An Excerpt from:
CHAPTER V. INDIA ONCE MORE
ON his return to England, B.-P. settled down to write his account of his experiences; the book was published with the title The Matabele Campaign, and it proved very popular; it is still full of interest, as it describes so many of the day-to-day adventures of a practical scout.
He was not long kept idle, for in the spring of 1897 he was on his way to take command of the 5th Dragoon Guards in India; he had left that country thirteen years before as a Captain, and was now returning as a Colonel. It was a wrench to leave his old regiment after his twenty-one years of service, and he now had to face the problem of meeting a new regiment to whom he was almost unknown. But he very quickly captured the loyalty and enthusiasm of the officers and men.
They found, for instance, that he was eager to join in their sports and their entertainments. Indeed, some officers of an older generation must have thought him lacking in dignity; when occasion needed it, he could be as impressive as anyone, but at other times he was always ready for fun. A few months after his arrival at Meerut he invited the officers of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers stationed at Muttra to come over for an evening’s entertainment. The programme was of a mixed kind, and one item was "Song by Private Brown of the 5th Dragoon Guards." When this was reached, a dismal looking, black-haired trooper mounted the platform and began to sing a most doleful song, all out of tune, and getting more and more unbearable, until the soldiers at the back of the hall began making cat-calls and other insulting noises. Private Brown then stepped down to the footlights and said that he thought it was a shame to treat a comrade like that; after all, he was doing his best, and if they went on jeering at him, he would report them to the Colonel. Suddenly one of the officers exclaimed, "It’s B.-P. !"—as indeed it was, and then "Private Brown" went on to keep the company rocking with laughter at his jests and comic songs.
The officers found too that their Colonel had lost none of his skill at pigsticking. On his first hunt he instinctively knew that the younger officers had their eyes on him to see how he shaped. Once the boar was afoot, he forgot all this and followed as eagerly as in his early years in India. The beast got into a strip of jungle, and the beaters went through to find him, but they declared that there was no sign, and he must have slipped away. So B.-P. dismounted and went in himself to make sure. Suddenly the boar rushed at him out of a dense bit of bush; B.-P. took him on foot, but so fierce was the attack that he was knocked over with his spear transfixing the animal.
The officers rushed in and were amazed to find the Colonel on his back struggling with a fine boar. One of them quickly killed the animal and then asked, "Do you always go on foot, sir?" To which B.-P. airily replied, "Of course; why not?" The result was that after that, hunting on foot became a recognized part of the sport of those officers, and B.-P.’s prestige went up enormously.
He gave a great deal of time and thought to the health and happiness of the men. The life of a private in India in those days was rather uninteresting, and B.-P. devised all kinds of new activities, for he felt that a soldier who is feeling bored will not be a good soldier or really keen on his work. A refreshment room was opened where good food could be eaten in pleasant surroundings; games of various kinds were supplied, as well as books and magazines. All this sounds very ordinary to-day, but fifty years ago it was unusual for the officers, especially for the Commanding Officer, to be genuinely keen on making the men happy.
The general health of the regiment was another matter which needed attention. Many men used to go down with enteric fever, and there were far too many deaths from its effects. B.-P. began to make experiments. First he made sure that the milk-supply was pure by starting a regimental dairy; not so much was known, of course, in those days about the dangers of impure milk or of the best ways of safeguarding the supply, but B.-P. was instinctively working on the right lines. Then he persuaded the men to keep away from the native quarters, where they undoubtedly picked up diseases, and here his schemes for their leisure time were of great importance.
He started a bicycling club as another source of health and pleasure, and soon found that the bicycles could be used on maneuvers for messengers, and so save the horses. One day his own bicycle was stolen, but instead of making a fuss, he got up as soon as it was light and tracked the marks of the tyres in the dew to a bungalow where a company of another regiment was quartered; there he found the bicycle by the bed of a private. Such incidents added to his popularity with his own men they felt that they had a commander who was no figurehead, but a really active man who did not bother too much about his position.
The most important change he made, however, was in the training of the men. He worked hard himself and he expected others to do the same. There was a saying in the regiment that he never slept, but one of his officers records that he often went to sleep during the mess dinner, but would be up and about at two o’clock the next morning.
He trained his men by frequent realistic maneuvers, and he insisted on preparedness at all times, and at short notice a squadron might be ordered to entrain complete with supplies for some unexpected exercise.
One of his methods was to give responsibility to officers and N.C.O.s alike and to expect much from them It was rare for anyone to let him down. One result was that the regiment never feared inspections from visiting Generals; the horses would be in splendid condition, for B.-P.’s own love of horses ensured that they were well looked after all the time; every trooper would be fully prepared with his kit in order; there would be no need for window-dressing.
