The implication is that Kipling had never had to wash up, and wouldn’t know the difference between a duster and a dishcloth. Both of which implications may well have been true. In India, servants would have done it, always: when he was living a bachelor life in London, probably his landlady (or her ‘tweeny’) did it. Nor would he have done it at ‘Naulakha’, Elm Cottage or Bateman’s. Only, possibly, at Bliss Cottage might he have had to help out in the scullery.

[Page 307. line 7] wanted aft required by higher authority. Until HMS Dreadnought (launched 1906) naval officers always lived at the after end of a ship.

[Page 307, line 8] clean mess decks here implies clearing up after a meal.

[Page 307, line 10] lonely and desolate ocean near Portsdown Portsdown Hill, overlooking Portsmouth and Spithead, was then almost wholly open country. To a surprisingly large extent, it still is, west of the old London-Portsmouth road, down which Leggatt was driving.

[Page 307, lines 12/13] stirring my stomach with his little copper stick poking me with his staff – Boy Scouts at this time often carried a stave, about four feet long, sometimes with a pennon atop. A copper-stick was a household tool, rather like a short broom handle, about three feet long. It was used for stirring, or lifting out, the family washing which was being boiled in ‘the copper’, a utensil made of copper and shaped like a kettle-drum, which was commonly used for this purpose. [In the Sussex farmhouse, in which this Editor grew up, it was a built-in feature of the kitchen, alongside the kitchen range, with a hearth underneath. In smaller suburban houses of the Edwardian period, a free-standing gas-fired ‘copper’ was more usual.]

[Page 307, line 14] You count ten the next page makes it clear that ten points were awarded for intercepting a car in this exercise.

[Page 307, line 16] gunnel the pronunciation of gunwale, the upper edge of a boat’s side. In this case, over the upper edge of the car’s open body.

[Page 307, line 17] ten I gave him Pyecroft dealt him ten sharp slaps on the backside with his bare hand – one may guess for much the same reason as all his dear relations spanked the Elephant’s Child before he went to the Limpopo river, in the Just So Stories.

[Page 307, line 24/25] B.P.’s little pets General Lord Baden-Powell (1857-1941) in 1908 founded the Boy Scout movement in Britain which later became world-wide. As Kipling became a Commissioner of Boy Scouts, his jesting here is evidently without malice.

[Page 308, line 11] sucking Sherlock Holmes a budding young detective. 22 years after his first appearance, it is of interest that Holmes was already a national figure: Pyecroft assumes that his hearers know who he means without explanation. (But, of course, Kipling and Conan Doyle were well acquainted.)

[Page 308, line 11] Pink Eye Patrol the scouts were organised in patrols, usually named after an animal. ‘Pink Eye’ is one of Pyecroft’s improvisations. It is just possible that Kipling had in mind that the Naval Cadets at Osborne, in the Isle of Wight (where John might have gone in a year’s time, or less) had suffered a series of epidemics of Pink-eye (opthalmia), and Pyecroft may be connecting the naval cadets with Lieutenant Mo(o)rshed’s band of Scouting brigands.

[Page 308, line 21] short under-drawers officials of the Boy Scouts were amongst the first adults to make a public appearance in England, other than on the football field, wearing shorts.

[Page 308, line 24] our Mr. Morshed will be remembered (as Moorshed) as a midshipman in “The Bonds of Discipline” and as the Commanding Officer of Torpedo Boat 267 in “Their Lawful Occasions”. He had obviously thought better of the intention he then had of leaving the Navy.

[Page 309, line 3] fur boa strictly, a boa was a long scarf wrapped round the neck: here the reference is to the author’s fur coat, which Pyecroft had ‘borrowed’: at Whitsun!

[Page 309, lines 8/9] cohered on the instant … ethergram installations a reference to the early radio sets whose actions depended on nickel filings cohering (sticking together) when a wireless signal was received. (cf. “Wireless” in Traffics and Discoveries, pages 219 and 224-5.)

[Page 309, line 11] Fratton Orphan Asylum Fratton was then one of the less fashionable districts of Portsmouth. It still is, being more of a commercial area than a residential one.

[Page 309, line 13 sotte voce correctly, sotto voce (Italian) – in an undertone.

