blog 316: flying columns take no prisoners

I am creating flying columns that can shoot off from the main body of the Moveable Column and pounced on eruptions of the mutiny pox with murderous speed. Wah! In Exile Plus is one. Another is a band of Sikh Cavalry. Another is an elite force of Gurkhas snipers. The final flying column needs to be infantry. Cavalry weld carbines. Enfield two band carbines. But only infantry weld three band full Enfields which can shoot 1000 yards. But infantry is called a lot of things — except ‘mobile’ or ‘flying’ or even ‘speedy’. Brother # 1-3 and I are plotting how to buy or cobble together carts. Except for the Gurkhas who are so elite they fight all by themselves, horse artillery will be used in combination with the flying column units. They are extremely mobile no matter the nature of the landscape or the terrain. We need to use cavalry or infantry combined with artillery to create cross fire to decimate the enemy.

General Singh and I are hunting down the Jullundur and Sialkot mutineers like vermin. They killed officers, loyal NCO’s, civilians, and looted and rampaged as they fled toward Delhi. If they are captured alive, they are remanded over for military trial before the Military Court. But mutiny is pretty much an open and shut case. Mutiny is the passive or active overthrow of lawful military and civilian authority featuring conspiracy. Looting and attacks on civilians carry additional charges. And if the mutineers carry sedition like fatwas advocating, blessing, encouraging or inciting mutiny, rebellion, or revolution, or letters hinting of conspiracy to attack the military authority or lawful government that is a doner. Ditto religious tracts that advocate terror or attacks on civilians. Doner. Wahhabi crap and jihad fatwas are now considered prima facie evidence of sedition to incite insurrection, subversion of lawful government, attacks and acts of violence, the betrayal of the military oath and the national oath of loyalty, and the violent overthrow of the established laws and governmental institutions.

Rosh Sahib says intellectuals fear sedition laws the way soldiers fear mutiny laws. But talking about an utopian ideal, or speculating about lawful forms of alternative law, or advocating lawful, non violent dissent, is not the same as encouraging people to blow up police stations and shoot officers behind their backs and murder civilians and overthrow lawful government violently. And Ghazi Jihad is nothing short of the incitement to comment violent arson, robbery, kidnaping, rape, enslavement and brutal mass murder.

The Singhs are fair but hard. The only thing they looked for was the one extenuating circumstance: if a soldier could prove he was pressured by death threats into joining the mutiny. But that would mean that mutineer asking his fellow doomed men to say they threatened him. Oddly, the mutineers still have enough nang honor left to not do that, or beg for that matter. Brother # 1 has his scaffold prepared. The hangings are professional. No one strangles for five minutes. No heads are ripped off. Religion and caste protocols are obeyed but the mutineers are denied all pomp and circumstances. They get the minimum only per religious requirements. And no pipes play the Flowers of the Forest over their corpses as they are burnt and their ashes scattered or buried in unmarked graves.

It was most odd because one mutineer actually asked for a piper to play the Flowers of the Forest. I asked him how he could want that after betraying his salt and his regimental izzat honor. He flinched and but then sighed. “I knew it was futile. We were being made redundant. Obsolete. I could never have qualified in that new gun. That Enfield. It requires skills we plain soldiers just do not have. That is why I hated the Sikhs and Gurkhas. The new soldiers. Experts in the new war. To be a rifleman. No longer part of a thin red line. Your pal on your left and your mate on your right. Firing on command. Just firing. Not really even looking at what you are firing at. Just keeping the volleys going on command. Just not breaking the thin red line. Now everyone will be a rifleman or a sniper. Standing alone. No pal on your right and no mate on your left. Aiming at some tiny target a thousand feet off. Trying to calculate in your head the distance and speed and angle. No officer telling you what to do. The burden on you to aim and calculate and shoot and kill. It is all over. The old way of waging war. And you are notorious for campaigning to outlaw looting. Your military police are notorious. Looting and batta was the only thing that kept me going, as far as face in my village. And what other skills do I have? None. And redundant, I could never have gone home again for the shame. Death in battle was the only end I could snatch out of this humiliation Sahib. Death in battle. Except it is not even that. It is death by hanging.”

