A British light cavalry trooper during the Indian Mutiny
During the early period of the Victorian era the cavalry regiment to which the author of this book belonged—H. M 14th (King’s) Light Dragoons—had already seen much active service in India. It had fought with distinction in the bloody conflicts to bring the Sikhs of the Punjab under the Imperial banner. Young George Stent was clearly something of a ‘lad about town’ in civilian life and his enlistment as a trooper was followed quickly by a voyage to the sub-continent to join the regiment there. In Stent we are introduced to a likeable rogue, well able to make good account of himself in civilian or military life and clearly a man with an eye for the ladies. He provides the reader with an entertaining and often humorous account of garrison life in India in the middle part of the nineteenth century. Soon, however, all thought of the pleasant diversions of peace time soldiering in cantonments were banished from the author’s mind as they were from the thoughts of every European. The Indian Mutiny broke out in all its bloody fury and Stent devoted himself to the role of cavalry trooper engaged in hard campaigning, battle and retribution. This is an excellent first-hand account and invaluable reading for all those interested in the ordinary British soldiers of the Victorian era. Available in softcover and hardback with dust jacket.
At nights, in addition to the usual sentries and videttes, perhaps a couple of dismounted parties, of six men each, and each party commanded by a corporal, would be placed in ambush, to cut off anyone attempting to escape from the city. This duty would be carried out so effectively that the guards, videttes, and ambush parties—generally numbering only twenty or so—would, in one night, show two or three hundred bodies as the result of their night’s work. I would defy a cat to pass where we were. All the men used to like this sort of work, as there were some very nice pickings to be made—everyone endeavouring to escape from the city always carrying all the money and valuables they possibly could.<br>
I will try to give an idea how these ambushes, &c. were conducted. In the lines sentries were always posted; near to the gardens a line of mounted videttes were placed; these either remained stationary, or each one rode alternately to his right or left-hand man, as the case might be during the night; relieved, of course, at two-hour intervals, and visited often. On each flank of these was the dismounted ambush, carefully concealed behind bushes or stones. These would listen intently for every sound that came from the direction of the city. By and by a party from thence would be heard stealthily approaching; these would be allowed to advance without interruption till sufficiently near to make sure of them, when the ambush would give them the contents of the carbines, and rush out on them sword in hand, and those who were not knocked over in the discharge, would either fight or bolt, as the case might be.<br>
This performance might possibly be repeated several times during the night; and sometimes as many as fifty would come at the same time. This, however, made no difference to us, we attacked them all the same, and invariably got the best of it—as we had the advantage of them in being prepared, if they had the advantage of us in numbers.
Sometimes they fought very fiercely, and with all the energy of despair, and there was quite a miniature battle going on; cutting, slashing, firing, shouting—quite a hubbub. Some of our fellows got very nasty sword-cuts in these night encounters; for it is awkward work—in spite of any amount of skill one may possess with the sword—to be able to guard one’s self with any degree of certainty, from such indiscriminate slashing and thrusting in the dark. Those we killed during the night were collected in the morning, and burnt to prevent any unpleasantness arising by letting the bodies lie and get putrid.<br>
While besieging Jhansi, and during the whole of our operations there, we had orders to take no prisoners—in other words, to give no quarter, to kill every man coming from the city. At any rate, if this order was not actually issued through the proper channels, it reached us by other means, and was acted on and carried out to the fullest extent. Consequently, independent of our desire to have vengeance on the murderers of our people, we were not hindered by red-tape from following our inclinations that way; and we were not very particular as to when, where, or how we killed all we could lay hands on.