The Diary of
India and Ireland
Private Swindlehurst served in France with the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1918. He and his friend Gilby volunteered for further service at the end of the war and this account covers his service in India from November 1919 to December 1920 with the 2nd Battalion and then in Dublin from January to March 1921 with the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. Swindlehurst's main interest is not in recording the minutiae of army life but rather in describing the people of India, their customs and the places which he visits. The diary conveys the impression of a young man whose enthusiasm for the East and tolerant approach to cultures different from his own enable him to gain much from an experience which would otherwise have been tedious and monotonous. Although the record of his experiences in Ireland is, by comparison, brief (26pp) it provides a valuable insight into conditions in Dublin during this critical period and is particularly useful for his comments on the Black and Tans.
In an interesting passage written in Brackton Camp, Staffordshire, prior to their embarkation for India Swindlehurst describes a talk on health and sex education given by the Medical Officer. He also records a conversation of war time veterans in which they recall their experiences of Franch brothels (15 October). Following their departure from Liverpool (21 October) Swindlehurst was appointed butcher for the troops. He describes galley arrangements on board T.S.S. City of Poona and during the voyage to India gives general accounts of his work. On their arrival in India on 13 November Swindlehurst's draft went directly to Lahore. His entry for 16 November records his first impressions of barrack life, with particular reference to the servants now at his disposal. Entries for the rest of November and December describe his work as butcher, relationships with native contractors and life in the cantonment (eg 17 November). At an early stage he established close contact with the Indian NCOs serving below him and on 22-24 November he records a lengthy conversation with his Sikh 'Tindal'. This includes an account of Sikh history and culture as well as the 'Tindal's' family history from 1750.
Interspersed throughout the diary are references to the wives fo other rankers who accompanied their husbands to India. On 28 November Swindlehurst describes the married quarters, the furnishing of which was his responsibility. On 2 December he records another conversation, this time with his 'Cotwal', on the subject of Indian languages and religions. Swindlehurst started to learn Hindustani at this time. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles was celebrated in Lahore with displays of horsemanship, 'airoplane stunts' and tent pegging competitions (15-16 December).
On 14 January 1920 Swindlehurst writes:
We are expecting to be called out for strike duty tonight, the railway employees have got the strike fever, so some trouble is expected.
This does not appear to have materialized. However, on 14 February he mentions the popular disaffection, caused by high food prices and low wages, which was causing alarm to the British Authorities. He also alludes to the Hunter Enquiry into "the shootings which have taken place at Amritsar".
Entries for 16-17 March give further details of troubles in Lahore caused by "food and wage reductions". Swindlehurst's 'boss', the NCO in charge of stores, had a drink problem (17 February) and it seems that Swindlehurst shouldered full responsibility for the Company's meat requirements. On 11 February he lectured a group of officers on elements of meat inspection, and on 20 February he was interviewed by the officer in command of the Lahore Brigade, and offered the position of staff sergeant "with great material attractions". Since this would require him to sign on for a further 12 years Swindlehurst ultimately declined the post.
Swindlehurst was a keen photographer, and on 15 February he refers to his supplier of photographic equipment, Gupta Lal, a "high caste Hindu". Through this friendship he gained further insights into Indian life, which he records in detail. The account is illustrated with photographs, but these are generally poor in quality.
He makes several references to brothels and 'loose women' in India. On 12 March he write that some soldiers:
...Visited one of the numerous brothels in the city, refused to pay for what they had received, and got a beating up trying to get away...
He continues that it is:
...sad so many young men go to these places...
In fact many of us are not men yet...
And blames the talk of the older men after 'lights out':
...Constant repetition seems to break down the natural repugnance of some lads...it makes one sick...
Writing on the same theme on 14 February he describes the arrival of a travelling brothel which visited the host of coolies working on the Lahore-Ferozepore bridge.
Swindlehurst was transferred to a hill station for the hot season in early April. He describes the long journey to Dalhousie in his entries from 11-17 April. His appointment here was typist and book keeper to the Quartermaster. On 23-24 April he records that he has been
...removing unservicable furniture from the married quarters, what a job. Think those women live on petty jealousies, they seem full of it when I pay them a visit...
