Fore and Aft"
Notes on the text
These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. We are indebted to Lt-Col Roger Ayers [R.C.A.] for a number of details of military history. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.
The officers, who had been lying down with the men, rose and began to walk steadily up and down the front of their companies.Roger Ayers explains that both these incidents are closely based on a paragraph in the Introduction to Lieut-General Sir G.J. Wolseley's The Soldiers' Pocket-Book, the fourth edition of which appeared in 1882. Under 'Advice to Officers', the paragraph reads:
This manœuvre, executed, not for publication, but as a guarantee of good faith, to soothe men , demands nerve. You must not hurry, you must not look nervous, though you know you are a mark for every rifle within extreme range, and above all, if you are smitten, you must make as little noise as possible and roll inwards through the files.
In action, to be cool and to seem ignorant that any danger exists, is of the first consequence; you must at the same time, however, evince a lively interest in all that is going on; come what may, have a smiling face. If your men are under a fire to which they are not replying, walk about in front of them as they are lying down. I do not mean that you are never to avail yourself of cover, for when skirmishing it is your duty to do so, but under the above circumstances the best troops are prone to become unsteady, and it is then the especial duty of officers to set an example of coolness and steadiness.Kipling has taken The Soldiers' Pocket-Book at its word and depicts the officers behaving in the manner which Wolseley considers obligatory. When considering such a policy today, hindsight must be switched off and the experience which went into it at the time must be considered. Only a few years before the 2nd Afghan War, armies almost always met face to face, standing, with every man in some line of fire, not long before in the Crimea and Mutiny, and only fifteen years before in the American Civil War. The age of accurate aimed fire, which made a nonsense of the practice, was only just dawning and it took the 2nd South African War 20 years later to delete it from the manuals. [R.C.A.]
"... I discovered that my only British Infantry Regiment, the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Foot, was sickly to a degree, and therefore in an unserviceable condition. It was largely composed of quite young, unacclimatised soldiers, peculiarly susceptible to fever - that terrible scourge of our Punjab stations in the autumn of each year. I rode out to meet the Battalion on its way to Kohat, and was horrified to see the long line of doolies and ambulance carts by which it was accompanied." (Forty-one years in India) (R.C.A.).For some time, he could only use this Battalion for camp and baggage guards.
Life is with such all beer and skittles;And George du Maurier (1834–1896) has:
They are not difficult to please
About their victuals. (pronounced 'vittles').
Life ain’t all beer and skittles, and more’s the pity; but what’s the odds, so long as you’re happy ? Trilby, Part I.[Page 350, line 10] E.P. tent Roger Ayers explains that according to The Soldiers' Pocket-Book, there were three types of issue tent in India in the 1880s, the Staff-Sergeant's tent, (S-S tent) the European (or English) Privates tent (EP tent) and the circular tent (bell tent). Native soldiers had a Lascar 'pâl'.
The Ameer's infantry preceded him. There were two regiments of these, I fancy. As I write, they are taking up their position on the encamping ground, and look as cut-throat a crew as one would wish to see. One regiment is dressed in white duck trousers, European boots, and a tunic of blue with red trimmings. They look in the distance like engine drivers out of employment. All are armed with Martini-Henry rifles, and march in two Indian files, each the width of the road apart from the other. The second regiment (both by the way are Duranis and are composed of picked men) wears black 'understandings' [trousers?]; but in every other respect appears to be exactly like the first. Their notions of sentry-go are original and elastic; and many of them have their Martinis protected from the rain by dirty bits of cloth. [See Kipling’s India ed. Pinney pages 89-90].[Page 357, line 11 Martini-Henry. See Notes to “The Man who Would be King” earlier in this volume, page 237, lines 4 & 6.
Father Gabriel in that day,[Page 361, line 30] kukris the deadly curved knives or small swords traditionally used by the Gurkhas.
He’ll take wings and fly away,
For to hear the trumpet sound
In that morning.
Children you’ll be called onOr perhaps it was simply the fatherly way in which a Colonel of Gurkhas would address his men.
To march on the field of battle,
Into the valley of DeathSee also Kipling’s poem "The Last of the Light Brigade" and the note to page 350 line 27, above.
Rode the six hundred.
John Laffin, in Tommy Atkins: The Story of the English Soldier (Cassel, London, 1966) quotes Archibald Forbes, the soldier turned reporter whose work I have detected in Kipling's description of the battle in this story.[Page 371, line 31] heliograph a device that used sunlight reflected from a mirror to pass signals in Morse code, much used by the army of Kipling's day in India and South Africa. For a more humorous view of it see the poem "A Code of Morals".
Forbes compared Tommy Atkins with the German soldier in the new open order - it was new at the time - and found him wanting: They [the Germans] know that it is good for soldiers to die a little occasionally. Forbes reported the Franco-Prussian war (1870) from the German side and stood with a German general watching a skirmish near Metz. The German battalion consisted chiefly of young soldiers and they were unsteady. The old General shrugged and observed: 'Dey vant to be a little shooted; dey will do better next time.'
I suspect that this comes from Forbes' book, Barracks, Bivouacs and Battles (Macmillan, London, 1891) which appeared after Kipling wrote the story, but it may have been included as an aside in Forbes' reports on the 2nd Afghan War which were probably on file in the offices of the Civil and Military Gazette during Kipling's time on the staff.
It is interesting that there is another reference in the story to a German general facing disaster, this time Frederick the Great. When Jakin mutters 'Come on, you dogs!' 'Are we to play forhever?' [page 365, line 12] he is paraphrasing Frederick's 'Hunde! Wollt Ihr ewig leben?' , his cry of 'Dogs! Do you want to live forever?' when facing total defeat at the battle of Kolin, Bohemia, 18 June 1757, and his last battalion had refused one last attack. Grant, his Scots general, forced him to leave the battlefield but he lived to fight victoriously on many another day, which may have been Kipling's point. [R.C.A.]