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Chapter 14: 1857

A new appointment

I will now continue my story from the 29th June, the morning after my arrival in camp, when I awoke full of excitement, and so eager to hear all my old friend Norman could tell me, that I am afraid he must have been considerably bored with my questions.

It is impossible for me to describe my pleasure at finding myself a member of a force which had already gained imperishable fame. I longed to meet and know the men whose names were in everyone's mouth. The hero of the day was Harry Tombs, of the Bengal Horse Artillery, an unusually handsome man and a thorough soldier. His gallantry in the attack on the Idgah, and wherever he had been engaged, was the general talk of the camp. I had always heard of Tombs as one of the best officers in the regiment, and it was with feelings of respectful admiration that I made his acquaintance a few days later.

Jemmy Hills,[1] one of the subalterns in Tombs's troop, was an old Addiscombe friend of mine; he delighted in talking of his Commander, in dilating on his merits as a soldier and his skill in handling each arm of the service. As a cool, bold leader of men Tombs was unsurpassed: no fire, however hot, and no crisis, however unexpected, could take him by surprise; he grasped the situation in a moment, and issued his orders without hesitation, inspiring all ranks with confidence in his power and capacity. He was somewhat of a martinet, and was more feared than liked by his men until they realized what a grand leader he was, when they gave him their entire confidence, and were ready to follow him anywhere and everywhere.

Another very distinguished officer of my regiment, whom I now met for the first time, and for whom I ever afterwards entertained the warmest regard, was Edwin Johnson,[2] Assistant-Adjutant-General of the Bengal Artillery, in which capacity he had accompanied Brigadier Wilson from Meerut. He had a peculiarly bright intellect--somewhat caustic, but always clever and amusing. He was a delightful companion, and invariably gained the confidence of those with whom he worked.

Johnson was the first person on whom I called to report my arrival and to find out with which troop or battery I was to do duty. He told me that the Quartermaster-General wished to keep me in his department. So, after visiting General Chamberlain,[3] who I knew would be anxious to hear all that had been going on in the Movable Column since his departure, I made my way to Colonel Becher, whom I found suffering from the severe wound he had received a few days before, and asked him what was to be my fate. He replied that the question had been raised of appointing an officer to help the Assistant-Adjutant-General of the Delhi Field Force, who found it impossible to carry on the daily increasing work single-handed, and that Chamberlain had thought of me for this post. Had Chamberlain's wish been carried out my career might have been quite changed, but while he was discussing the question with Sir Henry Barnard, Donald Stewart unexpectedly arrived in camp.

I was waiting outside Sir Henry Barnard's tent, anxious to hear what decision had been come to, when two men rode up, both looking greatly fatigued and half starved; one of them being Stewart. He told me they had had a most adventurous ride; but before waiting to hear his story,[4] I asked Norman to suggest Stewart for the new appointment--a case of one word for Stewart and two for myself, I am afraid, for I had set my heart on returning to the Quartermaster-General's department. And so it was settled, to our mutual satisfaction, Stewart becoming the D.A.A.G. of the Delhi Field Force, and I the D.A.Q.M.G. with the Artillery.

[Footnote 1: Now Lieutenant-General Sir James Hills-Johnes, V.C., G.C.B.]

[Footnote 2: The late General Sir Edwin Johnson, G.C.B.]

[Footnote 3: Chamberlain had been given the rank of Brigadier-General on his arrival at Delhi.]

[Footnote 4: The account of this adventurous ride is given in the Appendix. (Appendix I.)]