[Page 309, lines 14/15] What in Hong Kong are you doing with this dun-coloured sampan? A sampan is a small Chinese craft or boat, propelled by sails or by an oar (yulo) over the stern. Hong Kong is probably a euphemism suggested by the sampan; they are numerous in its harbour.

[Page 310, lines 4/5] panicking in a water-tight flat a most ingenious metaphor: a water-tight flat (navalese for compartment) is a small compartment, not normally accessible other than through a small manhole and hatch. Its sole purpose is to provide a reserve of buoyancy in that section of the ship. It is seldom visited, and anyone in distress or fear when visiting such a compartment – claustrophobic and dark – would be able to sympathise with the loneliness imposed on Jules by his lack of English.

[Page 310, line 6] entente cordiale the friendly understanding, not quite an alliance, arrived at between Great Britain and France in 1904. This led to the visit of the French fleet to Portsmouth the following year, which may have suggested Jules to Kipling.

King Edward VII is often credited with inspiring much of the change of feeling which had taken place in both countries since 1898 when, as may be seen in A Fleet in Being, France was still the hereditary enemy and war might easily have resulted from the Fashoda incident. But Admiral Tirpitz’s naval ambitions, supported by Kaiser Wilhelm II, also had a powerful influence on British feeling.

[Page 310, line 9] violently annoyed the traffic by holding it up, as they had done to Leggatt.

[Page 310. line 12] same as at target-practice Competitive shooting at battle-practice targets was a feature of naval life in the years leading up to World War 1. It had been instigated by Captain Percy Scott, one of Fisher’s disciples, when he was the Captain of the Gunnery School, HMS Excellent, in 1903-06, from which appointment he was promoted to Rear-Admiral, and became the Royal Navy’s first “Inspector of Target Practice”.

[Page 310, line 30] those rat-catcher clothes the Oxford English Dictionary says: ‘Informal or unconventional hunting dress; an item of clothing of this type. Also attrib. and in extended use.’ The first citation in the dictionary is this tale. However, our notes on “A Tour of Inspection” show that Kipling used the expression at least six years earlier.

[Page 310, line 33] Here’s santy to him an informal toast. “Santy” from the French santé, health.

[Page 311, line 5] Emmanuel the second ‘m’ seems to be an error which has crept in – along with Mr. Leggatt’s additional ‘t’.

[Page 311, line14] I took Jules with me the regulation distance Pyecroft induced Jules to step forward as a volunteer for whatever Mr. Morshed was intending.

[Page 311, line 17] a pressed man since the Stuart restoration in 1660, the British government has always maintained the smallest army and navy in peacetime consistent with the pursuit of its policies. When war came, then both soldiers and, more particularly, sailors, were liable to be impressed, that is, compulsorily compelled to serve the Crown. Much mythology has grown up about the evils of impressment (the evils were real enough, but often exaggerated), and it is worth saying at once that it was only ever used in time of war, and that its 20th century equivalent, conscription, was accepted as an unpleasant necessity for the safety of the nation.

In fact, the Impressment Laws were not put into effect after 1815, and when Kipling wrote this tale, the press gang was history, remembered mostly by the proverb “One volunteer is worth two pressed men”.

[Page 311, lines 23/24] lootenant on one of the new catch-‘em-alive-o’s the Navy did not follow the British Army’s pronunciation of ‘lieutenant’ as ‘leftenant’. ‘Lootenant’ was the usual lower deck version; an officer’s would generally have sounded more like ‘l’e’tenant. An officer would also have said ‘in’ and not ‘on’ a ship. The same holds good in 2009.

The expression ‘catch-‘em-alive-o’s’ has not survived: it clearly implied a speedy vessel, and the ORG Editor speculated on Kipling’s meaning as follows – and this Editor cannot improve on it:

  1. a class of vessel introduced by Admiral Sir John Fisher as “coastal destroyers”, but soon downgraded to Torpedo Boats Nos. 1 to 36, older boats with those numbers having been scrapped or renumbered.
  2. the ‘Tribal’ class destroyers (later known as the ‘F’ class) of 850-1000 tons, and faster than their successors for several years.
  3. the Invincible class of battle cruisers, another of Fisher’s innovations. They displaced 17,250 tons, had 8 12-inch guns and a speed of 25 knots (some 7 knots faster than any pre-dreadnought battleship, and 4 knots faster than any dreadnought). Their speed had to be compensated for by lack of weight of armour, and in the long run Fisher’s dictum that ‘speed is armour’ was found to be a fallacy.

Perhaps (2) is the most likely, since a ‘lootenant’ would have been small fry in a battle cruiser, and (1) though splendid in the torpedo boat class, were less outstanding than (2).

[Page 311, line 26] modus vivendi a method of life (Latin), usually implying a working arrangement between disputants, and hence not inappropriate here, with Leggatt’s sacred paintwork threatened by Mr. Morshed’s operational requirements.

[Page 312, line 4] composite cruiser Pyecroft is deliberately misusing a description of a type of ship no longer to be seen, though his use of the phrase accurately describes the narrator’s car after they had taken off its proper body and lashed on uncle’s greengrocer’s cart (without its wheels, of course). Today one might use the phrase “modular” construction, in which one module (containing, say, a particular type of radar set) can be taken off and replaced by another containing a different type of radar). In 1910, a composite-built ship referred to one built with iron frames, with wooden planking on the outside. The Cutty Sark is one such: another is HMS Gannet at Chatham. The iron frame gave a desired rigidity to the structure, while the wooden planking could easily be replaced in the event of damage without recourse to a dry dock – of which there were relatively few outside Europe until the very end of the 19th century.

[Page 312, line 9] fourteen-hand a ‘hand’ is a horseman’s measurement applied to the height of a horse at its shoulder: it is four inches (10.2cm): so 14 hands is 4 feet 8 inches, from ground to shoulder – an exceptionally impressive rocking horse.

[Page 312, line 12] gashly a frequent mispronunciation, among the less well educated, of ‘ghastly’.

[Page 312, line 15] tout ensemble general effect (French).

[Page 312, line 14] a Ju-ju sacrifice in the Benin campaign Ju-ju is a West African charm or fetish. After the murder of some British Nigerian officials in January 1897, a punitive expedition commanded by Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson, C-in-C of the Cape of Good Hope and West Africa station, made its way into Benin and found the place reeking with human sacrifices offered to delay the advance. The town was accidentally burnt.

[Page 312, lines 18-20]

  • Allez à votre bateau Go back to your ship.
  • Je say (sais) mon Lootenong I know my Lieutenant.
  • Eel voo donneray porkwor (Il vous donnerait pourquoi) He will give (strictly, would give) you what for.
  • Vous ong ate hurroo (Vous en êtes heureux) You have all the luck.
  • Jamay de la vee (Jamais de la vie) Not on your life!

[Page 312, line 22] brindle brown or tawny with streaks of other colours.

[Page 312, line 33] brigadier-general in 1910 might have been expected to command a brigade, usually consisting of four infantry battalions or three cavalry regiments, or to have held a staff appointment at that level. For a period after World War 1, ‘brigadier-general’ was replaced by ‘colonel-commandant’, but in 1931 this gave way to ‘brigadier’. A Brigadier equates to a Royal Navy Commodore or an RAF Air Commodore.

[Page 313, line 1] Dicky Bridoon no doubt a character as fictitious as his office of ‘Secretary of State for Civil War’ (same page, line 8), but it would be naïve to suppose that any likeness that existed between his name and the Christian names of Richard Burdon Haldane, Secretary of State for War, was entirely coincidental.

A bridoon is the snaffle and rein of a military bridle.

[Page 313, lines 1-2] for a feathery hat and a pair o’ gilt spurs perquisites (and part of the full dress) of an officer of general’s rank. Morshed is implying that his uncle has been ignobly flattering the political head of his Service in aid of his own advancement,

[Page 313, line 2] conspuez l’oncle conspuez means to treat with contempt, to despise. Colloquially “Down with Uncle”.

[Page 313, line 10] which doctors recommend for tumour thanks to Society member Richard Haythornthwaite, who is a (medical) doctor, this seemingly odd remark by Pyecroft can be, we believe, correctly interpreted. Prima facie the idea that a tumour, in the sense of a swelling, whether cancerous or not, can be cured by riding exercise seems somewhat bizarre.

