First World War

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First World War information relevant to British India, including the involvement of the Indian Army and of Anglo Indians in the British Army. During the First World War compulsory service was deemed necessary and the Indian Defence Force Act was passed in 1917. European British men between the ages of 18 and 41 were subject to compulsory service within India. Thus men serving overseas were not sent as conscripts, but had voluntarily joined either the Indian Army, or the British Army.

Hampshire Regt WW1 Shield with India noted

General information

Expeditionary Forces

Seven expeditionary forces served during World War I

  • Indian Expeditionary Force A served on the European Western Front
  • Indian Expeditionary Force B served in the East African Campaign
  • Indian Expeditionary Force C composed of the Imperial Service Infantry Brigade served in British East Africa
  • Indian Expeditionary Force D served in the Mesopotamia Campaign
  • Indian Expeditionary Force E served in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign
  • Indian Expeditionary Force F served in the First Suez Offensive
  • Indian Expeditionary Force G served in the Gallipoli Campaign

The Indian Divisions of 1914-1918 [1]

Division Theatres Arrival in first theatre
1st (Peshawar) - Remained in India
2nd (Rawalpindi) - Remained in India
3rd (Lahore) France & Flanders, Mesopotamia October 1914
4th (Quetta) - Remained in India
5th (Mhow) - Remained in India
6th (Poona) Mesopotamia From November 1914
7th (Meerut) France & Flanders, Mesopotamia October 1914
8th (Lucknow) - Remained in India
9th (Secunderabad) - Remained in India
10th Egypt Formed in Egypt 1914
11th Egypt Formed in Egypt 1914
12th Mesopotamia Formed in Mesopotamia 1915
13th - Not formed
14th Mesopotamia Formed in Mesopotamia 1916
15th Mesopotamia Formed in Mesopotamia 1916
16th - Remained in India
17th Mesopotamia Formed in Mesopotamia 1917
18th Mesopotamia Formed in Mesopotamia 1917
Burma Division - Remained in India
1st Indian Cavalry France & Flanders November 1914. Renamed 4th Cavalry Division in November 1916
2nd Indian Cavalry France & Flanders December 1914. Renamed 5th Cavalry Division in November 1916


“Britain's declaration of war on Germany in 1914, brought immediate mobilization in India and by 1915, the British war drain produced hundreds of officer vacancies in the regular army which became accessible to Anglo-Indians for the first time since the East India Company's ban of 1791. Conscription was enforced systematically among the Anglo-Indians at odds with the experience of other Indian communities treated more leniently. (Abel:1988) By 1916, perhaps 8,000 Anglo-Indians had joined British units as in the case of the many "India-born" recruits accepted by the Dorset Regiment. Jhansi's Anglo-Indian Battery, part of the Anglo-Indian Force, attached to the 77th Royal Field Artillery, had the largest concentration of Anglo-Indian conscripts and volunteers and earned a distinguished record in the Mesopotamian conflict. In total, 50-75% of the adult Anglo-Indian population saw active service although non-emergency enlistment in the British Army remained closed to them. (Dover:1937) Most were immediately sent abroad while others were employed by the sudden munitions and supply boom, for instance, at Kanpur where the army's leather processing centre had been located since after the Mutiny. (Thomas:1982)” [2]

In 1916 the Anglo-Indian Association was asked to raise a battalion of Anglo-Indian soldiers - an Anglo-Indian force; some of them served in Mesopotamia[3]. By the September of 1917 the Anglo-Indian Force had drawn more than 950 men.[25][4]

The Anglo Indian Battery, an Artillery unit which was part of the Anglo Indian Force, served in Mesopotamia and returned to India at the end of the war and was based at Trimulgherry. The Government of India decided the unit should be a permanent part of the forces, but it appears not to have survived the cuts of the post war slump

Temporary Commissions & Indian Army Reserve of Officers 1917-1921

IOR Ref - (L/MIl/9/435-623)

The First World War necessitated a reserve force of British Army officers for the Indian Army to supplement regular recruitment of cadets from Sandhurst, Wellington and Quetta. Temporary commissions were, therefore, granted to British Officers, NCOs and enlisted men of the required educational standard.

Fortunately, the individual names in this section are listed in searchable indexes on the National Archives Access to Archives website (See External links. The full record will show birth details and army service.

