"OLD SOLDIER SAHIB" was written by Frank Richards as a follow-up to his widely acclaimed First World War memoir "Old Soldiers Never Die."
Richards shares with the reader some aspects of his early life leading up to his enlistment in the British Army in 1901 during the waning days of the Boer War. It is fascinating to see through his eyes a glimpse of how life in Britain was for a working class person at that time, as well as gain an understanding of how the Army trained soldiers and carried out its regular functions.
After a year of home service, Richards' unit is shipped to India, where he shares with the reader much of what he did and experienced there. This, for me, was perhaps the best part of the memoir because, as someone who visited India in February 2003, I savored the opportunity to see British India through Richards' eyes. One example from Richards' time in India that made me chuckle was the following:
"A man in my tent at Meerut had bought a very clever little monkey and dressed him up with little striped trousers, red coat and a pill-box on the side of his head. He gave him a little wooden musket too and trained him at the word of command to go through all the arms-drill that a soldier was taught. He had a small collar around his neck, to which was attached a long thin chain. During the day he was tied up with this chain to a large tent-peg outside the tent; on cold nights he slept at the foot of his master's bed. The man badly wanted to see what effect a drop of beer would have on his pet, so one day he brought about a pint and half of beer in a basin from Canteen and held it for him to have a drink. The monkey took a good drink and the way he smacked his lips afterwards made some of us who were looking on think that it was not the first occasion that he had tasted beer. By the time had drained the basin dry he was helplessly drunk. He staggered towards the tent-peg to lean his arms on it, which was usual custom when resting during the day; but he must have been seeing a dozen pegs, because each time that he put on his arms to lean on it he was still two or three feet away. After falling down half a dozen times, he gave it up and the last time he fell he went to sleep. He now took the habit of accompanying his master to the Canteen every evening; after he performed a few tricks he would go along from table to table, holding out a little tin mug for a drop of beer to be put in it. Night after night he got gloriously drunk, and after he had been with us twelve months his master awoke one morning to find him dead at the foot of his bed. All the boozers were convinced that he had drunk himself to death, which in their opinion was the most noble and happy end to which either man or monkey could come."
Eventually, Richards' unit was transferred to Burma, where he served out the remainder of his Army service. Then he returned to Britain (1909), where he was put into reserve status. A status he maintained until August 1914.
For anyone keen to experience a way of life long past from someone who lived it, "Old Soldier Sahib" is the book to read.