Edwin Mole's Eyewitness Account
Edwin Mole wrote his autobiography entitled A King's Hussar: Being the Military Memoirs for Twenty-five Years of a Troop-sergeant-major of the 14th (King's) Hussars in 1893. The following account is drawn from this book.

Edwin Mole

Edwin Mole was born in Dudley, Worcestershire c1845, but his family moved to Hammersmith when he was 7 years old. He was apprenticed to a builder but left the job in 1863 and was recruited into the 14th Hussars by Sergeant Gibbs at Charing Cross. The regiment were at Aldershot at that time but Mole was taken to Manchester where he was seen by the CO, 'Old Beaky' Thompson. The men had recently returned from 19 years in 'Kalapoosh' their word for India. Mole found that he was the only man out of the 15 in his room who could read and write. He recounts in his memoirs the tribulations of learning to ride in the indoor riding school, without a saddle, on his allotted horse, 'Old Will' who was not concerned about making life easy for whoever was on his back. After a week of bareback riding they were given saddles without stirrups which was much harder because of the slippery leather.

Floggings and a Promotion

Mole describes two floggings that he witnessed when the regiment was at Hounslow. Both culprits were sentenced to 50 lashes with the cat-o-nine-tails in the presence of the entire regiment, and Mole found the spectacle sickening. In April 1867 the regiment marched north to Scotland over a period of 36 days. Whilst in Edinburgh they were kept busy guarding the ammunition stores and escorting important people because of the danger posed by Fenians. He was promoted to lance-corporal at that time and found life more difficult as a result. He had to lose his friends since fraternising with privates was not permitted, and his duties were increased, but his pay remained the same. He describes one 'very pleasant duty', being part of the escort party for Queen Victoria on her visit to Scotland.

Lance-Corporal Mole and the Queen

At Kelso the enthusiastic crowd managed to unharness the horses of Her Majesty's carriage and pull it along by manpower. The Queen stood up and 'laughed heartily', an anecdote that belies the commonly held opinion of Victoria. At Melrose Abbey, Mole's mare, Biddy, through lack of space had to rest its head inside the Queen's carriage. She was unconcerned and stroked the horse, giving Corporal Mole a pleasant smile. Mole was frozen in the saddle, 'stiff as marble'.

A Mutiny Suppressed

14th Hussars
Officers 1866
An unpleasant incident is described while they were in Glasgow to quell a Fenian disturbance. At the time the men were paid on a daily basis but had not received their pay for 3 days. The arrogant young major in charge was asked by the troop sergeant majors to pay the men but he refused and went to confront the hussars as they sat drinking in a hotel dining room. He challenged them to face him and state their grievance; their reply was to hurl bottles at him so that he was forced to retreat. The sergeant majors pleaded for calm and the men received their pay but it transpired that these senior NCOs provided the money from their own pockets. The unpopular major returned after a few hours and had a dozen men arrested and paraded through the streets in chains. They were court-martialled and sentenced to 2 years in prison. Their sentences, however were revoked before long and the major resigned the service.

The Battle of Curragh

In May 1868 the regiment was removed to Ireland. They sailed from Glasgow to Dublin and marched to Newbridge, located on the Liffey, a river well stocked with trout which was a delight to Mole, a keen fisherman. Two miles south of Newbridge was the Curragh of Kildare, a broad expanse of turf that suited cavalry manoeuvres very well. One field day in particular was memorable for a disastrous occurrence. Five cavalry regiments, ten infantry regiments and 40 field guns were ordered to 'attack' an enemy force on a ridge and drive them off. The infantry carried out this task, and part of the cavalry were split into two groups, the lancers in one and the hussars (including Mole's Troop) and dragoons in the other. They had to ride around either side of the ridge, converge on the other side, form a line and pursue the retreating enemy. But in the excitement of the galloping chase the two groups, instead of wheeling into line, crashed into each other. The lancers tried to avoid injuring the hussars by lowering their lances but this only caused the points to catch in the turf and unhorse the lancers. Mole found himself rolling around on the grass in a struggle with one of the lancers. Several men and horses were injured in the melee, and the General bawled out the officers who were blamed for the conflict. The large civilian group of spectators had been treated to a very realistic battle, but there was a danger that the clash could have caused a long-standing feud between regiments, but it was not the case and all ended amicably.

An Irish Election

One of the duties performed by the 14th Hussars was helping to deal with mobs at elections. At Brandon there were two nominations for the voters; Colonel Bernard, a member of the Earl of Brandon's family who stood for the Conservatives, and a barrister name Shaw who was the people's candidate. The working class did not have the vote but made their feelings known by shouting obscenities and throwing rocks at the constabulary. The British infantry and the hussars were on hand as an aid to the civil power. The voters came up the street, subjected to verbal abuse and intimidation but protected by the police. The hussars were required to stand by and watch as policemen were injured and had their uniforms torn from them, until news arrived that one of the committee rooms was being ransacked by another mob. The hussars rode off to where the trouble was at its worst. They were too late to save the rooms from being destroyed but met the rioters coming out, and laid into them. They had been ordered to use the flat of the sword but it is not clear if the troopers manage to restrain themselves from injuring the maddened Irishmen. However in the ensuing days there seemed to be no hard feelings and the local populace cheered the soldiers when they saw them as if they had been opponents in a game of rugby.

