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The History of Lumsden's Horse
A complete record of the corps from its foundation to its disbandment edited by Henry H. S. Pearse, War Correspondent


To Lumsden’s Horse belongs the high honour of having represented all India in a movement the magnitude and far-reaching effects of which we are only beginning to appreciate. While the stubborn struggle for supremacy in South Africa lasted, no true sons of the Empire allowed themselves to count the cost. Some were prepared to pay it in blood, others in. treasure, to make success certain, and none allowed himself to harbour even the shadow of a thought that failure, with all its inevitable disasters, could befall us so long as the Mother Country and her offshoots held together. At the outset only those blessed with exceptional foresight could have believed in the completeness of a federation the elements of which were bound together by no other ties than sentiment. Selfish interests were merged in combined efforts for the common weal, and, while the necessity for action lasted, few cared to reckon the price they were paying for an idea.

Even the long-looked-for advent of Peace has hardly brought home to us a knowledge of all that War in South Africa meant, not only in a military sense, but also in its greater imperial significance. The men who fought and bled for the noble sentiment of British brotherhood never dreamed that they were doing more than duty demanded, though they had perhaps given up every chance of success in life to answer the call of patriotism; and among those who stayed at home there are millions untouched by the bitterness of personal bereavement who can have no conception of the sacrifices that were made to keep our Empire whole. Casualty lists, with all their details of killed and wounded, do not tell half the story. To know it all we must dig deep into the private records of every contingent, British and Colonial, that volunteered for active service, and deeper still to fathom the motives of men who, when their country seemed to need them, threw aside all other considerations and rallied to her standard.

Continental critics may sneer at us for making much of this idea, but none know better than they do the difference between loyalty expressed in such a noble form and the mere instinct of self-preservation that too often passes current for patriotism. They tell us that it is every citizen’s duty to be a soldier and every soldier’s duty to die, if necessary, for his country, but when they see self-governing nations from every quarter of the world coming into line by their own free will and all welded together by one sentiment, they have no better name for it than lust of empire. Nevertheless, they know it for what it is, a thing of which they had previously no conception, and they recognise in the impulses that led to this mighty manifestation the secret of Great Britain’s world-wide power. Let envious rivals say what they will. Let them magnify our reverses and minimise our triumphs, if the process pleases them. In spite of everything, the South African War stands a great epoch of an age that will some day come to be reckoned among the greatest in British History, and all who have helped towards the shaping of events at this memorable time can at least claim to have earned the gratitude of posterity.

And India may well be proud of her share in the work. Measured by the mere number of men whom she sent to the war, her contribution seems perhaps comparatively small; but when we remember the sources from which that contingent was drawn, the munificence of gifts from Europeans and natives alike for its equipment and maintenance, and all the sacrifices that war service involved for every member of the little force, we cannot but admire the spirit that called it into being. A great crisis was not necessary to convince us that British residents in India would fight, if called upon, with all the valour that distinguished Outram’s Volunteers of old. Few, however, would have been bold enough to predict that for any conceivable cause hundreds of men would readily relinquish all that they had struggled for, give up the fruits of half a life’s labour, and calmly face the certainty of irreparable losses, without asking for anything in return except the opportunity of serving their country on a soldier’s meagre pay. Still less could anybody have imagined that a time might come when Indian natives, debarred from the chance of proving their loyalty by personal service, would give without stint towards a fund for equipping a force to fight in a distant land against the enemies of the British Raj. If Indian princes had been permitted to raise troops for the war in South Africa, our Eastern contingent would have numbered thousands instead of hundreds. What natives were not allowed to give in men they gave in cash and in substance, according to their means, thereby showing that they were with us in a desire to defend the Empire against any assailant. In reality this meant more than an offer of armed forces, and to that extent it was worthy to rank with the self-sacrifice of Anglo-Indians who gave personal service, and thereby took upon themselves a burden the weight of which cannot be readily estimated. It must not be forgotten that raising a corps of Volunteers in India is a very different matter from the enrolment of a similar force at home, or wherever there are dense populations and ‘leisured classes’ to be drawn upon. There are no idle men in India, everyone having gone there to fill an appointment and earn his livelihood. When the call came, therefore, it could only be answered by sacrifices or not at all, and nobody is more conscious of this fact than the man whose laconic appeal for Volunteers brought three or four times more offers than he could possibly accept. In his opinion ‘the men who vacated appointments worth from 300 to 500 rupees a month and went to fight for their country on 1s. 2p. a day have given a much larger contribution to the War Fund than they could afford.’ As an instance he mentions three members of the medical profession, Doctors Charteris, Moorhouse, and Woollright, each of whom threw up a lucrative practice and joined the ranks as a trooper. These are not exceptional but simply typical cases. Scores of other men gave up equally remunerative appointments with the same noble unselfishness to enrol themselves in Lumsden’s Horse.

