It was time to go and the motor was waiting. We set off in a driving sleet that covered the windows of the car and made motoring even more than ordinarily precarious. But the roads here were better than those nearer the coast; wider, too, and not so crowded. To Ham, where the Indian regiment I was to visit had been retired for rest, was almost twenty miles. “Ham!” I said. “What a place to send Mohammedans to!”
In his long dispatch of February seventeenth Sir John French said of the Indian troops:
“The Indian troops have
fought with the utmost steadfastness and
gallantry whenever they have been called upon.”
This is the answer to many varying statements as to the efficacy of the assistance furnished by her Indian subjects to the British Empire at this time. For Sir John French is a soldier, not a diplomat. No question of the union of the Empire influences his reports. The Indians have been valuable, or he would not say so. He is chary of praise, is the Field Marshal of the British Army.
But there is another answer—that everywhere along the British front one sees the Ghurkas, slant-eyed and Mongolian, with their broad-brimmed, khaki-coloured hats, filling posts of responsibility. They are little men, smaller than the Sikhs, rather reminiscent of the Japanese in build and alertness.
When I was at the English front some of the Sikhs had been retired to rest. But even in the small villages on billet, relaxed and resting, they were a fine and soldierly looking body of men, showing race and their ancient civilisation.
It has been claimed that England called on her Indian troops, not because she expected much assistance from them but to show the essential unity of the British Empire. The plain truth is, however, that she needed the troops, needed men at once, needed experienced soldiers to eke out her small and purely defensive army of regulars. Volunteers had to be equipped and drilled—a matter of months.
To say that she called to her aid barbarians is absurd. The Ghurkas are fierce fighters, but carefully disciplined. Compare the lances of the Indian cavalry regiments and the kukri, the Ghurka knife, with the petrol squirts, hand grenades, aeroplane darts and asphyxiating bombs of Germany, and call one barbarian to the advantage of the other! The truth is, of course, that war itself is barbarous.
A STRANGE PARTY
The road to Ham turned off the main highway south of Aire. It was a narrow clay road in unspeakable condition. The car wallowed along. Once we took a wrong turning and were obliged to go back and start again.
It was still raining. Indian horsemen beat their way stolidly along the road. We passed through hamlets where cavalry horses in ruined stables were scantily protected, where the familiar omnibuses of London were parked in what appeared to be hundreds. The cocoa and other advertisements had been taken off and they had been hastily painted a yellowish grey. Here and there we met one on the road, filled and overflowing with troops, and looking curiously like the “rubber-neck wagons” of New York.