- Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters 1914-18 edited by David Omissi
Macmillan, 416 pp, £17.50, April 1999, ISBN 0 333 75144 2
From the recollections of the Roman centurion who tells his story to the children in Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, we learn that a Libyan cohort, the Thirds, were stationed as part of the garrison on Hadrian’s Wall, and that when crisis comes and the ships of the Winged Hats attack out of the north, these troops were faithful and resolute: they ‘stood up in their padded cuirasses and did not whimper’. They must have felt the cold, poor devils, as did the two Indian Army corps, more than a hundred thousand men, stationed in Northern France during the damp and bitter winters of 1915 and 1916. But those troops, too, stood to it and did their duty.
Vol. 21 No. 21 · 28 October 1999
In an otherwise excellent review of Indian Voices of the Great War (LRB, 2 September) John Bayley defines ‘jemadar’ as a junior NCO. In fact the grade of jemadar is very similar to that of lieutenant.
Vol. 21 No. 22 · 11 November 1999
Thomas Ingram says that the grade of jemadar is similar to that of lieutenant (Letters, 28 October). A jemadar was a VCO or Viceroy’s Commission Officer. There were three ranks: jemadar, subadar and subadar-major. They wore respectively one, two and three small ‘pips’ on their shoulders. They ranked between NCOs and officers proper (King’s Commission). They had no equivalent British Army rank. Posted as a gunner sergeant to a Sikh company in 1942, I was a complete anomaly. When travelling with the Jemadar and a number of soldiers in a truck the question as to who would sit in front with the driver always presented itself. With a slight bow I would say, ‘After you, Jemadar sahib,’ and he, dignified, grey-bearded, would say: ‘No. After you, Sergeant sahib.’ A little more politeness and then we would both uncomfortably squeeze in together. Incidentally, with my dinner I was always served ‘jemadar chapatis’, which were smaller and thinner than those prepared for the troops.