The Lost Legion

Notes on the text

These notes, by Peter Havholm, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Many Inventions, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Page 182, line 3] Irregular Horse In Captain Lionel Trotter’s The Life of John Nicholson (Thomas Nelson, London 1897), it is recorded that after realizing the need for a Movable Column to keep the Punjab quiet in 1857, John Nicholson’s first thought was to raise the levy of Multani Horse from the Derajat, and he offered to command it. Authority was given on May 15th to enlist 1,000, later raised to 2,000. In May 1857, the 10th Irregular Cavalry were at Nowshera, and the 55th Native Infantry were, according to Trotter, divided between Nowshera and Mardan, from which station the normal garrison, The Guides, had been withdrawn for the Mobile Column.

A settlement of fanatics on the right bank of the Indus about 50 miles east of Mardan had been the cause of a punitive expedition in 1853. In the official record the opinion is stated that it is due to these troublesome belligerent extremists that the 55th Native Infantry mutinied and broke open the magazine, as recorded in Roberts’s Forty One Years in India.

[Page 182, line 5] John Lawrence was appointed in 1846 to the Council of Regency for the young Maharajah, the new ruler of the Punjab, under his brother, Sir Henry Lawrence, the Resident, when the latter was moved to Lucknow. John returned to India in 1864 as Governor General and was raised to the peerage in 1869.

During the uprising of 1857, according to Trotter, he was thought to be considering the possibility of withdrawing from Peshawar. Kipling writes:

‘Now it is written, in the history of the Mutiny that, on the 24th of July, “J.L.,” who had been arguing with Edwardes and Cotton against the retention of Peshawur, wrote to the Governor General of India saying:— “The Punjab will prove short work to the Mutineers when the Delhi army is destroyed.” It was the retention of Delhi not Peshawur, we are told, that “J.L.” set his heart on, in spite of Edwardes’ pleading.’

[Page 182, line 9] swept off down south on 23 May 1857, John Nicholson was in pursuit with a force of cavalry and overtook the rebels and cut many of them down. They were not really going south, as Kipling says, but north, aiming to reach Swat, which was not within the frontier, or east, hoping to cross the Indus and find refuge in Kashmir. As the passage quoted in the headnote to this story shows, Kipling’s 1887 version of the story has the 55th being driven by Nicholson: ‘from Nowshera to Murdan and from Murdan to the hills of Swat.’

The Akhund and chiefs of Swat did not want such a disturbance in their country and the surviving rebels were herded eastwards to the Indus and eventually wiped out by the Hazara levy under Becher.

[When the reports of these fearful and complex events in distant and unpronouncable places reached the English newspapers, they were naturally a source of some alarm, but also a degree of bafflement: modern readers with an interest in less imperial curiosities of Victorian literature may recall Edward Lear’s nonsense lines: ‘who or why or where or what – is the Akond of Swat?’]

[Page 183, line 11] across the border the border lay between British controlled territory and the independent tribes in Afghanistan.

Into our hills it was general policy for the border to be along the skirts of the hills. The rocky slopes were not, of course, suitable for cavalry—for which the tribes had a healthy respect.

[Page 183, line 17] Hindustani Regiment Said by an Afghan this simply means ‘a regiment of the Indian Army’.

[Page 183, line 21] ran forward a little more the advance was slow, and though the far end of the pass was reached there were many counter-attacks, lasting in fact over a month and described in detail by Lord Roberts in his book. The British Commander of the force was severely wounded on November 20th.

[Page 184, line 6] Sheor Kot there is a place called Sheor Kot in the Bijnam District, about 60 miles north-east of Meerut, which was one of the centres of the mutiny, but that cannot be the place referred to, as this is ‘over the Border’.

[Page 184, line 14] Government rifles It is said that this was where Lee Enfield rifles were first used in the hills. The stealing of rifles on the North West Frontier was quite a problem in itself. See the notes on “The Man who Was” (Life’s Handicap) page 100, line 23).

[Page 185, line 30] mutilated the women of the tribes scoured the scene of an action, after the troops had withdrawn, with the object of loot and the mutilation of the dead and wounded. See the final verse of “The Young British Soldier”:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

[Page 185, line 31] palaver A meeting, or parley. There were several occasions here when discussions were held with the enemy, both while fighting was going on and during intervals.

[Page 186, line 11] Gulla Kuta Mullah probably based on the Mullah of Kota, the religious leader of the fanatics.

[Page 187, line 21] a force in 1888 the Punjab Frontier Force consisted of: The Guides, both Cavalry and Infantry, four Regiments of Punjab Cavalry, four Batteries of Mountain Artillery, one Battery of Heavy Artillery, four Battalions of Sikh Infantry, five Battalions of Punjab Infantry, one Regiment of Gurkhas and one Battalion of Hazaras.

[Page 188, line 1] the wheat The valley of the Swat river is fertile. It is a snow-water river in the cold weather, which can be used for irrigation when not in flood.

[Page 188, line 31] clicking compass needles will perpetually swing unless checked by lifting them off their bearings by pressing a knob with the thumb.

[Page 189, line 2] Green Coats the Gurkhas are ‘Rifle Battalions’ and wear the dark green of the Rifle Brigade. The 4th and 5th Gurkhas were present at Ambela, as well as the Guides.

[Page 193, line 31] Marf karo the first word should be spelled muaf and the phrase would then mean ‘Pardon’. Rahm means ‘mercy’ and Jan-bakhshi, ‘Pardon for a capital offence’.

[Page 196, line 13] Rissala Cavalry.

[Page 197, line 27] sag dog.

[Page 198, line 26] cateran a Highland freebooter.

[Page 199, line 3] polyanthus a nice example of barrack vocabulary.


[P. H.]

©Peter Havholm 2006 All rights reserved