Wednesday, 18 September 2013

General Havelock

Here's another London statue to go with the one of Clive. This one is in Trafalgar Square. (The pigeon on his head is a clue.) It commemorates General Havelock. He commanded the column sent to the relief of the Cawnpore garrison, arriving just after the massacre of the women and children.

Havelock was a small man, rather stiff in his bearing as well as his manner. People who knew him said that the statue in Trafalgar Square was a reasonable likeness, except that it showed him clean shaven, while he actually had a moustache and a full beard, both vividly white against his tan.

Havelock was rather a stuffy, pompous man, not greatly admired by his troops. His wife was the daughter of Christian missionaries and he became a Baptist, being baptised in India. His proselytising Christianity typified the mid-19th century approach to religion in India, which contributed to the tensions that led to the Mutiny.

Despite the reservations many people held about his personality (he had been slow to be promoted to command), he proved a sound strategist. His march from Benares to Cawnpore – almost 200 miles in the heat of an Indian summer – was a remarkable achievement. The troops showed undoubted valour in their advance through hostile countryside in conditions that saw many die from heatstroke and cholera. At the same time, their behaviour toward civilians was appalling. There were almost indiscriminate attacks on villages and individuals believed (often with no evidence at all) to have assisted the rebels.

Havelock made considerable use of spies to gain information about the enemy as he advanced. As he approached Cawnpore, a spy named Anjoor Tewaree gave him information about the Nana Sahib's positions, which enabled Havelock to crush the last opposition standing between him and the town. The incident appears in Cawnpore as Williamson tries to redeem himself for standing by as the Europeans were killed.
I had removed my turban and made a bundle of my uniform jacket, so when I ran into General Havelock’s scouts, they did not shoot me before I had time to greet them as friends and tell them that I had urgent information for their general.
“Have you, indeed? And who the hell are you, when you’re at home.”
I opened my mouth to give my name and then I hesitated. As soon as I was known as John Williamson, I would be gathered back into the bosom of the European community. What then of Mungo, waiting trustingly for me to return to him? What of Amy Horne? Even Jonah Shepherd’s life was safer for as long as I could pay his jailer to make sure he came to no harm.
I had a whole life as Anjoor Tewaree. I had friends and responsibilities. I had someone who loved me. It was, I knew, a life that couldn’t last. One day I would have to return to the world I had known before Mungo, but not today. When Anjoor Tewaree departed this earth, he would not be sacrificed to a brutal trooper like this fellow.
“I am Anjoor Tewaree,” I said. “I have intelligence of the enemy’s position and it is vital that I give it to the General as soon as may be.”
While we were talking, an officer had ridden over and now demanded to know what was going on. I gave him a quick summary of my news and he recognised its importance immediately. Ten minutes later, I was standing before General Havelock.
The British were making a quick breakfast of biscuit and beer, anxious to be on the march. The General must have eaten already, for he was on his feet when I was brought before him. Short, like Wheeler, he seemed to stand constantly at attention, brimming with an energy that belied his white hair and the evidence of age in his craggy features. He scarcely deigned to look at me but barked questions about the exact placement of artillery, the numbers in each of the units and the morale of the men. He asked about fodder for the horses (we had none but that close to the Ganges would have no trouble foraging) and the condition of the ground (firmer where it drained into the river, marshier on the other flank). There was question after question and I was not sure that he really attended to my answers until he bent down and, with a stick, sketched an astonishingly accurate map of the rebel positions in the dust at his feet.
“Is that right?”
“Yes, sir, you’ve got it exactly.”
“Good man. Well done.” And he just turned away.
I hesitated for a moment and the trooper who had escorted me hissed in my ear. “You’re dismissed, you little runt. Now bugger off.”

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