Trouble in Tubbyland

(Off topic.  I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought that our Almost Chosen People readers might get a kick out of it.)

Hattip to Hank at Eclectic Meanderings.

One of the more obscure Victorian military campaigns, the British conquest of Tubbyland was notable for a fair amount of ineptitude among the British commanders, redeemed by the usual courage shown by the “Tommy Atkins” in the ranks.  For a small war, a fair amount has been written on it, and here are some of my thoughts on the more useful works that I have found in my own research into this “savage war of peace”.

Report of Operations of Tubbyland Field Force, three volumes, Captain Gilbert Bryant-Norris, editor in chief,  Her Majesty’s Stationery Office,  (1888).  The official history, these three volumes go into extensive detail and are essential reading for any serious student of this conflict.  Unfortunately, the various authors are at pains to save the reputations of the commanders involved, and therefore the conclusions set forth should be taken with a boulder of salt.  The volumes do have excellent maps, and the texts of letters and telegrams are of great use in piecing together the somewhat convulted operations.

A Child’s History of the Tubbyland War, Winston Churchill, Longmans Green, (1899).  Leave it to Winston Churchill to write a kids’ book about the conflict!  He softens the rough edges of the War for his young readers, but gives a fairly accurate retelling.  The book of course emphasizes British patriotism and the grandeur of the Empire, but not without some criticism of the British commanders and a fair amount of sympathy for the Tubbies.  This passage is indicative of the style of the work:

 “There was plenty of work here for our brave soldiers and Tubbyland was well worth the cost in blood and money.  Were the gentlemen of England all out fox hunting?  No!  For the sake of our manhood, our devoted colonists and our dead soldiers, we persevered and won our War against a brave, albeit soft and cuddly, adversary”.

Naughty Doings in Tubbyland, Brigadier General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, KCB, KCIE, Barrie & Jenkins (1977).  Like so much written by Flashman, all only first published more than a half century after his death, it is difficult to discern what is fact and what is fiction.  The events he relates are fantastic, sometimes obscene, and always told with an eye for mordant humor.  However, it should be noted that his account of the battle of  Rabbit Hill, the culminating engagement of the Tubbyland War, does a better job of capturing the facts of that confused and confusing encounter than any of the other memoirs of the participants, although, as always, his pen is dipped in acid and his accounts of the shortcomings of his superiors and subordinates should not be taken at face value.  It is to be greatly regretted that the foremost Flashman scholar, George MacDonald Fraser, died in 2008 and as a result we are unlikely to ever clear up a great many mysteries regarding the military career of Flashman, the Bad Boy of Queen Victoria’s Army.

Tubbyland and the Face of Battle, John Keegan, Viking, (1978).  One of the lesser known volumes of Professor Keegan, this is the definitive modern study of the struggle in Tubbyland.  It is the first book anyone should read in order to understand this conflict.  Keegan, as one would expect, is especially good at relating the experience of battle for both the British and their Tubbyland opponents.

Tubbyland Warriors, Tinkey-Winkey, Osprey Publishing, (2008)-An insightful look at the military structure of the Tubbies, and their arms and uniforms.  The author is a Tubby and he brings  a special passion to this history of his brave ancestors.

Of course I cannot end this post without mentioning Kipling’s famous salute to the courage of the Tubbies:


(Tubbyland Expeditionary Force)

We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,
         An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not:
The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
         But the Tubby was the finest o’ the lot.
We never got a ha’porth’s change of ‘im:
         ‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,
‘E cut our sentries up at Rabbit Hill,
         An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces. 

So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Tubby, at your ‘ome in Tubbyland;
         You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
         We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed
         We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

We took our chanst among the Khyber ‘ills,
         The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
         An’ a Zulu impi dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
         Was pop to what the Tubby made us swaller;
We ‘eld our bloomin’ own, the papers say,
         But man to man the Tubby knocked us ‘oller.
         Then ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Tubby, an’ the missis and the kid;
         Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.
         We sloshed you with Martinis, an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;
         But for all the odds agin’ you, Fuzzy-Tub, you broke the square.

‘E ‘asn’t got no papers of ‘is own,
         ‘E ‘asn’t got no medals nor rewards,
So we must certify the skill ‘e’s shown
         In usin’ of ‘is long two-‘anded swords:
When ‘e’s ‘oppin’ in an’ out among the bush
         With ‘is coffin-‘eaded shield an’ shovel-spear,
An ‘appy day with Tubby on the rush 
        Will last an ‘ealthy Tommy for a year.  
         So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Tubby, an’ your friends which are no more,
         If we ‘adn’t lost some messmates we would ‘elp you to deplore;
         But give an’ take’s the gospel, an’ we’ll call the bargain fair,
         For if you ‘ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!

‘E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
         An’, before we know, ‘e’s ‘ackin’ at our ‘ead;
‘E’s all ‘ot sand an’ ginger when alive,
         An’ ‘e’s generally shammin’ when ‘e’s dead.
‘E’s a daisy, ‘e’s a ducky, ‘e’s a lamb!
         ‘E’s a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,
‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn
         For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!
         So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Tubby, at your ‘ome in Tubbyland;
         You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
         An’ ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Tubby, with your ‘triangle ‘ead of ‘air —
         You big purple boundin’ beggar — for you broke a British square!

Rudyard Kipling

Published in: on September 16, 2022 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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