Promotion

When Mole was promoted to corporal he was given a pay rise, and was later put in charge of the young horses, about 30 animals which had to be trained as remounts. He worked under the supervision of the CO, Colonel Thompson who seemed to take a liking to Mole and soon promoted him again to lance-sergeant. This was a big step up as he now was dining in the sergeant's mess, enjoying much better food and was attended by mess waiters. He shared a room with two other sergeants instead of a crowded barrack room, and had a batman to groom his horse. The down side to this was that he was still paid a corporal's pay and he could not wear fatigues so that his better uniforms were subject to more wear. He had to pay a shilling a day to the sergeant's mess, and had also to pay his batman. But over all it was of great benefit because he now regarded himself as someone of superior class and with better prospects for marriage.

Any Pork in a Storm

In July 1870 the regiment moved from Longford to Cahir. While at Cahir Lance-Sergeant Mole was ordered to escort a prisoner to England. The man was a deserter from another regiment and Mole was required to give evidence at his court-martial. The steamer on which they travelled sailed from Waterford to Milford Haven, but there was a terrible storm that hampered the crossing so that by the third day they were still at sea and running out of coal. The only solution was to use the cargo of live pigs as fuel. Mole witnessed the first pig having its throat cut and hurled into the furness, 'where he frizzled and flared up in a way I would never have believed possible had I not seen it with my own eyes.' For the rest of his life he could never smell roast pork without thinking of that voyage. On the fourth day the ship was off course and the captain berthed her at Greenock.

Army Education

In 1871 education became compulsory for private soldiers. They all had to attend for one hour a day and achieve a 3rd class certificate to enable them to be promoted to lance-corporal. Also it became impossible for a man to reach the rank of full sergeant unless he could attain a 2nd Class certificate of education. This dismayed many old soldiers who were illiterate, but Mole was already well advanced in the three Rs so did not have to wait long for his promotion. At this time privates could earn their first good-conduct stripe after two years instead of three. Things changed for officers as well because the purchase of commissions ended and promotion was by seniority.

Dublin and Aldershot

Sergeant Mole was next posted to Dublin with his young horses and enjoyed the social life that the city had to offer. The various regimental sergeant's messes celebrated the anniversaries of battles by holding balls to which officers were invited. The 14th held their ball on the 22nd of November, being Ramnuggur day. Mole found that Ireland produced the prettiest women and became engaged to a young lady he met there. The Dublin posting lasted until June 1874 when they were removed to Aldershot. Here they were in the North Camp next to the 2nd Life Guards with whom the 14th had a strong association. The sergeants of the 14th were invited for an evening at the corporal's mess tent of the 2nd Life Guards (there are no sergeants in the Life Guards), many of the NCOs taking turns at singing. One turn was taken by a popular farrier sergeant of the 14th called Johnny Walker who was a veteran of the Second Sikh War of 1848. The CO, Colonel Thompson left the regiment in May 1875 much to Mole's regret

Guard Duty

Sergeant Mole was sent from Aldershot back to Dublin in 1875, escorting a prisoner, and while there took the opportunity to marry his fiancee. As the regiment were about to embark for India she remained in Ireland when he returned to the regiment which was now at Colchester. He was asked to act as sergeant of the guard when he arrived and took charge of the keys, being responsible for several prisoners locked in a 'dry room' and one high security prisoner in solitary confinement. This prisoner was called Wylie and lived up to his name, having attempted escape before. When a previous escape had been made by two prisoners the sergeant of the guard on that occasion was punished for failing in his duty, and reduced to the ranks. Mole took great care and kept a regular hourly check on Wylie but was worried that there was only one lock on his door. He sent a note to the adjutant requesting that Wylie be transferred to the dry room with the other prisoners where the door was more secure. The note came back with the officer's reply written on the back, refusing Mole's request. The hourly checks confirmed that the prisoner was still in bed but come the morning he had gone. Mole was placed under arrest and the next day brought before Lt-Col Campbell, the CO. He was asked if he had anything to say in his defence and he gave an account of the checks he made and the request he had made to transfer the prisoner. When asked for proof of this he was able to produce the note with the adjutant's refusal to comply. This was enough to clear his name and he was acquitted.

Embarkation for India, Jan 1876

Before they sailed for India in 1876 the men were examined by a doctor and vaccinated. Their weapons and accoutrements were inspected by agents of the Indian Government i.e. British officials appointed to govern India. Their horses were left behind and taken over by the 18th Hussars. There was an inspection by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge with words of commendation for past good conduct. Mole's wife joined him at Colchester, and Sergeant Mole was appointed NCO in charge of the advance party which set off on 3 Jan 1876, a snowy day. This party contained the women and children. They took the train to Portsmouth and embarked on the troop ship Euphrates. The next day the rest of the regiment arrived and were quartered on the main room deck, not, fortunately, the dark deck below which was occupied by infantry and artillery. The total number on board was 2,000. Mole assures us that there was room for everyone to be comfortable. Tables were dismantled at night and hammocks slung for the men. They had three meals a day with varying food, the favourite being salt beef and plum pudding. Fresh bread was baked twice a week, biscuits on other days. A pint of beer was allowed at dinner but no more alcohol could be bought. Other food could be purchased from the master-at-arms. The children were given bread every day and other treats like condensed milk, sago and arrowroot. Every evening the doors to the women's quarters were locked and guarded to prevent 'all ingress or egress'. The sergeant's wives were unhappy about having to live in close proximity to the wives of privates who they considered their social inferiors. The men were issued with special serge clothes for the voyage including a wicker and canvas helmet and sea soap for washing clothes in salt water. This however was paid for out of the soldiers pay.

