“Swords Trembling In Their Scabbards” – Review by Chris Buckham

The relationship between the British and Indians underwent fundamental changes commencing at the turn of the 20th Century. This was especially the case with the advent of the two world wars. Nowhere was this change more pronounced than in the Army. Traditionally officered by the British, either regular force or as members of the East Indian Company, necessity, professional development and maturity witnessed the advent of Indianization within the army and the creation of an Indian Officer corps.

Creese’s book undertakes a study of how this transition came about and how this change was accepted by the members of the military. This work is an expansion of the author’s thesis and is a well researched and balanced study. It is somewhat of a dry read but it does relate the story of development of the Corps, specifically focusing on the experiences of one of the early commissioned Indians Amar Singh who maintained a detailed diary of his experiences.

Creese’s analysis clearly shows that the transition was not always easy nor smooth. The British, especially in the period following the First World War certainly recognized the need and inevitability of the change of Indian status. Availability of British forces to man the regiments as well as noteworthy Indian performance in the cauldron of the trenches all pointed towards change. Nevertheless, while many accepted the changing status it required a shift in the paradigm of both the British troops and officers. As Creese points out, this was not a one way street however; the perspective of the Indians themselves and their abilities also underwent profound change as they found themselves conducting operations against Western adversaries and being more than equal to the task.

The author has drawn upon extensive primary source material and his work is obviously well researched. His study of the transition outlines the changes at both the societal as well as the military level. The work addresses some of the misconceptions regarding the relationship of the British and Indians serving within the military. Unlike other aspects of the administration, to a great extent the British leadership recognized and actively supported the elevation of competent Indians to positions of authority. This extended to the creation of a military academy along the lines of Sandhurst. Creese points out that the transition was facilitated by the fact that the methodology and doctrine was seamless between the British and Indians as both were trained in the same manner.

While the work is academic in nature, any reader with an interest in societal change and the profound impact that the transition within the Indian military had on the stability of the independence of India itself, would do very well to read this book.

Reviewed by Chris Buckham for War History Online

By Michael Creese
Helion & Company
ISBN: 978-9-099-82819

Major Chris Buckham is an active duty logistics officer in the RCAF who reviews books in his spare time. He maintains a blog of his reviews at: www.themilitaryreviewer.blogspot.com

Chris Buckham

Chris Buckham is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE