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SOME REMINISCENCES OF THE
(57th WEST MIDDLESEX REGIMENT).
As many feel no small amount of pleasure in looking back, and talking of old times, and as there are many yet who took part, or who are interested in those who did, still in this Colony, I feel that a reference to the trip may not be out of place. Everyone has some idea of the year 1857, when the world, the English-speaking portion in particular, received the startling news of the revolt of a portion of our Indian Native Troops. The shock was a trying one, not only to the authorities, but to the thousands who had relatives or friends out there. Though every confidence was placed in our troops, it was looked upon as possible, with such an overwhelming number of very active and well disciplined native troops, that they might be out-matched for a time until reinforcements could arrive. As may well be imagined, the time was a very trying one. Unity was wanting among the natives, however, thanks to the different castes, many of which are as hostile towards each other as they are to a foreign foe.
Being in Malta at the time, we were as a matter of course, on the tiptoe of expectation, looking for an order every hour to proceed; consequently there was considerable excitement. Matters were thus till September of that year ('57), when an order came for 200 of the "Die Hards" to proceed through Egypt. I was on duty that day at the main entrance to the city of Valetta, and before noon saw mounted officers galloping about. Shortly after I saw the Colonel, now General Sir H. Warre, K.C.B., ride into the city at a time when he was usually employed at the orderly room. But no word reached us until our dinner came, then we were informed that the two companies stationed on the Ravelin were to be made up to 100 each and proceed with all speed to Aden. It so happened that I was the only one present that belonged to either
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of these companies, so it can readily be understood that I was in high glee; indeed, I was looked upon as the hero of that guard for the remainder of that twenty-four hours. Later on more news came. The tailors of the other regiments were ordered to assist in preparing a suit of plain clothes for each one going. This consisted of a drab undress coat, blue trousers, and drab wide-awake hat. This news added fresh interest to the route, and I was more and more the envied one of the guard. Our arms, uniforms, &c., were packed up for the trip. I looked upon this as my last duty in Malta, which it proved to be. Every man in the regiment wanted to join the two companies ordered off; but as each was about 70 strong, the number required to make these up to 100 was not large. We had a special parade in our new outfit. General Warren--father of Major General Sir C. Warren, until lately head of the London Police--had a look at us. So had the general commanding, General Pennefather, who was about the best hand at laying on soft sawder I ever knew, but a fine old general. He led us to believe we were going on the most important trip ever undertaken; that we should all be looked upon as heroes; that our names would be posted on the church doors of our parish. He went so far that we began to look forward to the time when we should go home to receive the grand reception his remarks led us to see in the future. Fortune we, of course, looked for, grand receptions, freedom of the city, honours from the learned societies, and so on. I have not gone home for my reception yet. Some have, and some that I know have not, and never will. Those who did go have never sent me word how they were received.
Before we left we heard several rumours connected with our going. It was owing to the conduct of a Sepoy regiment 1400 strong. They were not as obedient and respectful as they ought to be, and there were only some fifty European troops there, of the Bombay Artillery -- some of "John Company's" men. They and the few European residents were not happy, and a couple of hundred more troops was a necessity, and as they could not be spared from India, the next nearest place had to furnish them. It is hardly necessary to dwell much upon the events up to the time of our leaving. It was pretty well known that the remainder of the regiment would soon follow, and that the women and children would be sent home until affairs in the East justified their joining again. There was, therefore, lots of leave-taking with
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native friends too. Such leave-takings as those are matters to remember; they are genuine, for the friendship between men in the army is a thing not easily forgotten. We were leaving a lot behind, and the time of our again meeting was very uncertain. We felt that we were bidding a lasting adieu to our Maltese friends. The last day of September came. This was to be our last in the beautiful isle of the sea, and 4 p.m. was the hour fixed for our march to the place of embarkation. By that hour there was a good number pretty jolly. The regimental band came to play us down, but when the Colonel saw the state of affairs he ordered them back. This was not wise, for it gave cause for excitement of a character seldom witnessed in the army. I feel sure he was sorry for what he had done immediately after. However, we went without that very popular air, "The girl I left behind me." The men soon supplied a substitute, and exercised their lungs in choruses. There were hundreds on the beach, both military and residents. At 10 p.m. up went the anchor, and off we went. This was my second sailing out of Malta. I