Sunday, 6 August 2017

On Active Service with the Chinese Regiment

On Active Service with the Chinese Regiment
A record of the Operations of the First Chinese Regiment in North China from March to October 1900
by Arthur Alison Stuart Barnes
Here on Amazon (there are numerous reprinters, and it is also available as a free internet download).

Here's a very short book, 286 small pages, written by a Captain in the First Chinese Regiment and published in 1901.

The reason for writing seems pretty straightforwards: "So many unkind things have been said about the Chinese regiment, by people with no knowledge of the matter, that it seemed advisable to place on record the doings of the regiment on service, in the real hard fighting in Northern China in 1900 ...".

In general, Barne's sense of grievance seems to be justified. He mentions a case where an illustrated paper in the UK used drawings (and reportage) of Indian sepoys in place of the Chinese as the editors decided it would be easier for the great British public to take in. It appears that some things never change! One thing he doesn't mention is that the Chinese regiment personnel were the recipients of 3 of the 13 DCMs awarded in the entire campaign, so clearly they were doing something right.

The regiment was raised in 1898, under British officers and senior NCOs, in the British "leased" territory of Wei-Hai-Wei (which lease also started in 1898) on the Shantung peninsula. Thus in the spring of 1900 it was still in the throws of recruiting up to strength and training the new Chinese recruits. Not surprisingly there was some concern as to whether the troops would stand up to their fellow-countrymen if so ordered, but this fear was scotched in March 1900 when we find them escorting survey parties around the borders of the leased territory, and fighting off groups of armed peasants and boxers.

They were soon called into action to reinforce the troops at Tientsin, and served during the siege and in the assault on the Native City. We are then taken on the march to Peking, where the regiment was mostly involved with the boats on the Pei-ho and helping to haul the artillery. They saw little fighting on the way, but it is interesting to note his frequent comments about being more in danger to the rear of the fighting than in the actual firing line due to the tendency of the Chinese to fire high.

The book was written very soon after the events it covers, so it was likely to be accurate in much of its detail or it would have been widely panned by others in high (and low) places with different recollections. At this remove it is difficult to say if there was such negative press, but publishing outright lies would be a dangerous game for a serving officer to have played. It's therefore likely that the main facts of the narrative are as accurate as any recollection can be.

A thoroughly recommended read for some of the hum-drum activity of an army on campaign, and free if you pick up an e-version.



No comments:

Post a Comment