CAWNPORE AND LUCKNOW
 DURING the siege of Delhi, by his zeal and by the way in which he had never lost an opportunity of serving the cause
in which our soldiers were engaged, Roberts had gained much praise from his superior officers. He was
"mentioned in dispatches," General Archdale Wilson writing thus: "I beg also to bring very favourably to
notice . . . that gallant and active officer Lieutenant Roberts."
Three days after Delhi had fallen, a force, consisting of 750 British and 1900 native troops, with 16 guns,
was sent out, their object being to proceed to Cawnpore, and there join the column which was to advance to the
relief of Lucknow.
As the little army left the city, Roberts' heart was full of the saddest feelings, for the funeral of John
Nicholson—the great Nicholson Sahib,
 "the Christian hero, the happy warrior upon whom had come nothing which he did not foresee"—was taking
The column had only gone four days on their journey when they met and had a sharp brush with the enemy. In a
wild charge for the guns Lieutenant Roberts was the first to reach the enemy's battery. The enemy were driven.
back into the town of Bulandshahr, where some fierce hand-to-hand fighting went on in the narrow streets.
Roberts was riding a somewhat restive horse, a Waziri which had been the favourite of Nicholson. Just in the
thickest of the fight a Sepoy took careful aim at our hero. In vain Roberts tried to get at him and cut him
down—the throng was too great: the native pulled the trigger and fired point blank. Fortunately, at that
instant the charger reared, and received in its own head the bullet which had been meant for its rider. It is
pleasant to learn that the faithful Waziri recovered, and bore his master for many a day after.
During the column's advance, the fighting was frequent and continuous. The men were worn thin and lean as
greyhounds, so tanned and bronzed by the sun that they looked like
 natives. They were a terrible, hard-hitting, seasoned force for the enemy to meet, however, and the fame of
their doings already inspired terror in the Sepoys' hearts.
At Agra Roberts again had a narrow escape for his life. He was engaged in a single-handed combat with a
native. The latter waved his turban in front of the Englishman's charger, and while the startled horse reared
back, slashed at its rider. Roberts drew his pistol, but the trigger jammed. His horse refused to come to
close quarters, and he could not get near enough the Sepoy to use his own sword. His position was one of
extreme danger. At this moment, however, a Lancer galloped up and ran the native through the body.
After leaving Agra, the column were eleven days on the march before they reached Cawnpore. This town, the
birthplace of Roberts, was the scene of one of the blackest deeds of the Mutiny. General Wheeler, who was in
command there when the wave of mutiny swept over the place, refused to believe in the treachery of his own
native troops, with whom he had served for fifty years. His Baba-log (baby-folk) he called them, and he
trusted them but too well.
 This is not the place to tell the tragedy of Cawnpore, and of the Nana Sahib's treachery. The British force
trusted to the Nana's word; they were to leave the city in safety, and be allowed to embark in boats on the
river; so he had promised. Scarcely had they pushed off, however, when a murderous fire was directed on them,
the boats were set on fire, and many defenceless women and children taken captive. These were confined in one
small house to the number of about two hundred. Painfully the days dragged on; at last the guns of Havelock's
relieving force were heard. Their troubles, they fondly trusted, were now at an end; but the tiger—the
blood-thirsty Nana—was not to be baulked of his prey. Havelock was thrashing his huge Sepoy hosts, and
with his handful of men driving them before him. The Nana would at least be avenged on the defenceless women
and children he had in his power.
The order to kill went forth. In justice to the Sepoys they remembered that they were soldiers: their work was
to wage war: but, treacherous as they had been to the Sahibs, they revolted at the idea of shooting the
Mem-sahibs and the Baba-log. They obeyed orders
 to the extent of marching to the prison-house, but there they refused to act; their shots purposely went up
into the roof, and no one was hit.
Wild with the passion of cruelty and rage, the Nana now sent hired butchers from the bazaars to do his
bidding. No soldierly instincts stayed the hand of these; the work of blood and death went on unchecked by
pity, the house became a shambles, and not one escaped the slaughter.
Small wonder that, when Havelock and his Highlanders marched in, a terrible vengeance was enacted. The
Highlanders struck terror in the superstitious native mind, and "flying fast, the Nana's troops told
everywhere that the Sahibs had come back in strange guise; some draped like women to remind them what
manner of wrong they were sworn to requite."
After leaving Cawnpore, Roberts, who at this period seemed to bear a charmed life, had another narrow shave.
While on ahead of the column, accompanied by another officer, looking for a suitable camping-ground, they
suddenly found their return barred by a crowd of armed horsemen, who
 seemed to have sprung from nowhere. They instantly began firing, and bullets were soon whizzing unpleasantly
close to the Englishmen's heads. Their only chance of escape lay in riding hard enough to get round the
enemy's flank before the Sepoys could stop them.
To use his own words: "Accordingly, we put spurs to our horses, and galloped as fast as they could carry us to
our left; the enemy turned in the same direction, and made for the village we must pass, and which we could
see was already occupied. The firing got hotter and more uncomfortable as we neared this village, the walls of
which we skirted at our best possible pace. We cleared the village, and hoped we had distanced the rebels,
when suddenly we came upon a deep nulla (a river). Mayne got safely to the other side, but my
horse stumbled, and rolled over with me into the water at the bottom. In the fall my hand was slightly cut by
my sword, which I had drawn, thinking we might have to fight for our lives; the blood flowed freely, and made
the reins so slippery when I tried to remount that it was with considerable difficulty that I got into the
saddle. The enemy were already
 at the edge of the nulla and preparing to fire, so there was no time to be lost. I struggled
through the water and up the opposite bank, and ducking my head to avoid the shots, now coming thick and fast,
galloped straight into some high cultivation in which Mayne had already sought shelter. Finally we succeeded
in making our way to the main body of the force, where we found Hope Grant in great anxiety about us, as he
had heard the firing and knew we were ahead. The dear old fellow evinced his satisfaction at our safe return
by shaking each of us heartily by the hand, repeating over and over again in his quick, quaint way, 'Well, my
boys; well, my boys; very glad to have you back! Never thought to see you again.'"
Sir Colin Campbell shortly after this joined the column, which now consisted of about 600 cavalry and 3500
infantry, with 42 guns.
Everything now being ready, the little army set off on its march towards Lucknow. One and all were eager to
have a share in the rescue of our suffering countrywomen. Sir Colin had a cheering and inspiriting word to say
to each battery and regiment, and the whole force was in grand fighting trim,
 the Delhi troops, in particular, looking "the picture of workmanlike soldiers."
Roberts was entrusted by Sir Colin, very shortly after this, with the duty of conducting the troops to a large
park called the Dilkusha, near Lucknow, where the general intended encamping. He had always a good eye for
locality, and he accomplished his work to everybody's satisfaction.
On the 15th November, Roberts had a more than usually hard day of it, and was just looking forward to a long
night's sleep, when he was told that the Commander-in-Chief wished to speak to him. On arriving, Sir Colin
told him that he thought that there was not enough small-arm ammunition in the camp, and asked Roberts if he
could find his way back in the dark to the "Alumbagh," a large bungalow passed on the march, in which the
cartridges had been stored. "I am sure I can," came the ready answer.
Accompanied by two other officers, Roberts meant to start with a guide; the latter, however, soon bolted, and
the little party had now to trust to our lieutenant entirely for its safety. It was an exciting night. First
there was the risk of coming upon the enemy—indeed, several
 times they were dangerously near the Sepoy piquets; then, again, there was the chance that our men in the
"Alumbagh" might mistake them for the foe, and fire upon them. Roberts left his companions and rode on alone.
The sentry challenged immediately, but after some parleying he gained the bungalow and explained what he
wanted. The lading up was quickly finished, and by dawn the ammunition was, as Sir Colin had ordered, safe in
our soldiers' hands at Lucknow. Old Sir Colin, only half-dressed, greeted the escort most heartily, and warmly
praised Roberts, who describes his old Chief's welcome and approval as "a very happy moment."
