British Empire Books

Our Bones are Scattered

AuthorAndrew Ward
PublisherJohn Murray
ISBN No.0719557607

This is one of the most disturbing books that I have ever read. It is also one of the best. Andrew Ward has written a fascinating, intricate and excellently organised version of events that surrounded the Cawnpore Massacres in 1857. Yes, that should be a massacres in the plural. This was one bloody series of events that was without mercy. What makes it particularly disturbing is the casual violence against women and children. For some reason reading about massacres of men, whether they are soldiers or not, just does not seem to carry the horror meted out to the innocent civilians who got caught up in one of the bloodiest events in Imperial history.

I really appreciate the organisation of this book. It gives the roots to the mutiny - but does not get bogged down. It builds up interesting profiles of the main actors - so you can identify and empathise with the characters. It clearly lays out the sequence of the events with easy to follow date stamps for each of the chapters - You do need to keep an eye on the chronology as events frequently overlapped or would build into a crescendo from the opposing sides. The language is very clear and crisp - when you have a story as interesting as this one, it almost seems to write itself. The pictures and maps are actually laid out in areas useful to the story - I hate the inclusion of plates where the pictures are lumped all together - this book incorporates the images into the main body of text which is exactly where they should be. Finally, the author is clearly impartial and tries to give both sides of the story. He attempts to be dispassionate, but I certainly found myself empathising with one side far more than the other. It actually made you appreciate, or at least understand, how the British were provoked into committing some horrific acts themselves.

The book does explain some of the surrounding events but again with just the right amount of detail to make it understandable but without losing focus on the city of Cawnpore itself. Cawnpore was a gateway city and it held a strategic imperative that meant that it was going to play a larger role in the mutiny no matter what happened to its initial inhabitants.

Some of the individual stories told are truly harrowing. Most come to a desperately sad ending, but every now and then hope seems to have triumphed over adversity. The stories of Jonah Shepherd or Lieutenant Thomson were truly fascinating and beyond imagination really. Notwithstanding their remarkable stories, you can tell that this topic would never make a suitable subject for a Hollywood film. Not only was it unremittingly dreadful but the magnitude of the events just seems so immense. If any script writer were to submit half of these events then he would be lambasted for having an over active imagination. This book is prime evidence for the maxim that truth is certainly stranger than fiction. But that is why I said that this is one of the most disturbing books that I have ever read. You literally have to keep pinching yourself to remind yourself that these events actually happened - and that is what makes it so horrific.

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