Escape from Hellby V. A. Stuart
With the Sepoy Mutiny still threatening British lives in India, Commander Phillip Hazard volunteers to accompany a special army force to rescue the besieged British garrison at Ghorabad. Hazard and the men of the Shannon's Naval Brigade are put under the command of Colonel Cockayne, a cavalry officer whose own wife and daughter are among those caught in the siege. See more details below
With the Sepoy Mutiny still threatening British lives in India, Commander Phillip Hazard volunteers to accompany a special army force to rescue the besieged British garrison at Ghorabad. Hazard and the men of the Shannon's Naval Brigade are put under the command of Colonel Cockayne, a cavalry officer whose own wife and daughter are among those caught in the siege.
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Escape from Hell
The Phillip Hazard Novels, No . 8
By V. A. Stuart
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1977 Vivian Stuart
All rights reserved.
As the long line of plodding gun-bullocks moved slowly past the walls of the Alam Bagh Palace, four miles to the south of Lucknow, Commander Phillip Horatio Hazard, of HMS Shannon's Naval Brigade, inspected the great twenty-four-pounder siege-gun to which they were yoked with a critical eye. All appeared to be in order and he waved to the crew to proceed.
The sixty-five-hundredweight iron monster was one of six which, together with two 8-inch howitzers and a pair of rocketlaunching tubes, were manned by the two hundred seamen and Royal Marines of the Naval Brigade attached to the Lucknow Relief Force. In addition to the gunners required to serve their formidable weapons, the Brigade had two seamanrifle companies, trained to march and fight like soldiers, and six light field-guns, each commanded by a midshipman. All had proved their worth in the hard fought battle to save the beleagured British garrison in the Lucknow Residency and now, their task accomplished, the Brigade was bringing up the rear of a ten-mile-long column making its way back to Cawnpore.
Not all in the column were fighting men. A force of four thousand, with 25 guns, had been left in the Alam Bagh, under the command of Major-General Sir James Outram, to hold off pursuit and keep the rebel-held city in check. In consequence, only three thousand men of all arms remained to guard the women and children and the sick and wounded — numbering almost two thousand now — whose doolies and hackeries formed the bulk of the procession. Moving with equal slowness were the ammunition and baggage waggons, the native camp followers and servants and the host of camels, elephants, and bullocks which carried the column's tents, provisions, and camp equipment.
It had taken the better part of a week to bring them this far. Phillip Hazard's mouth tightened, as he remembered the gnawing anxiety he had endured when first the garrison's sick and wounded and then the surviving families had been smuggled out of the Residency under cover of darkness, with only a thin line of piquets between them and the thousands of mutineers who still held the city in a ring of steel. The Shannon's heavy siege-guns had bombarded the enemy- occupied Kaiser Bagh 24 hours a day, for three days, in order to delude the rebel leaders into believing that an attack on their fortress was imminent. Instead, leaving lamps and candles still burning in the shell-scarred Residency buildings, the garrison's rearguard had slipped silently from their posts — gaunt, half-starved men in ragged uniforms — to join the ranks of their rescuers in the Dilkusha Park ... and the rebels had not known that they had gone until long after the last man had completed the perilous journey.
And ... Phillip's expression relaxed. Miraculously his prayers had been answered — his sister Harriet, with her two small children, had been among those who had lived through the 140-day siege. All three of them were in a packed bullock cart, already several miles along the dusty road to Cawnpore where, tragically, his younger sister, Lavinia, had died ... brutally murdered, with the other women and children of General Wheeler's garrison, in a small, yellow-painted house in the native city where the traitor, Nana, had held them captive. He had seen that house, seen with his own eyes the evidence of what had been done there and ... for all his familiarity with the horrors or war, Phillip shivered, wishing that he could erase the memory of what he had seen from his mind.
There had been so many deaths on both sides, since the sepoy Army of Bengal had broken out in mutiny nearly seven months ago. Lucknow had already cost more than a thousand lives in the two Relief columns alone, and the siege had taken heavy toll of the original defenders of the Residency, British and Indian alike. Seven hundred of the sepoy garrison had remained true to their salt, fighting loyally beside the soldiers of Her Majesty's 32nd Light Infantry and their Sikh comrades from the Punjab ... as indeed had many others in the Relief columns.
But now they were marching out, leaving their dead behind them in mass and unmarked graves. They were leaving the hero of the siege, Sir Henry Lawrence, Chief Commissioner of Oudh, thanks to whose foresight in fortifying and provisioning his Residency their brave defence had been made possible — although he had not lived long enough to witness it. They were leaving General Havelock also and ... The last of the massive siege-guns came jolting past behind its twelve pairs of straining bullocks. Phillip watched it go and then turned in his saddle to look back at the towering, loopholed walls of the Alam Bagh, behind which Major-General Sir Henry Havelock had been laid to rest two days before.
