Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
In December I made a prolonged tour along the North-West Frontier, accompanied by my wife, who was greatly delighted at being able at last to see many places and meet many people of whom she had often heard me speak. Part of this trip was made in company with the Viceroy and Lady Dufferin, who visited all the principal stations on the frontier, including Quetta. I rode with Lord Dufferin through the Khyber Pass, and to the top of the Kwaja Amran range, our visit to this latter point resulting, as I earnestly hoped it would, in His Excellency being convinced by personal inspection of the advantage to be gained by making the Kohjak tunnel, and of the necessity for our endeavouring to cultivate more friendly relations with the border tribes. We ended this very enjoyable tour at Rawal Pindi in order to be present at the winding-up of a Cavalry Camp of Exercise in the neighbourhood. There were assembled together under the direction of Major-General Luck one regiment of British and eight regiments of Native Cavalry, with two batteries of Royal Horse Artillery, and it was a pretty sight, their advance at full gallop, and the halt, as of one man, of that long line of Cavalry within a few yards of the Viceroy, for the Royal salute. The spectators were much impressed with Lord Dufferin's nerve in being able to remain perfectly calm and still on his horse in the face of such an onslaught, and it certainly did seem rather close quarters; but General Luck knew his regiments, and had confidence in his men, and we knew General Luck.
1888 In the early part of 1888 I visited all the chief military stations in the Bengal Presidency, and attended Camps of Exercise for all arms, held at Rawal Pindi, Umballa, Meerut, and Lucknow, before going to Calcutta for the usual discussion on the Budget; after which the Government generally breaks up for the hot weather, and assembles in Simla two or three weeks later.
Defence and Mobilization Committees During 1887 and 1888 much useful work was got through by the Defence Committee, and by another Committee which was assembled for the consideration of all questions bearing upon the mobilization of the army. As Commander-in-Chief I presided over both, and was fortunate in being able to secure as my secretaries two officers of exceptional ability, Lieutenant-Colonel W. Nicholson, R.E., for defence, and Lieutenant-Colonel E. Elles, R.A., for mobilisation. It was in a great measure due to Colonel Nicholson's clear-sighted judgment on the many knotty questions which came before us, and to his technical knowledge, that the schemes for the defence of the frontier, and for the ports of Bombay, Karachi, Calcutta, Rangoon and Madras, were carried out so rapidly, thoroughly and economically as they were;1 and with regard to measures for rendering the army mobile, Colonel[Page 522] Elles proved himself equally capable and practical. The Secretary to Government in the Military Department, Major-General Edwin Collen, was a particularly helpful member of the Committees2 from his intimate acquaintance with the various subjects which had to be discussed.
If my readers have had the patience to follow in detail the several campaigns in which I took part, they will have grasped the fact that our greatest difficulties on all occasions arose from the want of a properly organized Transport Department, and they will understand that I was able to make this very apparent when the necessity for mobilizing rapidly only one Army Corps came to be seriously considered. We were able to demonstrate conclusively the impossibility of putting a force into the field, sufficiently strong to cope with a European enemy, without a considerable increase to the existing number of transport animals, and without some description of light cart strong enough to stand the rough work of a campaign in a country without roads; for it is no exaggeration to say that in the autumn of 1880, when I left Kandahar, it would have been possible to have picked out the road thence to Quetta, and onward to Sibi, a distance of 250 miles, with no other guide than that of the line of dead animals and broken-down carts left behind by the several columns and convoys that had marched into Afghanistan by that route.
