Leonard Arthur Bethell

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Leonard Arthur Bethell
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Born6 December 1879
Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
DiedDecember 1950 (aged 71)
Craven Arms, Shropshire, England
Alma materRoyal Military College, Sandhurst
OccupationBritish Army officer, Author, Authors' editor
Clythie Hall
(m. 1908; died 1940)
  • Henry S. Bethell (father)
  • Sarah H Bethell (mother)
AwardsOrder of the British Empire

Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Arthur Bethell was a distinguished soldier in India in Edwardian times, and a successful author in the 1930s. He is chiefly significant as an author, providing a direct, unheroic and unvarnished narrative of British efforts to administer the Northern jungles of Assam during the early 20th century, often providing an alternative view to the official accounts.

Early Military Career

Bethell joined the Yorks and Lancs regiment in 1899 on his 20th birthday[1] and went immediately to South Africa to join the war there.

Second Boer War 1899 - 1902

Bethell served in the actions at Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, Battle of Spion Kop, Battle of Vaal Krantz, Battle of the Tugela Heights, Battle of the Tugela Heights and Battle of Laing's Nek.

Army service in India

He was appointed to the Indian Army in 1902, and served in various regiments – Rajput Infantry, Rajput Rifles, and in 1st, 2nd, 8th and 10th Gurkha Rifles regiments.

The Younghusband Expedition to Tibet 1903-4

The Younghusband Expedition was a late imperial adventure to create a foothold on India's Northern border against the feared Russian and Chinese influences.

Bethell was part of the British expedition to Tibet when he was seconded to the 4th Gurkha Rifles. He was in action at Niani and Gyantse Dzong, and in the march to Lhasa. (Indian Army Lists.)[1]

Though militarily successful the treaties it led to were later revoked, and it fell into disfavour with government and the British public, who saw it as a massacre of unarmed peasants. Bethell gives a more favourable spin in his autobiographical account 'A Footnote'[2] (see below).

Bethell took part in the Abor expedition, 1911-12, to avenge the murder by the Abors of the explorers Dr. Gregorson and Assistant Political Officer Mr. N. Williamson, and most of their fifty servants and porters. Bethell based his story 'High Brows and Low Brows' (see below) on this expedition, and was also joint contributor to an article on its geographical results.[3]

First World War

Bethell was posted to France in 1914. He joined the 2nd Gurkha Rifles on 12 November 1914, and was in action soon afterwards. On 11 December he went forward of the trenches and brought in two wounded men and, with help, two dead. On 20 December he was engaged in the action at La Quinque Rue. He was severely wounded, and left France on 28 February 1915. He was mentioned in despatches in the London Gazette 22 June 1915

Service in Burma and Assam

Returning to India, he rejoined the Gurkhas and moved through various posts, including command of the 10th Gurkha Rifles Depot at Mandalay, Company Officer at the Cadet College in Quetta, finally in charge of 4th Gurkha Rifles in 1920.

Third Afghan War, 1919

Bethell took part in the 3rd Afghan War[4] with the 7th Gurkha Rifles. He was appointed OBE, and was mentioned in despatches in the London Gazette 3 August 1920.

He was given command of the 2nd Battalion 4th Gurkha Rifles; during his tour of command the battalion served at Landi Kotal and Landi Khana railway station|Landi Khana in the Khyber Pass. His tour of command was shortened due to a heart condition, and he was invalided to England in August 1924. On 14 September 1926 he was placed on the Unemployed List on completion of his command.[5]

A detailed list of his service record is held by the The Gurkha Museum|Gurkha Museum, Winchester, in the biography by Denis Wood, February 2023.[6]

Literary career

Bethell left the army in 1927 owing to ill health, and began a successful writing career – under his own name, but also under pseudonyms 'Pousse Cailloux' and 'Forepoint Severn' – generally covering his own experiences with the Gurkhas.