Hailed throughout British India as the saviour of Lucknow, the little General, who had battled so valiantly to bring the first relief to the besieged garrison, had sickened during the seven weeks that he, himself, had shared the ordeal of those he had endeavoured to rescue. Careless as always of his own safety, he had gone out with Sir James Outram and other officers of the Residency garrison to receive the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Colin Campbell, in the building known as the Mess House which was under enemy fire. He had been knocked down by the blast from an exploding shell but had gone on, insisting that he was uninjured, to be informed of his promotion and his knighthood by the man who had led Lucknow's final Relief Force. With the garrison's congratulations ringing in his ears, Henry Havelock's strength had failed him, and barely a week after his historic meeting with the Commander-in-Chief, he had succumbed to an attack of dysentry against which his frail, emaciated body had had no resistance.
Even so, the news of his death had come as a profound shock to the entire Force and Phillip — who had attended the brief funeral service with William Peel, the Shannon's Captain — recalled with a pang the tears which had glistened in the eyes of the mourners, as six stalwart Highlanders of his favourite regiment, the Queen's 78th, had borne Havelock's body to the hastily dug grave, preceded by a piper, playing "The Flowers of the Forest."
They had fired the traditional volley at the graveside, Sir Colin Campbell standing on the newly turned earth, his hand raised to his cocked hat in salute, with Sir James Outram and Brigadier Inglis on one side of him, his elder son, Harry Havelock, of HM's 10th Foot and his devoted, young aide-de-camp, William Hargood of the Madras Fusiliers, on the other. As the high-ranking mourners had started to move away, leaving the two young officers to their private and personal grief, William Peel had said, a catch in his voice, "They may well weep for him — a brave soldier and a better Christian never drew breath. I confess, Phillip, that I shall be satisfied if I can say, as General Havelock did when he knew that he was dying, 'I have forty years so ruled my life that, when death came, I might face it without fear.'"
Amen to that, Phillip thought, and amen to ...
"Sir!" Midshipman Clinton, his right arm, injured at the attack on the Shah Nujeef ten days before, still in its sling, drew rein beside him. His good-looking young face was thickly coated with dust and he was breathless with the effort it had taken him to reach the rear of the column. "The Captain's compliments, sir, and he'd like a word with you. He's up ahead — about a couple of miles — with the First Lieutenant. I'm to inform the gunnery officer of a change in his orders, too, sir — can you tell me where he is?"
"He's there" — Phillip pointed — "if you can see him for dust! Carry on — and thanks."
He found Captain Peel, as young Lord Arthur Clinton had predicted, some two miles further along the dust-clouded road with the Shannon's First Lieutenant, James Vaughan, and a Royal Artillery officer, Captain Travers.
"Ah, Phillip, I'm glad you've got here." Peel's handsome, fine-boned face wore an expression of unusual gravity as Phillip edged his sweating horse to the road verge where they had halted. "It's quite a job, is it not, getting anywhere or finding anyone in this crush? And it's worse up there." He gestured to the road ahead, where glimpses of red-curtained doolies could be seen in an apparently endless procession, their native bearers jolting the occupants unmercifully as they jogged along the rutted road three, and sometimes four or five, abreast.
"Those poor devils of wounded," Phillip said wryly. "They're being pushed along at quite a rate, aren't they, sir? Is quite so much haste necessary?"
"The C-in-C thinks it is," Peel returned. "I've just been talking to him. He's worried about Cawnpore. No" — he answered Phillip's anticipated question — "there's been no word from General Windham as yet but that's not to say he hasn't sent word. Communication with Cawnpore has been, to say the least, uncertain — cossids haven't been getting through. But I gather it's the lack of news that is at the root of Sir Colin's concern. He says he feels it in his bones that all is not well and — that's why I wanted to see you, Phillip — he wants our guns and Tavers's heavy battery brought nearer to the head of the column. Brigadier Hope Grant's Delhi Brigade, with the Lancers and the horsed guns, form the advance guard, as you're aware. Well, he wants our Brigade to move up to their immediate rear. If Cawnpore is under attack, we're to be pushed forward, in advance of the column, to Windham's aid. The Chief is anxious about the Ganges Bridge."
Phillip nodded, frowning. The Commander-in-Chief's anxiety was understandable. "When are we to move up, sir?" he asked.
"This evening," Peel told him. "Camp is to be made at the Bunni Bridge — Hope Grant should be across it by now. We're to move up as soon as the road is reasonably clear, passing through the camp while the rest of the column is halted."
"In semi-darkness, Phillip," Jim Vaughan put in. "We shall have to put two crews on each gun — watch and watch, more or less. But at least there'll be a moon, for which thank heaven — because it will take us all night and well into the early morning to get those guns shifted. The men will have a dinner halt and another short one at Bunni. For the rest, they'll have to keep on the march, I'm afraid."
"The Jacks will cope with that," Phillip said. "But what about our gun-cattle? They won't."
