ON THE MARCH
After the excitement of the late executions we were prepared to relapse into our usual state of inaction and monotony, when, on the morning of June 13, a courier arrived from Lahore, the headquarters of the Executive Government of the Punjab. He brought instructions and orders from Sir John Lawrence to the Brigadier commanding at Ferozepore to the effect that a wing of Her Majesty's 61st Regiment was to proceed at once to reinforce the army under Sir Henry Barnard, now besieging the city of Delhi.
That force, on June 8, had fought an action with the mutineers at Badli-ki-Serai, four miles from Delhi, driving them from their entrenched position and capturing thirteen guns. The siege of the Mohammedan stronghold had begun on the next day, but the small band of English, Sikhs, and Goorkhas which composed the force was quite inadequate to the task entrusted to it, and, in truth, could do nothing but act on the defensive against the horde of rebellious sepoys, who outnumbered them by four to one.
It may be conceived with what joy the order to advance was received by the officers and men of my regiment. We had at length a prospect of entering upon a regular campaign, and the hearts of all of us beat high at the chance of seeing active service against the enemy.
To the Colonel commanding it was left to select the five companies composing a wing of the corps to march to Delhi. All, of course, were eager to go, and we knew there would be heart-burnings and regrets amongst those left behind.
The following companies were chosen out of the ten: Grenadiers, Nos. 2, 3, 7, and the Light Company. They were the strongest in point of numbers in the regiment, and with the fewest men in hospital, so that it could not be said that any favouritism in selection was shown by the Colonel. The wing numbered, all told, including officers and the band, 450 men - a timely reinforcement, which, together with the same number of Her Majesty's 8th Foot from Jullundur, would increase materially the army before Delhi.
No time was lost in making preparations for the march. Our camp equipage was ready at hand, a sufficient number of elephants, camels, and oxen were easily procured from the commissariat authorities, and by eight o'clock that evening we were on our way.
In those days a European regiment on the line of march in India presented a striking scene. Each corps had its own quota of camp-followers, numbering in every instance more than the regiment itself, so that transport was required for fully 2,000 souls, and often when moving along the road the baggage-train extended a mile in length. The camp, when pitched, covered a large area of ground. Everything was regulated with the utmost order, and the positions of the motley group were defined to a nicety.
We had been directed to take as small a kit as possible, each officer being limited to two camels to carry his tent and personal effects. Our native servants accompanied us on the line of march, and I must here mention that during the long campaign on which we were about to enter there was not one single instance of desertion among these faithful and devoted followers.
Everything being ready, we paraded a little before sunset on the evening of June 13. The terrible heat which prevailed at this time of the year prevented us from marching during the day-time. Moreover, it was necessary to preserve the health of the soldiers at this critical period, when every European in India was required to make head against the rebels. So on every occasion when practicable the English regiments moving over the country marched at night, resting under cover of their tents during the day.
Shortly after sunset, we bade adieu (an eternal one, alas! for many of the gallant souls assembled) to the comrades we were leaving behind; the band struck up, and we set off in high spirits on our long and arduous march of more than 350 miles.
The night, as usual, was close and sultry, with a slight hot wind blowing; but the men stepped out briskly, the soldiers of the leading company presently striking up a well-known song, the chorus of which was joined in by the men in the rear. We marched slowly, for it was necessary every now and then to halt so as to allow the long train of baggage to come up; and it was nearly sunrise before we reached the first halting-ground. The camp was pitched, and we remained under cover all day, starting, as before, soon after sunset.
And thus passed the sixteen days which were occupied in reaching Delhi. Every precaution was taken to prevent surprise, as we were marching, to all intents and purposes, through an enemy's country, and expected attacks on our baggage from straggling bodies of mutineers.
June 18. - At Loodianah, five marches from Ferozepore, and which we reached on June 18, we were fortunate enough to find more comfortable quarters, the men moving into some of the buildings which had formerly been occupied by Her Majesty's 50th Regiment, the officers living in the Kacherri.
Here, behind tatties and under punkas, and with iced drinks, we were able to keep pretty cool; but, sad to say, soon after our arrival in the station that terrible scourge cholera broke out in our ranks, and in a few hours six men succumbed to this frightful malady. On every succeeding day men were attacked and died, so that, unhappily, up to July 1 we lost in all thirty gallant fellows.
This disease never left us during the entire campaign; upwards of 250 soldiers of my regiment fell victims to the destroyer; nor were we entirely free from it till the end of the year. Many more were attacked, who recovered, but were debarred through excessive weakness from serving in the ranks, and were invalided home.