That same day the troops moved forward, and after some days' hard fighting the object of the expedition was
achieved, and the women and children, and the brave garrison, were able to march out in safety and join the
Before entrance to the city could be made, our guns had to batter a breach in the walls. At last a hole three
feet square and three feet from the ground was made. It was a small opening through which to storm a town, but
Sir Colin determined on the attack.
 The order was given, and then started a wild rush.
"It was a magnificent sight, a sight never to be forgotten," says Roberts, "that glorious struggle to be the
first to enter the deadly breach, the prize to the winner of the race being certain death! Highlanders and
Sikhs, Punjabi Mahommedans, Dogras and Pathans, all vied with each other in the generous competition. A
Highlander was the first to reach the goal, and was shot dead as he jumped into the enclosure; a man of the
4th Punjab Infantry came next, and met the same fate. Then followed Lieutenant Cooper, of the 93rd, and
immediately behind him his colonel (Ewart), Captain Lumsden, of the 3oth Bengal Infantry, and a number of
Sikhs and Highlanders, as fast as they could scramble through the opening. A drummer-boy of the 93rd must have
been one of the first to pass that grim boundary between life and death, for when I got in I found him just
inside the breach, lying on his back quite dead— a pretty, innocent-looking, fair-haired lad, not more
than fourteen years of age."
Once our troops had poured through the
 breach, the enemy were completely taken by surprise, and caught in a trap. Two thousand of them had collected
in a sort of large courtyard, intending to assault our flanks. Into this courtyard, however, our men dashed.
The Sepoys had no outlet but a single gateway and the breach we had made. Escape was not to be thought of; the
rebels fought to sell their lives as dearly as they could; no mercy, they knew, awaited the slayers of women
and children. Inch by inch they were forced back to the pavilion, and bayoneted and shot down till not a man
remained. The Sahibs had delayed their vengeance, but it was swift and terrible when it did come.
Next day the troops were at it again. The first object to be gained was the mess-house, on which our guns were
soon merrily pounding. Sir Colin, who sat on his white horse watching the attack, as soon as the mess-house
was captured bade Roberts hoist our flag on the top, to show the beleaguered garrison the success of the arms
coming to their aid. Assisted by two other officers, Roberts planted the standard of the loyal 2nd Punjabis on
the loftiest turret. Twice was the standard shot away, and twice did the gallant lieutenant,
 amid a storm of bullets, replace it. Again it fell, the staff this time broken in two. Once more Roberts
picked up the colour and managed to prop it up a third time on the turret, where it remained at last, a sight
to cheer the loyal garrison and strike terror into the hearts of the rebels.
At last the "Relief" was accomplished and the brave defenders rescued. Unable to take the city with the small
force available, rescuers and rescued retired.
Roberts, who seemed to have a genius for finding his way in the dark, was, as night fell, sent with a message
to General Hale, to tell him at what time the troops were to withdraw. Having delivered this message in
safety, in spite of the dangers around him, Roberts returned to join the main body. To his dismay he found the
positions we had gained, deserted. The whole force had moved off and he was alone—the one Englishman in
Lucknow! The experience was a trying one, but Roberts was used to danger, and calmly turning his horse's head
from the city, he galloped on the line of route his instinct told him our army had followed.
Fortunately for him the enemy had not
dis-  covered that the British had stolen away, and after a hard gallop he reached the straggling column in safety.
For days the work had been desperately severe, and arrived at the "Alumbâgh"—the villa from which he had
got the ammunition—Roberts had the first wash and change of clothes during ten days' fighting.
Despite the never-ending work, the brief snatches of sleep, and the fact that he almost lived on horseback,
Roberts described himself as very fit and in splendid training. He was now all eagerness for more fighting,
and started in high spirits for the march on Cawnpore, where he was to win what every soldier prizes above any
other honour, "The Victoria Cross."