In the same index volume, on the open shelves in the British Library, is a further typed list of about 2,500 names compiled from a card index relating to medal claims. This index gives rank, unit , date of release and post-release address.( It does not actually show medal entitlement)

Finally the volume contains an index of 815 British Army other ranks commissioned into the Indian Army during the First World War. Fuller reference is shown as WO339 (pieces 139092 -139906) held at The National Archives – (See War Office: Officers' Services, First World War, Long Number Papers (numerical) in External links

The British Library has the book, in five volumes, covering the First World War, Alphabetical list giving particulars of officers of the Indian Army Reserve of Officers / [issued by] Army Headquarters, India, Military Secretary’s Branch. The catalogue entry states "Contents: [v.1]. 26th June 1916 _ v.2. 24th January 1917 _ v.3. 31st December 1917 _ v.4. 30th June 1918 _ v.5. 31st December 1918". The shelfmark is OIR 355.37 Open Access

FIBIS database: A List of Officers (I.A.R.O.) recruited to or Re-engaged during the Year 1916 and up to the middle of January 1917

Fibis members can contact Fibis research should they wish to access further detail from these records.

British Army Territorial Force troops in India

Territorial Force troops were sent to India so that regular units could be released for service in France.[5]

On 22 September 1914 the government of India agreed to send 32 British and 20 Indian regular army battalions to Europe in exchange for 43 Territorial Force battalions.[6]

  • The 43rd (Wessex) Division - All units assembled at Southampton on 9 October. Sailing via Malta and Suez, the main body of the Division went to Bombay, landing on 9 November, with three units (4th, 5th and 6th Devons) landing at Karachi two days later. [7]
  • The 44th (Home Counties) Division - All units that were going to India assembled at Southampton and sailed on 30 October. They all went to Bombay, landing between 1 and 3 December.[8]
  • The 45th (2nd Wessex) Division On 25 November 1914 it was decided to send from the 2nd Wessex 10 battalions of infantry and the artillery. Two battalions (2/4th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and 2/4th Hampshire Regiment went to Karachi (arriving 9 January 1915) via Aden; the rest landed at Bombay (4-8 January 1915).[9]

See British Army Territorial Force troops arriving in 1914‎ for those Regiments and Batteries arriving with the first two Divisions above, and their initial postings.

The Territorial Battalions in India generally experienced a movement of personnel, as drafts were provided for Regiments in Mesopotamia, and men transferred to specialist services. The Battalions in India in turn received drafts from Britain. As an example, 1/5th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry lost nearly half its original personnel in 2½ years in India. [10] Wounded and other ill soldiers from Mesopotamia were returned to India for treatment and convalescence. Some of these sadly became part of the group of soldiers who died in India.[11]

A regimental history which describes experiences of Territorials in India during the Great War is A Strange War: Burma, India and Afghanistan 1914-1919 by C P Mills. The Regiment was the 2/5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry.

Garrison Battalions

Garrison Battalions were made up of soldiers unfit for front line duty. This decision was made at time of enlistment or after previous front line service where the soldier had suffered wounds or sickness. They were sent to various parts of the empire on garrison duties to release fit soldiers for front line duty.[12] By the end of the war there were 18 Garrison Battalions in India.[13]

In India, men unfit for frontline duties in regiments about to leave India for war zones, were transferred into Garrison Battalions already serving in India.[14]

Some of the soldiers who served in the Garrison Battalions in India served on the North West Frontier in Afghanistan in 1919, in the 3rd Afghan War, almost certainly along the lines of communication.[15]

Very little has been written about the Garrison Battalions of World War I in post-war regimental histories. Battalions were disbanded within days of returning from service overseas and their four or five year existence was apparently regarded as of little consequence in regimental history. [16]. A diary, including a description of the journey to India of a “unit of middle-aged and medically downgraded men”, and letters home may be found in 1st Garrison Battalion The Manchester Regiment, India, Singapore, Hong Kong & Siberia by Robert Bonner

Garrison Battalions sent to India include the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Garrison Battalions, Bedfordshire Regiment, the 2nd Garrison Battalion, Essex Regiment, the 1st Garrison Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, the 1st Garrison Battalion, Manchester Regiment, the 2nd Garrison Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st Garrison Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry and the 1st Garrison Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment.

Special Service Battalions

Formed from April 1919 in India from drafts of demobilisees (from Mesopotamia) arriving by ship in Bombay. See "Mutiny in India 1919" for more details about these Battalions. One Special Service Battalion, No.17, served in the Third Afghan War

External links

Historical books online

Regular British Army troops in India

Indian Army troops in India

Indian Army troops were involved in actions on the North West Frontier.