"Hughie Hare is trying to get us some relief teams," Captain Peel answered. "Captain Travers" — he nodded in the direction of the Royal Artillery officer, who had ridden across the road to greet a party of wounded in a bullock cart — "says he'll use elephants for his battery, and we may have to, if we can't track down any spare bullocks. But I'm not keen on the brutes, I must confess, and I certainly don't want to go into action with them if I can help it. However, the Madras Regiment should have commandeered some spare transport animals at the Bunni campsite; they were warned." He sighed and then demanded sharply, "Phillip, our Jacks did break their fast before they marched, didn't they?"
Phillip smiled. William Peel's obstinate insistence that the men of his Brigade were to shave and eat breakfast before going on duty was in defiance of the Commander-in-Chief's standing orders, which called for the meal to be eaten at the second halt when the column was on the march.
"Yes, sir," he said. "They did — although the Column Marshall nearly had apoplexy when I informed him that I was acting on your instructions."
"Men fight better on a full stomach," Peel observed, the suspicion of a smile giving the boyish curve to his firm mouth. He took a small silver watch from his pocket, and his smile faded. "Jim and I will ride back to the guns, Phillip, and get things organised. I want you to resume your duties as liaison officer with the chief staff, if you please."
"Aye, aye, sir," Phillip acknowledged. He waited expectantly and the Shannon's Captain went on, his tone faintly defensive, "Sir Colin likes to play his hand a mite close to his chest but I want to know what's going on — you understand, Phillip? If there is any news from General Windham — good or bad — send me word, will you? I'll let you have one of the mids, to act as galloper. He can catch up with you ... and, Phillip —"
William Peel gave vent to an audible sigh. "If the news should be what Sir Colin fears, he'll almost certainly ride ahead of the column to make a personal reconnaissance. In that case, go with him, if you please, and make sure that young Hay and his party are all right. If necessary, take over command yourself and see to it that our Jacks and their two guns are put to the best possible use — you have my full authority to do whatever you consider expedient. But above all, send me a full report on the situation as soon as you can."
"I will, sir," Phillip assured him. He saluted and, kneeing his horse into a reluctant trot, started to make his way towards the head of the long, slow-moving column. It took him almost two hours to catch up with the Commander-in-Chief and his staff, such was the speed with which they were pressing forward. Sir Colin Campbell, small and dapper, rode in grim silence, hunched in his saddle, his eyes half-closed against the glare of the sun and a kerchief tied about the lower part of his face in an effort to keep out the dust. He made no acknowledgement of Phillip's presence and seemed unaware of it but his senior aide-de-camp, Sir David Baird of the 98th, told him, with a smile, "The Chief's seen you, my dear fellow, make no mistake about that. But it's as much as our lives are worth to interrupt his thoughts at the present moment — even General Mansfield's keeping out of his way!"
"I gather he is anxious about Cawnpore?" Phillip suggested.
"Indeed he is, Commander." Baird's smile faded. "There's been no news, of course, but he insists he can hear gunfire, although none of the rest of us can."
By the time the head of the column reached the camping ground, two miles beyond the Sai River Bridge at Bunni, however, the distant rumble of heavy and prolonged cannon fire was clearly audible to them all, coming unmistakably from the direction of Cawnpore. An urgent request to Captain Peel to expedite the movement of his siege-train to the front was followed by a general order, from the Commander-in-Chief, for the whole convoy to prepare for a forced march next day, and, well before first light, the camp was astir, with the naval guns now in position to the rear of the Delhi Brigade's cavalry and horsed guns, and the infantry dropping back to protect the convoy.
The first news from Cawnpore was brought by a native cossid who emerged, sweating and breathless, from his hiding place in a field of corn as the advance guard of the 9th Lancers trotted past. The note he carried was marked "Most Urgent" and addressed to "Sir Colin Campbell or any Officer commanding troops on the Lucknow road." Written partly in Greek characters, it stated that General Windham was under attack by an estimated twenty to twenty-five thousand rebels, with powerful artillery — the Gwalior troops, under Tantia Topi, having joined forces with those of the Nana.
At noon, a second message, evidently penned some ten or twelve hours after the first, urged the Commander-in-Chief to return to Cawnpore with the utmost speed. The native city and the Ganges Bridge were threatened, the defenders having been compelled, after a severe and daylong battle, to retire within the fortified entrenchment with their guns. The rebels had at least 70 guns, some of heavy calibre and he was being hard-pressed, Windham concluded. Nevertheless, a counterattack had been ordered for the following day in the hope of carrying off some of the guns or driving them back, beyond the range of fort and bridge.
Excerpted from Escape from Hell by V. A. Stuart. Copyright © 1977 Vivian Stuart. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
V. A. Stuart wrote several series of military fiction and numerous other novels under various pseudonyms. Her settings span history and the globe, from the Napoleonic wars of Europe to India under the British Raj. Born in 1914, she was in Burma with the British Fourteenth Army, became a lieutenant, and was decorated with the Burma Star and the Pacific Star.
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