The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston MP
Chapter Three: Small Wars
Soldiering on the North West Frontier was a high-risk rite of passage, but as Hunter-Weston knew from his father’s experience, the display of a cool resolve under fire was indispensable to building a reputation in the service. At the same time, campaigning in mountainous border territory also revealed the mechanisms of war, enabling him to build a knowledge of topography, supply and logistics. Having already acquired a modern technological education at Woolwich and Chatham, the frontier now taught him another time-honoured lesson – how to make the correct decision in a dangerous situation.
The North West Frontier
Hunter-Weston’s restored career mobility was the product of the British Empire’s ‘scientific frontier’ policy. Replacing the former system of tribal management, this involved the region’s highly independent tribes being brought firmly to heel to allow the construction of advanced military posts, necessitating a growing number of punitive expeditions.1 These ‘small wars’ have been dismissed by historians as anachronistic and unequal contests, but effective resistance from the Pathaan tribesmen underlined the need ← 21 | 22 → for carefully controlled fire and manoeuvre, while placing a growing premium on the tactical dispersion, skill and self-reliance of imperial troops.2
In common with most branches of the Indian Army, the corps that Hunter-Weston joined in December 1889 had recently undergone a process of modernisation. Formed in 1803, the Bengal Miners and Sappers had once been regarded within the Royal Engineers as a refuge for inefficient colleagues.3...
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