Carrying forward Flashman’s account of the Battle of Ferozeshah (Dec 21-22, 1845) in the First Anglo Sikh war, at the time when Flashman, riding through a nightmare to British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Hugh Gough’s side, realises that they are facing the full Khalsa army – cavalry, infantry and heavy artillery, thirty thousand strong, which he had thought was (according to the plans he had agreed with the Khalsa’s turncoat generals) at watch outside Ferozepore…. It also is intended to commemorate a brave and enterprising soldier whose intervention saved the day for British India, as even Flashman notes his heroism has been forgotten…..
~~~~ Historians say that on that one moment, as the Khalsa’s spearhead was rushing at our throat, rested the three centuries of British India. Perhaps. It was surely the moment in which Gough’s battered little army stared certain death and destruction in the face, and whatever might have settled our fate later, one man turned the hinge there and then. Without him, we (aye, and perhaps all India) would have been swept away in bloody ruin. I wager you’ve never heard of him, the forgotten brigadier, Mickey White.
It happened in split seconds. Even as I dashed the sweat from my eyes and stared again, the bugles blared along those surging lines of Khalsa horsemen, the tulwars rose in a wave of steel and the great forest of lance-points dipped as the canter became a gallop. Gough was roaring to our men to hold fire, and I heard Huthwaite yelling that the guns were at the last round, and the muskets of the infantry squares came to the present in a ragged fence of bayonets that must be ridden under as that magnificent sea of men and horses engulfed us. I never saw the like in my life, I who watched the great charge against Campbell’s Highlanders at Balaclava – but those were only Russians, while these were the fathers of the Guides and Probyn’s and the Bengal Lancers, and the only thing to stop them at full tilt was a horse soldier as good as themselves.
He was there, and he chose his time. A few more seconds and the gallop would have been a charge – but now a trumpet sounded to our right, and wheeling out before our squares came the remnant of our own mounted division, the blue tunics and the sabres of the 3rd Lights and the black fezzes and lances of the Native Cavalry, with White at their head, launching themselves at the charge against the enemy’s flank. They didn’t have the numbers, they didn’t have the weight, and they were spent, man and beast – but they had the time and place to perfection, and in a twinkling the Khalsa charge was a struggling confusion of rearing beasts and falling riders and flashing steel as the Lights tore into his heart and the sowar lancers raked across its front.
My female and civilian readers may wonder how this could be – that a small force of horsemen could confound one greater. Well, that’s the beauty of the flank attack – think of six hearty chaps racing forward in line, and one artful dodger barges into the end man, from the side. They’re thrown out of kilter, tumbling into one and other, and though they’re six to one, five of ’em can’t come at their attacker. Ats its best a good flank movement can “roll up” the enemy like a window blind, and while White’s charge didn’t do that, it threw them off course, and when that happens to cavalry in formation their momentum’s gone and good loose riders can play the devil with them.
So what happened under our noses was a deuce of a scrimmage, and though White’s horse went down, with the Lights closing round him, the sabres swinging, and Gough up in his stirrups shouting: “You’ll do, Mick! That’s your sort, my boy! And who,” he roars at me, “are those fellows, will ye tell me?”
I shouted they were Khalsa regulars, not gorracharra – Mouton’s and Foulkes’s regiments, for certain, and Gordon’s, too, though I couldn’t be sure.
“That’s the pick of ’em, then!” snaps he. “Well, White’s put a flea in their ear, so he has! Now, take you this glass, and tell me about their infantry! West, note it down!”
So while the cavalry rumpus petered out, with the Khalsa horsemen drawing off, and our own fellows, half of them dismounted, limping back to reform, I surveyed that mass of infantry with a sinking heart, calling them off by……
To be continued…..