“Die like a soldier” I told him. Stand at attention while waiting in the cart. Stand straight and tall on the scaffold. Do not cringe or flinch. Die like a soldier.”

He did. He died like a soldier. But I could not allow a piper to play Flowers of the Forest because that song can only be played or a grave or bier of a soldier who died in honorable battle and no piper would have consented to break tradition.
We have commenced all night marches starting off at 9:00 PM and stopping after dawn. We used the metalic road and torches. At 7:00 PM Brother # 1 rides ahead with the Quarter Master to pick the stopping point to set up camp as the men march. Brother # 1 has drafted, bought, or crafted more pony carts. I have men riding the cannon carriages which pisses off the horse artillery personal but in this terrible heat men can and are dying of heat stroke. Brother # 1 has created water stops to douse the men with water before they queue for their bread, milk, and rum which they get on top of their two pegs a day. We have a mobile hospital to deal with heat stroke. Brother # 3 is buying every elephant or camel he can to pull hospital carts. Brother # 3 has his hands full even keeping the animals alive because of the heat. Even the Pathans and Punjabis are suffering dreadfully. To keep the 46 mile a day pace plus extra marches to chase down mutineers and deserters I have to be hard. But I also conspicuously make sure I am seen in the saddle, first off at 9:00PM, last to finish at dawn, and I stay in the saddle even during breaks when the men collapse nauseous with heat. I see men with the skin of their faces cracked like leather, blooding oozing from nose bleeds from the heat, their lips and mouths oozing blood, their eyes blood shot, rags wrapped around their hands because their god damn guns are so hot they burn flesh. They already hate me but they have to at least know I am putting in more time and enduring more hell than they are. That goads them into marching just to prove they can outdo me, the object of their hatred.

The NCO’s have been heroic. They are the sinews holding the army together. And they have this pundit’s knowledge how to wage war in India that is amazing. Everyone respects them. 3/4’s of the NCO’s of course are Indians. I only have a very few British non commissioned officers. The native NCO’s dress in their brilliant best, their turbans tied so rooster comb ruffles tower up and quiver in the sizzling heat. They march or ride ramrod straight and tall as if immune to human suffering. They have this quiet authority. One look from their dark eyes and men ready to stagger to the ground stand up straight and march forward. Likewise, they goad British men and officers to march forward rather than be seen as slacking.

Officers show their hatred for me openly. There is one in particular who loathes me nakedly. Lieutenant Ommaney. He was pissed off right royal when Freddy Roberts moved into my tent. Freddy had been bunking with Ommaney and paying him rent. Like a lot of young officers, Ommaney was in hock for his hill tent and servants and animals. Losing a roommate was a big financial hit — especially as I am giving Freddy a free lift. Knowing how fast a young officer falls into fatal debts I don’t want Freddy to be in hock to money lenders. I have known young officers blow their brains out because of debts which escalate on top of money lenders and their 30% interest loans and mess tabs and gambling debts. The only reason I escaped the clutches of money lenders was because my Indian Mother was so good at handling money. I am utterly incompetent financially.

If Freddy can get a captaincy in this war, likely as people die, then he will get enough income to afford serving in India without the initial crippling debts. Of course a lot of men, NCOs, and officers alike are plotting to score in looting. This is the point of war in India. Loot is an Indian word after all. But I notorious in my opposition to looting and my prosecution for robbing or raping or terrorizing innocent civilians. Freddy knows as long as he bunks with the Tribe of Nicholson his looting options will be limited. But right now lootmaar, the dream of scoring big in looting, is a chimera. A mirage. It is so far down this ghastly metallic road, the tarmac stinking in this heat, the air visually quivering with heat and dense with dust, no one can plot ahead. They can only endure terrible suffering right now.

