Despite being my NCO’s most difficult student I was routed up to Dum Dum Armory, Gunnery, and Artillery Range for advance classes. I had been toying with the idea of applying for a position at Fort William Collage as a military historian like Sammy but destiny propelled me toward war. At Dum Dum I learned how to haul horse and siege artillery across impossible countryside using elephants, camels, and horses, and then how to maneuver horse artillery in battle. However artillery was as specialized wing of the army so this was a generic course to train non engineering officers. Mostly I also took advance courses in firearms.
One day I was told to report for duty at the gunnery range and appeared with my pin rifle and pin carbine and revolver pistol. There I found various soldiers welding diverse pistols, matchlock Jezail muskets, modified Brown Bess muskets, upgraded Baker rifles, Pin Rifles like mine, ornate Ottoman Tufenk muskets, and a mysterious ‘prototype’ muzzle loading rifle being developed in Enfield Armory in England. We dutifully blasted away at diverse targets, including glass balls thrown up into the air, as an eccentric gentleman in a semi-transparent kurta cotton tunic over riding breeches and shabby boots topped by a tropic helmet watched through his spyglass as his adjutant took notes.
“Father! Couldn’t you at least wear your uniform? No one here knows you are someone important!”
“So? We are here to test guns and not test generals!”
“Father! Couldn’t you at least wear a less transparent shirt?”
“Why? What is wrong?” The eccentric Britisher pulled up his thin cotton kurta to show off his impressive tattooed chest: it was a Parcheesi game board. “The wives love playing on top of me!”
“Father! Please! Don’t show that tattoo! It is ….”
“Politically incorrect? Prig! When did a son of mine become bloody prig?”
I grinned and blasted away with my weapons. The eccentric gentleman came up to watch me. “Pin?”
“Yes General Hearsay!” I said. “Pauly Drese rifle and Puski Carbine. Adams Revolver.”
“How do you like them? Pin I mean.”
“Better than the junk on this range with the exception of the prototype.”
“Why?” the general snapped back. He looked red faced and aging but he was clearly a smart professional and a long time Indian veteran and therefore no one’s fool.
“Sir. The pin cartridge is all in one. It is the expanding bullet, the gunpowder, and the primer percussion cap. So I don’t have to fuss with tiny percussion caps on nipples. Why should soldiers be fondling nipples in battle Sir?” General Hearsay laughed at the smutty joke. Ironically I had yet to fondle a woman’s nipples but I let that pass. “The hammer strikes the projecting needle firing pin which strikes the internal primer percussion cap. The rifle leaves no residue, no fouling, forward ignition, superior ballistics, and it is easy to breech load. No muzzle ramming with a ramrod. Fast. And it has been around for years. Hunters use it. Marksmen. Snipers. The Prussians use it for their elite regiments. Here Sir.” I gave General Hearsay the pin rifle and he blasted away. Clearly the general knew guns. He hit the bull’s-eye more often than I did.
“Do you like a bolt hammer on the carbine?”
“But work well for me Sir.”
“What about gas tight seal of the breech? Obturation?”
“No problem Sir. The needle pin cartridge is now all metal which is solving the problem. Try the Puski carbine.”
“Horse” General Hearsay bellowed as a NCO brought up a horse. The stout general clambered up with a clear lack of grace and then rapid fired the pin carbine as I held up a hand full of cartridges. He hit the bull’s-eye every single time. Then the man grunted. “Write that down Son Number 1!”
“Sir!” his adjutant, and son, replied as he took furious notes.
“Right. Try the prototype!” General Hearsay said as he dismounted. He gestured for the sniper welding the mysterious prototype rifle to surrender it to me. I inspected the rifle. “Speak your thoughts out loud soldier!”
“Good weight” I replied. “Three bands. A carbine will have to be shorter to be used in the saddle. Rifling in the barrel looks good. Three groves to spin the bullet? Solid. That is good for the rough and tumble of battle. Good rear sight. Sniper flip up sight. I like that. Good hammer. Load Sir?” then I picked up a paper cartridge, it was waxed at one end for lubrication. Rifled barrels were harder to load than muskets, and therefore up to now were slower to reload despite being more accurate. So only elite regiments were trained to use rifles. I bite off the end and poured the power down the barrel and then used the ramrod to ram the paper and cartridge home. The waxed and combustible paper acted as the ‘patch’ to seal the combustion in the barrel. “Rams down well. The nipple is good. I can put the percussion cap on easy.” I then aimed the rifle and fired. “Good action. Little bucking. Bull’s-eye. Sweet! At one thousand yards. Impressive. The muskets are only hitting at 100 to 130 yards. This almost triple the range.”
“Timing you now” General Hearsay barked as his son held up a pocket watch.
I briskly loaded and fired in succession, not rushing, learning the feel of the gun, building up speed to 4 rounds a minute. I fired at paper targets and then glass balls. The rifle behave very well. “Both the wax and wax and grease cartridges work quickly. If only it was breech loading with an all in one cartridge then it would be ideal. But it loads as fast as a musket so for the first time an ordinary soldier could shoot this in battle and hold their own in speed at triple the range. Sniper fire will be impressive too. But.”
“But?” General Hearsay replied gruffly.
“It is fouling in this heat Sir. I had to apply more and more muscle to ram the cartridges home as the barrel fouls with residue. I was given the all in one combination tool to clean it but this was not feasible in battle, only after battle to clean the rifle before next day’s shooting. “Clever combination tool but can’t be used in battle. “Too foul in this heat now Sir.” I fixed the bayonet and delivered a trained gesture as if disemboweling an enemy.. “Good bayonet. But heat fouls. And this is not yet Hot Season. And ….”
And?” By now all of the soldiers were standing around me as General Hearsay replied “And?”
I picked up a cartridge. “Wax, combustible paper, good expanding bullet. But the wax has melted in the heat and I have to use my saliva as a lubricant. Vile. But more importantly slows down the firing. This cartridge here is both waxed and greased. Rancid. But that is not the problem. The grease. What is the grease?”
General Hearsay grunted and gestured to his son and the other men and then toward a man in an uniform I did not recognize. He had to be the Enfield England officer. Everyone groaned and nodded at the same time. Apparently I had hit on the tragic flaw of this prototype rifle.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” General Hearsay cursed. “Damnation, hellfire, and Hell’s Bells!” he shouted at the Enfield representative. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“It can work for the British Units!” the man growled back.
“Fine with us Scots Sir!” A tall, burly, red haired Scot replied grinning.
“What about the Gurkhas.” Everyone looked toward a small five foot two inch tall dapper chap in a dark green rifle uniform. He grinned.
“I love this rifle like a woman!”
“I would eat the cartridge if I could!”
“But the grease?”
“I don’t give a damn Sahibs! I pack my religion in my knapsack! My hometown gods know I worship the god of Rifles!” The tall, burly Scot grinned as he stood next to his pal. The Scot was a color sergeant, his legs burly under the scratchy wool kilt, his white tropics tunic scarcely counterbalancing the heat of the wool. They made an odd couple, the one tall and burly, the other one small and lithe.
I shrugged. “What is the grease?”
“What is the grease?” General Hearsay snarled.
“I don’t have the least idea” the Enfield officer replied bluntly. “Probably what is sold from any slaughter house in Britain!”
“Fuck!” General Hearsay snarled. “Pig? Cow? Sheep? Dog? Cat? Oh well! Let us offend every god damn soldier in the god damn army here in India shall we?”