Soon after I took over the command of the Army in India, while voyaging to Burma, I had brought this most pressing question of transport to the notice of Lord Dufferin, who, with his usual quick appreciation of a situation, at once fully recognized its urgency, and promised to give me all possible help in my endeavour to render the army mobile—a promise which he amply fulfilled by taking a keen personal interest in the proceedings of the Committee, and giving his hearty support to our various recommendations.3
The Transport Department Our labours resulted in several thousand good pack animals (chiefly mules) being purchased, and information collected and recorded as to the districts where others could be rapidly procured in case of emergency. A transport service was established, for which officers had to go through a regular course of instruction, and pass an examination in the loading[Page 523] and general management of the animals. A prize was offered for a strong, useful light cart; and when the most suitable had been selected, large numbers were made up of the same pattern.4 The constitution of two Army Corps, to be in readiness for taking the field on short notice, was decided upon, and the units to form the several divisions and brigades were told off and provided with the necessary equipment. A railway time-table was prepared, giving the hours at which the troops should leave their stations so as to avoid any block en route. Special platforms were constructed for training and detraining Cavalry and Artillery, and storehouses were erected and stocked at those stations where road marching would probably commence. Finally the conclusions we had arrived at were embodied in a manual entitled 'General Regulations for Mobilization.' It was extremely gratifying to me to learn from India that this manual, with such additions and alterations as our subsequent experience in Burma and various frontier expeditions proved would be advantageous, was the guide by which the Chitral relieving force was last year so expeditiously and completely equipped and despatched.
Utilization of Native States' armies Of the many subjects discussed and measures adopted during this the last year of Lord Dufferin's Viceroyalty, I think the scheme for utilizing the armies of Native States, as an auxiliary force for the service of the Empire, was the most important both from a political and military point of view.
The idea was, in the first instance, propounded by Lord Lytton, who appointed a committee to consider the pros and cons of the question. I was a member of that committee, but at that time I, in common with many others, was doubtful as to the wisdom of encouraging a high state of efficiency amongst the troops of independent States; the excellent work, however, done by the Native Contingent I had with me in Kuram, and the genuine desire of all ranks to be allowed to serve side by side with our own soldiers, together with the unmistakable spirit of loyalty displayed by Native Rulers when war with Russia was imminent[Page 524] in 1885, convinced me that the time had arrived for us to prove to the people of India that we had faith in their loyalty, and in their recognition of the fact that their concern in the defence of the Empire was at least as great as ours, and that we looked to them to take their part in strengthening our rule and in keeping out all intruders. I believed, too, that we had now little to fear from internal trouble so long as our Government continued just and sympathetic, but that, on the other hand, we could not expect to remain free from outside interference, and that it would be wise to prepare ourselves for a struggle which, as my readers must be aware, I consider to be inevitable in the end. We have done much, and may still do more, to delay it, but when that struggle comes it will be incumbent upon us, both for political and military reasons, to make use of all the troops and war material that the Native States can place at our disposal, and it is therefore to our advantage to render both as efficient and useful as possible.
The subject was, of course, most delicate and complex, and had to be treated with the greatest caution, for not only was the measure adapted to materially strengthen our military position in India, but I was convinced it was politically sound, and likely to be generally acceptable to the Native Rulers, provided we studied their wishes, and were careful not to offend their prejudices and susceptibilities by unnecessary interference.
It was very satisfactory to find how cordially the Chiefs responded to Lord Dufferin's proposals, and extremely interesting to watch the steady improvement in their armies under the guidance of carefully selected British officers. Substantial results have been already obtained, valuable help having been afforded to the Chitral expedition by the transport trains organized by the Maharajas of Gwalior and Jaipur, and by the gallantry of the Imperial Service Troops belonging to His Highness the Maharaja of Kashmir at Hunza-Naga and during the siege and relief of Chitral.
Two minor expeditions took place this year: one against the Thibetans in retaliation for their having invaded the territory of our ally, the Raja of Sikim; the other to punish the Black Mountain tribes for the murder of two British officers. Both were a success from a military point of view, but in the Black Mountain the determination of the Punjab Government to limit the sphere of action of the troops, and to hurry out of the country, prevented our reaping any political advantage. We lost a grand opportunity for gaining control over this lawless and troublesome district; no survey was made, no roads opened out, the tribesmen were not made to feel our power, and, consequently, very soon another costly expedition had to be undertaken.