But the Oxford English Dictionary gives two subsidiary, figurative, meanings to “tumour”. Briefly, they are: a “swelling … of arrogance, vain-glory, inflated pride”, or “turgidity … of deportment”. We suggest that it was in one of these senses that Pyecroft, somewhat ironically, is using “tumour” – being thrown from “a mechanical gee-gee” can certainly cure “inflated pride”, or “turgidity of deportment”. It may be doubted whether a Pyecroft of that period would really have been aware of the use of the word “tumour” in that sense, but Kipling has made Pyecroft a man who has clearly read widely, if indiscriminately.

[Page 313, line 19] agnosticle Pyecroft’s version of “agnostic”.

[Page 313, line 29] bicycle-maps one of the great cartographic firms produced a series of maps for the benefit of those who took their holidays by cycle.

[Page 313, line 31] I was thinking what the Downs mean after dark Leggatt was justified. The only roads leading up on to the Downs at this date would have been chalk tracks which become very uneven, and peppered with flints, which were (and still are) Not Good for tyres. Quite a few of those tracks remain unimproved a century later, and there is still (thank Goodness) no highway along the summit of the Downs – only a long-distance footpath, the ‘South Downs Way’, of which some sections have the status of a bridle-path.

[Page 314, line 2] creep for uncle by hand in the dark to the mariner (as has been explained elsewhere – “Steam Tactics”, page 190, line 1), ‘creeping‘ means a usually laborious search for an object lost overboard, and now only vaguely located on the sea bottom. Pyecroft is emphasising his point, that “the navigation was intricate”.

[Page 314, line 7] sufficient unto the day a phrase concluded by “is the evil thereof”, in Matthew 6,7.

[Page 314, line 9] more sang frays probably mort sans phrases death without speeches or histrionics.

[Page 315, line 3] night-gowns were being replaced by pyjamas at this time.

[Page 315, line 9] Daily Express then and now, one of London’s national morning newspapers.

[Page 315, line 20-23] the heights of something or other … three counties deep all round. if Pyecroft is to be believed then they were probably on Marley Heights, just south-west of Haslemere, where Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire all meet, and which is just over 600 feet high at its highest point.

[Page 315, line 22] superstructure Pyecroft’s uncle’s blue delivery cart, replacing the car’s proper body.

[Page 315, line 30] socialise it make it available to the public, in this case the Red and Blue armies.

[Page 315, line 33] several thousand metres one of Pyecroft’s more fanciful flights – and, it may be suggested, rather unlikely, in that Pyecroft would never, in the normal course of events, even mention metres, let alone think metric. One wonders why Kipling puts ‘metres’ into Pyecroft’s mouth.

[Page 316, line 22] a searchlight churning up probably the noise of the engine driving its generator. The Royal Engineers deployed large searchlights mounted on a motorised chassis by this date.

[Page 316, line 24] went pungo was punctured (slang).

[Page 317, line 16] maxim the machine-gun adopted by the British army in 1889, named after its inventor, later Sir Hiram Maxim. The Maxim company was taken over by Messrs. Vickers in 1896, but the gun continued to be known as the Maxim until Vickers introduced an improved version in 1912, which was known as the Vickers Machine Gun.

[Page 317, line 18] death or Salisbury gaol a parody of one of Nelson’s sayings; attributed to him when, as a Commodore, he commanded the Captain at the battle of Cape St. Vincent, 1797, and led his boarders on board the Spanish San Carlo with a cry of “Westminster Abbey or glorious Victory.”

[Page 317, line 22] anarchism here means lethal properties.

[Page 317, line 23] four-point-seven a naval quick-firing gun of 4.7 inches in calibre, firing a 40 pound projectile. Models of them featured in every Edwardian middle-class boy’s nursery, after some had been landed and mounted on improvised field carriages, and used notably in the defence of Ladysmith. [And this editor had such a model some 35 years later!]

[Page 317, line 26] cow-guns in his Dictionary of Slang, Eric Partridge gives: ‘A heavy naval gun. Naval slang from ca. 1900, becoming colloquial by c. 1915.
Not in frequent use in recent years (1963)’.
(Never heard in this Editor’s Naval career, 1950-84).