The 30 Day Voyage to India

14th Hussars
Life on Board a Troopship
The great white ship Euphrates steamed out of harbour on a bitterly cold day while a band played and a crowd gathered to wave them off. At the forefront on the dock were girls with young children crying to see their fathers sail away. Some men had married without leave and these wives had to stay behind, not seeing their men for 10 years in this case. The channel trip was in rough seas but it became worse as usual in the Bay of Biscay. Many were seasick, especially the women and children, but things calmed down by the time they passed Cape St Vincent where they could hear church bells ringing. On Sundays there was a divine service on deck with all 2,000 in attendance singing heartily. Fire drill was taken very seriously and practiced often so that every man knew his allotted place on deck. Orders were piped by the bosun, and women and children ordered below. Sometimes the officers' wives would be reluctant to obey and some who had made themselves comfortable on deck were bodily lifted and carried below. Drills for abandoning ship were carried out in case of collision or shipwreck. There were an immense number of boats and rafts which were stocked with provisions and other gear, which could be launched quickly. They sailed through the Mediterranean, and near Malta Sergeant Mole's wife was given employment as an attendant to one of the officers' wives who was in poor health. The passage through the Suez Canal was hampered by groundings and haulings off, until the Red Sea was reached. Here the temperature caused problems for those sleeping below so that some were allowed to sleep on deck. At the Straits of Babel Mandeb they passed the troopship Malabar which was bringing the 18th Hussars away from India, and greetings were exchanged. After 30 days at sea they arrived at Bombay and took the train to Poonah and Bangalore.

Kalapoosh

After a 7 hour train ride they arrived at Poonah where a temporary camp was set up, their first experience of Kalapoosh, the old sweats' name for India. There was an inspection but the men were still in their shipboard clothes and presented a ragged spectacle. They also visited a memorial in the form of an obelisk, to the memory of the men and officers of the 14th who had died on the previous tour of duty there. The next journey was by train to Bangalore which was reached on 14 Feb 1876. They created a poor impression on the British and Indian population as they were still in their ragged outfits. Mole was provided with married quarters which was a house with sitting room, two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and separate cook's house at the rear. He was also pleased to have a garden. All married men were granted the perks of a foreign service marriage allowance; wives received 16 shillings a month and each child 5 shillings. His own sergeant's pay of 4 pounds a month was free of those 'vexatious deductions' that accrued in England. His messing bill was a penny a day, for vegetables, rice, tea, coffee, sugar etc. He received free nations of 2 pounds of meat and 2 of bread daily. He had to buy his hot weather uniform and mess bills of a shilling a month. He had at his disposal three Indian servants. The men had pay deductions, mostly for washing their kit, which in summer was white and needed frequent care. Their biggest problem was drink. They were restricted to 3 pints of beer a day and 2 drams of arak. They were able to obtain alcohol on the black market, a potent brew called Billy Stink because of its nasty smell. It cost ninepence a bottle, and a quart of it was apparently sufficient to drive six men raving mad.

A Soldier's Life

Mole has much to say on the way an English soldier had to adapt to life in 19th century India. Not only did each soldier have a personal servant but the horses were cared for by native grooms. The strength of the regiment was 6 Troops of 76 horses per Troop. The grooms, called 'syces' looked after 4 horses each, mostly greys, passed on to the 14th by the outgoing 18th Hussars. The men at first treated the natives badly, but maltreatment was soon stopped and anyone caught beating his syce was punished. The authorities were worried about the effect of the hot climate on the men so from 10am until 5pm they were free of duties and encouraged to stay indoors. Because of the lack of work the men were prey to idleness which gave them the opportunity to behave badly. The wives were in a worse position because they had no duties at all, everything was done by servants. Most of the soldiers wives were working class girls who had been brought up to work hard all day, and now they had nothing to do. Any woman convicted of adultery was shipped home and the husband had to give up married quarters and return to life in barracks with men who would not hold back with hurtful comments.

Drought and Famine

Mole's personal servant came to him under interesting circumstances. When the regiment arrived in India there was a drought which caused great hardship for the native population. They flocked into the station where the army were based and the government did their best to help and feed them. The water issued to soldiers was rationed. But when the soldiers were out and about they witnessed pitiful scenes, people in a skeletal state and corpses lying by the road. As Mole's Troop was exercising one day they saw a dead woman by the road with a dead child and another baby clutching at her breast. Her son, a boy of about 12 years old was standing by scaring the crows away. Mole ordered the chief syce, called a Muccuddum, to take the boy into his care but the man refused saying that the child's time had come and that he was destined to die there. Mole threatened to have the man sacked if he did not obey the order. Very reluctantly he seized the boy and lifted him onto his horse screaming and struggling. He was taken back to the lines and fed for two days. He improved enough to be brought to Mole's bungalow to act as his servant. He was named Harry and was taken under the wing of Kitty, his wife's maid, becoming over time a very useful member of the household. He lasted the whole period of time the 14th were in India and worked hard, faithfully and cheerfully, repaying Mole's kindness a hundredfold.

