Only a Subaltern

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.

[Heading] In the first publication of this story, in The Week’s News, it carried a two-line verse by the German poet Karl Theodor Korner (1791–1813) beginning “I had a living comrade…”. This was replaced when the story was collected in Under the Deodars and Wee Willie Winkie by what appears to be a quotation from the Bengal Army Regulations.

[Page 101, line 2] Sandhurst the Royal Military Academy, founded in 1799, still educates young people for commissions in the Army, but they are no longer styled “Gentlemen Cadets”.

[Page 101, line 3] the Empress Queen Victoria, (1819–1901) was proclaimed Empress of India in 1876.

[Page 101, line 6] Krab Bokhar bad fever – presumably Mian Mir – later Lahore Cantonment some four miles to the south-east of the city.

[Page 101, line 12] Commissioner Head of a Division within the Indian Civil Service, which used to comprise a group of Districts.

[Page 101, line 14] Chota Buldana Little Buldana a District and town in Berar, some 200 miles east of the west coast of India, between Bombay and Surat.

[Page 101, line 16] make two blades of grass grow …Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow …. where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind … than the whole race of politicians put together. (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels – Voyage to Brobdingnag, Chapter 7.)

[Page 102, line 1] Companion of the Order of the Star of India This Order was founded by Queen Victoria in 1861.

[Page 102, line 7] brevet-rank a military commission permitting an officer to use a rank one above that for which he draws pay, here used jocularly to promote a boy to the acting rank of man.

[Page 102, line 27] stick to the Line stay with your Regiment. While that may have been good advice at the time, today the Staff College and numerous courses are essential for promotion in the British Army.

[Page 102, line 29] back another young fool’s bill guaranteeing a loan for another – a sure path to ruin. See the poem “Certain Maxims of Hafiz”, Stanza XIX).

[Page 103, line 6] Longport …. Fratton Landport and Fratton are districts of Portsmouth on the south coast of England.

[Page 103, line 11] fifty scornful females the wives, they would be more trouble than the soldiers.

[Page 103, line 13] Malabar one of the five famous troopships built and operated by the Royal Navy for the Government of India. (The others were Crocodile, Euphrates, Jumma and Serapis) They were uncomfortable and, in later years, slow, so these four were scrapped in about 1894 and replaced by chartered liners, only Malabar remaining until she was discarded before the 1896. trooping-season. (Shipping Wonders of the World, ed. Clarence Winchester, Amalgamated Press, London, around 1935)
See the poems “The Ladies”, “Soldier an’ Sailor Too”, “Troopin'”, and the stories “The Big Drunk Draf’ (Soldiers Three) and “The Burning of the Sarah Sands” (Land and Sea Tales)

[Page 103, line 18] ‘side’ In this context, conceit

[Page 103, line 29] Black Regiments Regiments of the Indian Army with British officers holding the Queen’s commission, and Indian officers with the Viceroy’s commission.

[Page 103, line 31] half-butt a long cue used in billiards and snooker – a formidable weapon.

[Page 104, line 4] Deolali a military depôt near Bombay, with, amongst other facilities, a lunatic asylum – hence the soldiers’ slang dolally for those confined there; it may, however, also be derived from diwana – mad. (Plain Tales from the Raj ed. Charles Allen. Futura/Deutsch 1975)

[Page 104, line 13] the Seven Seas the Arctic, Antarctic, North and South Atlantic, Indian, North and South Pacific Oceans. Also the title of one of Kipling’s collections of verse.

[Page 104, line 14] Mess Plate a collection of silver owned by the Officers’ Mess of a regiment. (see “The Man Who Was” (Life’s Handicap) where a candelabrum has an important rôle in the story. and the note to “The Rout of the White Hussars (Plain Tales from the Hills) p,235, line 1.

[Page 104, line 16] the Summer Palace in Pekin also Peking but now called Beijing, the capital of China which was captured by an Anglo-French force in 1860 and again in 1900 – the so-called Boxer rising when the foreign legations were besieged. There was a certain amount of looting but the Northumberland Fusiliers did not serve in China at those times.

[Page 104, line 17] silver-mounted markhor-horn snuff mull the horn of a wild goat of the Western Himalaya made into a snuff-box by the addition of decorative silver fittings.

