An old soldier tells the story of his long military career
This is an intimate account of the Victorian cavalryman of the British Army during the second half of the nineteenth century. Edwin Mole joined the 14th Hussars—previously the 14th Light Dragoons—after the time of Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, when men who had served in the Sikh War still rode in the ranks of his regiment. Mole’s first posting took him to Ireland as part of the military presence on hand to repress the tide of Republicanism that the Fenian movement represented. A long residence in India followed and this period provides essential detail of the life of the 'Soldier Sahibs' during the British Raj. Trouble in South Africa called the regiment to the brief conflict which was the First Boer War, before Mole returned once again to India. The author's military career ends with his appointment as Sergeant Major to a Yeomanry Regiment back in England. Mole’s career—spanning the years from 1860's to the end of the 80's—a period rarely covered in military memoirs—makes fascinating reading for those interested in the history of the British Army prior to the First World War.
Dawn came at length, and with it a dull, thick, cold mist, sweeping up from the valleys, and soaking the men to the skin. It drew a veil around the doomed column, hiding every object, except those a few yards distant, from view. Presently it lifted a little, and then was discovered, on the right, a deep ravine, with precipitous sides; and beyond, succeeding hills and ranges, and much broken ground. To the left uprose a great hill—Majuba itself. On its base the column had been resting; the summit was lost in clouds and mist. <BR>
The order was now given to move forward, and the little force resumed its march, skirting the deep ravine, the clear way between which and the base of Majuba frequently narrowed so that only two men could pass along abreast. This, perforce, broke up the column, till it became a long straggling line. The general’s object was to cross the ravine, but it was soon apparent that if a place suitable for crossing it existed, the column had missed it, for the cliff below them was precipitous, and afforded no foothold for men to creep down.<BR>
Sir Pomeroy Colley now seemed to grow more anxious, as every officer he sent forward to reconnoitre came back with the same report that the ravine was impassable, and he frequently consulted a sketch map of the ground he held in his hand. By this time the mist had cleared a little, and the men could see in front a succession of hill tops, and to the right, at a considerably lower level, broken and rocky ground. To the left Majuba lifted its giant form sheer up, and along its base the column crawled. Some distance farther on the clear way widened a little, and the order was passed down to close up, as there was now room for several men abreast.<BR>
Suddenly “ping” went a bullet, and one of the Naval Brigade gave a bound in the air and fell dead to the ground. Then, before anyone could realise what had happened, or who were attacking them, the bullets came singing along, dropping men all along the length of the column in rapid succession.<BR>
It was a party of Boers actually on their retreat from the Laager at Lang’s Nek. They were on the other side of the ravine, safely hidden from sight behind rocks and boulders, and were deliberately picking off our men, who had nothing to shelter them, and whose bodies stood distinctly outlined against the grassy slope of Majuba.<BR>
For a moment there was some confusion, as the officers gave the word to get under cover; but it was an idle order, for there was no cover available. Between our men and their hidden enemy gaped the ravine, penning them in, and leaving them food for the bullets that sped across in a leaden shower, the white puffs of smoke alone indicating from whence the shots came.<BR>
The rear of the column hearing the firing on ahead now crowded up, but only to be shot down like so many trapped animals, as they came into sight round a bluff of the hill. And now the lamentable want of cohesion in the force was felt. Men and strange officers became mixed up together; no one seemed to know whom he was commanding, or whom to take orders from. Forty men had been selected from this regiment, sixty from that, a hundred from another, and so on. All were strangers to one another. There appeared to be no one to give definite orders, no plan laid down to follow in such an emergency, and no head to guide or direct. And all the while the deadly shots came pouring in from the unseen foe. Our poor fellows fell by scores. It was a massacre.