The author of this book, an officer in an Indian Army cavalry regiment, went to war in Europe at the outbreak of hostilities. Soon he found himself returning to the Sub-Continent and a posting far beyond the North-West Frontier to neutral Persia—now modern day Iran—to serve with the 'East Persian Cordon'. Its purpose was to prevent the infiltration of German and Turkish agents—a threat all too real—intent on destabilising British interests in Afghanistan. It was a region also plagued by raiding Mohammedan tribesmen and the author had barely arrived at his command before he and his squadron of lancers were all but cut to pieces in an ambush. The Russian Revolution then erupted changing the balance of power in the region. Bolshevik forces were soon gathering on the frontier and James found his mission extended to include the new allies in the form of the White Russian forces and new enemies, as the British government joined the battle against Communism. This is a very unusual account of the First World War that is virtually never reported in most accounts.
Sighting us, and completely ignorant of our numbers, they made, as all tribesmen will, for the hills, to secure the advantage of being the “upper man,” and of cover. It was too far to cut them off, but it was a grand gallop. We reached the foothills only about a couple of hundred yards behind the last of them.
From above they started firing wildly at us. A narrow ravine was our only chance, so galloping into it we dismounted, and leaving the horses under its cover, ran up to its crest to see the raiders still climbing higher. Those not already hidden made good targets, and as we got down to it I saw, one by one, those fluttering, white-clad figures crumple and lie still against the hill-side. But now they had our range; bullets were spitting round us, kicking up the dust and flattening on the rocks. <br>
Looking back at the led horses I heard the sickening sound of a bullet that hits not sand, nor rocks. A horse plunged, reared, and fell over backwards.<br>
“Mount!” And down that ravine we clattered and crashed, now under cover. One has to think quickly on these occasions. The raiders had no idea of our numbers; to them we had disappeared. Attack as quickly as possible from a new angle was the best idea. Our ravine favoured us by circling left-handed. We reached a position directly facing their hills.<br>
“For action dismount” again, and unhurriedly we left our horses in the ravine and kept up a steady fire on those of the raiders who could be seen. Soon, however, a too unpleasantly accurate return of our compliment meant another move. A. and his little force were following our tracks; why not try to get beyond these villains so that they come between us? This meant a gallop over the open plain and into the hills behind them—up some nullah.<br>
They made good shooting at us as we went, but luck favoured us. Once my horse crashed to his knees, but recovered, and when protected by the nullah that fortunately presented itself, I found he had been shot right through the nostrils. Our start from this last dash had been under cover so I hoped we looked like yet another body of cavalry.<br>
Luck again, as we reached the nullah crest, to find ourselves on the other side of the enemy facing the way we had come. And now to wait for A. Through my glasses I saw, high above all the others, a patriarchal figure, hands above his head, his shouts of encouragement plainly heard above the battle-cries of the rest, oaths and imprecations hurled at us. A Rajput recruit was lying next to me— grinning with delight. “Put your sight to 700,” I said. He took careful aim at the patriarch and fired. The old man kept his hands and arms uplifted. I was trying to remember who it was in Biblical history held aloft his arms, the lowering of them to mean defeat for his army.<br>
“Sight 800,” I said.<br>
The figure swayed, tottered, and crumpled. Down the slope it went head over heels, out of sight.<br>
Now was heard firing from the far side. A. had arrived and we had them between us. To climb higher for them meant coming under our crossed fire in the open. The raiders had had enough. Down the ravine I had first used they came in full flight, some, leaders, I suppose, on their riding camels, the rest on foot, a howling, frenzied mob making across the open to the far side of the valley, in hundreds, making a line which would pass some four hundred yards from a small mound standing up in the desert. And now, what to do with my twenty delighted Rajputs?
“Mount!” again; and a gallop to this mound to fire all the ammunition we had left into the retreating horde. A few replied as the winging bullets overhead testified.<br>
The looted sheep, goats and camels, were now wandering all over the desert between A. and myself. Giving orders to my men to round these up, I was trotting across to greet A. followed by my orderly. White-clad corpses marked our way.
“Look, Sahib,” said my orderly, pointing to one lying on his face, his head nothing but a bloody mask.<br>
I looked. A few yards farther on something made me look again. The “corpse” had reached for his rifle and was swinging it towards me. He became a “corpse” again as my orderly turned as well, galloped up to him and pinned him with his lance to the ground, where he twisted like any butterfly pinned to cork by a thoughtless boy.