In the Matter of a Private

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG, with extra material by Dr Gillian Sheehan. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Soldiers Three and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.


[Heading] Two lines of somewhat ironic verse which may or may not be by Kipling. The ‘Ramrod Corps’ has not been traced.

[Page 76, line 14] the Lower Sixth with the Upper Sixth, the two highest classes in a British school where the pupils have passed their first major examination (at around age 16). and are studying for university entrance or other forms of higher education. See Stalky & Co..

[Page 77, line 7] Thomas Thomas (or Tommy) Atkins – the traditional name for the English Private Soldier – was in use in 1815, long before the Duke of Wellington is supposed to have suggested it. Specimens of the “Soldier’s Book” bore “Thomas Atkins his X mark” in the space for the soldier’s signature. The name is also quoted in a letter from Jamaica in 1743. [See Tommy Atkins, The Story of the English Soldier by John Laffin, Sutton Publishing 2004, page vii.]

[Page 77, line 11] newspapers Kipling’s main job was to collect and report news and help in the running of his paper, as described in Something of Myself, Chapter 3; what he saw and heard in the course of these duties is reflected in his stories.

[Page 77, line 12] Martini A rifle with the breech mechanism invented by Frederic Martini (1832–1897) and the barrel developed by Benjamin Tyler Henry. (hence ‘Martini-Henry’) The weapon is an important item in “Black Jack” later in this volume,

[Page 77, line 12] Snider The conversion of the Enfield rifle to breech-loading by Jacob Snider (1820–1866).

[Page 77, line 18] Adjective There are several to choose from in this instance – none is used in polite society !

[Page 77, line 20] the heroic defender of the national honour this quotation has not been traced – ORG mentions Burke and Macaulay without giving any further references.

[Page 77, line 21] a brutal and licentious soldiery whether Kipling was quoting from memory or used another source, this remark is usually attributed to Thomas, Baron Erskine (1750–1823) and runs:

The ‘uncontrolled licentiousness of a brutal and insolent soldiery’ which has, over the years, become a catchphrase and something of a joke which is applied to all soldiers whether they deserve it or not.

The same expression is quoted in “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” (Life’s Handicap, page 41, line 24)

[Page 77, line 30] Jhansi M’Kenna the heroine of “The Daughter of the Regiment (Plain Tales from the Hills).

[Page 78, line 1] ‘ecclar’ probably éclat – showy splendour or social distinction.

[Page 78, line 2] the hot weather this story was published after Kipling had moved eastward from Lahore in the Punjab to Allahabad in U.P., but the events he described are probably set in the Punjab, which is hotter than what was then called the United Provinces.

[Page 78, lines 12 – 23] so much to make them happy etc the writer is ironic – ORG believed this to be the Punjab, when mere existence in the middle of the day was a burden during the hot weather.

[Page 78, line 15] Canteen-plug strong tobacco which came in a solid lump that had to be sliced and then rubbed between the hands

[Page 78, line 19] ’towny’ usually a man from the same town but occasionally used for a ‘buddy’ or ‘mate’.

[Page 78, line 25] Temperance Room a reading-room with newspapers and soft drinks. See Something of Myself, Chapter 3 for the horrors of a private soldier’s life and the vexed question of canteens and regimental brothels which latter were closed by Lord Roberts. [see Gilmour page 46.] See also Julian Moore’s notes on Kipling and Lord Roberts.

[Page 79, lines 1 – 5] the excitements of fever and cholera etc. Kipling is ironic again.

[Page 79, line 6] cantonments pronounced cantoonments – the military section of the area.

[Page 79, lines 9 – 12] healthy nitrogenous food etc. Dr Gillian Sheehan writes:

In Kipling’s time carbon and nitrogen taken in bread, meat, milk, eggs and fatty substances were thought to be removed by the lungs, kidneys, skin and liver. In a hot climate it was thought that the lungs were less, and the liver more, instrumental in this process, Hence (as one means of avoiding disease in the liver) the necessity of caution as regards quantity of food taken. Vegetable food was better adapted to a tropical climate than animal food because it was thought less likely to cause plethora. (Plethora is a morbid condition marked by too many red blood corpuscles or unhealthy repletion; Kipling seems to have meant the latter)

The European, especially when newly arrived in the tropics, was advised to partake sparingly of animal food, which is not required to the same extent as in a temperate climate. [ Information from A Manual of Family Medicine and Hygiene for India, by William Moore, reprinted in Delhi, 1989.]