[Page 317, line 27] sheep-pond see ‘Steam Tactics, page 208, line 12 for our note on ponds – in this case a sheep-pond is another word for ‘dew-pond’.

[Page 317, lines 31-22] dull sickenin’ thud of blind shells burstin’ on soft ground in this context ‘blind’ was usually interpreted as meaning a ‘dud’ – one that fails to explode. Kipling, here, seems to be using it to mean one with a delayed-action fuse, in which case “in soft ground” might have been more appropriate than “on”.

[Page 318, line 8] flat-feet seamen.

[Page 318, line 10] the derelict in a nautical sense, a broken down ship, unable to manoeuvre: here, the narrator’s car, broken down while Mr. Leggatt repairs the puncture.

[Page 318, lines 12-19] ”Attend all ye . . . those beggars at Carlisle” slightly garbled extracts from the poem “The Armada” by Lord Macaulay (1800-1859) describing how the warning of the Armada’s approach was transmitted through England by a chain of hilltop beacons in 1588. It opens: ‘Attend, all ye who list to hear our noble England`s praise…’, and concludes: ‘…the red glare on Skiddaw roused the burghers of Carlisle.’

[Page 318, line 13] Fifth Reader John Walker has explained that reading, and an introduction to English literature, was taught at this time (and for some time to come) from a series of “Readers”: starting with a “First Reader” (a later generation of British schoolchildren will have known the ‘John and Janet’ series of books published by ‘Ladybird’ which this Editor would take to be the equivalent of the First Reader.) The Fifth Reader was for the pupils who were nearing the end of their schooling, at the age of 12 to 14, and contained more literary material. (A few years later, “If” might well have appeared in a Fifth Reader.) Since different educational publishers produced their own series of ‘Readers’, it is not possible to say to which volume Pyecroft was alluding.

[Page 318, line 20] Leith Hill the highest point (968 feet – 295 metres) of the North Downs. The ORG suggested that this fixed the place of this fictional ‘jape’ as being in the vicinity of that hill, which is just south-west of Dorking. But this Editor is convinced that, for the reasons given in the note above at page 315, lines 20-23, and also because Leith Hill is too far away from Portsmouth to have been reached in the timescale which Pyecroft gives earlier, Mr. Morshed (who appears to have been in a somewhat ‘exalted’ frame of mind) was merely suggesting that Leith Hill (as the highest point around), would make a stand-in for Skiddaw (the highest point in England).

[Page 319, line 10] the ice is undeniably packing getting hemmed in by consolidated ice is one of the great hazards of Arctic navigation. In this context, the two armies, Red and Blue, are closing in.

[Page 319, line 24] mangold-wurzels a large kind of beet, used chiefly for feeding livestock.

[Page 319, line 31] Persimmon a famous racehorse owned by the Price of Wales (later King Edward VII) and in 1896 winner of the Derby. This event, as much as any other single factor, confirmed the Prince’s popularity with the British public.

[Page 320, line 4] Newmarket a town on the borders of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, the headquarters of English horseracing, having been so since the second half of the 17th century, when King Charles II patronised the races held on Newmarket Heath. It is the home of the Jockey Club, which controls and administers the sport.

[Page 320, line 5] mangel-wurzel an alternative form of ‘mangold-wurzel’ used on line 24 of the preceding page. (Since both are used in Pyecroft’s speech, within a few seconds of each other – as the story is told – one wonders why Kipling chose to use the two different forms of spelling.)

[Page 320, line 13] transformation an artificial head of hair, or hairpiece, worn by women: a wig.

[Page 320, line 14] Roman candle a large firework which throws out a succession of coloured stars or balls at intervals of several seconds.

[Page 320, line 16] pièce de resistarnce pièce (or alternatively plat) de résistance: the most important dish on the menu. Hence, today, more generally, the most important event in a series of events.

[Page 320, lines 26-28] red to port . . . as per Board of Trade regulation the Board of Trade, which originated in 1621, was one of the great departments of government in England and Great Britain. It lasted until 1970 under its old title, but has now been subsumed into the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. At the time of the story, the Board of Trade was responsible for the regulations regarding navigation of British shipping, and prescribed the navigation lights to be shown, in accordance with international agreement, as described by Pyecroft.

