With the Main Guard

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in The Week’s News of Allahabad on August 4th 1888, issued in Soldiers Three (Indian Railway Library No. 1) the same year, and collected in Soldiers Three and other Stories in 1899.

The story

It is a stifling June night in Fort Amara at Lahore, and the men are doing all they can to fight off heat exhaustion or worse. Mulvaney gets them through the terrible hours until dawn by telling a tale of a bloody fight by the Black Tyrone and the ‘Ould Regiment’ against an army of Pathans on the Frontier. But he asks the story-teller  at the end “…can thim that helps others help thimselves ?” , a question that Kipling, the great teller of tales, must have sometimes asked himself.

Some critical comments

See Charles Allen (page 124) for an interesting examination of the soldier stories that appear in Plain Tales from the Hills, Many Inventions and this volume, together with Alan Sandison (page 64):

… Kipling penetrates far enough into the personality and individuality of these characters to show that Tommy, derided at home when times were peaceful, [as described in the verses of the same name] was not only human, but was, too, an individual with a capacity for spiritual affection and self-appraisal, and the possessor of an unsuspected sensitivity which Kipling’s predecessors had denied him … Kipling … set a new style in military story-telling.

Seymour-Smith (page 92) dislikes the accents but does see some merit:

In his use of dialect then, he fails … he is not Shakespearean in that, and he was clearly trying to be. But there really is a touch of Shakespeare in these fictions of soldierly companionship.

Norman Page (page 137) records:

An enthusiastic reviewer in Blackwood’s compared the description of fighting to ‘Homer or Sir Walter [Scott]’ [It might be the latter’s novel Ivanhoe that the reviewer had in mind; Ed.]

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2005 All rights reserved