Review: Army of Empire – George Morton-Jack

My reading of Army of Empire: The untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 (2018) by George Morton-Jack was a long time coming. Through some miscommunication I had been led to believe Africa did not feature which seemed rather odd. So, after some investigating, and confirmation that it did, I tracked down a copy and had a good read.

While the full extent of Indian service in East Africa is not covered in Army of Empire, due mainly to the availability of correspondence from and about the theatre, it is a valuable contribution for understanding the social and cultural aspects of the Indian Army and how those who served in both Europe and East Africa experienced and compared the theatres. My one issue with the sections on East Africa, is the reliance on Meinertzhagen’s memoirs and his being the ‘only’ intelligence agent. In fairness to George, many of us, myself included, have made this assumption. In Henry Tyndall’s 11 page diary coverage of the campaign in East Africa from 1916-1918 with the Mussoorie Volunteer Rifles (High Noon of Empire, transcribed by BA James, 2007), there is mention of Intelligence officer Lieutenant Percival and Intelligence Agent Burkitt who worked with his force around Kasinga. (Apart from the usual military coverage, the other point of note by Tyndall is the return of Naick Sanam Gul, with a broken leg, ‘by the enemy under a flag of truce’.)

Back to George’s book, I was able to obtain some answers to questions which have been lurking from when I was working on my thesis 20 years ago. However, some questions remain as British internal politics in India is not the focus of Army of Empire. What was also remarkable on this front, was how little Kitchener featured. Haig was George’s starting point and while there was much I could see carry through from the bit I encountered when writing Kitchener: The man not the myth, it was surprising to register how much had been ignored that K had been involved in. This is not a short-fall in Army of Empire as that was not its focus. What it does, for me, is confirm the antagonisms between personalities and sadly how that impacted on the Indian Army’s preparedness and treatment in the war and especially in Iraq.

Don’t expect to read about troop movements and encounters in this book. There are enough others covering that ground. Review: For the Honour of My House – Tony McClenaghan; Review: Sideshows of the Indian Army in World War 1 – Harry Fecitt; Review: Honour & Fidelity – Amarinder Singh

Army of Empire is the book to fill in the gaps around experience, motivations and desires.

One thought on “Review: Army of Empire – George Morton-Jack

  1. Pingback: Review: General Jan Smuts – David Brock Katz | Anne Samson - Historian

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