Sahib: The British Soldier in India 1750–1914 by Richard Holmes - review by Vyvyen Brendon

Vyvyen Brendon

Bearded and Brave

Sahib: The British Soldier in India 1750–1914


HarperCollins 551pp £20

In the course of this scholarly book, Richard Holmes tells us that he rose from private to senior serving officer in the Territorial Army – without becoming a freemason. As his fans know, he has combined martial expertise with vigorous presentation to illuminate many a battle on the television screen. High soldierly qualities are also evident in this history of the men who conquered and defended India. Holmes has a sound knowledge of the terrain, he marches at a brisk pace, and he carries a good supply of meat and spirits in his knapsack.

Holmes’s familiarity with his field of action is first apparent in a vivid survey of the subcontinent, over which he has himself tramped. He gives graphic descriptions of skirmishes, battles and sieges across its length and breadth, from the Black Hole of Calcutta to Francis Younghusband’s 1904 expedition to the

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