Poona - First Years
Six men died during the voyage from England. Sadly, between the day the regiment arrived and mid-December there were 87 further deaths. It then moved to Poona, a far healthier inland station. The journey of some seven days became a familiar one as the Queen’s were destined to alternate between Bombay and Poona over the next ten years. It began with a short sea passage across the bay to the fishing village of Panwell. Then came a march across the coastal lowland and on up to the highland plain - Maharatta country - which extended to Poona to the south-east. There the regiment was accommodated in cantonments at Kirkee, outside the city. The regiment was in good heart. It had been inspected before it left Bombay and the inspecting officer had reported that “I do not think I ever saw a corps at exercise in which every individual seemed so thoroughly to know the part expected of him, which is the more deserving of notice as, from sickness and the season, they can have had little practice since they landed”.
There was little to disturb those first years at Poona. The Third Maharatta War had ended in 1819 with the elimination of the Pindari robber bands which had desolated much of the country, and with the defeat of the rulers of the Maharatta states of Nagpur, Indore and Poona which had supported them. The Company pensioned off the Peshwa of Poona and installed a British Resident in the other two states, which retained their nominal independence. Only in 1827 was there a call to arms when the Queen’s contributed several companies to a light force of the Poona Division which was despatched to Kolapore in the south of the Bombay Presidency where some of the rajahs were reported as displaying indications of hostility. The rajahs capitulated on its arrival and it returned before the end of the year. Otherwise there were few events to disturb barrack routine.
There were endless inspections. Companies paraded daily and the regiment on Saturdays, and the soldiers were carefully inspected beforehand. Regimental Standing Orders required the captain and the subaltern appointed for the day to visit the barracks frequently in order to “see cleanliness and regularity observed in every particular”. Companies were periodically kept off other duties to prepare for the company commander’s inspection at which orders required that “The necessaries, arms and every article in charge of the company will be minutely examined, the sergeant armourer attending”. The regiment was inspected and reported on every six months by the Bombay Army commander or an officer appointed by him.
Standing Orders required of officers that “It is to be understood that an officer attentive to his duty and his company will employ himself frequently in looking into everything relating to the duty, dress, and welfare of his men; will always be well-appointed in his own dress, much rather too early than too late for parade; in short, showing his men that his duty as well as his attention is to their good, is done as much from inclination as in compliance with Orders.” Inspecting officers were not lacking in their reports of any failure on the part of officers. In one year the Queen’s were rebuked for the number of captains who had absented themselves from the regiment to assume staff appointments, doubtless bored with barrack routine. They were soon returned to regimental duty.
Punishment of soldiers for breaches of discipline included confinement, sometimes solitary, on a diet of bread and water, as well as flogging which existed as a deterrent. If awarded at all, the sentence was carried out by the drum major and his drummers. The Queen’s Regimental Standing Orders required that every man so sentenced should pay the drum major one shilling for the provision of the whip. The Regimental History records, however, that in more than one of the years spent at Bombay and Poona there were no floggings at all. As early as 1814 the Regiment had accepted the worth of recognition for merit and had initiated a badge for that purpose. It was replaced in 1829 by a more splendid one which carried on the reverse a bronze cross and a silver Lamb (the Regimental insignia) for six years meritorious service and a silver cross and Lamb for ten years service, both with a certificate of merit.
There was much emphasis on the cleanliness of barracks. Standing Orders required that “Blankets, sheets and palliasses will be shook and aired as soon as the men have risen, and afterwards folded in a neat and uniform manner . . . . The floors, berths, walls, windows, in fact every crevice and corner of the barrack rooms, and the staircases, are to be carefully swept and dusted twice every day viz once after breakfast and once after dinner . . . The pioneers will sweep and clean every day the exterior part of the barracks. The gutters and drains must be regularly cleaned and the courts, cleaning sheds and every avenue which leads to them kept in the neatest possible condition.”
Standing Orders also applied to soldiers’ families. They stated: “No soldier is to marry without the permission in writing of his commanding officer. Any man disobeying will be ordered a close prisoner in the barracks, and his wife turned out . . ..Women permitted to live in barracks are to assist in sweeping, dusting and, when circumstances require, cooking . . . Those women allowed the extra indulgence of having their children in barracks, must be particularly attentive to their habits of cleanliness . . . No women are allowed on the baggage wagons; such as are well behaved and unable to march, or having young children, will be excepted”. In India, as elsewhere, soldiers’ wives and their children were a tough, enduring, devoted and remarkably cheerful breed. They cared for their husbands in hospital and on the march when deaths from cholera and fever were all too common. The children were spoiled by the unmarried soldiers who would give them tobacco and old clay pipes to smoke it in. They were part of the regimental family, and women whose husbands died followed the usual practice of marrying again as soon as possible to avoid going off the strength which would otherwise happen after six months of widowhood. Orphaned daughters as young as fourteen were married off too, since a widowed mother had no means of supporting them. To be left alone in India was not a happy situation.
Much time was spent on the parade ground. The ability to manoeuvre calmly and quickly was the hallmark of the British infantryman. It was achieved by attention to detail and much practice in accordance with the manual of Field Exercises and Evolutions of the Army which was issued by the Adjutant General of the British Army in 1824. A General Order required every officer to provide himself with a copy, and it directed that generals and commanding officers of regiments should be held “strictly responsible for the due and accurate performance of every part of these Regulations; and in order that no deviation may creep into practice so as to disturb the exact conformity which must be attained and preserved in all movements, it is His Majesty’s further pleasure that no formations shall be executed, except as are here prescribed, without due and competent authority; and general officers on the staff will report at the periodical inspection whether these His Majesty’s commands are strictly complied with”.