ON THE MARCH

June 23. - On reaching Umballah, we found the station all but deserted, nearly all the European troops having been sent on to join the Delhi force. The church had been placed in a state of defence, all its walls loopholed, and around it had been constructed a work consisting of a wall and parapet, with towers of brickwork armed with field-pieces en barbette at the angles.

In it were quartered some of the 1st Bengal Fusiliers, lately brought down from Dagshai. About ninety of these marched with us to Delhi. Here also we were joined by four officers of the (late) 57th Native Infantry, who had received orders to join our wing, eventually to fill up vacancies in the native corps on reaching the scene of operations. With these we were in all twenty-four officers - rather a strong complement even for a whole regiment.

The concluding days of the march were trying in the extreme. Weary and footsore, and often parched with thirst, we tramped along the hot and dusty roads, often for miles up to our ankles in deep sand. We were so tired and overcome with want of rest that many of us actually fell fast asleep along the road, and would be rudely awakened by falling against others who were in the same plight as ourselves. At midnight we rested, when coffee and refreshment were served out to the officers and men. The halt sounded every hour, and for five minutes we threw ourselves down on the hard ground or on the hot sand and at once fell asleep, waking up somewhat restored to continue our toilsome journey.

From Jugraon onward we had rather long marches, and it was considered advisable to convey the men part of the way in hackeries; the arrangement being that they should march halfway, then halt for coffee and refreshment, and afterwards ride the remainder of the distance.

By this means they were kept fresh for the work before them, which, we had every reason to believe, would be anything but light. At Umballah I took the opportunity of calling on my friend Mr. George Barnes, the Commissioner of the Cis-Sutlej States. He had shown me boundless hospitality, and was like a father to me when I joined my regiment as a lad at Kussowlie. A man of great intellectual attainments and sound judgment, he was an honour to the Bengal Civil Service. There was no officer at that momentous period in whom Sir John Lawrence placed more confidence. His familiarity with the native character, and the friendship borne towards him by the Sikh chieftains, enabled him throughout the Siege of Delhi to keep open communication with the Punjab, and supply the force with stores, provisions, and ammunition. He would, without doubt, have risen to the highest honours in his profession had he not been stricken with a fatal illness in 1859, when holding the responsible post of Foreign Secretary to the Government of India.

A few marches from Delhi we passed over the historic field of Paniput, where three sanguinary battles had been fought in different ages, each deciding the fate of Hindostan for the time being. More than 100,000 men had been slain in these actions, and we felt we were marching over ground the dust of which was thickly permeated with the ashes of human beings.

Here first we heard the sound of distant cannonades, borne thus far to our ears by the stillness of the night - a sound which told us that our comrades before Delhi were still holding their position against the enemy.

At length, on July 1, just as the sun was rising, we emerged from a forest of trees on to the plain over which the army under Sir Henry Barnard had moved on June 8 to attack the entrenchments of the mutineers at Badli-ki-Serai.

July 1. - Eagerly we cast our eyes over the ground to our front, and with pride in our hearts thought of that gallant little force which had advanced across this plain on that eventful morn under a terrific fire from the enemy's guns.

Soon we reached the entrenchments which had been thrown up by the rebels to bar the progress of our soldiers, and, lying in all directions, we saw numerous skeletons of men and horses, the bones already bleached to whiteness from the effects of the burning sun. Dead bodies of camels and oxen were also strewn about, and the stench was sickening. We were now about four miles from Delhi, and were met by a squadron of the 6th Carabineers, sent to escort us into camp. They received us with a shout of welcome, and, while we halted for a short time, inquiries were made as to the incidents of the siege.

We learnt that our small army, with the tenacity of a bulldog, was holding its own on the ridge overlooking the city, that sorties by the rebels were of almost daily and nightly occurrence, and that the losses on our side were increasing.

With the Carabineers in our front, the march was continued, the white tents of the besieging force appearing in sight about eight o'clock. Then the band struck up "Cheer, boys, cheer!" and, crossing the canal by a bridge, we entered the camp.

Crowds of soldiers, European as well as native, stalwart Sikhs and Punjabees, came down to welcome us on our arrival, the road on each side being lined with swarthy, sun-burnt, and already war-worn men. They cheered us to the echo, and in their joy rushed amongst our ranks, shaking hands with both officers and men.

[Footnote 1: The heat even under such cover was intense, averaging 115 deg. Fahr.]