Friday, 30 September 2011

The Volunteers, 1860

By Frederick Daniel Hardy (1826 – 1911)
See these children, take them, take them outside, strip them, strip them all. Then take them, drag them, to the open field with the canons prepared, lined up, ready. Shackle them to the barrels, make the ropes tight, their fate is preordained. There will be no entreaties, no pleas for mercy.

Call the drummer to strike up and to his beat light the fuses; one-by-one. Now watch their little bodies be blown to bits in a cloud of bloody smoke. All that will be left is their arms and legs, their blackened heads falling to the ground with a resounding thud. And the air filled with smoke, dust and a mist of blood; listen to the unholy echo, fading.

Of course I would not do this to these particular children, to my children, to these little darlings playing here. But I did it, not so long ago, to young men not that much older; men with brown skins and smelling foreign. Such an act might have been in the newspapers had it been performed in this country. But it was not; no such act is noteworthy when performed far away in India. Out of sight of civilisation and as revenge for a mutiny.

I remember long ago marching behind a similar drum as a child, dreaming of the intransigence of empire and of service to God and country; of the noble deed and valour in the face of the heathen. As we youngsters played the rest of the family gaily watching on; cheering. Later, of growing up, so quickly growing up, and that joyful moment of enlistment, and the tears when I first walked off, so proudly, to the railway station.

My father, here, standing behind me, was also a military man, but he never hinted at the miserable reality, not then in this our bright playroom. But I, also, am too ashamed to speak.

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