The Last Cavalier


Cavalry has traditionally been associated with dash, elan, valour and romance. Whether is was ancient India, or medieval Europe – the mounted cavalryman considered himself elite. The reasons for this may have been manifold, but the most obvious ones are two. Firstly, owning and maintaining a war horse was costly to say the least. Therefore it was only people with adequate means – i.e. the aristocracy, nobility, landed gentry – ventured to join the cavalry. And secondly, the role of cavalry in battle itself – the high mobility and the added momentum that a body of cavalry brought into battle made it a decisive, battle winning factor in any engagement. Of course, eventually even if the origins of the swagger in a cavalryman’s walk were forgotten, the swagger itself became a part of the persona.

In early twentieth century technology rendered the horse redundant as a significant player in warfare. The battle tank emerged as the modern horse, and replaced the horses in cavalry units. The transition was by no means painless, and met strong resistance from the established cavalry establishment, who considered tanks being of uncertain mechanical reliability – a passing fad that could not really succeed in taking the place of a full blooded cavalry charge when it came to turning the course of a battle. But progress does not really brook much dissent in its onward journey, and horses were soon relegated to ceremonial and sporting roles in the army.

The Armoured Corps which was thus what cavalry was re-incarnated as. And the reincarnation retained much of the flavour of its predecessor, as the first generation of the convertees passed on the ethos and traditions that they had been accustomed to in the cavalry. The mobility of the arm was even more than that of cavalry, and a broader professional canvas thus helped the armoured commanders at all levels ample opportunities for developing the ability to look at the larger picture. The larger area of operations also meant a looser command and control with the commander at the spot being encouraged to take a decision rather than lose time awaiting one.

It was a combination of the legacies from the cavalier ancestors and the requirements of operational roles in the new avatar which forged the attitude of the modern day Armoured Corps. The swagger and elan remains, as does the cocky confidence. “Glamour in peace, glory in war” is the credo that typifies this philosophy.The point that most observers who mistake this preening for arrogance miss, is that it is backed by utter professionalism.  Partying hard is never at the cost of working hard – and working hard doesn’t mean not partying even harder. While the parties are visible, the professionalism is often taken for granted and even undermined. “How can a set of people who have SUCH a good time be professionally good? That they do well if because of inflated reports.”

Such perceptions have  caused a lot of harm to the arm today, and there is cause for the despondency which afflicts the bearers of the cavalry mantle today. However, on the occasion of Armour Day (celebrated on 01 May to commemorate the commencement of mechanization of Indian cavalry regiments) to them I dedicate the following few lines – a poem called ‘The Last Cavalier’ penned by Late Col Gautam Sen of my Regiment – the finest cavalryman that I have had the honour of knowing. May God bless his soul.

Cheers Sir!

I’ll not fight from trench to trench

I’ll not live from hill to hill:

I’m a cavalry soldier

Footslogger do what you will.

Pennons flying, I rule the earth

Scanning fields and sky;

Horizons are no limits to me

I move till my tanks run dry.

On the day of reckoning

I’ll be the scourge of war

Taking my scythe through battlefields

And with the fertility rites of their blood and mine

I’ll reap the harvest all battles yield.

And when I am gone,

My charred remains a motley collection on the pyre,

My dog tags sent home

Say no prayers for me.

The wind will play a dirge

As it follows the dust

To cover the earth scarred

With the blemish of my tank tracks on battlefields..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *