MR. KIPLING'S ARMY by Byron Farwell


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An eye-opening, extravagant, always lively look at a peculiar British institution--the Victorian-Edwardian army that was eclipsed by various reforms and died forever at the first battle of Ypres in World War I. These were the ""real,"" the professional British soldiers, moss-bounds who wore customs, traditions, and habits like heavy armor. After the Indian Mutiny in 1857-59, there were three Indian armies: one each in Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. In England, until a General Staff was created in 1906, the Army was a mere collection of regiments, totally muddled and directionless, with no provision for movement or attacking anyone anywhere; it had no central governing body, and drew its officers from well-heeled young Mayfair bloods who sat a horse well. Its officers dressed for the benefit of London tailors; its footsoldiers and noncoms would ritualistically spit and polish themselves to the hilt for their nightly walk from the barracks-room to the canteen to get drunk. Alcoholism plagued the ranks, and drams were issued daily as a matter of course, like food. Each regiment was a private, exclusive club, be it Cold-stream Guards of Scots Fusilier, a glory-proud clan one joined and rarely transferred from. Despite Army-supervised brothels, venereal disease was rampant, vicious, and often fatal. Marriage by low-rankers was heavily discouraged; the presence of women was ""unnecessary and objectionable."" Troopships were primitive past all belief, especially those on which horses were stalled, but officers had to dress for dinner. But quixotic and eccentric as the Victorian army was, it was unrivaled in bravery, chivalry, and discipline: when the troopship Birkenhead foundered off the coast of South Africa, with only three lifeboats for women and children, the men lined up, stood firm, and 438 drowned. A glorious upstairs/downstairs study from a veteran chronicler of the Realm.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1980
Publisher: Norton