And continuing the intriguing story of the Battle of Ferozeshah in the First Anglo-Sikh War, and how an almost certain crushing British defeat inexplicably became a victory for them….. Let Flashman tell you how the “appalling mistake” of the sudden withdrawal of the British artillery and cavalry was seized by the treacherous Sikh commander of an overwhelming force as a chance to withdraw his mighty host without giving battle…
~~~ You may ask why our cavalry and guns unexpectedly flew off into the blue, giving Tej his excuse for retreating. Well, that was a gift from the gods. I told you that Lumley, the Adjutant-General, had gone barmy during the first day’s fighting, and kept saying we must retire on Ferozepore; well, on the second day, all his screws came loose together, he got Ferozepore on the brain entirely, and at the height of the battle he ordered our cavalry and guns away – in Hardinge’s name, if you please, so off they went, with the great loony urging them to make haste. So that’s how it was – Mickey White, Tej Singh, and Lumley, each doing his little bit in his own way. Odd business, war.
We’d lost 700 dead and close to 2000 wounded, including your humble obedient who spent the night under a tree, almost freezing to death, and utterly famished, with Hardinge and what was left of his staff. There was no sleep to be had, with my hand throbbing in agony, but I daren’t bleat, for Abbott alongside me had three wounds to my one, and was cheerful enough to sicken you. Round about dawn Baxu the butler rolled up with some chappatis and milk, and when we’d wolfed it down and Hardinge had prayed a bit, we all crawled aboard an elephant and lumbered down to Ferozepore, which was to be our seat of government henceforth, while Gough and most of the army camped near Ferozeshah. It was a great procession of wounded and baggage all the way to Ferozepore, and when we reached the entrenchments who should emerge but the guns and cavalry who had abandoned ship at the fatal moment. Hardinge was in a bate to know why, and one of the binky-nabobs assured it had been on urgent orders from Hardinge himself, transmitted by the Adjutant-General.
So now the cry was “Lumley”, and presently he appeared, very brisk and with a wild glint in his eye, lashing the air with a fly-whisk and giving sharp little cries; he was dressed in pyjamys and a straw boater, and was plainly on his way to the Hatter’s for tea. Hardinge demanded why he’d sent off the guns, and Lumley looked fierce and said they had needed fresh magazines, of course, and damned if he’d known where they could get any, bar Ferozepore. He sounded quite indignant.
“Twelve miles away?” cries Hardinge. “What service could they hope to do in time, supposing they had replenished?”
Lumley snapped back, as much as they’d ha’ done at Ferozeshah, with no charges left. He seemed quite pleased with this, and laughed loudly, swatting flies, while Hardinge went purple. “And the cavalry, then?” cries he. “Why did you bid them retire?”
“Escort,” says Lumley, picking imaginary mice off his shirt. “Can’t have guns goin’ about unguarded. Desperate fellows everywhere – Sikhs, don’t you know? Swoop, pounce, carry ’em off, I assure you. Besides, cavalry needed a rest. Quite played out.”
“And did you do this in my name, sir?” cries Hardinge. “Without my authority?”
Lumley said, impatiently, that if he hadn’t, no one would have paid him any heed. He grew quite agitated in describing how on the first night he’d told Harry Smith to retreat, and Harry had told him to go to hell. “Usin’ foulest language, sir! ‘Damn the orders!’ – his very words, although I said ’twas in your name, and the battle was lost, and we must buy the Sikhs if we were to come off. He wouldn’t listen,” says Lumley, looking ready to cry.
Well, everyone except Hardinge could see that the fellow was liable to start plaiting his toes into door-mats, but our pompous G.G. wouldn’t let him alone. Why, he demanded, was Lumley improperly dressed in pyjamys instead of uniform? Lumley gave a great guffaw and says: “Ah, well, you see, my overalls were so riddled with musket-balls, they dropped off me.”
They sent him home, which makes me wonder if he was quite as tap as he sounded, for at least he got out of it, while the rest of us must soldier on, waiting for Paddy to plan his next bloodbath.
To be continued….