This is what one of his officers wrote many years afterwards:
"I think that I found the confidence he placed in those he had to deal with, made him more beloved than anything else, and I cannot bring to mind a single instance in which his instinct ever failed him. I remember particularly the way he dealt with one of the young officers who had a bad name as a soldier and took no interest in soldiering. B.-P., soon after he took over command, sent for this young man and placed him in a position of considerable responsibility. The officer was so surprised at being thought fit to undertake the work that he became a changed character, and nothing could exceed his zeal for the task given him. The effect lasted, for in the South African War he obtained a Brevet Majority for good work performed under difficult circumstances with the Scouts of the regiment. I never saw B.-P. lose his temper or do anything hastily which would have to be repented later. He took men as he found them, and had that great and good gift of getting the best out of them without recourse to disciplinary methods. Officers and men would do anything for him. I know no one who had a greater influence for good than he had. By his consideration of the wants of his subordinates, by his sense of justice, he earned their devotion and gratitude."
One of the first things he did with his new regiment was to train some of the men as scouts. This was a most neglected branch of soldiering at that time, and his experiences in Matabeleland had proved to him how important scouts could be in warfare. The army usually relied on natives to do this work, under the impression that they were more suited; but B.-P. argued that more was expected of a scout than just finding the enemy; he should be able to make a good report of all information which would help the commander, and this would mean an ability to draw maps giving accurate details. The maps he had made during the Matabele Campaign had proved invaluable, and he was confident that the same kind of work could be done by men through careful training.
Two things were, he felt, necessary. First the men must have some kind of visible award for efficiency. So he got permission for those who qualified to wear a fleur-de-lis badge on their sleeve; he chose this as the badge because it appears on the north point of a compass —an essential instrument for a scout. The men got very keen on winning these badges, and the system was afterwards widely adopted in the army for other kinds of achievement. Secondly, he knew that the work must be made as interesting and enjoyable as possible. So he devised games and competitions which would provide practice at the same time as being enjoyable. This was a very welcome change from the old drill, drill, drill. Some of the games he used, such as Flag-raiding and Dispatch-running, are now well known to all Boy Scouts.
In training his scouts he divided them into small groups or Patrols each under an N.C.O., who was given full responsibility for the efficiency of his men. Then by competitions between these groups he roused their enthusiasm for every detail of the work. One of the results of this training which greatly impressed B.-P. was that the men became more self-reliant and gained in self-respect. Instead of always relying on an officer to tell them what to do, they began thinking for themselves. As a further help in making them resourceful, B.-P. used to send them out singly or in pairs to spend a day or two on their own, making observations and bringing back their reports and sketch-maps.
He worked out a complete scheme of lectures, demonstrations and practices, and during his last months in India he set these down in a small handbook called Aids to Scouting; but before this could be published many important things happened which changed his whole career.
He spent two years in India in command of his regiment. When he could get short leave he would go right away from civilization into the hills. "It was a great delight," he wrote home, "to be in shirtsleeves and cowboy hat, in camp once more." He would take with him a few native servants and his dog; he would travel sometimes by river but more often on foot. His days would be spent in sketching or fishing and sometimes in hunting; but he never seems to have taken hunting—except for the pot—very seriously; he much preferred to watch the wild animals in their natural surroundings and make sketches of them. In this way he was constantly adding to his extraordinary knowledge of beasts and birds. Sometimes he would have competitions with his servants to test his own powers of observation. Thus on one occasion they were up on a ridge, and on a far hillside could see some sheep. They tried counting them, and no one proved better than another; then B.-P. asked if they could see the herdsman. "I eventually," he wrote, "won the competition in an underhand way." He argued that the herdsman would be sitting in the shade of the only bush visible. When he turned his glasses that way, sure enough there was the man ! Sherlock Holmes again!
It was while coming down this mountain that he had to use his skill in First Aid, as he records in Scouting for Boys.
"Some years ago, when I was in Kashmir, Northern India, some natives brought to me a young man on a stretcher, who they said had fallen off a high rock, and had broken his back and was dying. I soon found that he had only dislocated his shoulder and had got a few bruises, and seemed to think that he ought to die.
"So I pulled off my shoe, sat down alongside him facing his head, put my heel in his arm-pit, got hold of his arm, and pulled with all my force till the bone jumped into its socket. The pain made him faint, and his friends thought I really had killed him. But in a few minutes he recovered and found his arm all right. Then they thought I must be no end of a doctor, so they sent round the country for all the sick to be brought in to be cured; and I had an awful time of it for the next two days. Cases of every kind of disease were carried in, and I had scarcely any drugs with which to treat them, but I did the best I could, and I really believe that some of the poor creatures got better from simply believing that I was doing them a lot of good.
"But most of them were ill from being dirty and letting their wounds get poisoned with filth; and many were ill from bad drainage, and from drinking foul water, and so on. This I explained to the headmen of the villages, and I hope that I did some good for their future health. At any rate, they were most grateful, and gave me a lot of help ever afterwards in getting good bear-hunting and also food."
In May, 1899, he left India for England feeling happy in the Commander-in-Chief’s praise of the efficiency of the 5th Dragoon Guards. In his two years with the regiment B.-P. had achieved much, and the results of his work were to be seen later in South Africa, though he himself was no longer in command of that regiment.