[Page 321, line 1] seeing mackerel in hell the ORG noted ‘this sounds like a quotation but we have not traced it’. Nor have we. The only possible connection that can be suggested is that it would not be expected to see a mackerel in hell, since the mackerel is also known as St. Peter’s fish, having the imprint of his thumb and forefinger on its sides.

[Page 321, line 8] wag defined as a facetious person, given to jesting and practical jokes. (And an example of how popular culture can make nonsense of our language – ‘wag’ today being used to describe a young woman who consorts with sportsmen – legally or casually – and is usually thought of as having more money than sense.)

Pyecroft’s insistence on his own lack of humour here, and in “The Bonds of Discipline” (where this is endorsed by Marine Glass) makes him remarkable, if not unique, amongst Kipling’s characters. It is, however, hard to reconcile this with some of his splendid turns of phrase and fancy.

[Page 321, line 14] topical allusion a reference to current affairs: here the issue of rocking horses to cavalry recruits for training purposes. This picture shows an instructor demonstrating an acrobatic way of dismounting from a wooden horse, at the Army Equestrian School in Weedon in July 1933. [from the journal Popular Science].

[Page 321, line 16] chafed a ‘Pyecroft-ism’ meaning not best pleased, as in ‘being rubbed up the wrong way’. Just to confuse matters, the Royal Navy today uses the expression ‘chuffed’ to mean pleased – precisely the opposite to Pyecroft’s meaning.

[Page 321, line 19] double entender double entendre, a phrase with two meanings, one usually indecent.

[Page 321, lines 20-21] waggling the tiller lines at a man who’s had a hanging in the family the ORG explained that “the rope constitutes the double entendre (or topical “allusion”) but tiller lines were not fitted in Service boats. Probably a yoke, an alternative steering arrangement which fits over the rudder head, and which does have lines, was intended.” The note relies on a narrow (but, in Naval terms, strictly correct) definition of tiller lines. Whether tiller lines or yoke, anyone who has seen how the cox of a rowing eight steers the boat will appreciate that such a gesture could be misconstrued.

[Page 321, line 22] the cox of the Archimandrite’s galley a galley – more usually the galley, since all ships carried only one such – was the captain’s personal boat, and it would be more usual to refer to her coxswain as “the Captain’s coxswain”, the greater function including the lesser.

[Page 321, line 23] plaisanteree plaisanterie, a joke.

[Page 321, line 24] lobsters a British seaman’s plaisanteree for his opposite numbers in the Army, obviously derived from the red coats they once wore. The word may still be heard, but today, the more normally used sailor’s expression for a soldier is a ‘pongo’, or ‘brown job’.

[Page 321, line 30] wet prostration sweating exhaustion. Hardly surprising: in 1910, one changed a punctured tyre, rather than more simply changing a wheel.

[Page 322, line 8] Dervish properly, a Muslim holy man vowed to poverty and austerity, but the term was popularly transferred to the wild Sudanese fighting men led by fanatical priests.

[Page 322, line 18] escaladin’ escalading, somewhat hyperbolical here: it normally means scaling a wall by means of a ladder.

[Page 322, line 22] detonation a violent explosion – here, of temper.

[Page 322, line 28 cla(r)ss feelings mainly simple esprit de corps, no doubt, but perhaps aggravated by the superiority felt by so many mounted men towards all but the most select foot-soldiers.

[Page 323, line 2] Forty-Fifth Dragoons an imaginary cavalry regiment. Dragoons were heavy cavalry, usually wearing breast- and back-plates.

[Page 323, line 11] sowed the good seed . . . fruit reminiscent of many passages in the Bible, e.g. Matthew 13,23.

[Page 323, line 16] no man . . . making us afraid also recalls Bible passages, this time mostly in the Old Testament, e.g., Job 11,19, and Leviticus, 26,6.

[Page 323, line 26] socialised shared out.

[Page 324, line 10] kept him under with a bicycle it seems that the boy’s bicycle (it appears that he is a reporter) has been thrown in after, and on top of, him.

[Page 324, line 13] juice de spree a charming expression, combining French and punning English. It may be that Pyecroft had in mind jeu d’esprit with overtones of joie de vivre: but it also describes the old Colonel or General’s own condition. He has dined, no doubt well, and has looked on the wine when it was red (the ‘juice’) and is ripe for a ‘spree’.