Death in the Regiment

The Commanding Officer, Lieut-Colonel Campbell fell ill within 6 months of the regiment arriving at Bangalore. After a short illness he died, so suddenly and unexpectedly that the officers and men were in deep shock. He was greatly admired by everyone because he did everything he could to encourage the men to avoid idleness. He organised activities and amusements to keep them occupied and thus reduced crime and drunkenness. On the day of his death there was silence and despondency throughout the station. All duty except for guard duty was cancelled for a week and no trumpet calls were sounded. His funeral was conducted in the same manner as that provided for a private on a previous occasion. The men paraded in full dress without arms except for 12 men carrying loaded carbines to fire a salute. A black horse was draped with a black velvet pall embroidered with a white skull and crossbones. On the bridle was fixed a plume of black ostrich feathers. Colonel Campbell's boots were dangled from the saddle, toes pointing backwards. The horse was led by two men cloaked in black by means of a handkerchief passed through the rings of the bit. The band had drums draped in black crepe and were muffled. The gun carriage was outside the mortuary with six horses, to draw the deceased, but before it was placed on the carriage the men filed past his open coffin before the lid was screwed down. Six officers carried it out to the gun carriage and draped it with the union flag. His sword and busby were placed on top. The cortege stepped off by the right foot instead of the left, slow marching as the band played the Dead March from Saul. At the grave the firing party fired three volleys into the air, at whispered commands, and reveille was sounded.

The New Commanding Officer

Life was much less enjoyable under the new CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Arbuthnot. His one aim was to bring the 14th Hussars to the highest state of efficiency and discipline, ready to go anywhere and do anything at 3 minutes notice. He dismissed all the native servants working in the barracks except those on the government payroll. Then he abolished the Thursday rest day, replacing it with a mounted parade. He ensured that the men became well drilled in the use of their new Martini Henry carbine. Drills and parade were much more frequent so the men spent far less time lying about on their beds.

Walers

It wasn't only the men who felt the great change, the horses were worked very hard and some were not able to take the strain imposed by performing drills and marches on the hard sun-baked ground. A new breed of horses had to be imported from New South Wales, known as Walers. These were young horses and had to be trained for military service. Because of this Sergeant Mole reverted to his job of taking charge of young horse training. This was much harder than the horse-breaking that took place in England and Ireland. These horses were badly marked with a brand on the shoulder which disfigured them and was the probable cause of their being terrified of the soldiers. It took months before they could wear a saddle. Later in 1877 Sgt Mole was sent to Australia as part of a commission to supervise the horse-breeding. The Australians were advised to import good sires from England and confine the foals instead of letting then run wild. The practice of branding them was also abolished. By 1879 the standard of horses had greatly improved and they were able to command a much higher price.

Cholera

The blue skies of summer in 1876 were obscured by heavy clouds in August and there were severe dust storms. This was the prelude to the monsoon that ended 7 months of drought. The atmosphere became humid and hard to cope with as there were no punkah-wallahs to operate the fans in Bangalore. Suddenly heavy raindrops fell and everyone ran outside to enjoy the cooling bath of torrential rain. This lasted some weeks in which time the country turned from a dust-bowl to emerald green. But at the end of it came the dreaded cholera or Pallida Mors (pale death). A private in D Troop was the first victim and there was a general rush to the canteen to drink as much arak as possible, as alcohol was regarded as the best deterrence to the disease. The first death was a man called Ikey Payne a prize-fighter, and the second death was coincidentally a man whom he had fought against in Aldershot. The most remarkable aspect of the epidemic was that one barrack hut containing 32 men became the scene of mass contagion. Fifteen men on one side of a curtain partition were all struck by the disease while the men on the other side were not. They had all fallen victim during the course of one night, and most of them died by the evening. Mole described it as if a shell had fallen on that part of the hut, and said that the natives informed them that exactly the same thing happened to another regiment in that station, and in the same hut. Mole was worried about his wife's health as she was pregnant at the time, but she came through it and gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Sports Day

In the autumn of 1878 a rifle meeting was held at Bangalore attended by 15 European regiments. There were other sports like horse-racing and tugs-of-war, and civilians as well as the military attended. Mole was reluctant to leave his wife alone as she was pregnant with their second child, but she persuaded hime to go and enjoy himself. He was an abstemious man and held himself aloof from the heavy drinking that was carrying on around him. He took part in a horse race and won it but was disqualified due to a technicality. This angered Mole who blamed the authorities for failing to make the rules clear. He also took part in a tug-of-war which his team would have won, but again the unclear rules disbarred them. So Mole was in a bad mood when fighting broke out due to the excess of alcohol. Things got out of hand so much that 'pickets' were brought in, men used as military police to quell the riot. These were infantrymen who were not well disposed towards cavalrymen. Mole was mounted on his horse, probably the only sober man there and tried to extricate men from the 14th before they could be arrested. By the time the pickets reach his part of the crowd Mole was the only one left and was seized by them and thrown in the guard-room.

