'Swords trembling in their scabbards' : a study of Indian officers in the Indian Cavalry, 1858 – 1918
The Indian army under British rule was unique in that it had two sets of officers, one British and one Indian. The Indian officers played a vital role within their regiments but could never proceed to the higher levels of command. Even the most senior and experienced Indian officer was subordinate to the most newly-arrived British subaltern and Indian officers were never allowed to command British troops. This study, believed to be the first of its kind, explores the education, selection and training of Indian officers together with their changing role in the period 1858 to 1918 with a brief coda covering changes up to Indian Independence in 1947. The study focuses on the careers of the Indian officers of four cavalry regiments and their achievements during this period. Letters sent to and from them while they were serving in France during the Great War are used to personalise the story and, in particular, use is made of previously unpublished material from the diary of Amar Singh. He had a very varied military career which illustrates the difficulties facing Indian officers at this time. The study concludes that although the Indian officers were undoubtedly very courageous and effective troop and squadron commanders, they were held back by their lack of a basic general education. Racial stereotyping by many of their British commanders of the period led to their refusal to believe that Indians could be, at least potentially, as capable as themselves. This prejudice was part of the wider social gulf between the two races. In spite of these difficulties, the Indian officers made a very significant contribution to the overall effectiveness of the Indian Army of this period.