From Captain Errol in George MacDonald Fraser’s the Sheikh and the Dustbin (1988):
Whenever I see television newsreels of police or troops facing mobs of rioting demonstrators, standing fast under a hail of rocks, bottles, and petrol bombs, my mind goes back forty years to India, when I was understudying John Gielgud and first heard the pregnant phrase “Aid to the Civil Power”. And from that my thoughts inevitably travel on to Captain Errol, and the Brigadier’s pet hawks, and the great rabble of chanting Arab rioters advancing down the Kantara causeway towards the thin khaki line of 12 Platoon, and my own voice sounding unnaturally loud and hoarse: “Right, Sarn’t Telfer – fix bayonets.”
. . Aid to the civil power, you see, is what the British Army used to give when called on to deal with disorder, tumult, and breach of the peace which the police could no longer control. The native constabulary of our former Italian colony being what they were – prone to panic if a drunken bazaar-wallah broke a window – aid to the civil power often amounted to no more than sending Wee Wullie out with a pick handle to shout “Imshi!”; on the other hand, when real political mayhem broke loose, and a raging horde of fellaheen several thousand strong appeared bent on setting the town ablaze and massacring the European population, sterner measures were called for, and unhappy subalterns found themselves faced with the kind of decision which Home Secretaries and Cabinets agonise over for hours, the diffidence being that the subaltern had thirty seconds, with luck, in which to consider the safety of his men, the defenceless town at his back, and the likelihood that if he gave the order to fire and some agitator caught a bullet, he, the subaltern, would go down in history as the Butcher of Puggle Bazaar, or wherever it happened to be.
. . That, as they say, was in the imperial twilight of forty years ago, long before the days of walkie-talkies, C.S. gas, riot shields, water cannon, and similar modern defences of the public weal – not that they seem to make riot control any easier nowadays, especially when the cameras are present. We didn’t have to worry about television, and our options for dealing with infuriated rioters were limited: do nothing and get murdered, fire over their heads, or let fly in earnest. There are easier decisions, believe me, for a youth no old enough to vote.
. . The Army recognised this, and was at pains to instruct its fledgling officers in the techniques of containing civil commotion, so far in it knew how, which wasn’t far, even in India, with three centuries of experience to draw on. Those were the post-war months before independence, when demonstrators were chanting: “Jai Hind!” and “Pakistan zindabad!”, and the Indian police were laying about them with lathis (you really don’t know what police brutality is until you’ve seen a lathi charge going in), while the troops stood by and their officers hoped to God they wouldn’t have to intervene. Quetta and Amritsar were ugly memories of what happened when someone opened fire at the wrong time.
This reminds me of the trouble I got into by firing at a protestor’s legs in a riot. Fortunately, it was an exercise; but the rest of the group backed off. They were shielding some activity in the rear, and could have been moving rifles, fire bombs or an I.E.D. outside of our sight. It was only an exercise, but my reproof was severe (though not from all).