('Pousse Cailloux - a French expression for 'foot soldier', 'Forepoint Severn' - probaby a reference to the QF 4.7-inch Mk I – IV naval gun used in World War I - known for it's reliability)

He wrote for Blackwoods, and, becoming a mainstay of their commercial success at the time, was offered a post as Director. In that role, he created the 12 volume series 'Tales from the Outposts' which became another commercial success. As part of the deal, he was offered 25% of the proceeds - he stuck out for, and got, 50%. (Letter from Bethell to Bailey)[7]

The stories in the collection are from remote corners of the world, especially the British Empire, and told by people living in or with experience of those places. Most were originally published in Blackwood's magazine, which found a large part of its circulation in those colonial locations.

The project took three years, from 1930 to 1933, and included contributions from notable authors and pesonalities - Hugh Clifford, Frederick Marshman Bailey, Alfred Noyes, Joseph Conrad, John Buchan, George Younghusband, Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, Weston Martyr, and many others.

The books fell out of favour during the mid-twentieth century as interest in the empire declined. However some of the volumes have now been re-issued in paperback, and are available on Kindle. Amazon's 'Goodreads' website rates it at three stars.[8]

Published works

Bethell also published works of his own, including some of the stories in 'Tales from the Outposts'.

Outpost duties as learnt in South Africa, William Clowes & Sons, London 1903. (43 pp)

An early work, whose general attitude might be summarised as 'shoot first, ask questions later; bayonet if possible to avoid noise!'.

Blackwood’s Tales from the Outposts; general editor, under his own name. 12 volume, Edinburgh and London, 1932-1933 (with reprints from articles in Blackwoods Magazine). Bethell's stories within this series are -

Volume 1 : Frontiers of Empire:
"A Footnote" (as Pousse Cailloux - a personal account of the British expedition to Tibet;
"A Border Affair" (as Pousse Cailloux);
"The Silver Hand of Alexander" (as Pousse Cailloux - relating to the Arthur Conolly|Conolly and Charles Stoddart|Stoddart affair)

'A Footnote' is repeatedly cited in Charles Allen's 'Duel in the Snows'.[9]

'A Footnote' gained gratitude from Younghusband's wife, Lady Helen Augusta Younghusband, who wrote "I shall never forget my delight in this blessed Blackwood, sent to me anonymously in 1935. We never saw the author, but I wrote to him through the publishers to tell him what this charming appreciation has meant to me. H. A. Y."[10]

Volume 3 : Tales of the Border:
"Retaliation" (as Pousse Cailloux)

Volume 8 : Jungle Tales:
"Lost Sepoys" (as Pousse Cailloux);
"Highbrows and Lowbrows" (as Pousse Cailloux);
"Movable Columns" (as Pousse Cailloux)

'Highbrows and Lowbrows is a thinly disguised account of the Abor expedition). In this version, blame is laid as much as on the original explorers, and the Delhi government's approach, as on the Abor tribesmen.

Volume 11 : From Strange Places:
"Eldorado Unlimited" (as Pousse Cailloux)

Volume 12 : In Lighter Vein:
"Weights and Scales" (as Pousse Cailloux);
"A Rapid Survey" (as Pousse Cailloux);
"Fiat Experimentum" (as Pousse Cailloux)

His Majesty’s Shirt Sleeves, (as Pousse Cailloux). Blackwood, Edinburgh and London, 1930.

A collection of short stories, many of them later republished in 'Tales from the Outposts'.

The Garden of the Hesperides, (as Forepoint Severn). Blackwood, Edinburgh and London, 1936.

A collection of short stories.

One of the stories, Adedoids, refers to Frederick Marshman Bailey's under cover activities in what was to become Soviet Central Asia. Bailey was a master of disguise. He joined the Soviet Secret Police and was assigned to a mission to find an undercover British secret agent - who was himself! Luckily, the mission was not a success.[11][12]In this story, Bailey is referred to under the pseudonym 'Barclay' as Bethell makes clear in his letter to Bailey, 8th November 1934[7]

This story, Adedoids, also includes an eyewitness account of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, as related to Bethell during his time with the 4th Gurkhas in what is now Pakistan.