Entries for 11 and 13 June record similar problems. Swindlehurst was recalled to Lahore on active service on 5 May. On 17 May he writes that "a lot of demonstrations take place daily, but that is all so far". He does not record reasons for the unrest. During this period he accumpanied the Q.M.S. on a trip to Delhi and describes a sightseeing tour of Agra, including a visit to the Taj Mahal. On 26 May he received his £40 bounty for 'signing on' (for further service following the conclusion of hostilities in 1918).
Swindlehurst returned to the hill station in early June, where he remained until October. Few events of interest took place during this period. On 24 July 1920 he celebrated his 21st birthday and speaks of the "premature manhood" which the war had forced on him. He writes that he, like many of his contemporaries, had "crammed into a few short years experiences enough for a life-time". Although the lengthy of his service in France is not known, he wrote on 14 March 1920 that a tropical storm reminded him and Gilby of "the day we were in France when we were in the taking of the Hindenburg line at Arras".
Shortly after their return to Lahore Swindlehurst writes of the rising at Amritsar (29 October). He was sent there with "a supply of ammo and trench mortar bombs". The trouble was between Muslims and Hindus: "our chaps had been sent to look after European interests". On 2 November he records events in Amritsar, which resulted in many Indian casualties. There was little work to do in November. The most notable entries for this month are a lengthy digression on the Punjabi Rajputs (24 November) and a reference to more trouble in local brothels and the "high incidence of disease" (26 November). Short term servicemen were warned for home on 29 November, much to their surprise and delight. Swindlehurst's final days in India were passed writing a year's supply of letters to a "widow" in England for an illiterate comrade and finishing his own account of the people of India. He writes that this study had passed many hours "where I should have been fed up to the teeth with nothing to do" (30 November). In his farewell speech on 5 December, their platoon officer recommended any men who were unsuccessful in finding jobs on their return home to:
...immediately sign on again, before our previous service was lost. Some loud groans were audible at this part of the proceedings...
Swindlehurst sailed to England on a German ship, the Huntsedd, "handed over at the armistice." He again held the post of ship's butcher. The only memorable events of the voyage were the attempted suicide of a prisoner (29 December) and trouble among the "mental cases" (28 December).
On 6 January his draft disembarked at Southampton, where the men were "immediately issued with rifles, for what I don't know." The following day they learnt that they were to proceed to Ireland. He write that "...three lads have just done a dash and got clean away, good luck to them." He joined the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in Dublin on 8 January, and records that he was to finish his time "... doing guards, curfew patrols, street patrols and heaven knows what else". While off duty on his first day in Dublin, he and his friend were held up in the street and questioned
...Someone came up behind us and told us to 'stick your hands' up at the same time we both felt two hard things sticking into our backs..." (8 December).
He describes armoured cars "bristling with machine guns" on the streets and notes that "the men who stile themselves Black and Tans walk about like miniature arsenals". Swindlehurst writes of the Black and Tans objectively, almost as if they were carrying out a private war with Sinn Fein, while the regular soldiers played a neutral role. He describes the Black and Tnas as "out of work demobbed officers and men who can't settle down...to hear them talk one would think this trouble was specially made to amuse them (31 January). On 13 January 1921 he carried out his first guard duty at Jury's Hotel, headquarters of the CID, and scene of the Bloody Sunday shootings of 11 November 1920. He describes the "walls and carpets besmattered with blood", and alludes to the voilent questioning of Sinn Fein suspects carried out by the Black and Tans, prior to their transfer to Mount Joy Prison (eg 16 January). From 21-28 January Swindlehurst was on duty at this prison, and mentions an encounter with the Russian Countess Markovitch.
Regular entries cease on 31 January 1921. On 28 February he explains that his time has been spent in a routine of guards and patrolling. "The ambushes, killings and raids go on, how the people of Dublin stick it I don't know". The diary ends with a summary of conditions in India. He decides to
"...leave Dublin alone I am sick of the place,
I think we all are, so the next few pages will have an Eastern flavour..."