Court-Martialled

Sergeant Mole was furious that he had been arrested and charged with drunkenness and creating a disturbance. Although the charge was unjust he had not helped himself when he was warning the hussars to escape because he admits that he may have used 'a disparaging expression' to describe the approaching pickets. This would have prompted them to retaliate by insisting that he was drunk. He spent two days under arrest and was brought before his angry CO who sent him for court-martial. Another two days passed before the trial which resulted in Sergeant Mole being reduced to the ranks. On the day of his public humiliation his wife unpicked the thread of his stripes so that they could more easily be removed by the RSM on parade. But when the time came to strip him of his rank the sentence was read out, with the addition of a 'consideration' by the CO that Mole's former good conduct prompted him to remit the sentence. And so with very mixed feelings of relief and anger, he returned home where his tearful wife immediately restored the cut stitches on his stripes. Mole's anger at the injustice of the whole thing was fuelled in later life when he received his army pension. The period he spent in prison awaiting trial was only a few days but it broke the continuity of his service so that there was a deduction of fourpence a day for the rest of his life.

Promotion to Troop Sergeant Major 1879

Not long after the court-martial Mole's wife gave birth to another daughter, but tragically Mrs Mole died a little later and the baby sent back to England to be cared for by a relative. The regiment meanwhile was still drilling and training hard, regarded as a crack unit, in the forefront of those to be considered if war were to break out somewhere in India. When it did break out, in Afghanistan in 1879, there was the longed-for telegram to the regiment which read, "Clear the line. Fourteenth Hussars proceed to the Front immediately. This was understood to mean clear the railway the 14th are coming through, although it actually meant clear the telegraph wire for the government message. The morale of the regiment went sky high and preparations were made in an atmosphere of great excitement. New khaki uniforms were issued for the cold mountain climate, which the men had to pay for, and all exposed metal was blackened, including swords, scabbards, bits and buckles. But then the news came that the railway could not produce the rolling stock to transport the regiment. They were stood down and all the hard work was for nothing. As a result, morale plummeted to an all time low. Even the CO lost the will to maintain the levels of drill that had characterised his term of office. It was during this time that the sergeant's mess became more lax and senior NCOs were found to be spending all night at cards and drinking. When this was drawn to the CO's attention he had the RSM, a troop sergeant major and some sergeants hauled up before him and reduced to the ranks. This sent a very negative message to other NCOs who aspired to reach warrant officer status. No matter how high you climbed the ladder it as very easy to slide down a snake. But Sergeant Mole benefited from this night of the long knives because there was now a vacancy for a Troop Sergeant Major for which he was in line. So after 14 years' service he attained this senior rank. He was proud of his Troop and he had a great respect for his captain. The horses were considered the best in the regiment. He also had better pay and better accommodation.

By Rail to Bombay 1881

The 14th were sent to South Africa in 1881 for the first Boer War. This news came as a shock to TSM Mole who thought his CO, Col Arbuthnot was away in England which would have precluded the regiment from being chosen. But mysteriously Colonel Arbuthnot appeared in civilian clothes at Mole's garden gate. They went to the orderly room and Mole was informed that he must proceed to Bombay by train with 150 men and 200 horses. This was to be the pioneer squadron of the regiment, under the command of Captain Richard Garth. The men were selected and ready to go the same day but they had to wait 24 hours for the rolling stock to be prepared. They travelled by night and halted by day until they reached Poonah but had to stay there for 3 days until the troop ship was ready. This delay was useful to give the horses relief from rail travel, and for Mole to collect tents and stores. All was going well until a message arrived telling them that the order was cancelled and they must return to Bangalore. This of course was the worst news that the hussars could have received. The men were in the depths of despair, that this should happen again after the disappointment of being left behind for the 1879 Afghan War. One officer drew his sword and broke the blade over his knee, saying that he was done with the army.

The next evening however, the general rode rapidly up in a dog-cart and handed Mole a written order exclaiming, "Here you are Sergeant-Major! To work at once! You are off tonight!" Mole shouted for the men to come out of their tents to give them the good news. Some thought it was another false start and could not be cheered up but they all went to work with great energy and the detachment rushed to the station. There the rail staff refused to move the train off in the dark to Bombay because the journey was down a steep hill through the ghats, the mountain passes. The men would not be deterred; they loaded horses and equipment and slept on the platform until first light. The train set off and they reached Bombay dock at 3pm; then the heavy work of loading the horses began. The animals were very frightened, struggling and squealing as they were hauled on cranes into the hold.

Voyage to South Africa

The steamship 'Chupra' left Bombay harbour on 26 Feb 1881, on a voyage enjoyed by all despite the heat, which increased as they crossed the equator. The horses had to be hosed to cool them off but during the voyage they all lost their hair so that as bare-skinned animals they could hardly be distinguished from each other. At one point near to Africa they saw a dead horse in the sea surrounded by swarming sharks. They later found out that a cavalry regiment had sailed round the Cape where the sea was so rough that when the horse were unloaded some of them were found to be badly injured and had to be destroyed. Their own experience of disembarking was fraught with difficulty as the ship was too low in the water to cross the bar into Durban harbour. They had to stay there that night as the ship rolled with the swell causing trouble in the hold where the horses were. Next day, on 14 March, barges came and the tricky process of lifting the animals out began. Luckily there were no injuries or fatalities. They pitched camp with 16 men to a tent, and tethered the horses who were delighted to be on land once more. Mole was exhausted after the heavy day's work and having posted sentries he collapsed into his bed and fell sleep. During the night, though, a terrible storm occurred which blew down the tents and sent the horses galloping in all directions. The soft earth had not been strong enough to hold the tethering and tent pegs. The tired men had to spend the rest of the night and half the next day rounding up the horses, all of which were found, with the help of the Natal Mounted Police. This was only a foretaste of what was to come.

