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

Lets continue the account of Flashman. of the British Army, advising the Khalsa Army – invading British India – how to lose to the smaller force they faced…..

~~ It took me another hour of explanation and argument to convince Lal that my scheme was his only hope of getting his army properly leathered. It was hard sledding, for he was the kind of coward who’s too far gone even to clutch at straws – not my kind of funk at all. In the end I gave him ….. (lets skip this part), but whether Lal took it or not I can’t say, for I caulked out in an alcove of his pavilion, and didn’t wake up until noon. By the time Tej Singh had arrived, still fat as butter and quite as reliable, to judge from the furtive enthusiasm with which he greeted me. But while he was every bit as windy as Lal, he was a sight smarter, and once the Flashman Plan had been expounded he hailed it as a masterpiece; let my directions be followed and Gough would have the Khalsa looking like a Frenchman’s knapsack in no time, was Tej’s view. I guessed that what really commended my scheme to his was that he’d be well away from the firing, but he showed a good grasp of details, and had some sound notions of his own: one, I remember, was that he would take care to keep his guarding force to the north and west of Ferozepore, so that Littler would be able to slip away and join Gough without hindrance if he wanted to. That, as you’ll see, proved to be of prime importance, so I reckon Tej earned himself a Ferozeshah medal for that alone, if everyone had his due.

You must imagine our conference being carried on in lowered voices in Lal’s sleeping quarters, and a bonny trio we were. Our gallant Wazir, when he wasn’t peeping out to make sure there were no eavesdroppers, was brisking himself up with copious pinches of Peshawar snuff which I suspect contained something a sight more stimulating than powered tobacco; he seemed to take heart from the confidence of Tej Singh, who paced the apartment like Napoleon at Marengo, heaving his guts before him and tripping over his sabre while describing to me, in a gloating whisper, how the Khalsa would flee in disorder at the first setback; I lay nursing my ankle, trying to forget my own perilous situation and praying that Lal Singh could browbeat his staff into obedience before the effect of the snuff wore off. I wonder if there was ever such a conspiracy in the history of war: two generals intent on scuppering their own army. confabulating sotto voce with an agent from the enemy, while their commanders waited impatiently outside for the word that (with luck) would send them marching to ruin? You would think not, but knowing human nature and the military mind, I’d not wager on it.

I stayed hidden when Lal and Tej went out in the afternoon to announce their intentions to the divisional commanders. Lal was brave in silver armour, with a desperate glitter in his eye – half fear, half hashish, I would guess – and they held their conference on horseback, with Ferozepore in view. Tej told me later that the Wazir was in capital form, lining out my plan like a drill sergeant and snarling down any hint of opposition, of which there was less than I’d feared.  The fact was, you see, that the strategy looked sound enough, but what impressed them most, apparently, was Lal’s refusal to engage any commander but Gough himself. That argued pride and confidence, and they cheered him to the echo, and couldn’t wait to get under way. The gorracharra were riding east before dusk, and Tej, by his own account, made a great meal of sending orders to mobilise his foot and guns, with gallopers riding in all directions, bugles blowing, and the Commander-in-Chief finally retiring to Lal’s tent, having issued orders which with luck would take days to untangle.

The final scene of the comedy took place that night before I rode out. Lal was keen that I should make straight for….

To be continued….

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