Shooting Leave

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Shooting Leave

Spying out Central Asia in the Great Game

by John Ure | Constable

In this compelling tale, Sir John Ure brings to life the high-risk adventures embarked on by cavalry officers serving with the East India Company during the 19th century.

These adventurers set out to spy and chart unknown lands, often to review how much protection they offered against Russian forces threatening the ‘jewel in the British crown’, India. Such men were the pawns of the Great Game, sent into the wild with little chance of survival.

Thrilling stuff indeed

The expeditions were undertaken when ‘on leave’ from their regular duties. The long treks – instigated by their commanders and highly treacherous – took their euphemistic name from hunting parties enjoyed by young officers when on local leave in the foothills of the Himalayas. And, although authorised, there was next to no support from their superiors in time of need: instead they had to rely on their own wit and zeal to hope to return.

Ure, who has thoroughly researched his subject and brings much original material into the book, paints a vivid picture of life in such conditions. The officers would need to blend in with the local population, take on the character of a holy man, perhaps, or appear as a traveller from Armenia. They would also need to elicit complete trust from their entourage, or fear that would be revealed by one of their own. And only then could they hope to undertake their set task. It is thrilling stuff indeed – and no surprise that these stories seeded the worlds of Kipling, Buchan and MacDonald Fraser.

First published: Traveller magazine, Winter 2009 / 2010
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