A little history lesson….

Most everybody has heard myths and stories about the origins of the “Dum-Dum bullet” and its use and reputation. How about some original source material about its use in the field. This account comes from a 24 year old 2nd Lt. in the British Army writing in 1897. He was involved in some punitive actions against the Pathan tribes in the Northwest Frontier region along the modern-day Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Here is what he had to say:
The power of the new Lee-Metford rifle with the new Dum-Dum bullet-it is now called, though not officially, the “ek-dum” (Hindustani for “at once”) bullet- is tremendous. The soldiers who have used it have the utmost confidence in their weapon. Up to 500 yards there is no difficulty about judging the range, as it shoots quite straight, or, technically speaking, has a flat trajectory. This is of the greatest value. Of the bullet it may be said, that its stopping power is all that could be desired. The Dum-Dum bullet, though not explosive, is expansive. The original Lee-Metford bullet was a pellet of lead covered by a nickel case with an opening at the base. In the improved bullet this outer case has been drawn backward, making the hole in the base a little smaller and leaving the lead at the tip exposed. The result is a wonderful and from the technical point of view a beautiful machine. On striking a bone this causes the bullet to “set up” or spread out, and it then tears and splinters everything before it, causing wounds which in the body must be generally mortal and in any limb necessitate amputation. Continental critics have asked whether such a bullet is not a violation of the Geneva or St. Petersburg Conventions; but no clause of these international agreements forbids expansive bullets, and the only provision on the subject is that shells less than a certain size shall not be employed. I would observe that bullets are primarily intended to kill, and that these bullets do their duty most effectually, without causing any more pain to those struck by them, than the ordinary lead variety. As the enemy obtained some Lee-Metford rifles and Dum-Dum ammunition during the progress of the fighting, information on this latter point is forthcoming. The sensation is described as similar to that produced by any bullet-a violent numbing blow, followed by a sense of injury and weakness, but little actual pain at the time. Indeed, now-a-days, very few people are so unfortunate as to suffer much pain from wounds, except during the period of recovery. A man is hit. In a quarter of an hour, that is to say, before the shock has passed away and the pain begins, he is usually at the dressing station. Here he is given morphia injections, which reduce all sensations to a uniform dullness. In this state he remains until he is placed under chloroform and operated on.
The 24 year old 2nd Lt. was Sir Winston Churchill. This account comes from his book “The Story of the Malakand Field Force, An Episode of Frontier War” published in 1898. The quote is from Chapter 17, Military Observations.
The book is a fascinating look at that region and it’s people as well as the beginning of the end of the British Empire. Churchill’s observations of the people are completely unfiltered by modern notions of political correctness and as such are sometimes harsh to the modern reader; yet much of the descriptions, as well as the political scheming by the government, could have been written last week by somebody describing our current war in Afghanistan. Only the technology has changed, the motivations, habits and thoughts of the participants have remained constant. As I was reading the book I had to be careful with my highlighter, else I would have highlighted the entire book. There are way too many keen observations, brilliant quotes, and well crafted prose on nearly every page. I thought an eyewitness account of the early days of the Dum-Dum bullet, especially as well written as this one, was too good not to pass along.
As a side note, this book is also the source of the famous adage about there being nothing as exciting as being shot at and missed. Churchill’s exact words were “Nothing in life is as exhilarating as to be shot at without result”.
I think that I will be picking up a copy of this book.
Dive! Dive!
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