The Siege of Somerstown Part I

The Siege of Somerstown: Being a Portion of the Records of a General of the Fifth Hants Involuntary Air Rifles Concerning an Infantry Sortie on Behalf of the Crown and Portsmouth City Council’s Department of Colonial Warfare

Sir Eugene Nicks, QC, KBE is a modest man who doesn’t normally like to discuss his highly distinguished and widely decorated military career. But as a regular columnist for Star & Crescent he is duty-bound to share his recent experiences and one of these was his appointment by the Civic-Colonial Governess to lead a detachment of troops to repress a nationalist uprising in Portsmouth’s own ‘heart of darkness’.

It was 04.00 hours when Carruthers, our master spy, staggered into the Eldon cantonment with a beastly great gash in his rudyard and his jodhpurs bloodier than a Buckland bar brawl. I ordered Private Marlow and Corporal Flory to stem the gore with two dozen copies of the Portsmouth News. We laid Carruthers out under the shade of the banyan trees on St James’s Road while he fought the tropical fever as only a valiant Portsmouthian will, teeth gritting a dum-dum wrapped in a Portsmouth Association Football Club scarf. Soon he was fit enough to mutter. I leaned close to him, but not that close lest gossip ensue. One knows what it is like in the forces when hussy-starved soldiers must dwell together in close quarters.

‘I tried to… to parley with… the headman… but he stabbed me with… a… a scratch card.’

Marlow and Flory began blowing opium smoke into Carruthers’ face. Didn’t seem to help the poor fellow one bit.

‘The natives…’ he continued. ‘The natives are rather miffed about… about the cuts… so that’s why their chap cut me in the-‘

‘Yes all right Carruthers,’ I ejaculated. ‘No need to dive into the sordid details. Neither the time nor the place, I dare say.’

He gripped my elbow in a weak and womanish fashion. ‘But General Nicks… you must… you must understand that… that the yellow peril have been stoking unrest over there.’

‘Zounds! Those Liberal Democrat councillors are as bad as their red brethren. We drag these blighters out of the mud huts at gunpoint, send them to All Souls College, Portsea (my own college, don’t you know?), tutor them in our ways – God, the free market and the classical study of Peter Griffiths – and how do they repay us? They get silly ideas about national self-determination and throwing tens of pound notes away aiding the poor and infirm. It’s dashed unseemly.’

‘Sir,’ whinged Carruthers, ‘may I have some… some water rather than… than opium?’

Alas there was no salvaging Carruthers. At 04.43 he stopped making squelching noises and ascended to Frathalla, where all Portsmouth war heroes go to enjoy a rum tot that lasts for all eternity… or until they get barred for fisticuffs.

Good old Carruthers. An officer and a gentleman – well, many of the exotically beautiful-yet-cunning harlots of Horndean Harem would disagree with the latter designation. But a first-rate servant of empire, nonetheless. Never wavered in his belief in the innate superiority of the Isle of Wight man, or indeed the naturally selected Southseaonian. Never went into a mission half-cocked, but sometimes he’d go in one half of him cooked and the other half baked; these equatorial climes do funny things to a stately man of Christendom. Never afraid to go native when needed, be it visiting a food bank or working on a zero hour contract. Brave, brave, brave man was Carruthers. Right until the bitter end he was feeding us veritable pink gins of military intelligence the better to execute our civilising mission – and in so doing execute as many of the indigenes as would be necessary for the general uplift of the savage and mysterious casbah known in the local lingo as – and let me spell it in the phonetic English for you – Somerstown. Hard to pronounce is it not?

‘Wrap the corpse up in a Ben Ainslie poster,’ I said to Flory, ‘and make sure you keep it away from the vultures until Chaplain Merrick finishes at the polo club. Tomorrow we go over the top.’
Next episode General Nicks and his men manage to get over the top without being speared and are able to start shooting lots of people bearing inferior weapons.