This is an essential book for all those interested in the wars in India as the British Empire finally brought the jewel of the sub-continent into the crown of its young Queen-Empress, Victoria. It is also an ideal view of life within the ranks of a British cavalry regiment—the 16th Queen’s Lancers—by one of its ordinary soldiers, Sergeant Gould. He experienced a time of conflict from the passes of the Hindu Kush to the veldt of South Africa and he tells his story across time in an engagingly direct and simple style that reveals him to be a typical man, and ‘Soldier of the Queen,’ of his day; this, of course, makes his account all the more valuable. We join the 16th Lancers and Gould in the Campaign of the Indus and the fall of Guznee as the British sought to place the puppet Shah Shuja on the throne of Afghanistan. We join him in the short but bloody Gwalior War and the fall of the Mahrattas. The Sikhs of the Punjab were possibly the most formidable martial force India had seen and at Aliwal, first as an orderly to Sir Harry Smith and then in the famous charge of the 16th Lancers itself, Gould recounts in graphic personal detail why that was so. This book concludes with Gould’s time in South Africa, under Smith and others, as the British consolidated their territory in the Cape against the Kaffir tribes. Available in soft back and hard back with dust jacket for collectors.
We arrived at the River Chumble on 24th December, and moved as follows:—16th Lancers in front, 40th following, up to their armpits in water, next the artillery, then the 39th, and so on. We had information before crossing that the enemy would probably oppose the landing, as they were in the neighbourhood, but we saw none of them. We were ordered to gallop to the front and reconnoitre. As we advanced about five miles we saw the enemy’s camp at a distance between two villages. We halted allowing the column to come up. The ground here was very rough, and interspersed by ugly ravines.<br>
Between us and them was a very deep nulla, with only two places to ford it, five miles apart. Wet as we were from our recent fording the Chumla, I had to go on in charge of the advance guard and remain all night. Our baggage, or tents, not having come up—what was worse the commissariat had not arrived, and we felt hungry. The enemy’s cavalry were reconnoitering on our front, and during the night a very strict watch was kept up. Morning at last dawned, beautiful as weather could make it—Christmas morning and all—and a pretty plight it found us in, hungry, wet clothes, and if we wanted to drink we had plenty muddy water.<br>
About four o’clock, p. m., I was ordered to mount again, take twenty men, and strengthen the outlying pickets. We had not taken off boots or clothes for four days, nor had the saddles been off the horses during the same time. I was further directed by the officer in charge of the picket, after I had reported to him, to take six troopers to the front as an extra lookout on the ford, patrolling myself between my post and the main picket every half-hour. About twelve at night a rocket went up from a village within our lines, and was answered immediately by a light from the enemy’s camp. The village was at once surrounded, and every man in it made prisoners. I suffered fearfully that night, being so long in the saddle with wet trousers; my legs were as raw as a piece of beef. Give me fighting—fair open fighting, at once—in preference to such torture. We waited here, without attacking, three days, expecting some of General Grey’s division, mainly from Cawnpore, towards Gwalior.<br>
On the night of the 28th we got orders quietly to turn out at 4 o’clock in the morning, 29th December, to march without baggage or other incumbrance, with one day’s cooked rations. We fell into line exactly to time, when Lord Gough with Lord Ellenborough and staff rode along the front, speaking words of encouragement to each corps.<br>
Sir Joseph Thackwell, who had only one arm, commanded the Light Division, consisting of the 16th Lancers, Body Guards, three troops Horse Artillery, Outram’s Irregulars. The centre division was commanded by Colonel Vallient, comprised the 40th Foot, two batteries foot artillery, two corps of native infantry, one company of engineers. The left division consisting of 39th Foot, five native cavalry, two regiments native infantry, and one company of sappers under Sir Harry Smith. Each division crossed the ravine within one mile of each other. They were in position between three villages—Maharajpoor in the centre, Juna on the right, and Chuna on the left. We marched until seven o’clock, when we halted. The enemy at once opened fire from their half-moon battery. Nothing could be more welcome; we hurrahed several times and shouted lustily, “There goes the Prize-Money,” showing, without doubt, the general feeling of our army,—there was no such thing as failure.<br>
The trumpeter now sounded for us “To Horse, To Horse,” and away we went at a swinging trot to the front, preceded by Quarter-Master General Churchill, as it is that officer’s business to learn the position of an enemy, and the nature of the ground, we advanced in close column of troops. Our route lay through a cotton plantation, and on nearing the enemy we were received by a discharge from a six-gun battery. A six-pound shot took my horse in the heart, and we both rolled over. I was extricated by some grenadiers of a native regiment just passing, much bruised. I was not long without a horse, as peppering had been going on by the advanced picket, a horse, minus the rider, fully accoutred, which had belonged to the enemy, passed. I seized it, and soon came up with my troop. We formed in line, in front of us being a field of wheat standing in shocks; these we found occupied by the enemy’s sharpshooters, quite concealed.<br>
A shot from one of these picked off General Churchill; as he fell, Colonel Somerset, an aide, dismounted to assist him; he was nearly as unfortunate, as a shot from one of their batteries broke his leg, killing his horse on the spot—poor Churchill died as he was being taken to the rear. The battle now became more fierce. The centre division, led by the 40th, under Colonel Vallient, charged, and at the point of the bayonet took the village of Maharajpoor. Just then, the enemy’s cavalry were coming down like a dark cloud upon our guns, when the 16th, my regiment, and the Body Guards were ordered to charge; this we were quite prepared to do, as soldiers, at least so far as my experience teaches, do not like to be onviewers, or watchers.<br>
Charge we did, but to our astonishment, as soon as they saw our movement, retreat was their order, and we afterwards heard they never stopped until they reached Gwalior. At noon the battle was over, the enemy fled, leaving all their camp equipage, guns, and about six thousand dead on the field. Their force was estimated 24,000, while ours only numbered 10,000, in having left 4,000 to protect our camp and hospital. Our loss was 2,500 officers, rank and file.<br>
The following day we pushed on, halting some fifteen miles from Gwalior. Here we camped for a time. The rannee, or queen, came down with a strong guard, four thousand cavalry, to pay her respects, and make terms of peace with Lord Ellenborough. He would not hear of any only an unconditional surrender. The day after the rannee’s visit we marched on the capital, reaching Gwalior about nine a.m. Of all the fortified places ever I had seen, this was the most formidable. A large rock in the centre of an extensive plain, the city built in the middle, and so surrounded by the rocky wall, as to leave only one ascent, and that a zigzag one. The walls all round were loop-holed and bristled with cannon. Our first thought was—We are done now. But, of course, engineering skill and brave hearts laugh at stone walls. All was got ready to storm, as if taken, it must be taken at a dash, and as is always the case, a flag of truce was despatched to warn of our intention of giving them one hour to choose between unconditional surrender or the consequence of a refusal. In half that time the ranee and her army marched out, a battalion of our infantry entered, and hoisted the British flag on the walls.