Marquis of Lansdowne becomes Viceroy In November, 1888, Lord Dufferin left India amidst a storm of regret from all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. He was succeeded by Lord Lansdowne, one of whose earliest communications to me [Page 525] rejoiced my heart, for in it His Excellency inquired whether anything could be done towards improving our relations with the frontier tribes. This augured well for the abandonment of the traditional, selfish, and, to my mind, short-sighted policy of keeping aloof, and I hoped that endeavours would at last be made to turn the tribesmen into friendly neighbours, to their advantage and ours, instead of being obliged to have recourse to useless blockades or constant and expensive expeditions for their punishment, or else to induce them to refrain from troubling us by the payment of a heavy blackmail.
After a visit to the frontier in the autumn to see how the defences were advancing, I attended a Cavalry Camp of Exercise at Delhi, and an Artillery Practice Camp at Gurgaon, and then went to Meerut to be present at the first meeting of the Bengal Presidency Rifle Association, which was most interesting and successful. We spent Christmas in camp—the first Christmas we had all been together for ten years. Our boy, having left Eton, came out in the early part of the year with a tutor, to be with us for eighteen months before entering Sandhurst.
1889 At the end of December I proceeded to Calcutta rather earlier than usual, to pay my respects to the new Viceroy, and in January of the following year, accompanied by my wife and daughter, I started off on a long tour to inspect the local regiments in Central India and Rajputana, and to ascertain what progress had been made in organizing the Imperial Service Troops in that part of India.
Did space permit, I should like to tell my readers of the beauties of Udaipur and the magnificent hospitality accorded to us there, as well as at Bhopal, Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Ulwar, but, if I once began, it would be difficult to stop, and I feel I have already made an unconscionably heavy demand on the interest of the public in things Indian, and must soon cease my 'labour of love.' I must therefore confine myself to those subjects which I am desirous should be better understood in England than they generally are.
Upon seeing the troops of the Begum of Bhopal and the Maharana of Udaipur, I recommended that Their Highnesses should be invited to allow their share of Imperial defence to take the form of paying for the services of an increased number of officers with their respective local corps,5 for I did not think it would be possible to make any useful addition to our strength out of the material of which their small armies were composed. The men were relics of a past age, fit only for[Page 526] police purposes, and it would have been a waste of time and money to give them any special training. My recommendation, however, was not accepted, and neither of these States takes any part in the defence scheme.
At Jodhpur, on the contrary, there was splendid material, and a most useful force was being organized by the Maharaja's brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Pertap Sing, himself a Rajput, and of the bluest blood of India. The Cavalry were specially fine. The gallant Rajput horsemen of Jodhpur had always been famous for their chivalrous bravery, unswerving fidelity, and fearless self-devotion in their wars with the Mahrattas and the armies of the Mogul Emperors, and I felt, as the superbly mounted squadrons passed before me, that they had lost none of their characteristics, and that blood and breeding must tell, and would, if put to the test, achieve the same results now as of old. There could be but one opinion as to the value of the 'Sirdar Rissala,'6 so named after the Maharaja's son and heir, Sirdar Sing, a lad of only nine years old, who led the little army past the saluting flag mounted on a beautiful thorough-bred Arab.
The Jaipur troops were much on a par with those of Bhopal and Udaipur. I was glad, therefore, that in lieu of troops, the Maharaja had agreed to organize, as his contribution to the Imperial service, a transport corps of 1,000 fully-equipped animals.
At Ulwar I found the 600 Cavalry and 1,000 Infantry (all Rajputs) well advanced in their drill and training; this was evidently owing to the personal interest taken in them by the Maharaja, who seldom allowed a day to pass without visiting the parade grounds.
Rajputana and Kashmir By the end of March I had finished my tour in Central India and Rajputana, and as the heat was every day becoming more intense, I was not sorry to turn my steps northwards towards Kashmir, the army of which State still remained to be inspected, and the measures most suitable for its re-organization determined upon.
