On dark days I wonder whether in fact, with all our computing intelligence, our guns and weapons, satellites and lasers, we can win a war against an enemy that, for all his barbarity and bestiality, is united by a vision of something bigger than the individual. They love death, we love life - but what kind of life ? In the post-Christian, post-British era, for most of us our life, our physical existence, is all we've got - so in time of trial we are alone with our pain, our fear. Lose life and all is lost.
It wasn't always so. Multan (now in Pakistan, then part of the Sikh Empire, nominally independent but by then British-controlled), April 1848. Two wounded British oficers, twenty-four years old, are surrounded in their house by a mob, and their Sikh sirdar asks if he can wave a white sheet and sue for mercy.
Patrick Vans Agnew replied 'The time for mercy has gone; let none be asked for. They can kill us two if they like; but we are not the last of the English; thousands of Englishmen will come down here when we are gone, and annihilate (rebel leader Dewan) Mulraj and his soldiers and his fort'.
Vans Agnew was beheaded, Lt. William Anderson hacked to death on his sickbed.
Inside nine months Multan was stormed and retaken, the bodies of the offcers reinterred with honours in Mulraj's citadel, Dewan Mulraj led away in chains to life imprisonment. It is thought he inspired the figure of the prisoner Khem Singh in Kipling's 'On The City Wall'.
Info : Charles Allen's wonderful Soldier Sahibs
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