1841–1842. GAZETTED TO THE BUFFS. ARRIVE IN INDIA
In 1841 British and Indian troops occupied Cabul; but throughout Affghanistan the aspect of things political was alarming. In Scinde the Ameers were defiant and hostile. The Punjab in a state of disturbance and convulsion; law and order had ceased; isolated murders and massacres instigated by opposing claimants to the throne left vacant in 1839, and since that time occupied by a prince against whom the insurrectionary movement was now directed by chiefs, some of whom were inimical to British interests.
Military reinforcements on a large scale were dispatched from England. Great, accordingly, the activity at Chatham, then the only depot whence recruits and young officers were sent to regiments serving in India. The depot then at Warley was for soldiers of the Honourable Company’s service.
Into the General Hospital at Fort Pitt were received military invalids from India as from all other foreign stations. There they were treated for their several ailments; thence discharged to join their respective depots, or from the service on such pensions as they were deemed entitled to by length of service and regimental character. Then the period of engagement was for life, otherwise twenty-one years in the infantry, twenty-four in the mounted branches.
There young medical men nominated for appointment to the army underwent a course of training, more or less long, according to individual circumstances, for the special duties before them; meanwhile they received no pay, wore no uniform; they dined at mess, paid mess subscriptions, and were subject to martial law.
Professional education included requirements for diplomas, and in addition, special subjects relating to military medicine, surgery, and management of troops. Nominations for appointments were given by old officers or other men whose social position was a guarantee in regard to character and fitness of their nominees for the position sought by them; certificates by professors and teachers under whom they studied were submitted to the responsible authority1 at the War Office, with whom rested their selection. Thus in effect a combined system of patronage and competition was in force.
With anxious interest a small group of expectants awaited the arrival of the coach by which in those days afternoon letters and evening papers from the metropolis were conveyed. Eagerly was The Gazette scanned when, close upon the hour of midnight, the papers were delivered. Great was the pride and rejoicing with which some of our number read the announcement relating to them; great the disappointment of those who were not so included. The regiment to which I had the honour of being appointed was the 3rd, or “Buffs,” the depot of which formed part of the Provisional Battalion then occupying Forton Barracks.2
The duties assigned to young medical officers were unimportant—initiatory rather than definite in kind. Careful watch and superintendence on the part of official seniors gave us an opportunity of learning various points relative to practice, as well as to routine and discipline, to be turned to account—or otherwise—in the career upon which we were entering. But the process of “breaking in” was not without its disagreeables. Courtesy towards young officers on the part of their seniors, military or medical, was a quality rare at Chatham, but where met with in isolated instances was the more appreciated, and remembered in subsequent years. The “system” of training in force tended rather to break than bend the sapling.
To be continue in this ebook