January 26, 2024

#08-380: The Soul of a Regiment

Adventure, Feb., 1912 (Gutenberg Australia)

Note: There was a time--before television, even before movies--when people got their entertainment from weekly and monthly magazines--stories we still read today. Here's one.

Get Ready: How important are symbols--flags, patriotic songs, and so on--to you?

The decades around the turn of the 20th century have been called "The Age of the Storytellers" or, more directly, "The Golden Age of Pulp Fiction." In Britain and America, weekly or monthly magazines published stories by "new" writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more.

One of the most popular of these, though seldom heard of today, was Talbot Mundy, an Englishman whose first works were published in the very popular American magazine called Adventure. And the best of his stories--in fact, once voted the best of any story published in Adventure--was "The Soul of a Regiment."

In this simple, touching story, Sergeant-Instructor William Stanford Grogram--"Billy"--had retired from the service, but to support his sister-in-law and the "small tribe of children" fathered by his ne'er-do-well brother, he took a job training a native regiment in Egypt, the "First Egyptian Foot"--that is, foot soldiers.

His superior washed his hands of the regiment, believing that no one could train the natives to be as effective as British soldiers. But Billy had a trick or two up his sleeve. He bought six fifes with his own money, as well as a native drum, and formed a regimental band.

Neither he nor his band of seven could read music, but he whistled a couple of songs "until his lips were dry and his cheeks ached and his very soul revolted at the sound of them." The band learned to play "God Save the Queen" and "The Campbells Are Coming!" which was usually played on bagpipes.

It worked wonders. The men learned to march in formation, and ultimately to fulfill their potentials as soldiers. And, despite his being a strict disciplinarian, they loved Billy Grogram for the silly dances he sometimes performed when they played.

He also taught them that the company's "colors" or flag were the "soul of a regiment" and should be preserved at all costs, especially on the battlefield.

Sadly, the regiment was lost in their first engagement. Defeated, yes, but also literally lost: whatever survivors there may have been disappeared into the desert. For years afterward there were garbled rumors here and there of a group of three natives playing fifes and one a drum, and a European with them--dancing. But Billy Grogram and his regiment were soon forgotten.

Then one day, years later, something odd happened at the annual polo match between the Army team and a team of civil servants, where it seemed all of Egypt was present, "Christian and Mohammedan" alike.

The match was tied, and during the half-time interval, a hush fell over the crowd as five men--a drummer, three fifes, and a ragged man who walked upright like a British soldier--marched in at one corner of the field, and proceeded to play "The Campbells Are Coming!" as they crossed the field and approached the stand where the dignitaries sat.

There they stopped and stood at attention. When questioned, the fifth man declared that they were the "First Egyptian Foot." When asked, "Where are your colors?" he revealed that they were wrapped around his body!

The dignitaries and the crowd rose up in awe--and removed their hats when the motley band began to play, "God Save the Queen." At its conclusion, Billy Grogram himself--for it was he--gave the dignitaries a sharp, regulation salute, and dropped dead on the spot.

The First Egyptian Foot was re-formed under new colors, and Billy was buried in the old colors under a stone that read simply,



Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. awe
  2. dignitaries
  3. fate
  4. fifes
  5. formation
  6. garbled
  7. interval
  8. pulp fiction
  9. re-formed
  10. rumors
  1. break; space of time
  2. instruments like flutes
  3. important people
  4. made up again
  5. outcome; result
  6. cheaply-printed magazines
  7. wonder; amazement
  8. unproven stories
  9. proper order or arrangement
  10. mixed up; unclear

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 26, 2024

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. c; 3. e; 4. b; 5. i; 6. j; 7. a; 8. f; 9. d; 10. h