The British Empire Library

A Memoir of lndia 1942-1946

by Gerald Elliot

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
This is a slight book, a memoir, as the author says, but it is engagingly written, and probably one of the final first-person accounts of army service in undivided India. It was family connections that persuaded the eighteen-year-old to join up, initially to the Royal Scots, after a crash course in Urdu. The autumn of I 942 was a dangerous time for a sea journey, because of U-boat attacks, but the Cape Town Castle reached Bombay safely in mid-December that year, having to go via the Cape Officers' Training School followed in Bangalore, before young Elliot was posted to Abbottabad with the Frontier Force Rifles. Here, as a newly-commissioned officer, and with an increasingly good command of Urdu, he was in charge of training new recruits. 'It was a peaceful but strenuous existence,' he recalls. 'We worked hard and with enthusiasm to turn Indian villagers into good sepoys.' A huge war-time demand for soldiers meant that normal areas of recruitment had no more men to offer, so recruiting teams combed the Punjab, although it was difficult to train men accustomed only to village life, and there were a number of desertions.

Few of the new recruits were literate, so education played an important part of sepoy training. 'They knew that for 30 rupees a month they had to be soldiers and fight the enemy' (the Japanese). By this time, there were senior Indian officers who had been recruited under the Viceroy's Commissioned Officers scheme (VCO) and Emergency Commissioned Officers (ECO), although the latter faced resentment from older soldiers who would not mix socially with them. But Captain Elliot made a number of Indian friends during his service. At the end of the war he decided to return to civilian life and did not have the opportunity to revisit India until the 1970s. An enjoyable and informative little book.

British Empire Book
Gerald Elliot
First Published
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2014 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe