Sunday, 30 June 2013

St George and the Chinese Dragon

St. George and the Chinese Dragon
by Lt. Col H.B. Vaughan
Listed here on Google Books

This book is a short account of the British-Indian army 7th Rajputs Regiment in China in 1900, by one of their officers.  The regiment arrived only after the relief of Tientsin, but were the first troops to reach the legations.  Vaughan was a major at the time, and later rose to command his regiment.  The account was originally published in 1902, so quite soon after the events being described. 

This is a no-nonsense, soldierly account, and launches itself into the narrative with no preamble: "The ... 7th Rajputs, stationed at Fort William, Calcutta was warned for active service on 19th June 1900".  It contains some interesting anecdotes made in an off-hand manner - for instance a comment in the first paragraph about being rearmed with the Lee-Metford (presumably replacing the Martini-Henry) reminds us that the Indian Army was kept one technological step behind British troops.  

The narrative covers the advance to Peking, the relief of the legations and the occupation of the city.  During the advance he alludes to much of the fighting being done by the Japanese, with little by his own regiment.  The heat is described as a more dangerous enemy than the Chinese, but nowhere is he dismissive of Chinese fighting qualities.  The frequency of casualties from friendly fire are also a reminder of the difficulties of communication in an international force.  

There are many descriptions of the other nationalities involved in the advance and occupation.  He was impressed by the Americans, by the Japanese and by the (few) Italians, but less so by the Russians and many of the French - whose press seems to have been critical of the Indian troops (to read between the lines of some of his more acerbic comments).  "The German is a prodigy at drill" is one of the phrases that appears to damn the Germans with faint praise.  Further "... some of their formations in the attack appear, in the light of the Boer War, to be open to criticism ..." bring to mind their close order columns of the early days of WW1. 

I have the Alexus Press 2000 edition, which includes some sketches by the author, including the cover which shows a sowar of the 1st Bengal Lancers - somewhat confusingly as the 7th Rajputs was an infantry regiment.  The Editor's Foreword gives some background information on Col. Vaughn (as he became), none of which comes out in his narrative, and helps to paint the picture of a rounded individual (attended the Slade School of Fine Art, player of the Great Game in Persia) rather than the bluff cardboard-cutout victorian officer of popular writing.

Altogether an interesting read for a view from the ground, and of contemporary military practise. 

No comments:

Post a Comment