Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Indian Cavalry Officer, 1914-15


Steven Broomfield

Recommended Posts

Steven Broomfield

Having collected books on the Great War for 40 years or more, and having a more than passing interest in the Indian Army, I am utterly ashamed to say I had never heard of this little book until an idle Sunday afternoon's Googling turned it up a few weeks ago, Hampshire Libraries did the rest.

It is an absolute gem of a book, which (I would hazard to say) should be a 'must read'.

Grimshaw, at the outbreak of war, was a Captain in the 34th Prince Albert Victor's Own Poona Horse; he was at home on leave at the time, but eventually rejoined his regiment and was with them from their arrival in France until severely wounded in December 1914.

The book is in three sections: the first is Grimshaw's diary of his time from the outbreak of war until June 1915, by which time he had returned to France, broken down and been returned to UK; the second part if a fictionalised account of the same period, seen through the eyes of an Indian NCO, Dafadar (sergeant) Ram Singh, up to his return (after wounds) to India; the third part is an account (anonymous, but Grimshaw) of a Depot Commander's day in India, training new recruits.

The diary section is what it says - a diary of France. The suffering of the Indian Cavalry, holding muddy trenches in icy weather (frequently in snow), never seeing mounted action, counter-attacking unkown positions, or being sniped by unseen enemy, was unbelievable, and for the description of this alone the book is to be praised.

There is a graphic account of the actions and death of the regiment's VC winner, Frank de Pass (buried in Bethune Town Cemetery - CWGC); and a first-class account of Grimshaw's own wounding on 20th December, in a pointless, hurried, botched counter-attack at Festubert.

Most fascinating for me, however, was "Ram Singh's" account. Written by Grimshaw, it gives what must be an extremely realistic account of what the uneducated jawans saw, experienced and thought of France at that time. Throughout the story - throughout the book - the flavour of that amazing army comes through. The unspoken love of officer for man; the ties that bound races who were miles apart in everything but soldiering; the relationships that now we might scoff at but which were, at the time, to save the Empire.

The third section, too, is of interest, if only to get a flavour of the heat and frustration of summer in the Punjab.

The book is well-annotated for all sections, and has useful appendices. It also has a few photos (though nothing too astonishing).

One particularly interesting sidelight in the book is on the relationship between the men (mostly high-caste Rajputs) and their Maharajah, Sir Pertab Singh (Wiki entry).

An epilogue tells us that Grimshaw (born in 1879, and commissioned intiially into the Royal Irish regiment in 1899, transferring to the 34th in 1901) married in 1919, fathered two children, and died, still relatively young, in 1932. His daughter (Kathleen) helped with the production of this book in 1986; his son, desmond, died serving with the Royal Engineers in Tunisia in 1943 (CWGC)

A splendid book. My only regret is that tomorrow it has to go back to the library!

If anyone else has read this, I would be delighted to hear their views; maybe I'm just being romantically Victorian about the Indian Army.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The Last of the Bengal Lancers by Brigadier Francis Ingall, DSO, OBE, Presidio Press, Novato, California, 1988, is an "end of an era" type of book that describes a career that began at Sandhurst in 1927-1928 where the author was a classmate of David Niven, service in horse-mounted cavalry units in India in the 1930s, armored combat in Italy during World War II, and eyewitness accounts of the chaos of the partition of India in 1947. He founded and commanded the Pakistan Military Academy in 1947-1951. The book has the flavor of beginning in the 19th century and ending in the 21st.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Steven

Thank you for the enthusiastic revue of Grimshaw's book.

Gordon Corrigan expresses his own comment on one of Grimshaw's observations (on 2/2 Gurkhas) on pages 87 and 88 of "Sepoys in The Trenches" , and this is worth reading in order to keep Grimshaw in context.

Harry

Link to post
Share on other sites
Steven Broomfield

Very true, Harry. Illustrates one of the main strenghts (and weaknesses) of the Indian Army - that "your" men were better than anyone else's. Grimshaw hardly mentions anyone but his own Rathore Rajputs throughout the book. Indicates nicely why problems arose when regimental officers became casualties. I noticed last night, browsing through the history of Vaughan's Rifles that a large draft of Dogras were received at some point; almost immediately shipped-out as not being the correct type for the regiment.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...