THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

92 posts categorized "War"

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

10 August 2017

First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition

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The exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage features extracts from letters written by two soldiers of the 33rd Punjab Regiment fighting on the Western Front during the First World War. The Censor of Indian Mails gathered information about the morale of the soldiers, and would prepare regular reports for the information of Government and the Army, appending translated extracts of soldier’s letters to illustrate his reports. The Censor’s reports and soldier’s letters are part of the India Office Records held at the British Library.

Punjab Regiment Photo 24-(352)
A Punjab regiment on the march in Flanders, 6 September 1915; Photographer: H. D. Girdwood. British Library: Photo 24(352)

The Punjab Regiment suffered heavy casualties in the fierce fighting in Flanders in 1915, and the letters reflect the extreme stress the two soldiers were experiencing. Of these letters and others from soldiers of the 33rd Punjabis, the Head Censor commented that the writers appeared to be dejected, and that the regiment had lost nearly all its British officers. Subadar Pir Dad Khan wrote in Urdu from the front on 2 October 1915 that “This country, which is in the likeness of Paradise, now seems to me worse than Hell! (because of the bad news which comes from the Regiment)”.

Ior!l!mil!5!825!6_f065v
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France: Vol 1, IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, folio 999

Jemadar Ghulam Hassan Khan was writing to a friend or family member in Rawalpindi in the Punjab in early October 1915. He wrote that he arrived in France on 19 September 1915, and by 23 September he had reached the trenches. The regiment immediately went into action, suffering great losses, but achieving a good name for itself. Writing close to the trenches, he noted that “It rains day and night - both sorts of rain. I cannot describe it. If God is merciful to me, I will escape with my life, otherwise not. To describe what is happening is one thing, to see it for yourself is an entirely different matter. Even if I were to write a whole book about it, it would fall short of the reality.” He went on to say that the men were fully supplied with everything they wanted in the way of food, matches, tobacco, etc., but that “The cold is what we suffer from most, besides the constant rain and hail of shells. I cannot complain to anyone except God.” A note by the Censor at the end of the letter says that the letter was passed by the Regimental Censor, but subsequently withheld. This was more than likely due to Ghulam Hassan Khan’s closing instruction to his correspondent to arrange a code so they could communicate with each other more secretly.

Connecting Stories is at the Library of Birmingham until 4 November 2017. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.

The reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, including extracts from soldiers’ letters can be found online.
 
John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further information:
Reports of the Censor of Indian Mails in France, Aug-Oct 1916 [IOR/L/MIL/5/825/6, folios 980-981, 999]
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

06 July 2017

The roaring Dutch lion breaks the English chains

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This year marks the 350th anniversary of the raid on the Medway during the Second Anglo Dutch War (1666-1667).  A Dutch squadron commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter made a daring raid on the English fleet, capturing a fort at Sheerness, breaking the chain boom at Gillingham, capturing the Unity and Royal Charles, and burning thirteen English ships.

A new exhibition Breaking the Chain at the Historic Dockyards Chatham provides a unique opportunity to learn about the Battle of the Medway and its aftermath through items and objects from institutions in Britain and the Netherlands, including a number of items from the British Library.

  Evelyn  John
Provided by Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, via the Europeana Collections Portal CC By

Two of these items come from the John Evelyn papers, including a translation of the account of the Battle from Nicolaas Witsen’s Aeloude en hedendaegsche Scheeps-Bouw en Bestier, and Evelyn’s diary entry describing the battle. More information on the John Evelyn archive can be found here.

The following item is also taken from the Evelyn papers, but does not appear in the exhibition. Add MS 78393 ff 16-17 is a sketch showing the ships and fortifications at Chatham. Although not drawn by Evelyn, it has been annotated in his hand ‘Descent of the Dutch when they burnt our ships at Chatham 1666 [sic]’.

  Evelyn Add MS 78393  f 15
Add MS 78393, f 15. Evelyn’s pencil annotation can be seen in the left hand corner. CC By

Evelyn Add MS 78393  f 15 close-up
Add MS 78393, f 15. Close-up showing the fortifications along the river.  CC By

We also supplied a number of items providing a Dutch perspective, including a copy of De Complete Werken van Joost van Vondel, which features his celebratory poem De Zeeleeu op den Teems.

In addition to loaning physical items for exhibitions, institutions are often able to provide access to digital copies online. The Europeana Collections portal provides access to over 53 million digital objects from European heritage and cultural institutions, and includes several items relating to the Medway raid from the Rijksmuseum.

Alex Hailey
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

29 May 2017

Illuminations at East India House

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The end of the Crimean War in 1856 was celebrated in Britain with a national holiday on 29 May.  Public buildings in the City of London were fitted with splendid gas illuminations for the evening: the Post Office, Mansion House, Royal Exchange, Custom House, and East India House.