At sea

During the First World War ships of the Royal Indian Marine carried troops and other war stores from India to Egypt, Mesopotamia and East Africa. When mines were detected off the coasts of Bombay and Aden during the First World War, the Royal Indian Marine went into action with a fleet of minesweepers, patrol vessels and troop carriers. The Royal Indian Marine also played a leading role in landing troops in Mesopotamia and their small river craft did very useful work on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.[19]

  • Merchant Adventurers, 1914-1918 by F. A. Hook 1920 A "compilation of the war records of the P. and O., British India and associated lines." Unfortunately the file is lacking the illustrations which should be in the book. A different digital file: Pdf download, Digital Library of India.
  • Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy-1915 National Maritime Museum The crews originated from all over the world and on some vessels the British nationals were in a minority

Recommended reading

  • Yeats-Brown, Francis Lives of a Bengal Lancer . An autobiographical account of a Bengal Lancer covering the period from 1905 until the end of the First World War. Describes his deployment in India, France and Mesopotamia. See review in Biographies reading list. Also see Mesopotamia Campaign.
  • Spencer, William First World War army service records : a guide for family historians The National Archives, 2008 See Review in Military reading list.


British Library holdings

  • IOR/L/MIL/14/142 1914-1921. Indian Army Officers Casualty Returns: Alphabetical lists of casualties by death among British officers of the Indian Services in the Great War giving rank, age, unit, date, place and cause. Possibly may provide information additional to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database information (refer below)
  • IOR/L/MIL/15/22 British Army in India: Burial returns of officers and others in India, 1914-1918. Also available on LDS microfilm 2029981 (Ordering microfilms). Possibly may provide information additional to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database information (refer below)
  • IOR/L/PS/20/H143 Roll of rewards and promotions of officers and men of the Indian Army and departments, and of Royal Artillery and Royal Engineer officers and men attached to Indian units, serving in the undermentioned forces:- France (A) East Africa, including Cameroons (B) Mesopotamia (D) Egypt, including Sudan (E) Gallipoli, including Salonica (G) Indian Frontier Indian area, including Aden, Perim, Somaliland, Gulf of Oman, and China Up to and including "London Gazette" dated 11th May 1917 and "Indian Gazette" dated 3rd February 1917 [?London: India Office, 8th edn, 1917]
  • IOR/L/MIL/7/17154-18939 Collection 425 First World War 1914-1918 ‎ (1914-1920)
  • IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2380-2420 Military Department Library: Indian Army First World War - General ‎ (1914-1931)
  • IOR/L/MIL/17/5/2421-4246 1914-1921. Military Department Library: Indian Army First World War - War Diaries
  • The Military Department Library also contains items relating to the First World War catalogued according to regions including IOR/L/MIL/17/15/41-138 Iraq ‎ (1914-1944)
  • History of the Great War based on official documents by direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Consists of 108 volumes published 1920-1949. The different volumes are explained in this link from Includes
    • Mesopotamia: The Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1914-1918, Volumes 1-4 by Brigadier-General F.J. Moberly , available online, see below, and
    • Egypt. The British Library catalogue entry is: Military Operations, Egypt & Palestine, etc. [With maps and plans.] by MacMunn, George Fletcher, Sir, K.C.B., and Falls (Cyril B.) 5 pt. London, 1928-30. Series: History of the Great War based on Official Documents. One volume is available online, see below.
  • An account of the operations of the 18th (Indian) Division in Mesopotamia, December 1917 to December 1918, with the names of all the units which served with the division and a nominal roll of all the officers by Walter Edward Wilson-Johnston 1919.
  • See also Temporary Commissions & Indian Army Reserve of Officers 1917-1921, above
  • See also Indian Army

The National Archives

Included in the many records held at the National Archives Kew is the series WO 95 - War Office: First World War and Army of Occupation War Diaries which includes "Orders of Battle: India"

WO 95/5484: 1915 Nov. - 1920 Mar., WO 95/5485: 1920 May - 1921 Dec., WO 95/5486: 1922 Jan.-Dec.


Related articles

External links

Historical books online

  • Gazette of india and Calcutta Gazette - for editions published during the war period, see separate list.
  • The Great World War: A History. General Editor Frank A Mumby. Published 1915-1920.
Volume I

To December 1914

Volume I

To April 1915

Volume III

To August 1915

Volume IV

To December 1915

Volume V

To May 1916

Volume VI 1917

To February 1917

Volume VII 1919

To February 1918

Volume VIII

To November 1918

Volume IX1920


Index- All Volumes

  • History of the Great War: Medical Services; General History by G W Macpherson Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 includes Egypt and Palestine, Volume 4 includes Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, Salonika, East Africa. Published 1921-1924.
Other books in this series: Medical Services: Diseases of the War Volume I, Volume II; Medical Services: Surgery of the War Volume I, Volume II; Medical Services: Pathology 1922-1923
Memoranda on some medical diseases in the Mediterranean war area, with some sanitary notes HMSO 1916
History of the Great War based on Official Documents: The Merchant Navy by Archibald Hurd 1921-1929. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III is available as a transcribed edition on
Volume I Diplomatic-Part 1 Volume II Diplomatic-Part 2