The Blind Road, (as Forepoint Severn). Blackwood, Edinburgh and London, 1938.

Describes a year-long expedition through unexplored and uncharted jungles of northern Assam to assess invasion routes from China, and possibly to discover what had happened to a lone British explorer travelling incognito, and gathering intelligence, in China and Sikkim.[13] Bethell knows him from the Tibet Mission. He names him 'Drummond' - in fact a pseudonym for Frederick Marshman Bailey. As he states in his letter to Bailey "there are bound to be a number of people who will be able to identify 'Drummond' with F. M. Bailey".[7]

The party, led by Bethell, struggle against multiple obstacles – eaten alive by leeches, throwing rope bridges across river gorges, scrambling along sheer rocks by the side of a river as their only means of progress, and cutting a weary way through dense bamboo forest to make progress. Reaching the northern limit of their journey, they assess that any invasion through that route would be as doomed as they have been. But they do rescue 'Drummond' whom they find destitute and half-starved in a cave.

Worst of all, on the way back, when crucial parts of the food ration are stolen by the jungle tribes, one of the guards on the food store is suspected of complicity. Summary execution is considered, but commuted until they get back to HQ - 'Hodiya' in the story, Sadiya in fact. Half-starved and in rags they do get back home - the death sentence is reprieved.

Retirement and death

In a letter 27 December 1935[7] Bethell announces that he is, with regret, selling their house in Dorking, New Clan House, and moving to a serviced flat in London, in Hillfield Court, Belsize Avenue. This, he says, is part of his retirement plan - relieving him of the many responsibilities of looking after a large house. It also simplified his travel to Blackwoods, where he was working full time - in fact, he uses Paternoster Row as his correspondence address in some of the letters to Bailey.

On the night of Sunday December 29, 1940, Blackwoods head office in Paternoster Row was completely destroyed in World War II bombing raids. Bethell did not publish anything after 'The Blind Road' in 1938: if he was working on anything further it may have been lost in the bombing. It seems likely that he retired after this point.

There is no evidence of his taking an active part in World War II.

He died at Craven Arms, Shropshire, in December 1950.


[6] Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps - Cape Colony, Tugela Heights, Orange Free State, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing's Nek, South Africa 1901.
Tibet Medal with clasp Gyantse.
India General Service Medal 1908 with clasps Abor 1911-12 and Afghanistan N.W.F. 1919 and oak leaves.
1914 Star.
British War Medal 1914-20.
Victory Medal with oak leaves.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Government of India, Army Department (1910). Indian Army list (1 ed.). Calcutta: Central Publication Branch. pp. 131, 448. ISBN 9781847272386.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Tales from the Outposts
  3. Holdich, Bethell and Bower, T., L., and H. (February 1913). "The Abor Expedition: Geographical Results: Discussion". Geographical Journal. 41 (2): 109–114.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. "Operations in Waziristan". Operations in Waziristan. Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  5. "Indian Army Lists". London Gazette (33202): 6036. 17 September 1926.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Wood, Denis (February 2023). Bethell, Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Arthur (1 ed.). Winchester: Gurkha Museum Archive.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Bailey, Frederick Marshman. "Letters from Leonard Arthur Bethell". British Library / National Archive. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  8. Goodreads, Amazon. "Tales from the Outposts review". goodreads.com. Amazon. Retrieved 1 March 2023.
  9. Allen, Charles (2004). Duel in the Snows (1 ed.). London: John Murray. pp. 73, 78, 88–89, 163, 230–232, 236, 292. ISBN 0719554276.
  10. Younghusband, Francis. "Younghusband private papers". British Library / National Archive. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  11. Bailey, Frederick Marshman (February 1921). "A Visit to Bokhara in 1919". The Geographical Journal. 57 (2): 75–87.
  12. Bailey, Frederick Marshman (2002). Mission to Tashkent (1 ed.). Oxford: Oxford. ISBN 9780192803870.
  13. Bailey, Frederick Marshman (1945). China-Tibet-Assam : a journey, 1911 (1st ed.). London: Jonathan Cape.

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