[Page 80, line 23] ammunition-boots boots provided by the Army – at one time the term “ammunition” included all military stores but now signifies explosives of one sort and another.

[Page 80, line 24] the butt in this context, the shoulder-piece of the rifle – a formidable weapon when used as a club.

[Page 81, line 7] the butt of the room This means a laughing-stock or object of ridicule.

[Page 81, line 14] tapes the very light bedstead or charpoy [from the Persian chihar-pai (four-feet) ] had a long cotton tape laced between the sides to allow some circulation of air around the sleeper.

[Page 81, line 24] heat-apoplexy Dr Gillian Sheehan writes:

The premonitory symptoms of sunstroke included irritability, restlessness and headache, inability to make much exertion without great effort, confusion of ideas, confusion of vision, loquacity, and fits of laughing and crying. Heat apoplexy could be preceded by the premonitory symptoms described above, or it might begin with the person fainting, being hot to the touch, with flushed face and bloodshot eyes, and noisy breathing or snoring. In a short time the person could become unconscious and have convulsions.
[Information from William Moore, A Manual of Family Medicine and Hygiene for India, reprinted, Delhi, 1989, p. 372.]

[Page 81, line 25] cholera an infection of the intestine with violent diarrhoea caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

[Page 81, line 27] camp cholera camp – see the verses of the same name, “Only a Subaltern” (Wee Willie Winkie) and the illustration at page 79 of George and Christopher Newark’s (Eds.) Kipling’s Soldiers. a selection of poems [Pompadour Gallery, 1993].

[Page 81, line 30] Last Posts the Last Post, as its name implies, is the final bugle-call of the day

[Page 82, line 20] rifle and packet of ammunition ORG questions the principle of having arms and ammunition freely available and mentions rifle-stealing as being wide-spread.

[Page 83, line 6] fired into the brown in this context, to shoot into the middle of a flock of birds or other creatures.

[Page 83, line 8] phwit the noise of the bullet striking the brickwork would have been drowned by the explosion had Simmons fired within the barrack-room,

[Page 83, line 10] musketry the use of breech-loading rifles (rather than muskets) was still so called in Kipling’s day and for many years after.

[Page 83, line 21] C.B. a Companion of the Order of the Bath. A distinguished decoration.

[Page 83, line 21] the Infantry Mess the Officers’ Mess.

[Page 83, line 30] mess-house the Officers’ Mess must have been a separate building like that in “His Wedded Wife” (Plain Tales from the Hills, page 157, line 27)

[Page 84, line 10] the Towheads nickname of a (probably) fictitious regiment.

[Page 84, line 12] a strong position sheltered by the well and with an all-round field of fire but he would have been vulnerable to a simultaneous attack from several directions.

[Page 84, line 18] wormed his way crawled along the ground, probably taking advantage of the ditches or monsoon-drains which would surround the parade-ground.

[Page 84, line 26] Civil Lines the section of the cantonment reserved for those not in the army.

[Page 84, line 29] spangled Covered with small reflecting plates like sequins – usually part of theatrical costumes; here referring to an elaborate uniform with brass buttons and gold lace.

[Page 85, line 2] Pass frien’, an’ all’s well! ‘Pass, friend, all’s well’ – the reply of a sentry when he receives the correct password or recognizes the man approaching.

[Page 85, line 23] well-pillars supports of the well-wheel.

[Page 86, lines 18 – 23] dog-shooter etc. insults calculated to make Simmons lose his temper and try to rush Slane.

[Page 87, line 5] Gonds Famous hunters of the jungles of Central India. belonging to the Dravidian family of peoples who were there in ancient times before the Aryan invaders from the north.

[Page 87, line 29] blowing him from a gun the method of executing mutineers after the Mutiny of 1857.

[Page 87, line 31] a scene the men probably cheered him.

[Page 88, line 8] a request what a staff-officer would call “the maintenance of the objective”, one of the Principles of War that Slane must have had in mind, since he obtained permission to marry.

[Page 88, line 22] as high as Haman See the Book of Esther, Chapter 7, verses 9 and 10:

And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, ‘Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high,’
…Then the king said, ‘Hang him thereon.’ So they hanged Haman on the gallows…

See the poem “Danny Deever”.

[J H McG/G.S.]

©John McGivering and Gillian Sheehan 2005 All rights reserved