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Hira Singh : when India came to fight in Flanders   By: (1879-1940)

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HIRA SINGH

WHEN INDIA CAME TO FIGHT IN FLANDERS

BY TALBOT MUNDY

Author of

King of the Khyber Rifles, The Winds of the World, etc.

ILLUSTRATED BY

J. CLEMENT COLL

PREFACE

I take leave to dedicate this book to Mr. Elmer Davis, through whose friendly offices I was led to track down the hero of these adventures and to find the true account of them even better than the daily paper promised.

Had Ranjoor Singh and his men been Muhammadans their accomplishment would have been sufficiently wonderful. For Sikhs to attempt what they carried through, even under such splendid leadership as Ranjoor Singh's, was to defy the very nth degree of odds. To have tried to tell the tale otherwise than in Hira Singh's own words would have been to varnish gold. Amid the echoes of the roar of the guns in Flanders, the world is inclined to overlook India's share in it all and the stout proud loyalty of Indian hearts. May this tribute to the gallant Indian gentlemen who came to fight our battles serve to remind its readers that they who give their best, and they who take, are one.

T. M.

One hundred Indian troops of the British Army have arrived at Kabul, Afghanistan, after a four months' march from Constantinople. The men were captured in Flanders by the Germans and were sent to Turkey in the hope that, being Mohammedans, they might join the Turks. But they remained loyal to Great Britain and finally escaped, heading for Afghanistan. They now intend to join their regimental depot in India, so it is reported.

New York Times, July, 1915

Hira Singh

CHAPTER I

Let a man, an arrow, and an answer each go straight. Each is his own witness. God is judge. EASTERN PROVERB.

A Sikh who must have stood about six feet without his turban and only imagination knows how stately he was with it loomed out of the violet mist of an Indian morning and scrutinized me with calm brown eyes. His khaki uniform, like two of the medal ribbons on his breast, was new, but nothing else about him suggested rawness. Attitude, grayness, dignity, the unstudied strength of his politeness, all sang aloud of battles won. Battles with himself they may have been but they were won.

I began remembering ice polished rocks that the glaciers once dropped along Maine valleys, when his quiet voice summoned me back to India and the convalescent camp beyond whose outer gate I stood. Two flags on lances formed the gate and the boundary line was mostly imaginary; but one did not trespass, because at about the point where vision no longer pierced the mist there stood a sentry, and the grounding of a butt on gravel and now and then a cough announced others beyond him again.

"I have permission," I said, "to find a certain Risaldar major Ranjoor Singh, and to ask him questions."

He smiled. His eyes, betraying nothing but politeness, read the very depths of mine.

"Has the sahib credentials?" he asked. So I showed him the permit covered with signatures that was the one scrap of writing left in my possession after several searchings.

"Thank you," he said gravely. "There were others who had no permits. Will you walk with me through the camp?"

That was new annoyance, for with such a search as I had in mind what interest could there be in a camp for convalescent Sikhs? Tents pitched at intervals a hospital marquee a row of trees under which some of the wounded might sit and dream the day through these were all things one could imagine without journeying to India. But there was nothing to do but accept, and I walked beside him, wishing I could stride with half his grace.

"There are no well men here," he told me. "Even the heavy work about the camp is done by convalescents."

"Then why are you here?" I asked, not trying to conceal admiration for his strength and stature.

"I, too, am not yet quite recovered."

"From what?" I asked, impudent because I felt desperate. But I drew no fire.

"I do not know the English name for my complaint," he said... Continue reading book >>




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