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A Cradle of Soldiers

This article was published in The Evening Telegraph and Post, Dundee, Scotland on 30th October 1914, written by British Army Officer Capt E.M.Maxwell. It tells the true story of how soldiers were recruited from a small village in the Salt Range, Punjab.

It is only on rare occasions that an Indian cavalry regiment sends out an officer to gather recruits; as a rule these come as they are required without being sought, and indeed there is usually kept at regimental headquarters a list of stout lads awaiting their turn to be enrolled. Such persons are known as Umedwars ie, Hopeful or Expectants and for fulfilling their hope or expectation each will have the privilege of paying a sum of £30. In spite of the large initial expenditure, which is applied to the cost of the man’s equipment, and which amounts to in rupees to more than a year’s gross pay, and perhaps three year’s net pay, there is no difficulty in getting men; they come readily enough to the regiments where their fathers, uncles, grandfathers and great-grandfathers have served before them and this family connection is of the greatest value in more ways than one.

Proud of his Village

For the services of a recruiter there is then, no real occasion, and when one is sent out it is usually for a special reason. Oftenest perhaps this reason is the desire of an officer to have some acquaintance with the tract from which his men are drawn, a consideration of great importance in a service where the ‘personal touch’ is essential; but there are sometimes other reasons too, and that which took me into the countryside was the despatch to Persia of a detachment of 21 men drawn solely from the squadron under my command. That is a severe blow to fall on a squadron and it had to be repaired as soon as possible. So forth I fared to fish for various kinds of men.

To ninety-nine travellers out of a hundred Katas would be of infinitely greater interest than Dulmial, but fortunately for myself, I was the hundredth, for in Dulmial the spirit of militarism is so rampant that to a soldier its attractions are supreme. ‘Till a short time ago’ said Noor Mohammad , ‘there were 21 pensioned Indian officers, nearly 90 of a grade of Sergeant, those of lesser rank were beyond count’.

As a native of Dulmial, Noor Mohammad is evidently proud of that hamlet. And well he may be for the number of old and serving soldiers is indeed extraordinary for so small a village.

Choosing Recruits

We talked for not less than an hour, mostly in the past tense, and entirely of soldiering; there was much said of little wars and everyone bragged of the military achievements of Dulmial. ‘Sahib’ said an old gentlemen who after 25 years in a foot regiment had retired with the honourable rank of private and a pension of 5 shillings a month, ‘Sahib in this village all become soldiers save those who are lame or too small. These and the old men do the cultivation’. ‘That is true’ said another, ‘and when a child is born the women feel its arm bones to see if he will be strong enough for the service’. Others talked much of their relatives and of their taste for soldiering’.

Meanwhile the zealous young NCO (Non commissioned officers) had been assembling the hopefuls desirous of enlistment; he produced 10, who stood in a row and looked sheepish beneath the eyes of their relatives. There are many ways of choosing a recruit and doubtless all of them are good ways. Upon the advice of one better than myself I personally begin by looking at their hands, a soft handed man is of no use for our purposes, for he has not been toughened by driving the plough or by other labour in the fields. The young men of Dulmial possessed hands rough to the last degree. Then the arms, then perhaps a punch on the chest, which was considered, but not by my intention to be a humorous act. Then the shoulders and lastly but not least, the face and its expression. So much as a rough guide for the rest the Medical Officer must be consulted.

The 10 young men of Dulmial were on the whole a credit to their village; 8 of them I would have taken had there been vacancies for that number, but alas I could take only 3 Awans, that was the requirement. It was very difficult and unpleasant to disappoint those who are desirous of enlisting, but it had to be done. The remainder were entered into a list and promised that as vacancies occurred they would be called to the regiment. With this poor solace 7 mournful youths were turned away.

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