“I was quite unjustly cautious of Sikhs” – Rab Butler’s Childhood

Rab Butler’s childhood stories of living in India involve elephant rides, camping under hot skies, and the fact that no English person ever remained there once they hit sixty.

Butler recounts one particular incident that notably impacted his future opinions:

One day when out riding round Jakko, I ordered my sais to let go of the reins. Galloping around a corner, I was thrown and hopelessly broke my right arm. The sais did not catch up and the first to pass was a Sikh who ‘passed by on the other side’ and left me. All my life, especially when I was Under-Secretary for India, I was quite unjustly cautious of Sikhs.

Butler’s arm was so badly broken he later suffered with Volkmann’s Contractions, leaving him with a permanently weakened handshake and a lifetime of therapy. However, his pain was not his family’s main concern:

My father’s sorrow was terrible. He was brought up in the public school tradition and felt that my whole future as an athlete would be prejudiced. Indeed this proved to be so.

Butler’s family therefore turned their attention to schooling:

I fancied myself an Eton scholarship, and so did my mother, but my schoolmaster was very discouraging. However I went up and sat the papers. At the end of the second day a man in a gown read the names of those who were requested to stay and continue. Mine was not included. I went and spoke to him asking if there had been a mistake; he said there had not. My mother, who met me on the bridge in the High Street, hid her disappointment and cheerfully insisted that we must buy a camera immediately. So I took a picture of her on the bridge, but this did not come out either, due to faulty exposure.

If Butler had been told on that day of his many future achievements one wonders if he would have believed it.

2 comments
  1. Butler relates in his autobiography how he refused Churchill’s request to intervene in the school curriculum, even though Churchill’s aim was to encourage patriotism. And this was during the second world war!

  2. missmcinerney said:

    Yes, I just got to that part… there will be an upcoming blog. Did amuse me a lot “Tell them Wolfe won Quebec!”

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