|Two Punjabi infantrymen by Lovett|
(G.D. Falksen is an author, lecturer, and impresario who specializes in writing literature for a variety of genres. It's his work on steampunk, however that's gained attention from the likes of MTV, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times. His work has appeared in Steampunk Tales, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, and he frequently blogs for Tor.com. His various essays on global steampunk possibilities were really what got the ball rolling on multicultural steampunk and inspired this very blog.
In addition to being one of the most recognizable names and faces (and boy, is it a nice one) associated with steampunk, Mr. Falksen is also a huge aficionado of Indian culture and military history- two interests that he combined in this article. Miss Kagashi thoroughly approved as one of her interests is drooling over military uniforms.)
Throughout the 19th century, colorful uniforms were the order of the day, a practice inherited from the 18th century. Beginning with the general adoption of drab colors shortly before the First World War (or during it, kicking and screaming, in the case of the French) and continuing through the development of pattern camouflage in the decades that followed, the 20th century witnessed the adoption of camouflage uniforms as a battlefield standard, replacing the earlier fashion-conscious model. But in fact, the practice of using camouflaged uniforms began half a century earlier, in the middle of the 19th century, in the dry and dusty regions of northwestern India, with the creation of a not particularly glamorous shade of brown known as “khaki.”
|The 10th Bengal Lancers by Simkin.|
“Khaki”, an Urdu word derived from Persian, means “dusty”, and the original khaki was a dirty tan color that indeed very much resembled the dust of the North-West Frontier, a rugged region of British India (now in modern Pakistan) that bordered Afghanistan. This area was extremely important to the security of India, as it bordered the strategic Khyber Pass that had throughout history served as the key method of entry into India for every would-be conqueror from Alexander to Timur. The British raised numerous units of Indian soldiers to defend the subcontinent and to fight overseas, and the North-West Frontier region was no exception. One of these was the Corps of Guides, raised in late 1846 by Lieutenant Harry Lumsden. In 1848, the Guides were equipped with cotton uniforms incorporating smocks, baggy trousers and turbans, which were dyed a drab dusty color intended to blend in with the terrain. Khaki proved to be remarkably effective for camouflaging the soldiers in the rugged, dusty terrain of northwest India and its use was soon expanded to other Indian units.
|The "Queen's Own Corps of Guides" from 1878|
The reason for the adoption of a drab color was simple. On the frontier, the British (then used to fighting conventional wars on an open battlefield) were faced with hostile tribesmen whose tactic of choice was often guerrilla warfare using a long-barreled long-ranged firearm known as the jazail. Jezails were used to great effect against British troops during engagements on the frontier, and they were responsible for the devastation of British and Indian forces in Afghanistan during the later portion of the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). The adoption of a drab uniform by Indian frontier soldiers helped reduce their visibility and made combat in the rugged terrain much less suicidal.
Khaki was so successful that its used was expanded to other units over the course of the 19th century. Other Indian frontier soldiers quickly adopted it as well, and by the 1880s it had become standard for the Indian Army. Even British troops in India began wearing it as well, although this was not extended to the British Army outside of India until the end of the century. The Second Boer War (1899-1902) saw the first use of khaki as the standard uniform color for the British Army, which was replaced with a darker color known as khaki drill in 1900. From then on, the British used camouflage and were soon followed by other nations until today, camouflage is the standard for field uniforms. And all thanks to a dusty color developed in the northwest of India.
|The colorful uniforms of various regiments by Lovett|