Fore and Aft"
by John McGivering)
|notes on the text|
As three British/Indian battalions formed up for this battle, a strong force of Ghazis charged from the line of the Afghan regular battalions and initially drove back the 59th Foot who were very hard pressed and giving ground, before the flanking Gurkha and Sikh battalions came to their aid and the charge was repulsed. In the end, with cavalry and infantry support, the Afghan force was driven from the field. There are also echoes of the battle of Charasia from that war, where a battalion of Punjab Infantry, which had previously shown a distinct unwillingness to fight, was brigaded with Highlanders and Gurkhas and another Punjabi battalion to stiffen its resolve.
The bare outline of the story is novelettish, but the realism with which the boys' character is drawn, and the rum in the water-bottle give it a new dimension and make it a sharp comment on Victorian sentimentality.Marghanita Laski agrees. After noting that: "Kipling had a line in Anglo-Indian children of more or less insufferable sentimentality", she encapsulates the story in a few pungent words (page 130):
"...two fourteen-year-old drummer-boys, stunted, foul-mouthed, sweepings of the London streets, who, not from native courage but because they were drunk, are able to rally a frightened, inexperienced regiment under fire; and die for it...This story takes too circuitous a way to its climax, but the end is worth the journey.J I M Stewart (page 51) also examines the story carefully, finishing with the observation: "...as often in Kipling, what may at first seem very crude is in fact rather subtle."
Search English literature and you will find no adequate account of the British soldier… between Shakespeare’s Henry V and Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads. The British tradition was not favourable to soldiers; ever since Cromwell’s day, hostility to a standing army had been an underlying factor in British politics. (page 5)Carrington makes much the same point in his biography of Kipling, (page 106).