Our whole family party re-assembled at Murree early in April, and we all went into the 'Happy Valley' together, where between business and pleasure we spent a most delightful six weeks. The Maharaja personally superintended the arrangements for our comfort. Our travelling was made easy—indeed luxurious—and everything that the greatest care and forethought and the most lavish hospitality could accomplish to make our visit happy was done by the Maharaja and by the popular Resident, Colonel Nisbet.
The Kashmir army was much larger than any of those belonging to the Native States I had lately visited; it consisted of 18,000 men and 66 guns—more than was needed, even with the Gilgit frontier to guard. Some of the regiments were composed of excellent material, chiefly[Page 527] Dogras; but as the cost of such a force was a heavy drain upon the State, and as many of the men were old and decrepit, I recommended that the Maharaja should be invited to get rid of all who were physically unfit, and to reduce his army to a total of 10,000 thoroughly reliable men and 30 guns. I knew this would be a very difficult, and perhaps distasteful, task for the Commander-in-Chief (who was also the Maharaja's brother), Raja Ram Sing, to perform, so I recommended that a British officer should be appointed military adviser to the Kashmir Government, under whose supervision the work of reformation should be carried out.
At that time we had none of our own troops in the neighbourhood of Gilgit, and as I thought it advisable, in case of disturbance, that the Kashmir troops should be speedily put into such a state of efficiency as would enable us to depend upon them to hold the passes until help could arrive from India, I urged that the military adviser should be given three British officers to assist him in carrying out his difficult and troublesome duty; and at the same time I pointed out that it was absolutely essential to construct at an early date a serviceable road between Kashmir and Gilgit, as the sole approach to that strategic position was not only difficult, but very dangerous.
All these proposals commended themselves to, and were acted upon by, the Viceroy.
Lieutenant-Colonel Neville Chamberlain—a persona grata to the Kashmir authorities—was appointed Military Secretary to the Kashmir State, and by his ability, tact, and happy way of dealing with Natives, quickly overcame all obstacles. The Maharaja and his two brothers, Rajas Ram Sing and Amar Sing, entered heartily into the scheme; the army was remodelled and rendered fit for service; and an excellent road was made to Gilgit.
Musketry instruction During the summer of 1889 I was able to introduce several much needed reforms in the annual course of musketry for the Native Army. The necessity for these reforms had not been overlooked by my distinguished predecessors, nor by the able officers who served under them in the Musketry Department, but it had not been possible to do much with a system which dated from a period when fire discipline was not thought of, and when the whole object of the course was to make soldiers individually good shots. After the Delhi Camp of Exercise in 1885-86, when the want of fire control was almost the only point unfavourably criticized by the foreign officers, the Army in India made a great advance in this important branch of musketry training; nevertheless, I felt that further progress was possible, and that the course of instruction was not altogether as practical as it might be. I therefore gave over the work of improvement in this respect to an enthusiast in the matter of rifle-shooting and an officer of exceptional energy and intelligence, Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hamilton, and directed [Page 528] him, as Assistant Adjutant-General of Musketry, to arrange a course of instruction, in which the conditions should resemble as nearly as possible those of field service, and in which fire discipline should be developed to the utmost extent. He was most successful in carrying out my wishes, and the results from the first year's trial of the new system were infinitely better than even I had anticipated.
Simultaneously with the improvement in musketry, a great advance was made in gunnery. Artillery, like Infantry officers, had failed to realize the value of the new weapon, and it required the teaching of a man who himself thoroughly believed in and understood the breech-loading gun to arouse Artillerymen to a sense of the tremendous power placed in their hands, and to the importance of devoting much more care and attention to practice than had hitherto been thought necessary. Such a man was Major-General Nairne, and I was happily able to induce the Government to revive in him the appointment of Inspector-General of Artillery.