Marching to Pietermaritzburg

The march from Durban to Pietermaritzburg was one of Mole's worst experiences, mostly, it seems, because of the poor leadership of the officer in charge. For some reason that was not properly explained to the men, the saddles and valises had to be transported by train while the men had to suffer the humiliation of walking and leading their horses. The men were dressed in light khaki serge, carrying their weapons. On the second day the rain came down heavily and the weather turned cold. The roads were steep and as the men's boots filled with water progress began to slow down. Some tried to jump on their horses' backs but were threatened with court-martial. When they halted they had to wait for stragglers and the bullock wagons before they could be given blankets to cover their poor shivering hairless horses. The tents were unloaded but when they were put up they were found unsuitable for wet weather. The food for the five day march was damp biscuit, tinned meat and muddy water. The horses refused the mealie corn they were given so they went hungry. Animals and men huddle together for warmth but this was not pleasant because some of the men suffered from dysentery. The day that they arrived at their destination the sun shone bright and scorching, and the grass near their camp was a welcome relief for the hungry horses.

Horse Health in South Africa

The corn feed that remained unused was heaped up and attracted the attention of a grain contractor in Pietermaritzburg who offered 3 pounds a sack for it. Mole went to Captain Garth to suggest that the mealie corn be sold and a more acceptable feed such as oats be purchased with the proceeds. But the officer refused, and ordered that the corn be thrown on the refuse tip. So, much to Mole's disgust hundreds of pounds worth of mealie corn was thrown way. The grass that the animals were forced to eat was full of ticks which latched onto the horses and caused their health to deteriorate. The men's health was not much better as dysentery was till affecting many, and almost all of them had sore feet from the march. They were required to buy warm underclothes and other items because their kitbags were still in Durban. Horse health was precarious in South Africa as sickness was rife there. Mole claims that he lost five horses through this horse sickness throughout his time there but this was regarded as a remarkably good record of horse care as most other units lost far more. The value of a horse was almost nothing unless it was 'salted' i.e. if it had recovered from the disease. If it was proved to be 'entire' i.e. totally immune, then the colonists would pay any price for it.

Ladysmith

At Estcourt the squadron was joined by the headquarters and other two squadrons of the regiment. The morale of the regiment was improved now that Colonel Arbuthnot was now in charge. They set off for Ladysmith, mounted on saddled horses who were now better fed, having accustomed themselves to the mealie corn. The men carried a change of linen, cloak and blanket. When they halted half the regiment allowed their unsaddled horses to graze with a knee halter and the other half remained mounted and vigilant. The column looked impressive as it marched, 400 soldiers with a long convoy of wagons. On reaching Ladysmith they found it to be 'a poor little place' of 50 or so houses. There was a field hospital where the wounded from the front were being brought, mostly men of he 60th Rifles and Naval Brigade. An armistice was in force when they arrived but 4 days later it was terminated and the 14th Hussars sent a Troop to the front. Everyone wanted to be chosen to be in the Troop and TSM Mole considered himself extremely lucky to have been chosen. They headed for Newcastle, a trip that took two days of hard riding, and found the Cavalry Brigade, commanded by General Drury Lowe. It consisted of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and the 15th Hussars. Both regiments had lost many horses from the sickness and were very pleased to see the Troop from the 14th. They were soon sent out scouting with the Inniskillings but found that the Boers remained well hidden in the rocks and were almost impossible to deal with. Newcastle was the base for the British army, on the plain below the gorge of Laing's Nek. This was the unpassable pass in the Drakensberg Mountains between Natal and Transvaal, carefully guarded by the Boers.

Majuba, 27 Feb 1881

14th Hussars
Majuba
The 14th Hussars arrived in South Africa too late for the disaster at Majuba but Mole relates the story as told to him by various soldiers and by Boers when he was at Newcastle. The narrative varies from other accounts of the battle but is fascinating and horrifying to read. He relates how the general Sir Pomeroy Colley prepared a secret attack on the Boer laager that guarded Laing's Nek. Officers were chosen and sworn to secrecy, and they in turn chose men from 5 or 6 different units, rousing them from their sleep on the night of 26 Feb. They carried 40 rounds of ammunition and food or 4 days. The march to the pass was made in silence in the dark and became steeper as they progressed. At one point Colley felt that they were lost and ordered a halt to wait until dawn to see where they were. At first light it became clear that they were on the edge of a precipitous cliff near the base of Majuba. The cliff went down to a gorge, and on the other side were Boers hidden behind rocks. They were actually on their way home, having decided to give up fighting. But on seeing the soldiers in such an exposed position they opened fire. The first to die was a sailor who was killed outright, then men fell thick and fast. General Colley himself had a small band of officers and men around him who were being shot down while he was miraculously untouched. When he saw how hopeless the situation was he waved a white handkerchief to surrender. The Boers appeared and shouted abuse at the 'cowardly' British, and one of them took aim and shot Colley dead. The rearguard of the British column retreated and were fired on. They had no artillery as the mules carrying the mountain guns could not cope with the steep climb. Mole assures us that if Colley had waited two days the Boers would have vacated Laing's Nek and the army would have been able to walk through the pass unhindered.