[Page 324, line 23] on-the-knee party Pyecroft meant that it sounded as though there was a mutiny going on, on the ridge above. This is a typical piece of Kipling knowingness – but none the less realistic: it is exactly the sort of remark which Pyecroft might have made, following his remark on the previous page about the Junior Service appearing to be “a shade out of ‘and”, and the gallant and retired officer’s vitriol addressed to the “false-hearted proletarian publicist” on the next page.

The reference is to an outbreak of mass indiscipline in the Royal Naval Barracks in Portsmouth in 1906 that brought the Navy a lot of unwelcome publicity. On behalf of some stokers court-martialled on charges of attempting to make or joining a mutinous assembly, it was argued that they had been provoked by an order “Front rank – on the knee” given them by an officer; being newly entered, they were not aware that this was a method sometimes employed to allow the rear rank to see and be seen, and they took it as an attempt to humiliate them. Their cause was taken up by local sympathisers and played up by some of the press, so the dust took some time to settle. (The order stemmed from the order given in the field when troops were drawn up in two ranks, to enable the rear rank to fire over the heads of the front rank – cf countless boxes of toy soldiers in British nurseries, half of them standing, half of them kneeling.)

[Page 324, line 27] gates o’ Delhi this is harking back to the Indian Mutiny of 1857; if the gallant warrior’s command of the regiment had been in the early ’eighties, he might have been present in his early youth.

[Page 324, line 29] wringing out his trousers on his lap in his effort to ‘drown’ the cub reporter, his own trousers had got so soaked as to require their removal for drying.

[Page 325, line 12] dhobi’s donkey a beast that collects dirty washing – in this case, figurative. Dhobi is Hindustani for washerman, who in India commonly used a donkey to collect and deliver the household laundry.

[Page 325, lines 29-30] resorted to his belt the regulation leather belt, with its heavy buckle, made a vicious weapon in a brawl – see “Belts”, in Barrack Room Ballads’.

[Page 326, line 1] incroyable incredible.

[Page 326, line 9] ’ad snuff’ had been sharply dealt with (by the divisional General, one assumes) for not keeping the men of his brigade under control.

[Page 326, line 11] sneezin’ a natural consequence of having had snuff. Morshed’s uncle has also received a ticking-off.

[Page 326, line 12] shift our moorings change position: make ourselves scarce. (There is a touch of a “littery” man’s Navy-talk about this one; moorings are semi-permanent affairs, not lightly shifted. A seaman would be more likely to say “shift berth” or “shift billet”.

[Page 326, line 24] middle watch the watch from midnight to four a.m.

[Page 326, line 28 cast anchors out at the stern and prayed for the day pulled up until dawn. The expression is lifted almost bodily from the account of St. Paul’s shipwreck off Malta (the Roman Melita) described in Chapter XXVII of the Acts of the Apostles. Verse 29 says: ‘they cast four anchors out of the stern and wished for the day.’

[Page 326, line 31] watch below time off duty and available for rest, as opposed to “the watch on deck”.

[Page 327, line 12] the Hard in Portsmouth, the 250-yard stretch of roadway running along the east shore of the Harbour between the railway viaduct and the Main Gate of the Dockyard (now more usually known as the ‘Victory Gate’): it fronted on to the ‘Common Hard’ where watermen and fishermen could beach their boats on a hard-standing, as opposed to a mud berth. It was the sailor’s last contact with civilian life on departure, and the first on return. In the 1960s, the ORG noted, “What with Göring and a reduced Navy, it is sadly down-at-heel”. In 2009, its appearance is much better, but its atmosphere is sadly mundane. The pubs – ‘Ship and Castle’, ‘Ship Anson’, ‘Keppel’s Head’ and ‘The Victory’ remain, but the wine merchants who provided the Navy’s wardrooms with gin and sherry, Harvey’s and Saccone and Speed, have gone, as have the Naval tailors and outfitters, Gieves and Mosely and Pounsford. In place of sailors pouring quantities of beer down their throats on fortnightly pay-nights, most trade is done in the middle of the day with tourists.


©Alastair Wilson 2009 All rights reserved