   East India House illuminations 1856

 Illuminations at East India House - Illustrated London News 31 May 1856

Matthew Digby Wyatt, Surveyor to the East India Company, was entrusted with the task of organising the illuminations at East India House in Leadenhall Street.  Four tenders were submitted to provide the equipment for hire or for purchase, ranging from £220 to £550. Wyatt chose the lowest purchase tender of £260 which came from James Meacock, a gas fitter based in Snow Hill.  Meacock was praised by Wyatt: ‘very great energy was displayed by the contractor in immediately getting the work in hand’.  The City of London Gas Company supplied the fuel, charging one penny per jet which included the cost of tapping the mains and supplying connectors.

  East India House illuminations 1856 - 2
London Evening Standard 30 May 1856 British Newspaper Archive

The illuminations consisted of ‘a stream of jets along the length of the building, with scroll-work inside of the pediment, and in Roman capitals the word “Peace”; underneath the pediment festoons and drapery going the whole length of the building’.  

Overall, Wyatt was  satisfied with the display.  He reported to the Company: ‘The whole of the fittings contracted for were completed by dusk on the evening of the 29th.  Unfortunately the wind exercised an influence adverse to the successful lighting especially during the early part of the evening but upon the whole the display was stated by the public press to have been of an effective description… So far as I have been enabled to ascertain the outlay for the Honourable Company’s illumination will be very far below the amounts incurred for the principal government Offices’.

The lighting equipment was carefully stowed away for future use.  However the magnificent East India House would not exist for much longer.  The entire building was demolished in 1862 after the India Office took over from the East India Company and decided to move to new headquarters in Whitehall.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Surveyor’s papers May-June 1856 IOR/L/SUR/1/3 ff.41, 53-54; IOR/L/SUR/2/1 ff. 478. 490-493.

 

09 May 2017

Exploits of the Queen’s Own Light Dragoons

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The India Office Records contain a wealth of information about the pre-independence Indian Army and the forces of the East India Company, but one small file from the parallel collection of private papers includes details of a British Army unit which took part in one of the most notorious disasters in this country’s military history.

Queen's Dragoons © IWM (Q 71582)

Men of the 4th Queen's Own Light Dragoons who received the Crimean Medal from Queen Victoria, 28 May 1855 - Healy Stratton, Sergeant D. Gillam, William Simpson and E.T. Moon. Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 71582)

Alongside a small number of ephemeral items is the Nominal Roll of the 4th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons, printed at the Regimental Press in Rawalpindi. Its nine pages list more than 300 officers, N.C.O.s and men ‘who embarked at Plymouth, for service in the EAST, on the 17th day of July 1854’. They sailed in the Simla under the command of Lt Col Lord George Paget, and included a paymaster, a surgeon, an assistant surgeon and a veterinary surgeon, four trumpeters and four farriers. Three columns give their regimental number, rank & name, and ‘Remarks’. When I noticed entries such as ‘Killed in Action, 25th October, 1854’, ‘Died at Scutari, 10th February, 1855’, and ‘Prisoner of War, 25th Oct., 1854, and died in Russia’, I realised that the 'East' in question is not India but the Crimea.

  Dragoons

Mss Eur C610 - Nominal Roll of the 4th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons

The individuals listed almost certainly took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. The tenth page gives a breakdown of casualties through to 30 April 1856, and shows that 21 of the Dragoons were killed (including two who died of wounds); 103 died of disease; eleven became prisoners of war; seven 'died in the hands of the Enemy'; and four 'suffered amputation'. It is noted laconically that Lieutenant H.S. Adlington 'Had two horses shot under him at Inkerman. Retired 4th March 1856'; that Sergeant W. Watson 'Died at Manchester, 10th October, 1859'; and that Privates J. Darby and J. Hammond were discharged respectively 'for general debility' (25 December 1856) and 'for insanity' (28 August, 1856), in contrast to Private J. Gilchrist, who was 'Discharged with ignominy, 15th February, 1860'. Three men – Privates J.E. Dray, G. Palmer and J. Wood – are identified as deserters.

It is a pity that the Roll does not mention the outstanding act of bravery performed by Private Samuel Parkes during the battle of Balaklava. Not only did he save the life of the dismounted trumpeter Crawford after his own horse had been killed by protecting him from two Cossacks, but later in the retreat he fought off six more enemy soldiers armed only with his sword. He was fittingly awarded the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 24 February 1857) and decorated by the Queen herself on 26 June. The Roll states that Crawford lived to fight another day and was discharged on 5 February 1861, whereas Parkes had been discharged three years earlier on 1 December 1857; he died on 14 November 1864.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading
Mss Eur C610 - Nominal Roll of the 4th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons
The Victoria Cross, 1856-1920, edited by Sir O’Moore Creagh (shelfmark OIA355.134)
The Victoria Cross in the Crimea,  Col. W.W. Knollys (10602.bb.30)

23 February 2017

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

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“Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe.”
- Letter in Malayalam by an Indian sepoy, August 1943, Central Mediterranean Forces.

