Books on British India

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Brick, May 28, 2008.

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  1. Does anyone happen to have any suggestions for some good books on the history of India under British rule and how we came to run the place? Just finished Field Marshal Slim's 'Defeat into Victory' a few weeks back as well as another book that briefly covered the Honourable East India Company so I'm somewhat interested to find out more about what we did over there. I just looking for a general history of the Subcontinent rather than a military one to start with although any suggestions on that front are welcome possibly for later.

    Whilst I know we weren't all sweetness and light so I'm not looking for something that paints the British only in a good light, I'd also prefer ones that don't just paint us as evil incarnate and how everything since then is all our fault. A reasonable and balanced view if you will. :) Thanks in advance for any help and suggestions.
  2. While looking for this, which I would recommend, I also came across this, which I haven't read, but looks interesting.

    You could also try anything by this chap, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work.
  3. Could have a look at Scarlett Lancer by James Lunt.
    From Sepoy to Subedar by Subedar Sita Ram.
    The Indian Mutiney by Saul David, and a trilogy written by Jan Morris who is very good.
    Almost forgot The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple.
  4. If you want to get a unique 'Other Ranks' perspective on regimental life in Victorian/Edwardian British India read "Old Soldier Sahib" by Frank Richards DCM MM late 2nd Bn The Royal Welch Fusiliers.
  5. Agreed on Charles Urban's Soldier Sahibs. Fantastic read

    Also try Christoper Hibbert's The Great Mutiny
  6. A very good history on the early part is "The Honourable Company" by John Keay. It deals with the history of the Honourable East India Company until the British Government took over after 1857.
  7. Not a history book, but 'Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive'.

    Written in the late C19th it's a fascinating view of the language of the sahibs. There's an online version

  8. I'm currently reading Victoria's Wars. Lots on India in the mid 1800s.
  9. I can highly recommend Sahib: The British Soldier in India 1750-1914, by Richard Holmes (and mentioned by PassingBells - it's a fascinating book - actually all of Holmes' books about the British Army and her soldiers are excellent. Can also second the recommendation of The Great Mutiny by Hibbert.
  10. "Old Soldier Sahib" by Frank Richards - absolutely brilliant.
    Then, read "Old Soldiers Never Die" by the same bloke.
    He wrote OSND first but if you read OSS first you get the chronology right.

    I read OSS for the first time in the late 70s when I was in Pakistan. It was my most memorable first read ever. Shockingly imperialist and racist by modern standards - but a brilliant insight into just how tough a life our ancestors had.

    You can hear Frank richard being interviwed on BBC History. Brilliant stuff.
  11. Look for'Wellington in India' by Jac Weller. All three of his books on Wellington are superb. This one will give you an idea of how we came to rule such large chunks of the sub-continent. Indians I have spoken to just don't believe that we did it with an army that was 90% Indian, or that we ruled a country of 300 million with around 100,000 Brits.
  12. I was about to add that myself... it was ghostwritten/edited by Robert Graves too, which further underlines its quality...
  13. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    Bumping this old thread to give a further recommend to Richard Holmes' "Sahib", which I have just finished. It's a good solid read but has loads of detail about life in India from just before the 19th century to 1914. Holmes draws on first-hand stuff that otherwise might not have seen the light of day, including the recollections, letters and diaries of officers and other ranks, and doesn't flinch from recording the sheer horror of much of what went on. He estimates two million men, women and children went out and never came back (includes I think children born and died out there), with a lot of detail on regimental losses from cholera, drink, more drink and deaths in battle and afterwards. In the early days some got VERY rich, later on many who did come home had rather a dull time of it. For those with connections with the old Indian army or its East India Company predecessor, a very worthwhile read. Who wants fiction when the facts are so enthralling?. Homes gives a rich feast of references including leads to personal papers in teh British library and the National Army Museum. For staff-college type military details there are n volumes of Int digests published by the modern Indian Army covering all manner of expeditions up the Khyber etc.

    Mild annoyance that Holmes didn't get round (among many, many personal accounts of the Mutiny that he uses), to my gggguncle Robert Patrick Anderson's "Personal Journal of the Siege of Lucknow" published by his brother Thomas Carnegy Anderson in 1888, but interlibrary lending will get that for you. (RPA and TCA were sons of the John Anderson whose meetings with Sumatran cannibals are noted in another ARRSE thread).
  14. Might be an idea to read some of John Masters books, despite most being fiction they have a lot of true historical facts in them!
    He & his family had deep ties with the sub continent see:-
    "Masters was the son of a Lieutenant-Colonel whose family had a long tradition of service in the Indian Army. He was educated at Wellington and Sandhurst. On graduating from Sandhurst in 1933, he was seconded to the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI) for a year before applying to serve with the 4th Prince of Wales's Own Gurkha Rifles. He saw service on the North-West Frontier with the 2nd battalion of the regiment, and was rapidly given a variety of appointments within the battalion and the regimental depot, becoming the Adjutant of the 2nd battalion in early 1939.

    During World War II his battalion was sent to Basra in Iraq, during the brief Anglo-Iraqi War. Masters subsequently served in Iraq, Syria and Persia. In early 1942, he attended the Indian Army Staff College at Quetta. Here he met the wife of a fellow officer and began an affair. They were later to marry. This caused a small scandal at the time.

    After Staff College he first served as Brigade Major in 114th Indian Infantry Brigade before being "poached" by "Joe" Lentaigne, another officer from 4th Gurkhas, to be Brigade Major in 111th Indian Infantry Brigade, a Chindit formation. From March, 1944, the brigade served behind the Japanese lines in Burma. On the death of General Orde Wingate on April 24, Lentaigne became the Chindits' overall commander and Masters commanded the main body of 111 Brigade.

    In May, the brigade was ordered to hold a position code-named ‘Blackpool’ near Mogaung in Northern Burma. The isolated position was attacked with great intensity for seventeen days and eventually the brigade was forced to withdraw. Masters had to order the medical orderlies to shoot 19 of his own men, casualties who had no hope of recovery or rescue. Masters later wrote about these events in the second volume of his autobiography, The Road Past Mandalay.

    After briefly commanding the 3rd battalion of his regiment, Masters subsequently became GSO1 (the Chief of Staff) of Indian 19th Infantry Division, which was heavily involved in the later stages of the Burma Campaign, until the end of the war. After a spell as a staff officer in GHQ India in Delhi, he then served as an instructor at the British Army Staff College, Camberley. He left the army after this posting, and moved to the United States, where he attempted to set up a business promoting walking tours in the Himalayas, one of his hobbies. The business was not a success and, to make ends meet, he decided to write of his experiences in the army. When his novels proved popular, he became a full-time writer".