|It is good for us to try and realize the intense enthusiasm in the Punjab for anything which could contribute to the fall of Delhi. There, too, was the fashionable seat of war, to which all the young English bloods and all the old Sikhs soldiers wished to be sent+. |
The 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th Companies were now put in hand at Ludhiana, no mean tribute to the worth that they were proving, Captain G.H. Cox, the Executive Engineer of the 8th Section of the Grand Trunk Road, being charged with this. For the moment, however, he could not get Mazhbis, so that the 8th and 9th Companies were largely composed of Ramdasias, chamars++ who had affiliated themselves to Sikhism without that rise in status which the tradition of fidelity had given to the Mazhbis. The 10th and 11th Companies were raised from Jat Sikhs, and the force left Ludhiana under Lieut. Stevenson on September 6th, which meant that they were too late for the siege and storming of Delhi on the 13th*.
The officer personnel of the Engineer Brigade was a strong one, and many of its members came to great fame both at the siege and during their subsequent careers. The Chief Engineer was the famous Colonel Richard Baird-Smith who, from Principal of the Engineering College at Roorkee, came to take the place of the ineffective Major Laughton, the original senior engineer with the Umballa force. But Baird-Smith's work was naturally largely at Force Headquarters and in the administration of the Park. Able and devoted as he was, his health was poor, and only iron will kept him at his post. The real, rough, outdoor work of the siege was done by the senior field engineer, the even more famous Captain "Alec" Taylor, who had come, like most other of the men of action, from the Punjab, where his magnum opus was the Grand Trunk Road. Under him the devoted band of young engineer officers from the mutinied companies of the Sappers and Miners as well as from the civil works in the Punjab, vied with each other in being foremost in the leading works.
+There have lately appeared in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (1930-31) the letters of Lieut. A.M. Lang, Bengal Engineers, adventures at the siege, in which most of the names of the Pioneer Officers appear. Also in January, 1931, the story of the March of the Siege Train under Lieut. W.J. Gray, Bengal Artillery, both well worth reading for the colour and enthusiasm that they evince.
++Chamars = leather-worker and skinner, a caste only a shade less degraded than the Chuhra or sweeper.
*This corps of eleven companies was now generally spoken of as the 'Punjab Sappers,' despite its original nomenclature as Pioneers, and it was not till the General Order 619 of 1858, that their original style and title as Pioneers was nailed to the mast of history.