From Grouse to Grousing: Letters From India, 1897-1902

Amongst the letters of the Purdy family is a small bundle from Jock Kennedy, of the 93rd Highland Regiment addressed to  TW Purdy, variously of Camden Town or Woodgate House, Aylsham (ACC 2015/244/64). Col. Thomas Woods Purdy is referred to in the letters as ‘Dear Old Dugger’.

These letters were sent from India at the time of the Boer War in South Africa. The tone of the letters changes over time, from light-hearted discussions about shooting game, horse races or going to dances to more serious concerns about the war in South Africa.

Initially on 21 October 1897 writing from Shahanyanpur (a city in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India) Jock apologises, stating that he has been meaning to write for weeks. He goes on to say ‘This is one of the best stations going for duck and snipe, and of course we are the only people to shoot them. There are only seven of us so we should have a great time. I wish you were a little nearer, I would ask you to come and shoot some too.’

By 26 July 1899 Jock seems less enthusiastic about India. He writes;

‘It rains hard all day and though the thermometer is not so high the heat is far worse as it is damp and makes one sweat like a pig and we are all covered with prickly heat.’

On the 28 December 1899 he has moved on, and is writing from Bareilly (also in Uttar Pradesh). In this letter he is much more critical of most aspects of life in India. He says that:

‘We are all under canvas here and it is very cold indeed in tents at night… We have been having some race meetings here in which I have been riding my own ponies and occasionally other people’s too… Unfortunately there is hardly any shooting to be got in this place –so I have not had the gun out since leaving Shahjahanpur. There are lots of dances and things going on but the ladies are unexciting and the suppers generally rather poor.’

By the final letter written from Fort William, Calcutta on 29 May 1902 Jock is far more focussed upon the events of the war, writing:

‘I wonder if this is the end of the war or not – I think they will have to sink some of the ships that take the prisoners back again –we got a draft from our battalion in S.A. the other day –they arrived in the kit they had come straight down from the Front in –they had been hurled on board with nothing else and had since been escorting Boer prisoners all over India. I never saw such a dishevelled looking lot of ruffians but not a bad physique at all –several of the Boers died of heat apoplexy on the train. One can’t help being rather sorry for the poor devils pitch-forked into this damnable climate under these conditions.’

After this the letters stop completely. We don’t know what happened to Jock, did he die in the war, or return home and continue with his shooting, perhaps we will never know.

Compiled by a NRO Research Blogger

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