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Poet Under A Soldier's Hat: An Unwilling Officer's Adventures in the Last Years of the British Raj Kindle Edition
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Hugh Rose is strong, sensitive, fit, with a sharp eye for truth and huge mountains. After a harsh childhood, he graduates from Sandhurst and is sent to India, a Captain in the British Service with a Gurkha Regiment. Seeking to excel he ends up in remote outposts mediating for the Foreign Service and feeding his real passion: skiing, polo and trekking. Defying British policy he crosses umapped passes, into tribal Afghanistan. His intriguing companions are the bearers, orderlys, outcasts, warlords, tribal members, ambassadors, Sultans, Lords, Ladies all described in fast, beautiful phrases, quick observations and insights. Like his father, he challenges the strict Victorian manners, of the Raj and is penalized. This fascinating book of history, adventure, courage puts Hugh Rose chafng at the bit during the second world war, and devastated by the bloody Civil war in India caused by Partition. If, as he says, "the journey not the destination, ...is the thing...is the thing." You will agree that Hugh Rose's journey, told by his daughter - also a poet - is all compelling. Tori Warner Shepard, author of Now Silence, a Novel of World War II, and working on Santa Fe, USA
Hugh Rose was a British soldier when Britain ruled the Indian subcontinent and parts of the Middle East prior to the partition of 1947. One might think that ideally this should have been an autobiography written in, say, 1950. But we had to wait until 2013. How could this be, you ask, when Rose was born in 1905 and by now would be well over a hundred years old? Yet the text is written confidently and in the first person. Solution: Hugh’s daughter Elizabeth stepped into his shoes and, armed with an amazing stash of true-life background material and a talent for masculine tale-telling, told his story warts and all.
Hugh Rose, scion of a military family, had a difficult boyhood, cloistered with his mother and sisters in England and continental Europe, then consigned to boarding schools while his mostly-absentee father indulged his passion for army life. But he had a good education, which (partly due to extramural pursuits) prepared him well for his future as an officer and a gentleman. The book suggests he deserved neither soubriquet, yet in fact he was both – just. Commissioned in 1924 and sent to the Khyber, he was adventurous by nature though dubious of Britain’s roles in the Raj. He developed an obsession for mountains and mountaineering, creating a specialty in military cartography and devising various other ruses to get himself out of camp and on the trail. Rose and his fellow soldiers had to dodge a lot of sniper bullets, but over the years he also developed a knack for escaping the extremes of temperature at his various postings, and for finding respite at man-made oases where companionship, physical comfort, sport, good food and drink – and lusty ladies – were to be found.
You won’t find much poetry in this book, but it offers a wealth of lyrical beauty in the plain text. “Such Persian gardens!” exclaims an account of an early visit to newly-named Iran. “True to idyllic images from Omar Khayyam, soothing water bubbled into shady lily ponds between beds of scented roses that grew beneath the dark, spreading cedar, poplar, and mulberry trees. Gardens where nightingales sang, gardens where I could almost hear the pearls falling from the lips of poets and the earnest discourse of philosophers and their friends.”
This is a book that gets better as one moves into it and becomes acquainted with Hugh Rose’s remarkable personality as portrayed, with great accuracy, I imagine, by his daughter Elizabeth. There are many photographs, intriguingly exotic but poorly reproduced. One can quibble about other shortcomings, mostly in editing. But the main thing is the story. And this is without doubt a great story.
This is a book that gets better as one moves into it and becomes acquainted with Hugh Rose’s remarkable personality as portrayed, with remarkable accuracy, I imagine, by Elizabeth Rose. There are many photographs, intriguingly exotic but poorly reproduced. One might quibble about other shortcomings, mostly in editing. But the main thing is of course the story. And this is without doubt a true, captivating and ballsy story from the annals of British India.