Through letters exchanged between the home front and international battlefronts, Indian soldiers in the Second World War reveal themselves to be part of a mobile world. Military enlistment and its consequent legitimacy for travel open the door to foreign countries, and new ways of seeing. While the letters themselves become agents of communication between remote villages spread across India and theatres of war thousands of miles away, they also foreground soldiers as itinerant spectators, engaging in colonial encounters in new lands.  Travel becomes an affective experience, and Europe, viewed through eastern eyes, the site of intercultural exchange.

 © IWM NA 9418 Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943Italy - Wounded soldiers from 8th Indian Division being transported in the back of a lorry, 28 November 1943 © IWM (NA 9418)

A sepoy in the Central Mediterranean Forces, part of the Allied forces in Italy, writes: “As a reward for all our previous sufferings, Almighty brought us here to Sicily. We are supplied with British Troop rations. Sicily is a very fertile country. It is the Kashmir of Europe. Wherever you go, you will find groves of date palms and innumerable vineyards. The civilians are very sympathetic and kind hearted… The climate is very good, because it is an island in the Mediterranean Sea.… An Indian soldier is respected both for his fighting qualities and morale. The people here display no colour prejudice. The coloured are better loved than the white. Sanitation in Sicily is excellent. In our camps we enjoy radio music and cinema almost everyday. On the whole this is one of the happiest and most beautiful countries I have ever seen”.

   IWM E6547 Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941
Cyprus - Local children play with Indian troops manning a Bren gun carrier, 13 November 1941 © IWM (E 6547)

The verdant Italian landscape serves as a harmonious backdrop for amiable cross-cultural understanding that, nonetheless, indicates the presence of systemic inequalities during the war experience – in Indian soldiers’ rations contrasted to British troops, for instance. The extract also highlights the complexity of wartime hierarchies – being a colonial soldier on the victorious side destabilises racial structures to the extent that “the coloured” liberators become “better loved than the white.” And the rather idiosyncratic mention of Sicilian sanitation perhaps indicates its novelty to this soldier.

An Indian captain in the Auxiliary Pioneer Corps is similarly rapturous: “I am sitting under an olive tree and so many trees of almonds are standing near by. No sooner there is a slight wind than all the ripe almonds fall down on the ground. Vineyards are hanging everywhere. Birds are chirping and orchards are found all over the area round about us. Vegetables are in abundance and fruits are more than I can put in black and white. This is the first time in my life that my breakfast consists of almonds and grapes only… Our relations with the local inhabitants are cordial and they are very social”.  Here, the use of the present tense lends immediacy to this description of an Italian paradise’s mellow fruitfulness. Most significantly, both letters emphasise the restorative, albeit exoticised, potential of the natural world in a foreign land, seen through war-weary Indian eyes.

Diya Gupta
Third-year PhD researcher at King’s College London
Find out more in this short film 

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

 

16 February 2017

Thim Days Is Gone – a colonial memoir

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Patrick Tandy was a soldier and colonial administrator who wrote a memoir about his time in India and the Persian Gulf. The memoir has an arresting title: ‘Thim Days Is Gone’.

Tandy, an Irishman, was no lover of colonial ‘snobbery and pomposity’, as he explains in a preface: ‘The late Christabel, Lady Ampthill of blessed memory, answered the door-bell of her Castle of Dungorra in Connemara to find the coal-man on her door step. He said “Where do you want the coal, missus?” She drew herself up and replied “Kindly address me as your ladyship!” His answer was “Thim days is gone missus, where do you want the coal?”’

Mss Eur F226_28_0005

‘Thim Days Is Gone’ by Patrick Tandy. Mss Eur F 222/28, f 3.

Tandy had a career spanning the Royal Artillery, the North-West Frontier Province of India, and colonial administration in the Persian Gulf, where he was Political Officer, Trucial Coast, and later Political Agent, Kuwait. The memoir spans the years 1932-48, and was written in the 1980s.

We learn from Tandy’s colourful account, among other things, that the Urdu spoken by upwards of 90% of the British officers in India was in fact a language ‘almost unintelligible to the untutored Indian’, and Urdu-speaking recruits had to be taught by their fellow soldiers the ‘Sahib’s Urdu’ in order to understand their own officers (folio 6).