Ladysmith

The regiment was based in a camp near Ladysmith while the war was halted due to an armistice. This began to look more and more like a permanent peace so that the free movement of Boers was permitted. They came into the Hussars camp along with other visitors and were very impressed with the 14th's horses. At that time the two wings of the regiment were distinguished by the colour of their horses, bays for one wing and greys for the other. On the Queen's birthday there was a grand parade and shooting matches were arranged. The Boers were fascinated with this and were invited to compete. They had long barrelled Winchesters while the Hussars had Martini Henry carbines. At 300 yards the carbines beat the Winchesters, and then the targets were put back to 500 yards. At this range the long barrelled rifles were expected to be superior but their results were even worse. The Boers questioned the marking and were allowed to inspect the targets. Then they asked to swap guns but the Hussars were still able to come out on top using the Boer Winchesters. The Boers had a reputation for marksmanship but that reputation suffered a severe blow that day. In June Colonel Arbuthnot left the 14th and was replaced by Lt-Col Knox.

The Stampede

The camp at Ladysmith was on the Klip River with a gentle slope down to the water; the other side of the river had a steep bank. When Colonel Arbuthnot was in command he forbade the men to allow the horses to graze on the other side even though the grass at the top of the cliff looked very enticing. When John Hunter Knox took over, he showed a less authoritarian style and was a more easygoing officer. He had a reputation for horsemanship. On his first day of command he suggested that the horses be led to a drift a few miles upstream and taken over to the other side to graze. The bays were taken first, followed half an hour later by the greys. The entires (horses immune to disease) always grazed alone near the camp. Mole remained in camp and waited to catch sight of the grazing horses on the other bank, and the men returning on foot by means of stepping stones across the river near the camp. The men duly appeared and came down the steep bank. They had left the horse hobbled with knee halters which meant that one front leg was tied to their head so that when the head was up the leg had to be held out in front, but when grazing with the head down all four legs could be on the ground. The hobbled horses appeared also at the top of the cliff and there was an exchange of shrill neighing with the entire horses in the camp. The whole herd gathered at the top of the cliff with their front leg stretched out in front and soon they were heading off up stream to find a way across the river. They had learned how to canter with the halter on their front leg and they quickly gathered speed. When they could reach the edge of the river some plunged in but the majority were frightened and turned off. Led by an older horse called A 12 they hurtled across the veldt.

Mole rushed to his horse, an entire called Neddy, bridled him and jumped on bare-back. He rode in the direction of the drift up stream but missed it and went too far. He pressed on in the hope of finding another way across but came instead to a tributary called the Sand River. This was a shallow river 50 yards wide so he was on the point of crossing when a stranger on the other bank shouted that it was extremely dangerous as the sandy bottom of the river was a quicksand. He was told that he could cross higher up, so he followed the man's advice and crossed on a thin line of hard rock that appeared as dark line across the river. He dismounted and led Neddy along the line, but towards the other bank the line changed direction and ran almost parallel to the bank. Neddy saw the grass on the bank only eight feet away, and headed straight for it despite Mole pulling his head round to follow the line. The horse lost his balance and fell into the river. He immediately became stuck and sank rapidly. The last part to be seen was his head disappearing below the water and the sandy bottom. Mole had to avert his eyes at the last moment because of the look of terror in Neddy's eyes. The strange offered consolation to Mole and took him to his farm where he lent him a horse to get back to camp. He was led to a shorter way of returning and reached camp 2pm.

At the camp he found that many of the horses had been rounded up and brought in but a hundred were missing. Parties of men were already out scouring the country and some runaways were being brought in with cut legs and other injuries. He gathered a few men together and rode off in the direction of the drift. After two hours they had found 20 more horses and brought them in. There were now 40 missing. Preparations were made for small groups, taking rations for four days, to search likely areas where they may have gone. Mole took one group of four men, heading due west of the camp and spread out in a line to cover every square mile along the base of the Drakensburg range. They found two horses after four days, happy to be united with their fellow Troop horses and trotted along behind. Mole decided to carry on searching and they stayed away for 14 days in all, even though their rations ran out after five days forcing them to live on goats milk and corn. After ten days they discovered seven more, but four were lame from the halters and they were all covered in ticks. On returning to camp they were made very welcome as their nine retrieved horses meant that all were now accounted for.

Zululand

TSM Mole was chosen to be part of a cavalry detachment to escort Sir Evelyn Wood to Zululand for negotiations with Britain's former enemies. Three cavalry regiments were represented, supplying two Troops each. Mole was fascinated by the difference in the uniforms worn. The 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and the 15th Hussars were smarty turned out with polished boots, white helmets, gloves and belts, and shiny buckles and swords. The 14th Hussars were in serge coats, khaki trousers, puttees. Their helmets and belts were rubbed with red clay, and metal parts dulled. The men of the 14th were permitted to grow beards for the campaign but Mole does not say if that applied to other regiments. Their route followed that of Lord Chelmsford's army in 1879 so they saw the relics of the battle of Isandlwhana including half buried skulls.

