Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Drums of the Fore and Aft

I have recently been re-reading some of Rudyard Kipling’s short stories and one that particularly struck a note with me was THE DRUMS OF THE FORE AND AFT.

The story is about a British infantry battalion (the wonderfully named ‘The Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Anspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry’) that has served for many years in India, but which has not seen active service during that time. During a period of unrest on the North West Frontier, the battalion is sent to form part of a brigade – along with battalions from a Highland Regiment and a Gurkha Regiment – to mount a punitive raid into Afghanistan. Although the battalion is physically fit and keen to get into battle, it lacks experience from the top down.

The ‘drums’ mentioned in the title of the story are two drummer boys, Jakin and Lew (an interesting choice of names!). They are renown throughout the regiment for their bad behaviour (swearing, smoking, and fighting) and are generally disliked by the other drummers in the Regimental Band. They are only allowed to accompany the battalion on campaign after they manage to persuade the colonel to permit them to do so.

Once on campaign the battalion discovers that fighting the Afghans is much more difficult than expected. The terrain is dry and harsh, and the constant sniping begins to take its toll on the men and the morale of the battalion. When the battalion finally gets to grips with the enemy in a set-piece battle, it is allocated the central position in the brigade.

During its advance the inexperience of the officers and men leads them to make mistakes, and the battalion ends up in close combat with the Afghans. The fighting is terrible … and the battalion’s morale cracks and the men begin to fall back. Several officers try to stem the flight, but are either killed by the Afghans or retreat with their men.

Amongst those left behind by the retreat are Jakin and Lew, who can best be described as ‘having taken drink’. Not knowing what else to do, the drummers begin marching up and down in full sight of both the Afghans and the battalion playing ‘The British Grenadiers’. The sight of this apparent disregard for the enemy and sheer bravery on the part of the two drummer boys helps the battalion to regain its morale, and it returns to the attack with such vigour that the Afghans flee. Unfortunately the two ‘heroes’ are killed by Afghan rife fire before the rest of the battalion reach them, and their bodies are buried at the head of the battalion’s mass grave for the fallen of the battle.

The events of the story are not true … but at the same time they do reflect the sort of actions (and reactions) British infantry regiments experienced on the North West Frontier. The full text of the story is available online at Project Gutenberg as part of Rudyard Kipling's SOLDIER STORIES, and I thoroughly recommend reading it.

12 comments:

  1. I love Kipling's "Barrack-Room Ballads" and "Departmental Ditties" . . . a lot of wonderful poems there.

    Read "A Code of Morals" for a nice chuckle.


    -- Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just read this story a few weeks ago, having downloaded the eBook.. as you say, wonderful stuff!!
    Kind regards
    Robin

    ReplyDelete
  3. I always get a little misty eyed reading that one.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the recommendation! Downloaded now (to add to a growing list of e-books to read along with growing stacks of analog books to read. ha ha)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Can't beat Kipling, I have collection of his work - great stuff - 'Boots, boots, boots, boots etc ;)

    Regards,
    Monty

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bluebear Jeff,

    There is a lot of wonderful stuff in Kipling's stories and poems ... and it is a great pity that his work is not as widely read as it should be these days.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  7. Robin Sutton,

    I am glad that you enjoyed it ... and I hope that you enjoy some of his other work as well.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  8. Conrad Kinch,

    I know exactly what you mean.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  9. Fitz-Badger,

    I strongly advise you to read it as soon as you can, as I am sure that you will enjoy it.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  10. Monty,

    There are so many good stories and poems that it is difficult to select a favourite ... but one of mine is THE WIDOW AT WINSOR.

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks, Bob!
    I do enjoy Kipling, and, yes, I have Kipled before...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Fitz-Badger,

    I thought that you would enjoy it!

    I do love Mr Kipling ... and his cakes are not to bad either!

    All the best,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete