The author of this book, a young ensign aged just nineteen years old when the events he describes were experienced, was a member of the 52nd Light Infantry serving in India in 1857 as the Sepoy Mutiny burst like a storm of fire and blood upon the imperial sub-continent. As one of the most junior officers in his regiment, his campaign and combat experiences are equally as immediate as those of the other ranks in whose midst he marched and fought and so make compelling reading for the modern student of the period. The 52nd already had an illustrious history by the time of the Mutiny. It had served with distinction as part of Wellington's Light Division in the Peninsular War and under the inspired command of Colborne had been instrumental in the destruction of Napoleon's Imperial Guard at Waterloo. With young Wilberforce proudly taking his turn to carry its colours the 52nd was about to write yet another memorable and bloody chapter in its history. This book focus's on the siege, storm and street fighting that took place to retake the city of Delhi from the rebel forces. There are few better accounts of the gruelling action than that of given in this book. Wilberforce takes the reader into the heart of the action and describes with detail and affection the doings of the regiments who fought beside them including, of course, old comrades of the 60th Rifles. Both now form parts of the modern British Army regiment The Rifles. The gigantic figure and personality of John Nicholson strides through these pages and Wilberforce conveys much of the near adoration which this remarkable man inspired in both British and Indians alike. Recommended. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.
Most of us took refuge in a wide but shallow ditch that ran alongside of the road. From this partially sheltered position we saw a storm of bullets pour down upon the road on which we had just been standing, and tear up the dust in all directions. One of the ladder party, who immediately followed us, finding that his comrade had dropped his end of the ladder and sought safety in the ditch, remained on the road with the end of the ladder still on his shoulder. His captain called out to him, “Come under cover!” He lustily shouted for someone to come and help him with the ladder, but this idea of duty cost him his life, for he fell dead almost immediately, pierced by many bullets.<br>So heavy was this fire, directed at us from a distance of only about fifty yards, that a Crimean veteran who was present said that even in the Crimea he had never seen anything to exceed it. As we lay in the ditch, our eyes were naturally directed to the place where we knew the gate was. Suddenly we saw a column of smoke rise up, then we heard, indistinctly it is true, but yet audibly, the bugle ring out the advance. At the sight of the smoke most of us had jumped to our feet. Away we went. Inside that sheltering glacis was security from the murderous fire to which we had been exposed. As I ran I saw Captain Bayley on the ground. For a moment I stopped—“Shall I pull you under cover?”<br>
“No, go on.”<br>
I saw my captain, Crosse, go in through the hole in the gate, it was only large enough to admit one at a time. I was going next when Corporal Taylor pushed me on one side and got second; I came next—third man in. Through the gateway we saw an open square, the sunlight pouring into it—empty. Under the arch of the gateway stood a nine-pounder gun, loaded actually to the muzzle. I put my hand in and drew out a bag of nails, bits of iron, &c. Near to and around the gun lay some dead bodies, the defenders of the gate, the men who had shot the devoted Salkeld as he nailed the powder-bag on the gate; though riddled with bullets, he handed the fuse to fire the train, which blew up at the same moment the gate and the defenders of it.2 The gate was soon thrown open, and our men, Coke’s Rifles and the Kumaon Battalion, who formed our assaulting column, poured in after us. The whole column formed up in the large open space inside the gateway, and while there we saw the column which had been told off to storm the Kashmir breach, come over the walls. Our Sikhs had fired a feu de joie in the air just before the arrival of the stormers.<br>
While waiting in the square, one of my brother officers addressed me with—“Halloa! you are wounded; blood is running down your leg.”<br>
It was not the case, but I found I had had a very narrow escape; the soda-water bottle covered with leather, which in common with the rest I carried, and which my sword-belt held down over the hip, was broken by a bullet which, tearing my trouser, passed between my hip and the bottle. Part, however, of the liquor was still in the bottle, and my companion proposed that we should at once share what was left, promising me a share out of his bottle later on. I was not thirsty, so he took it all; but when the time came to claim repayment, my friend’s bottle was empty. <br>
We soon moved on, guided by Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, and came to the entrance of the water bastion; as this was one of the places assaulted, it did not seem worth while stopping to enter; however, we went in and found it full of the enemy. They were so astonished by our appearing in their rear, that they hardly showed fight, but fled panic stricken to the walls to scramble or jump down. One of ours, a big fellow he was, cut at one of the mutineers as he was escaping, and with his sword—only a tailor’s one—all but cut his head clean off.