I fear for the Tribe of Nicholson. I am terribly guilty for Rosh Sahib and the children especially. At the last stop in a town half of the bazaar population decamped. That says something when military bazaar merchants and whores and nautch girls decamp. The Scots refuse to abandon their bonnets and wool kilts. Their cotton tropic tunics are pointless when they wear wool kilts. But there it is! They grimly joke their kilts have natural air cooling courtesy of the fact they don’t wear underwear. But their suffering is dreadful. It is ridiculous but I have let the regiment mascots ride. The sight of dogs or goats or ponies riding carts as men stagger appears utterly absurd but there it is. They men would rather take turns staggering in the heat and save their regimental mascots!

I am fighting sunstroke myself and my bony rump broke out in saddle sores that have ulcerated. I ask Khan Son # 1 and Mother to find every trick to keep me in the saddle. I cannot be seen doing less than the men I am driving so brutally and unless I drive them then I cannot get this column to Delhi in time. Hobson says Wilson the Weak Wrist Witless Wingnut Scion of Heroic Gerbils is sick with cholera but, alas, survived to whine about retreating! Aged generals are dying left, right, center, and behind. Bernard the Bumbling Buffoon has keeled over now. The bad news is we are losing as senior general a week. The good news were are losing a senior and senile general a week! War is promotion time, at least for the regular military, if you can live long enough to see the end of the tunnel! So I have to stay in the saddle somehow!

Wah! In Exile Plus have to ride just about 24/7 to encircle the Moveable Column like a network of eyes and ears. They use signaling mirrors. The Net of Eyes and Ears also has Sikhs and Gurkhas. But the nature of advance scouting means they have to stay in the saddle twice as long as the column itself. Brother # 2 had to ride back and forth continuously to contact spy cells. I have to telegraph conference continuously to get the intel I need to know where to march to subdue mutineers or head them off or preempt them from contacting other regiments and corrupting them. The mutiny pox is contagious! Because of my ulcerated rump I cannot sit in camp and have to lay on my belly, under a sodden wicker cot, and work on my desk which lays flat on the ground while Son # 2 or Khan Son # 1 operates the telegraph. But the worse part is the Sikh Army under General Singh is out riding and our fighting and out marching us. We have lost so much face and respect I feel no matter what I do we cannot salvage our reputation.

General Singh is brutal to mutineers. He lets his men savage them if caught alive. I know a lot of my men are reporting mutineers killed during battle but actually are savaging them as well. The mutineers shoot officers and NCO’s and civilians and then flee which is despicable and then torture us by forcing us to give chase in this unbearable heat. And it is torture. So a lot of my men are savaging any mutineers they catch alive. It is becoming more and more ‘take no prisoners’. Because of the suffering I am turning a blind eye. The men are at the end of their tether. As long as they don’t savage or shoot mutineers in front of me I am turning a blind eye.

But Rosh Sahib is quietly disappointed in me for caving in to the escalating brutality. I try to rationalize it to myself by saying I don’t see it. I am not personally doing it. I am fighting off sunstroke and have an ulcerated rump. And the Moveable Column hates me as it is. I just don’t have the energy to trigger a mutiny of Loyal Men just to enforce them to take prisoners alive just so I can legally hang them. However, I make up for it by prosecuting any attacks or assaults or pilfering or raping of civilians along the route by anyone. The Military Police are busy! There are fights in the Military Bazaar all of the time now.

And I am debating with my Military Doctors about the escalating use of opium pills and laudanum and morphine. I know everyone is in pain. But Military doctors hand the stuff out like candy. In India opium and hashish and bhang has always ‘been there to be used’ and no one raises an eyebrow. But the latest German studies in Vienna hint that drugs are two faced: life saving and pain numbing, but also addictive, inciting bottomless cravings, and creating mental illness like visions and voices in the head, anxiety, erratic behavior, wild swings of emotions, delusions of persecution, and the inclination to believe insane plots no rational mind should believe in. And the Military devours this stuff like Mother’s milk. No wonder the Bengal Army raves about bones being carefully grinded up in sugar and lunatic plots to put cow and pig grease in wax and tallow cartridges for rifles. I refuse to take any opium tincture the same way I refuse alcohol. I just instinctively know once I start I will not be able to stop. But right now I am in terrible pain.


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