felt it was my last, and I feel so now. The next morning we were well out to sea, and the effects of the previous day's proceedings were soon washed off with salt water. Many felt that they ought to be a little bit ashamed of themselves, and to make up for their conduct they laid themselves for the trip. Colonel Pocklington, the Quartermaster-General at Malta, accompanied us, and he remarked to Major Logan (whose death took place about a year ago) that if he was not positive of it, he could never suppose us to be the same 200 men that embarked the day before. The Major, as a matter of course, knew what a route means, and this one in particular. We tripped across the Mediteranean to Alexandra, the land of the Pharoahs. Everyone was looking forward to a sight of that famous country, which millions would like to see. Up to that time the number crossing it was limited, but since these colonies have become so important, coupled with our possessions in the East, there are thousands who cross it for dozens in those days before the canal was cut. On the 4th October we arrived, and our arms, baggage, &c., were landed and despatched to Suez on the following day. We were not permitted to go ashore, so had to content ourselves gazing at Alexandra from the harbour, and amusing ourselves with the natives, who swarmed in boats offering things for sale. On the morning of the 6th we had an early breakfast, and landed to take the train
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straight off. We were particularly struck with a mob of boys and girls under the command of big brutes with whips. They were engaged carrying stones, and if one loitered a second to look at us, the whip was at once applied. There was one thing I very soon convinced myself of, and that was that had I the chance I would use those whips about the backs of the brutes who were placed over the poor creatures. But then we were in Egypt, the Holy Land, and we were looked upon as nothing but "Christian dogs" that did not know how to rule. They knew; they were carrying out the same ideas that were practised thousands of years before. We soon got into our places, and the familiar whistle denoted that we were off, leaving behind us that city which was once the pride of the world, and which, but for Omar, might have been the means of bringing about a different state of affairs to what we now experience. The seats were crossways, so everyone could not have a window to look out at. We gazed out, as may well be imagined, and there they were, everything just as was the custom before the Pyramids were piled up; the same kind of plough; the same mode of cultivation; nothing new. We soon found it was just as well to keep our mouths shut when at the stopping-places, for the flies were about. Who has not heard of the flies of Egypt? I noticed them very thick about the eyes, nostrils, and mouths of the youngsters, whose faces are, as a rule, not too clean. How they could see puzzled me, for we could see nothing but flies, and no attempt was made to hunt them off. Mothers with babes in arms never attempted to interfere with them. I heard that the parents had such a dread of the army, that they used to destroy one eye of all the male children--the military eye, of course. Finding this, the Khedive organised a regiment or two of one-eyed men. This must have put a stop to the practice, especially as they were always sent where the most danger was. At about 11 a.m. we reached the famous Nile-- the Rosetta branch. Here the train was drawn over on a floating bridge, and joined the rails on the other side. We got out here--Kafrezzaiad--and were marched in front of a very fair spread. This had all been arranged, of course. It was provided by a Frenchman. We soon got through the task of refreshing the inner man, and strolled outside to look round a bit. There was not much to look at, but then we were in Egypt. With a few others I strayed into a building in which there were a number of natives. I believe they had
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been dealing in humanity, but our entry put a stop to it. There were several females crouched down, and we could see some very bright eyes viewing us through the two little holes in their head-covering. There were many expressions of pity for the dear little creatures, and many wished they could make a purchase of one of Eve's daughters. We felt, however, that we were not justified in encumbering ourselves in the face of the important mission we were on. As a matter of fact some thought we were on our way to Eden, and had written to their friends to that effect. I may here refer to a little incident or two which transpired in Aden after our arrival. We had a very comical old chap--a sergeant--who was brimful of wit and humour. He was out patrolling the town with a picquet, and when passing one of the high towers in an open square, one of the men asked him what it was? "Oh," said Clarke, "that's built over the stump of the tree from which Adam and Eve picked the apples." "Begorrah," said the man, "I'll go in and have a look at it some day." The same sergeant was out another evening in another locality, and there was seen on an eminence a tomb belonging to some one of note. "Who's buried there?" said some one to the sergeant. "That," was the reply, "is where Cain is buried, who killed his brother Abel." "But," said the man, "I thought Cain cleared out to some other country to escape the detectives who wanted him for the murder." "That may be," said the sergeant, "but there is nothing more natural than that he was brought back to his native village for burial." This was accepted.