Story of an Anglo-Indian

Readers of my book After the Raj will remember I wrote one chapter called Kitty's Story about the declining Anglo-Indian community living mostly round Kolkata. I recently received a letter sent on by my publisher The History Press from Tangomaos Ranch, Laikipia, Kenya. It begins "As I write, I look out  from our verandah to the endless horizon that distantly shows the outline of the Matthews Mountain Range ".  The writer is Edward Taylor who was born in 1931 near Cooch Bihar of an English railwayman and an Hongkong Chinese/Armenian mother. Hence he is an Anglo-Indian. Like many Anglo-Indians he was good at cricket and hockey and well educated by the Jesuits in Darjeeling. Then at Independence he emmigrated to the United Kingdom, aged 17. Now he divides his time between East Sussex and Laikipia where his neighbours in Kenya are nearly all Welsh settlers of the 1930's or their descendants. "You will recognise the names", he writes, "Dyer, Evans, Powis, Tomlinson, still living much the same way as they have always done, and much in the same way as the India of my youth".  The names reminded me of the railway  community of Anglo-Indians living in Chakradharpur called Bannister, Green, Vengeance, Green, O'Leary and Payne, of whom I wrote in After the Raj. " My book, possibly  aided by a sundowner sipped on his verandah,  had encouraged Mr Taylor into a bout of introspection. He goes further: "Your written words have powerful wings, and can well have ranged much further than my personal world, and reached in to the deep psyche of many thousands of us who were born in India in the 1930s." His theme is "the accidents of birth". What would have happened, he asks himself, "if I had been born ten years earlier or Indian Independence had come ten years later?"  He answers his own question: "I could still be living in India, living a life somewhere between Papa Wakefield [another of my characters] and Kitty Texeira: perhaps even selling mangoes at some 'Gunge' station! Incidentally, my son in law, another Oxford graduate, actually interviewed Kitty Texeira  for the BBC".

Of course, we can all ask ourselves the 'what-ifs?' of history. But the Anglo-Indians, made insecure and rootless by the end of the Raj, have more dramatic answers than most.



The Spanish Civil War continues to excite the historical memory. In part this is due to the revived interest in Spain where the recent socialist government encouraged research into the war from the Republican side, particularly into the location of mass graves of victims. So the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Jarama is being commemorated on the weekend of 17-19 February and a new sculpture unveiled at the museum there. The monument is made of shrapnel found on the battlefield and moulded into the shape of a combatant. Now this interests me very much because Tom Wintringham, who led the British Battalion on the first two days of fearful blood-letting, later wrote a famous poem 'Monument' which contains the lines:

'Take then these metals, under the deep sky

Melt them together; take these pieces of earth

And mix them; add your bullets

And memories of death;

You have won victory, People of Spain,

And the tower into which your earth is built, and

Your blood and ours, shall state Spain's

Unity, happiness, strength; it shall face the breath

Of the east, of the dawn, of the future, when there will be no more


Tom Wintringham's grandson, Nils, will read this poem at the ceremony and we will tramp the battlefield, now an industrial wasteland on the southern edge of Madrid. As Tom's biographer I am excited by this - indeed, I shall be giving a lecture about him in Madrid on the previous evening - and I marvel that his poem is so apposite. Incidentally, it is now to be found in Spanish on new monuments that commemorate recently discovered mass graves, a continuing link between the International Brigades and the People of Spain.

The Battle of Jarama, by the way, dragged on through February to June 1937 and ended  in a stalemate. Franco's army was still unable to encircle Madrid because it could not capture the Madrid-Valencia road near the Jarama River. The fiercest fighting was in the first two days when the British battalion lost 150 men, nearly one-third of its fatalities for the entire war.


The 20th century historian

Like many so called 'communicators' of my age I have yet to feel a friend of the internet. At EsoDoc <> we teach New Media, or Trans Media as it is more usually called, and our young documentary film makers finance their films by 'crowd-funding' (Kickstart and Indigogo), transfer them on-line, publicise them via FaceBook, Vimeo and U Tube, and enlist Twitter to put the word around. It seems to work and sometimes leads to a paid commission from a broadcaster. I confess I find this difficult. Yet as a part-time historian I am amazed how easy research has become on-line. The Sussex Academic Press has commissioned a revised edition of my book The Last English Revolutionary because so much more information has become available about it's subject, the revolutionary Tom Wintringham.  Enter now the Grimsby librarian Phyll Smith. He is such an authority on Wintringham that no-one, including me, could write difficult enough questions should he enter for the BBC Mastermind. Through the internet we have accessed at the National Archive Wintringham's World War One military record (simple of course), Cabinet Papers and MI5 reports referring to his time as a near founder member of the Communist Party, later the divorce proceedings where he was mentioned as the third party. Its not that the records are on-line but the means of finding the right files are. Using the internet we have found at the British Library correspondence between Wintringham and George Orwell as well, of course, as every book where he is mentioned in the index. There are scores of these as Tom Wintringham's impact on public life in the 30s and 40s was like a stone dropped into a pond which sends ripples in all directions. The Liddell Hart Library at King's College London has the complete catalogue of the Wintringham archive on-line. The University of Sydney in Australia, the University of Middlesex  and, of course, the Imperial War Museum  yield sound tapes as well as written material, all identified on-line. Amazon or Bookfinder, accessed on-line, deliver long forgotten books within days or ordering.

This easily accessed abundance of knowledge about a life is scary, and it causes difficulties. It's now not a question of what to put in, but what to leave out. As we say in the film world 'more means worse'. How many pages is a biography worth for the general reader? These days he/she can forsake a book for the internet and surf, addictively,  over mixed media packages. For the writer, the lap-top is a threat as well as a friend.