Index Vols I, II

Volume III Naval- Part 1


Volume IV Naval-Part 2


Volume V Military- Part 1


Volume VI Overseas-Part 1


Volume VII Naval-Part 3


Volume VIII Military- Part 2


Volume IX Diplomatic-Part 3


Volume X Overseas-Part 2


Volume XI Naval-Part 4


  • Current History: A Monthly Magazine of the New York Times. Initial volumes also had the title The European War. A similar series issued quarterly (same content) included the title European War for all quarterly volumes up to Volume XX to October 1920.
Volume I From the Beginning to March 1915


Volume II April 1915-September 1915


Volume III October 1915-March 1916

Table of Contents and Index

Volume IV April-September 1916


Volume V October 1916-March 1917

Index Part 1-Index Part 2

Volume VI April-September 1917

Index Part 1-Index Part 2

Volume VII October 1917-March 1918

Index Part 1-Index Part 2

Volume VIII April-September 1918

Index Part 1-Index Part 2

Volume IX October 1918-March 1919

Index Part 1-Index Part 2

Volume X April-September 1919

Index Part 1-Index Part 2

Volume XI October 1919-March 1920


Volume XII No Index.
Volume XIII October 1920- March 1921


Volume XIV April-September 1921


Volume XV October 1921-March 1922


Volume XVI April-September 1922


The final volume of the quarterly series of the same monthly magazines, Volume XX of the quarterly series, appears to be an update of the earlier periods and may include content which is not included in the half yearly volumes. The content for the quarterly series up to June 1919 appears to be identical to the half yearly volumes. Volume XX July 1919-October 1920, Cumulative Index of the quarterly series. At least some of the quarterly editions are available on
A text version is available on the US Department of State: Office of the Historian website, currently (July 2015) for 1914 only, but the intention is to include all editions.


  1. "The Indian Divisions of 1914-1918" The Long, Long Trail. The British Army of 1914-1918 - for family historians accessed 18 Feb 2014
  2. "Some Comments on stereotypes of the Anglo-Indians: Part II" by Megan Stuart Mills from the International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies 1996, quoting
    • Abel, Evelyn. (1988). The Anglo-Indian Community. Chanakya Publications: Delhi.
    • Dover, Cedric. (1937). Half-Caste. London: Martin, Secker and Warburg.
    • Thomas, David A. (1982). Lucknow and Kanpur, 1880-1920: Stagnation and Development under the Raj. South Asia. 5, 68-80.
  3. "Christopher Hawes in Conversation with Glenn D'cruz" in The International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies Volume 3, Number 1, 1998.
  4. "Loyalty, Parity, and Social Control-The Competing Visions on the Creation of an ‘Eurasian’ Military Regiment in late British India" by Satoshi Mizutani The International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies Volume 10, No. 1, 2010, quoting
    • [25] Anonymous (ed.), The Anglo-Indian Force (Allahabad, 1918), p.40. This book, by C T Robbie, is available in the India Office Records at the British Library IOR/L/MIL/17/5/4318
  5. Territorial Force Wikipedia accessed 18 Feb 2014
  6. The Long, Long Trail accessed 18 Feb 2014
  7. The Long, Long Trail- The 43rd (Wessex) Division accessed 18 Feb 2014
  8. The Long, Long Trail - The 44th (Home Counties) Division accessed 18 Feb 2014
  9. The Long, Long Trail - The 45th (2nd Wessex) Division accessed 18 Feb 2014
  10. Page 96,The History of the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s) 1914-1919 by Everard Wyrall 1927.
  11. Khyber Pass 1/5th Royal West Surrey, Murree, Aug 1916 Great War Forum 27 August 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2015
  12. Great War Forum post
  13. ddycher [Dave] Garrison Bn's to India 1917 Great War Forum 31 May 2015 Retrieved 31 May 2015
  14. ddycher Garrison Bn's to India 1917 Great War Forum 6 June 2015. Retrieved 9 June 2015
  15. Frogsmile Sgt William Connelly, 1st Batt Gordon Highlders, NW Frontier Victorian Wars Forum 26 March 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  16. Great War Forum post 20 January 2013 by 'themonsstar'
  17. The Long, Long Trail accessed 18 Feb 2014
  18. The Long, Long Trail accessed 18 Feb 2014
  19. Abstract of a paper "Royal Indian Marine in the First World War" by Kalesh Mohanan presented at the India And The Great War Conference at The United Service Institution of India, New Delhi: 5-7 March 2014, now an archived webpage