To Colonel Lumsden alone belongs the honour of having evoked this splendid manifestation of patriotic feeling. The idea of forming a corps of Indian Volunteers was his; and though similar thoughts may have been in many minds at the same moment, nobody had given a practical turn to them until his message—electric in every sense—startled all Anglo-Indians into active and cordial co-operation. How all that came about will be told with fuller circumstances in its proper place, but some reference must be made here to the man whose firm faith in the patriotism and soldierly qualities of Indian Volunteers led him to the inception of a scheme which events have so abundantly justified.

Lieutenant-Colonel Dugald McTavish Lumsden, C.B., needs no introduction to the East, where the best, and perhaps the happiest, years of his life have been spent. Without some details concerning him, however, completeness could not be claimed for any record of the corps which is now identified with his name. The eldest son of the late Mr. James Lumsden, of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, he was born in 1851. At the age of twenty-two he obtained an appointment on the Borelli Tea Estate, in the Tezpur District of Assam, and sailed for India. Consciously or unconsciously, he must have taken with him some military ambitions imbibed through intimate association with leaders of the Volunteer movement in Scotland. At any rate, he soon became known as a keen Volunteer in the land of his adoption, and when in 1887 the Durrung Mounted Rifles was formed, he was given a captaincy. A year later that corps lost its identity, as other local units did, in the territorial title of Assam Valley Light Horse, with Colonel Buckingham, C.I.E., as commandant, while Captain Lumsden got his majority and took command of F Squadron in the Durrung District. Subsequently he commanded the regiment for a time, and, though he left India in 1893, he did not lose touch with his old comrades. Every year he returned to spend the cold weather among his friends in Assam, showing always undiminished interest in the welfare of his old regiment. Thus, when the time came for a call to active service, he had no sort of doubt what the response would be from the hardy, sport-loving planters of Northern Bengal. Himself an enthusiastic  and first-rate shot, he knew how to value the qualities that are developed in hunting and stalking wild game. And his experience of Indian Volunteers was not confined to his own district. He knew every corps in Bengal by reputation, and could thus gauge with an approach to accuracy the numbers on which he would be able to draw for the formation of an Indian contingent. Much travel in many lands had also made him a good judge of men, as evidenced by the first thing he did when the idea of calling upon India to take up her share of the Imperial burden came to him.

At that time he was travelling in Australia, and had no means of knowing how deeply the feelings of British residents and natives of the East had been stirred by news of the reverses to our arms in South Africa. The dark days of Stormberg and Magersfontein had thrown their shadow over Australia as over England, chilling the hearts of people who until then had refused to believe that British troops could be baulked by any foes, notwithstanding the stern lesson of Ladysmith’s investment. Through that darkness they were groping sullenly towards the light, and wondering what national sacrifices would have to be made before the humiliation could be wiped out. It is in such moments of emergency that natural leaders come to the front. Among the few in England or the Colonies who realised the military value of Volunteers was Colonel Lumsden. Though thousands of miles away from the scenes of early associations, his thoughts turned at once to the bold riders and skilful marksmen with whom he had so often shared the exciting incidents of the chase. He made up his mind at once that the planters, on whose spirit he could rely, were the very men wanted for South African fighting. On the parade ground they might not be all that soldiers whose minds are fettered by rules and traditions would desire, but he knew how long days of exercise in the open air at their ordinary avocations, varied by polo, pig-sticking, and big-game hunting, had toughened their fibre and hardened their nerves. He could count on every one of them also for keen intelligence, which he rightly regarded as more important than mere obedience to orders, where every man might be called upon to think and act for himself. Colonel Lumsden would be the last to depreciate Regular soldiers, or undervalue their discipline, but experience had taught him that men who can exercise self-restraint and develop powers of endurance for the mere pleasure of excelling in manly sports, adapt themselves readily enough to military duties. To them, at any rate, the prospect of hardships or privations would be no deterrent, the imminence of danger only an additional incentive. On December 15, 1899 — a day to be afterwards borne in mournful memory—Colonel Lumsden made up his mind that the time for action had come to every Briton who could see his way to giving the Mother Country a helpful hand. He cabled at once to his friend Sir Patrick Playfair in Calcutta his proposal to raise a corps of European Mounted Infantry for service in South Africa, and backed it with an offer, not only to take the field himself, but to contribute a princely sum in aid of a fund for equipping any force the Government might sanction. Then, without waiting to know whether his sendees had been accepted, he took passage by the next steamer for India.

The History of Lumsden's Horse
A complete record of the corps from its foundation to its disbandment edited by Henry H. S. Pearse, War Correspondent (1903) (pdf)

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