[Page 104, line 28] Regimental colours Two beautifully-embroidered flags or standards, one with the regimental title, motto and crest, together with the Battle Honours indicating the actions where the unit carried out particularly distinguished service; and the Sovereign’s Colour, usually a version of the Union Flag. They were (and still are) always treated with the utmost respect.

See “The Mutiny of the Mavericks” in Life’s Handicap p. 223, for a brief description of a typical Regimental Colour which would have been carried in battle until about 1880. which explained its dilapidated appearance. See also “The Burning of the Sarah Sands” (quoted above) for the risks taken in saving the Colours from the fire.

[Page 104, , line 33] their weight they are heavy and are usually carried on parade by young officers.

[Page 105, lines 6 & 7] one thousand and eighty strong This was the authorised figure, though it was unusual for a regiment to be up to full strength in India, owing to illness and casualties.

[Page 105, line 11] ammunition boots From the French ammunition; this originally meant all kinds of warlike stores, including boots, but has come to signify charges and shells for guns and rifles etc,

[Page 105, line 12] Horse Battery the Royal Horse Artillery.

[Page 105, line 13] a pillar of cloud And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way. Exodus 13, 21. (This one, would, of course, have been a cloud of dust)

[Page 105, line 14] Hogan-Yale appears in “The Rout of the White Hussars (Plain Tales from the Hills) while the White Hussars also feature in “The Man Who Was” (Life’s Handicap).

[Page 105, lines 17 & 18] ‘Tick’ Boileau…… blue and gold turban he appears in the poem “The Unlimited Draw of ‘Tick’ Boileau” (Quartette), and in “A Conference of the Powers” (Many Inventions). Cavalry of the Indian Army wore turbans on ceremonial occasions.

[Page 105, line 20] lolloping bounding along with a loose and ungainly action, but see below.
Walers were horses imported from New South Wales and elsewhere in Australia which were much improved by the 1880s and in demand for the cavalry of the Indian Army. [Caroline Silver, Guide to the Horses of the World Treasure Press, 1976] p. 106. Kipling was not a good horseman but would have appreciated that a crack cavalry regiment would not ride ill-bred horses. Tillie Venner used to “…tear about Simla Mall on a high, rough waler with a blue velvet jockey-cap crammed over her eyes…” in “Wressley of the Foreign Office” (Plain Tales from the Hills), a suitable mount for a spirited young woman.

[Page 105, line 30] hunting a Sikh Regiment At this time there were probably some 50,000 British troops in India and perhaps twice as many Indian units with a few British officers holding the Queen’s commission and Indians holding the Viceroy’s commission. This was, of course, an exercise.

[Harmsworth has – for about 1906 – Regular Army Europeans 74,000, Indian troops 155,000, Reserve 16,000.]

[Page 106, line 9] drill is nearly everything Drill was traditionally an important part of army training, since ever since the 18th century it had enabled troops to manoeuvre with effective order and discipline under fire. (see “The Magic Square” in A Book of Words). Kipling himself had little personal experience of drill, and spent little time drilling with the unit when he joined the 1st Punjab Rifle Volunteers (Andrew Lycett, p. 92); but when the boys at USC had been drilling in “The Flag of their Country in (Stalky & Co.) he found the highly appropriate phrase – the spell of ordered motion strong upon them.

See also “His Private Honour” and “Love o’ Women” in Many Inventions, and the poems “Back to the Army Again” and “Gunga Din”.

[Page 106, line 24] crime – ay, murder see “Black Jack” and “In the Matter of a Private” in Soldiers Three and the poem “Danny Deever”.

[Page 107, line 9] Does ‘is dooty like a hortomato Does his duty like an automaton (a mechanical figure imitating human actions) – some may say the result of too much drill !

[Page 107, line 11] under full stoppages Stoppages were deductions from pay for replacement items of uniform.

[Page 107, line 15] muchly-fish muchly simply meant “ fish”, according to the ORG.

[Page 108, line 7] dhoni a flat-bottomed boat, from the Tamil toni ,

[Page 108, lines 9 & 10] the Private at the bow, the Subaltern at the helm This is an echo of “The Bard” by Thomas Gray (1716–1771):

In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes.
Youth on the prow , and Pleasure at the helm.


