How some command decisions of the First Anglo-Sikh War were taken…. In Flashman’s words

Whatever be the other faults of that quintessential Victorian military “hero”, Sir Harry Flashman, you cannot deny he has a fine eye and ear for spotting the ridiculous and recounting it in marvellously comic language – bringing out the absurdities of great events. Here are his recollections of some episodes involving the high commands of both sides taking key decisions during the First Anglo-Sikh War – a key moment of history that enabled the British to strengthen their rule over the subcontinent for the next 100 years and more – You may say it was quelling the 1857 Revolt but had it not been the manpower the British could draw from Punjab after finally annexing it as a consequence of their victories in this war and the one followed, they would have found it hard going to quell the Mutiny- to say nothing of what would have happened if the Khalsa had won in the early 1840s. But it was not to be…and Flashman had a key role. Here’s how but let him tell it….

(Of course, I am not going to give you the entire story – you read Flashman and the Mountain of Light for that, but in short, it will suffice to say that Flashman fleeing Lahore after being captured and tortured by a strong nationalist clique that fears the regent, Jindan Kaur, is colluding with the British, is taken to Alick Gardner, an American in the service of the Lahore durbar under the name of Gurdana Khan – yes you heard correct. An American…. further details will soon follow. If you can’t wait, search for Alexander Campbell Gardner (1785-1877)).

He tells Flashman must go in with the Khalsa army, invading British India, meet the general, who will leak all information. Flashman has his reservations …

~~~~ You see what I mean – the man was plainly must (madness of the rogue elephant), doolali, afflicted of Allah, to long in the hills altogether – but one doesn’t like to say so, straight out, not to a chap who affects tartan pants and has a Khyber knife across his lap.

Flashman eventually has to agree…

~~~~ ….and, if you wonder that I bowed to his authority – well, take a squint at the portrait in his Memoirs; that should convince you.

He sets off and reaches the camp of Lal Singh, the Wazir, who was been entrusted the conduct of the war…

Lal’s quarters were in a pavilion big enough to hold Astley’s circus – it even had smaller tents within it to house him and his retinue of staff and servants and personal bodyguard. The last were tall villains with long chainmail headdresses and ribbons on their muskets; they barred our way until Ganpat announced our business, which caused a great scurry and consultation with chamberlains and butlers. Although it was still the last watch, and the great man was asleep, it was decided to wake him at once, so we didn’t have to wait above an hour before being ushered into his sleeping pavillion, a silken sanctum decked out like a bordello, with Lal sitting up naked in the bed while one wench dressed his hair and combed his beard, another sprayed him with perfume, and a third plied him with drinks and titbits.

I’ve never seen a man in such a funk in my life. At our previous meetings he’d been as cool, urbane, and commanding as a handsome Sikh noble can be, now he was like a virgin with the vapours. He gave me one terrified glance and looked quickly away; his fingers tugging nervously at the bedclothes till the wenches completed his toilet, and when one of them dropped her comb he squealed like a spoiled child, slapped her, and drove her out with shrill curses. Ganpat followed them, and the moment he’d gone Lal was tumbling out of the bed, hauling his robe about him and yammering at me in a hoarse whisper.

“Praise God you are here at last! I thought you would never come! What is to be done?” He was fairly quivering with fright. “I’ve been at my wit’s end for two days – and Tej Singh is no help, the swine! He sits at Arufka, pretending he must supervise the assembly, and leaves me here alone! Everyone’s looking to me for orders – what in God’s name am I to say to them?”

“What have you said already?”

To be continued….


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