Amorous exploits include the ‘attractive blonde daughter’ of his boss, the Chief Commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, ‘whose marriage was going through a difficult period, and who had flown to the shelter of her mother’s wing. One could hardly have asked for more’ (folio 34).

Then there was the Maharajah who always wore gloves to shake hands with Europeans ‘in order to avoid defilement’ (folio 33).

Service during the Second World War with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) on the borders of Iran and Russia brought him into contact with a local official who had removed a cache of arms and ammunition from behind the walls of his house. He had then disguised the repair to the wall by hanging up a sanitary instrument, ‘more, one imagines, for convenience than ornamentation’. The same official also made home-brew vodka, which exploded when lit by a match (folio 86).

Attempts to organise Russian deserters for guerrilla operations foundered on the fact that if captured the deserters faced execution by their own side, by the Germans, or by anyone else.

Tandy’s transfer to Sharjah in the Trucial Coast involved a stopover at Bahrain, where he tells the story of an unnamed VIP, an apartment for off-duty air hostesses, and a two-way mirror (folio 96).

Much follows about social customs, local rulers, and the advent of the oil industry.

On folio 103 the Sheikh of Sharjah (a diabetic) is saved by an insulin injection from a Jewish doctor, and on folio 115 the Sheikh of Kuwait fortunately takes the right glass at a Royal Navy reception (all the others had gin in).

Tandy finally left Kuwait (and the Gulf) in 1948, when he handed over to ‘a young man from The Foreign Office who had no Arabic’, leaving him with the feeling that ‘an era had come to an end’.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Mss Eur F 226/28 'THIM DAYS IS GONE'
Biographical notes on Maurice Patrick O'Connor Tandy (1912-1986) can be found in Paul John Rich, Creating the Arabian Gulf: The British Raj and the Invasions of the Gulf (Lexington Books, 2009)
Diana Quick, A Tug on the Thread: From the British Raj to the British Stage. A Family Memoir (Virago Press, 2009).

 

 

24 January 2017

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

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Extracts from letters archived at the British Library, exchanged between the Indian home front and international battlefronts during the Second World War, become textual connectors linking the farthest corners of the Empire and imperial strongholds requiring defence against the Axis alliance.  Such letters map the breadth of a global war and plunge deep into the Indian soldier’s psyche, revealing ruptures in the colonial identity foisted on him.

Food dominates much of these epistolary conversations, with Indian soldiers reflecting on their army rations and diet abroad.  Rumours of a great and devastating famine sweeping India, and particularly Bengal, in 1943 reach them, despite censorship of news and letters.  A Havildar or junior officer, part of the Sappers and Miners unit, writes from the Middle East: “From my personal experience I can tell you that the food we get here is much better than that we soldiers get in India.  But whenever I sit for my meals, a dreadful picture of the appalling Indian food problem passes through my mind leaving a cloudy sediment on the walls of my heart which makes me nauseous and often I leave my meals untouched.”

1294231001

Representation of a family struck by the Bengal Famine of 1942 by Bangladeshi artist Zoinul Abedin. ©British Museum 2012,3027.1

The soldier highlights his solidarity with this imagined community of sufferers through images of his own body, and his reactions are expressed in physiological terms – he visualises the walls of his heart being covered with ‘cloudy sediment’ at the thought of food shortage in India.  In visceral terms, this is how he understands empathy.  The spectre of famine in India hovers, Banquo-like, before him every time he sits down to eat his rations carefully provided by the colonial British government; the projection of food deprivation in his homeland thousands of miles away reaches out and, almost literally, touches his heart, preventing him from eating.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220) A 'Hindoo' kitchen in Syria by Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, A Hindoo Kitchen: RIASC 8th, 10th and 12th Indian Mule Coys, Zghorta, Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220)

Another letter from a Havildar Clerk to relatives in South India relates the helplessness caused by famine to the extraordinary conditions of the wartime marketplace: “I am terribly sorry to learn about the food situation in India and it seems as if there is no salvation for me.  From my earliest days to the present time I have always been in this abyss of misery.  It was with grim determination to see you all free from poverty that I allotted my whole pay of Rs 85/- to you, but cruel Fate is determined to defeat me in all my purposes.  What is the use of money when we are unable to obtain the necessities of life in exchange for it?  The situation would drive even the most level-headed of us to madness and when we think of conditions in India we become crazy as lunatics.”

How can the soldier’s earnings help his family when ordinary people have been priced out of food because of soaring rates of wartime inflation?  The letter reveals both the economic bonds linking the Indian soldier’s participation in an imperial war, and the psychological despair of being unable to rescue loved ones from hardship – as traumatic for the soldier as the heavy fighting he witnesses on the battlefield.


Diya Gupta
PhD researcher at King’s College London

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

Find out more in this short film