It is, incidentally, interesting to note that there is no mention of a crew; similarly there is no chauffeur or other domestic staff except the butler in “The Honours of War” (A Diversity of Creatures) and no servants to organise the picnic in “False Dawn” (Plain Tales from the Hills”)

[Page 108, line 15] Durh’m Canal Durham , in the North of England. There was a scheme to build a canal but we are still awaiting information thereon. (see Durham – A Thousand Years of History and Legend by Martin Dufferwiel, Mainstream Publishing)

[Page 108, line 33] gallantry-show a shadow pantomime in miniature, the shadows being cast by figures cut from paper.

[Page 109, line 27] Simla Pahar The hill-station in the Himalayas that plays an important part in most of the Indian stories ; pahari is the Hindi for ‘hillman’.

[Page 110, line 8] Companies … fifteen file strong thirty men instead of the usual 150–200; the number varied according to the men available and the custom of the regiment.

[Page 110, line 11] prickly heat Extreme discomfort brought on by the stopping-up of the sweat-glands in hot weather.

[Page 110, line 12] mashing a slang expression meaning courting.

[Page 110. line 20] Bazar an Indian section of the cantonment, with shops and dwellings.

[Page 110, line 24] neatly-soldered boxes such things were indeed put in tin boxes with the lids soldered on to keep out damp and vermin.

[Page 111, line 12] Leave the what at the what’s – its-name These four lines are adapted from “Pibroch of Donuil Dhu” by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832):

Leave untended the herd’
The flock without shelter;
Leave the corpse uninterr’d
The bride at the altar.

[Page 111, line 24] Mussoorie The hill-station and health resort, in Dhera Dun District on a peak of the lower Himalayas, 78 miles east of Umballa.

[Page 111, line 28] A Madras Regiment could have walked through ‘em This may express the sense of superiority felt by regiments in the Punjab, with its war-like traditions, towards regiments from the south of India.

[Page 112, line 3] Doab from the Hindi for “two waters” and used of several places in India to refer to land between two rivers, in this instance the Sutlej and Beas.

[Page 112, line 4] Naini Tal a municipality in Kumaun District, United Provinces, the summer residence of the Lieutenant-Governor,

[Page 112, line 8] Darjiling (Darjeeling) hill-station in the Himalayas – also famous for tea but inconveniently far from the Punjab.

[Page 112, line 12] ‘the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday This is from Psalm 91.

[Page 112, line 22] phiz sometimes phizog slang for the face, short for ‘physiognomy’.

[Page 114, line 4] ‘townies’ men from the same town.

[Page 114, lines 4 & 5] banjos and burnt cork Concert-parties with black faces (See the poem “The Song of the Banjo”)

[Page 114, line 7] ‘playing the giddy garden-goat…’ acting the goat is a well-known English phrase for behaving foolishly, the origins of which are lost in the mists of antiquity; the boy was doing his best to encourage his men and take their minds off the dreadful epidemic.

[Page 114, line 26] skipper and C.O. Revere (see the note on p. 106, line 1 above) was the Captain in command of Wick’s Company. (At sea a ‘skipper’ is usually in charge of a fishing-boat or perhaps a yacht.

[Page 115, line 7] post-runner see the poem “The Overland Mail”

[Page 115, line 20] ‘Damn Private Dormer and you too!’ Strictly no way to address one of his soldiers, and – incidentally – forbidden by Queen’s Regulations, but indicative of the affectionate familiarity between Bobby and his men.

[Page 115,line 29] Tattoo Hindi tattu, a pony, usually one bred in India.

[Page 115, lines 31 & 32] drink some …you want it ‘want’ here meaning ‘need’. The orderly was drenched.

[Page 116, line 1] a four-finger ‘nip’ a good measure of spirits – place the hand vertically on the table alongside the glass and fill up to the height of the four fingers !

[Page 118, line 9] doolie-bearers men carrying a covered litter.

[Page 119, line 24] Is there a single joy or pain, etc. This verse is from “The Lady Slavey” by Eleanor Robinson.

[Page 120, line 16] a not unfamiliar tune probably Handel’s “The Dead March” in Saul. played at funerals See the Newark’s Kipling’s Soldiers p. 79 for an illustration of a cholera camp and p. 96 for a military funeral; the men are marching with arms reversed, the drums are draped with black crepe and the coffin. covered with a Union Flag, can be seen on a gun–carriage.

[Page 120, line 22] a smithyful of sparks a blacksmith hammering away would produce masses of sparks – the more usual phrase is ‘seeing stars’.

[Page 120, line 27] Hangel angel; Dormer, who is probably from Co. Durham in Northern England, is using a Cockney expression here.

[J. McG.]