Being a treatise on VSF and Mars, and on 19th Century colonial warfare in general

(with a nod towards Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, lest I take myself too seriously)

Monday, 1 June 2015

Ewart's PIFFers - Part I

Politically, Mylarkt has a strong mercantile culture, but also strong regional nobility. The nobles and merchants are always vying for power, and if a strong prince can avoid capture by either set of interests he can be assured of the strong backing of one against the other, allowing to him to set his own agenda. Unfortunately for the merchants of Mylarkt, Prince Ilsanoor XV is more interested in hunting than budgeting, and so they are fighting a loss of influence to the noble houses.

They have, however, managed one policy change that has worked to their advantage. The bulk of the army of Mylarkt is a hereditary force that is heavily based on tradition and upon reinforcement from noble houses in times of emergency. The state also hires large number of Hill Martian mounted mercenaries to patrol the state’s borders with other Hill Martian tribes. But there have always been substantial number of mercenaries supplied by Canal Martians. These have traditionally been a mixture of cutthroats and ne’er-do-wells from outside the hereditary system whose main duty has been to garrison unpopular locations and collect overdue taxes. The Guild of Merchants petitioned the Prince to disband some of these companies and replace them with mercenary troops trained along the Earth model. They sold this on the basis that a) it could be done in such a way to curry favour with the earthmen at Syrtis Major, b) that it would allow them to learn more about how the red men fought so that they could better oppose them and c) that the merchants would pay for it. Argument c) swung it. The unspoken argument d) was that the merchants hoped to be able to gain effective control of these new troops as a counter to the nobles, but that passed the Prince and the nobles by at the early stages.

When Ilsanoor’s advisers approached the British Ambassador, Sir Henry Baird, for assistance he was only too happy to pass this on to HMG. The plan was to raise a battalion of infantry with a short battery of artillery. The Prince made it clear that the officers could not be seen to be serving the Queen, but would have to be answerable to him. HMG quite understood, naturally, and was only too willing to help build a strong, dependent ally on their border and one which also lay on the important trade route with the Boreosyrtis League. They at once proposed to procure the good offices of a British subject who would surely be exactly what Prince Ilsanoor wanted.

Their gaze fell upon Captain William E. Ewart of the Kings Own Borderers, lately serving with 2/3 Martian Infantry (Avenel Rifles) with the brevet rank of Major. Captain Ewart had recently come under something of a cloud, having fallen foul of his Commanding Officer, the Horse Guards and the Viceroy over a matter concerning a Steppe Tiger skin. Or, more accurately, over the press reports of a young Martian “Ochre Lady” found in the presence of Captain Ewart, both in a somewhat désabillé state, on said animal skin. The Queen was not amused, naturally. However even his worst detractors admitted that Ewart was an excellent officer, with a good appreciation of the handling of Martian troops. He also spoke excellent Parhooni which one can only surmise had something to do with the Ochre Lady.

In any case, Ewart was persuaded to resign his commission before the Queen revoked it (and with promise that he would be kept on half pay on the unofficial list for unspecified services to HMG). He was quickly despatched to Mylarkt to prevent any further fallout over the tiger-skin affair, and was duly appointed as First Sword of the Prince Ilsanoor Field Force, which Ewart took great delight in calling his PIFFers.

Liberally paraphrased from “A year with Ewart’s PIFFers” by Capt. J.R. Newton ret’d with the kind permission of the author's widow.


PatG said...

Nice bit of background.

Clive G said...

Thanks Pat, and it's a start. I don't yet know if you'll be seeing more of Wlliam Elphinstone Ewart and his PIFFers, as a) it's not very well-developed yet and b) I'm an accountant not a wordsmith, but the bones are there.