Artillery and Cavalry Training Under the unwearying supervision of this officer, there was quite as remarkable an improvement in Artillery shooting as Colonel Hamilton had effected in musketry. Practice camps were annually formed at convenient localities, and all ranks began to take as much pride in belonging to the 'best shooting battery' as they had hitherto taken in belonging to the 'smartest,' the 'best-horsed,' or the 'best-turned-out' battery. I impressed upon officers and men that the two things were quite compatible; that, according to my experience, the smartest and best turned-out men made the best soldiers; and while I urged every detail being most carefully attended to which could enable them to become proficient gunners and take their proper place on a field of battle, I expressed my earnest hope that the Royal Artillery would always maintain its hitherto high reputation for turn-out and smartness. The improvement in the Cavalry was equally apparent. For this arm of the service also the Government consented to an Inspector-General being appointed, and I was fortunate enough to be able to secure for the post the services of Major-General Luck, an officer as eminently fitted for this position as was General Nairne for his.
Just at first the British officers belonging to Native Cavalry were apprehensive that their sowars would be turned into dragoons, but they soon found that there was no intention of changing any of their traditional characteristics, and that the only object of giving them an Inspector-General was to make them even better in their own way than they had been before, the finest Irregular Cavalry in the world, as I have not the slightest doubt they will always prove themselves to be. Towards the end of the Simla season of 1889, Lord Lansdowne, to my great satisfaction, announced his intention of visiting the frontier, and asked me to accompany him.
We rode through the Khyber and Gomal Passes, visited Peshawar,[Page 529] Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, and Quetta, looked into the Kohjak tunnel, and attended some interesting manśuvres, carried out with a view of testing, in as practical a manner as possible, the defensive power of the recently-finished Takatu-Mashalik entrenchment. The principal works were fired upon by Artillery and Infantry, and, notwithstanding the excellent practice made, infinitesimal damage was done, which proved the suitability of the particular design adopted for the defences.
Lord Lansdowne expressed himself greatly interested, and much impressed by all he saw of the frontier; and he was confirmed in his opinion as to the desirability of establishing British influence amongst the border tribes. With this object in view, His Excellency authorized Sir Robert Sandeman (the Governor-General's Agent at Quetta) to establish a series of police posts in the Gomal Pass, and encourage intercourse between the people of the Zhob district and ourselves.
It was high time that something should be done in this direction, for the Amir's attitude towards us was becoming day by day more unaccountably antagonistic. He was gradually encroaching on territory and occupying places altogether outside the limits of Afghan control; and every movement of ours—made quite as much in His Highness's interest as in our own—for strengthening the frontier and improving the communications, evidently aroused in him distrust and suspicion as to our motives.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER LXVII
[Footnote 1: The total coat of the coast and frontier defences amounted to the very moderate sum of five crores of rupees, or about three and a half millions sterling.]
[Footnote 2: The Committees consisted, besides the Military Member of Council and myself, of the heads of Departments with the Government of India and at Army Head-Quarters.]
[Footnote 3: When the report of the Mobilization Committee was submitted to the Viceroy, he recorded a minute expressing his 'warm admiration of the manner in which the arduous duty had been conducted,' and 'his belief that no scheme of a similar description had ever been worked out with greater thoroughness, in more detail, and with clearer apprehension of the ends to be accomplished.' He concluded by conveying to the members an expression of his great satisfaction at what had been done, and recording that 'the result of the Committee's labours is a magnificent monument of industry and professional ability.']
[Footnote 4: Statement of transport carriage maintained in India in the years 1878 and 1893 for military purposes, exclusive of animals registered by the civil authorities on the latter date, and liable to be requisitioned in time of war:
[Footnote 5: According to treaty, the Bhopal State pays nearly two lakhs of rupees a year towards the cost of the local battalion maintained by the British Government for the purpose of keeping order within the State itself. The battalion, however, has only four, instead of eight, British officers, and it appeared to me only reasonable that the Begum should be invited to pay the additional amount necessary to make the battalion as efficient as the rest of the Native army, as a 'premium of insurance' for the peace and prosperity which Her Highness's State enjoys under our protection, and as her quota towards the general scheme for the defence of the Empire.]
[Footnote 6: Rissala is a body of Cavalry.]