A MATTER OF HONOUR | Philip Mason on the Indian Army to 1947

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A MATTER OF HONOUR | Philip Mason on the Indian Army to 1947

Postby swordcollector1 » 24 Jun 2011 12:32

Hi All,

I'm just finishing A Matter of Honour - an Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men (1974) by Philip Mason, and thought I'd post a short review in case anyone else is interested in the study of British India. This is a comprehensive look at British military involvement in the sub-continent from the earliest days of "John Company" through to Independence. The author writes from personal knowledge of India: he was a civil servant and district administrator and also served in the Defence Department of the Government of India during the 1930s and through the Second World War. The book does not attempt to trace the detailed histories of particular regiments; instead Mason draws on selected episodes from different regiments' stories to illustrate the events or period which he is describing (thus, for example, the section on WW1 looks at the rise of the Garhwalis as fighting troops and cites examples of VCs won by them, while an earlier chapter on the Second Anglo-Sikh War takes examples from the story of the Guides infantry in that conflict).

From the point of view of readers of this Forum, the balance of the book is just about right, with the majority of chapters considering the period prior to WW1, but enough detail about the years following to maintain interest and see the story through to its close in 1947 (it's outside the scope of this forum, but he is particularly good on the use of Indian troops in Burma during WW2, and his summary of the successive campaigns fought there is one of the most succinct I've read). There are also some good anecdotes from Mason's own experience to add colour to the narrative.

The book maintains an objective and non-partisan stance, recognising that Indian and British relations were not always good, but apportioning blame fairly and without prejudice (the author was for a time Director of the Institute of Race Relations). One point which places this book in its 1970s context, however, and which may be particularly noticeable to non-UK readers, is the frequent use of "we" to mean British (or British and Indian) forces, rather in the manner of a football fan discussing his own team. This is a minor point, however, and does not spoil the reader's enjoyment of what is a very interesting and readable piece of military history writing. There is also a good index and bibliography, which I look forward to working through in my future reading!

I believe this book is currently out of print, but copies surface on Abebooks from time to time, and good reference libraries may also be able to obtain a copy for you.

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