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SOME people hold that an English Cavalry regiment cannot run. This is a mistake. I have seen four hundred and thirty-seven sabres flying over the face of the country in abject terror—have seen the best Regiment that ever drew bridle wiped off the Army List for the space of two hours. If you repeat this tale to the White Hussars they will, in all probability, treat you severely. They are not proud of the incident.

This is from "The Rout of the White Hussars" by Rudyard Kipling

I don't understand the meaning of

...have seen the best Regiment that ever drew bridle wiped off the Army List for the space of two hours.

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Kipling is saying that if 'an English Cavalry regiment cannot run' (run away in fear from something such as an enemy) is literally true, then the soldiers of the White Hussars ceased to be English Cavalry soldiers for two hours (and thus were humorously supposed by Kipling to have vanished from the Army List during that time).

A bridle is part of the equipment used on a horse to enable the rider to control it.

The phrase 'that ever drew bridle' is a humorous play on the set expression 'that ever drew breath'. To draw breath is to be alive or exist; 'the best person who ever drew breath' means 'the best person who ever lived'. 'The best Regiment that ever drew bridle' means 'the best Regiment that ever rode on horseback'.

The Army List is an official publication which lists the serving officers of the British Army. It has existed in various forms since 1702.

The officers of the White Hussars ceased to be deserving of that title, Kipling suggests sarcastically, (they allowed their men to panic) for (during a period of) two hours. Kipling imagines that, because English Cavalry Regiments supposedly 'cannot run', when the men ran, they ceased to be soldiers of the White Hussars temporarily, and the officers, listed in the Army List, must have figuratively vanished from it for those two hours. You will discover the circumstances as you read the story.

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  • I have to admit, as a native speaker, I couldn't really make sense of the "wiped off the Army List" bit, but your explanation makes sense. Apr 10, 2022 at 12:07
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    @SteveBennett - I think it's about the difference between 'official truth' and reality. If an English Cavalry regiment 'cannot run', then during the time that they actually did run, they ceased (temporarily, Kipling suggests sarcastically) to be English Cavalry soldiers, and 'vanished from the Army List' for two hours. Compare Bertrand Russell's remark that if you cannot be divorced in the eyes of God, then, clearly, 'God does not see Reno' (in Nevada, where divorce was --and still is-- simpler to get than in some other places). Linked to the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy. Apr 10, 2022 at 12:22
  • @SteveBennett, I believe the "army list" was something like the payroll list of the army. It's a phrase you find in Victorian Era English works.
    – The Photon
    Apr 10, 2022 at 20:01
  • @ThePhoton the Army List (proper noun) has existed since 1702 in various forms. Apr 10, 2022 at 20:49

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