ARMIES OF THE RAJ: From the Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947 by Byron Farwell

ARMIES OF THE RAJ: From the Mutiny to Independence, 1858-1947

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Highlights of British rule in India and of the Great Indian Army from 1858, when the 300-year-old Honorable East India Company--a commercial enterprise that literally commanded an army in India--was absorbed into the Empire and passed into the care of Her Majesty's Government, until the last British troops departed in 1948 following Independence. Farwell (The Great War in Africa, The Great Anglo-Boer War, Eminent Victorian Soldiers, etc.) has a rousing sense of military history, the kind often parodied in British films like Four Feathers, where old Army officers begin laying out campaigns and troop deployments with saltcellars, walnuts, and napkin rings on the dinner table. Typically, we read here about the Third Afghan War of 1919, during which Brigadier-General Dyer, ""although tired and ill, pumped new life into his brigade and under a blistering sun, with forced marches on little food and water. . .pushed his own men forward to rescue Thal and send the Afghans flying homeward."" And so on. You need a very special interest, such as a fancy toy-soldier collection, to relish this kind of material. But even so, the larger picture remains, and many colorful moments are stamped onto memory. The Bengal Mutiny of 1857, begun when Hindu and Muslim soldiers refused on religious grounds to bite new rifle cartridges smeared with cow and pig lard, wiped out any social intercourse between Briton and Indian. Friendliness and hospitality vanished; the Mutiny was ""a psychological watershed. . ."" We follow the Imperial Assemblage celebrating Queen Victoria as Empress of India, the rise of venereal disease among the military, the tragedy of the Amritsar Massacre of 1914 and the muddled early idealism of Gandhi, the role of the Japanese in polarizing nationalist fervor during WW II, and the sad horrors of Independence. Vigorous but for a limited audience.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1989
Publisher: Norton