Return to India, Nov 1881

The regiment were ordered back to India and found the return to Durban much more pleasant than the journey inland. At Pietermaritzburg Mole found many boxes that had been sent out from England by well-wishers, containing items of clothing and other things that would have been very useful if they had reached the men, but they were held up there and had to be sent on to India. They went on to Pinetown and met the 7th Hussars who were too late for the hostilities. It was here that the regiment felt the effects of changes to the soldiers' period of service. The new short service system meant that men who were on the old long service had to finish before their time was up and those on short service of 8 years were debarred from going on to India and had to go direct to England for discharge or go into the Reserves. Some men joined from the 7th Hussars but the change in the regiment, in Mole's opinion, was detrimental and he felt that the 14th was never able to attain the standard of efficiency and matured experience that it possessed in South Africa. The men who joined from the 7th Hussars considered themselves lucky because those soldiers who stayed behind in Natal suffered a high mortality rate from enteric fever. The regiment embarked at Durban on two steamers. Mole's wing was on the Cambria, a superior boat to the Chupra that brought them over in February/March. They boarded just as the tropical rain came down but had a comfortable voyage home and arrived at Bombay in early December.

Secunderabad

The regiment were directed to a new station at Secunderabad where they were one of many regiments that occupied the barracks and military buildings in a cantonment stretching eleven miles between Bolaram and Hyderabad. There were several visits and inspections by Sir Frederick Roberts who was governor of Madras at that time. The CO Lt-Col Knox was a popular commander, not such a strict disciplinarian as Col Arbuthnot. He made a change to the drinking habits of the men by abolishing the set times that the men were allowed to drink. They were allowed free time to drink whenever they wanted and as a result drunkenness decreased. At the time a temperance club was started up, and out of the 80 men in Mole's Troop 50 of them took the pledge to abstain. Another form of club was started for shooting so that competitions were organised and the standard of regimental marksmanship was greatly increased. Mole was a keen gardener and cultivated an acre of land with flowers and vegetable as well as keeping various species of animal. He became a figure of fun because of his habit of returning from shooting expeditions in the hills carrying some rare fern that he had found. But as time went on other soldiers took to cultivation, and gardens were established to improve the area.

Voyage to England

Around 1884 Mole was receiving letters from his daughter who had been shipped to England following the death of Mrs Mole soon after childbirth. She was seven years old and sent a photo of herself to her father. This made him very anxious to see her but felt that there was no way until the regiment was returned to England. But the CO summoned him and told him that the Sergeant-Major at the Regimental Depot had retired and offered him the job. This was a timely offer and Mole took it. He was supposed to travel to Bombay with a Battery of Artillery but since he was not ready they had to leave without him. He followed on a week later but found that he had luck on his side; the Battery had been struck by cholera and many gunners had died on the way to Poona. When he left to start his journey there were fond farewells with the men who were almost like family, and a tearful parting from his faithful Indian boy, Harry. He had to spend a fortnight at Deolali where many sick and insane Europeans had to bide their time before embarking for England. The place gave the English language the word 'doolally'. TSM Mole was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major in charge of all the soldiers from various units on his troopship HMS Euphrates. This was a welcome temporary promotion as it gave him extra pay and better accommodation for the voyage.

The Depot

Canterbury, at this time was the depot for all the cavalry regiments serving abroad, all commanded by the efficient and popular Colonel Le Quesne of the 12th Lancers. The 14th Hussars depot had two officers and Mole was the senior Warrant Officer. There were about 15 other NCOs and old soldiers and the rest were recruits of no more than 4 months service. The total number for the regiment at Canterbury was 310 men when Mole took over, although he only had 22 horses. His first task was to prepare a draft of 150 men to send out to the regiment at Bolaram. In Sep 1885 he sent another draft of 88 men to India together with the two officers, which left Mole as the most senior man in the 14th Hussars depot for 3 months. After that Captain Tuthill arrived from India. He had been adjutant since 1879 and Mole was pleased to have him there, but this officer found depot life boring. Soon after that the 14th were transferred to Colchester, a depot they shared with the 19th and 20th Hussars and the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons but they all had to move to Shorncliffe in June 1886. This move involved a march to the Thames and crossing at Tilbury, 12 horses at a time on a 'penny steamboat'. At Shorncliffe they had to prepare for the arrival of the regiment from India and needed trained recruits as it was expected that the strength of the returning unit would be very reduced. But 4 months before the regiment came home the Colonel in charge at Shorncliffe ordered that all men under 3 months service were to transfer to the 7th Hussars which was going out to India to replace the returning 14th. Also any volunteers who preferred service in India to home service could change to the 7th. This was attractive to the men, and out of 200 men that Mole had carefully nurtured for the 14th, half of them opted to transfer to the 7th Hussars. This was dismaying news for TSM Mole and Capt Tuthill and on top of this news came of the death of the CO Lt-Col Knox. This was the final straw for Captain Tuthill who decided to leave the service. Mole decided to serve two more years to complete 25 years service. But before this was completed he was offered a place in the Yeomanry in the eastern counties, although Mole does not say which Yeomanry regiment he joined.


Regimental Details | 14th Hussars Soldiers




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by Stephen Luscombe