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 on


“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)” [1]

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[2]. By the September of 1917 the Anglo-Indian Force had drawn more than 950 men.[25][3]

This link is a speech made 23 December 1916, by Lord Chelmsford, Governor General of India, which refers to the Anglo-Indian Force.[4]

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 a2a website. 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) – See National Archives Catalogue.

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

Western Front

As the First World War progressed more troops were needed for the Western Front. To meet this demand Expeditionary Force A from India was sent to reinforce the British Troops – particularly in France.. [5]

Many men who fell during these campaigns are honoured by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Amongst these are 4,742 soldiers from India whose names are recorded on the Neuve Chapelle Memorialin France. In 1964 these names were expanded to also commemorate 210 servicemen of India whose graves at Zehrensdorf Indian Cemetery in East Germany could not be maintained.

From December 1914 to February 1916 the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Sussex UK was used as a hospital for troops from the Indian corps who had been wounded during WW1 in France and Flanders. This BBC news item contains photographic detail from the permanent exhibition opened in April 2010. It also contains further links to articles highlighting other ways in which the Indian troops of WW1 have been remembered in the Sussex area.

Record Of Work [in France] Of Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service For India Scarletfinders


See main article Mesopotamia Campaign, and Railways in the Middle Eastern Theatre for an account of Expeditionary Force D.


See separate article Actions in Egypt 1914-15 for an account of Expeditionary Force F.


See article Norperforce and Railways in the Middle Eastern Theatre

British Army Territorial Force troops in India

Wikipedia’s Territorial Force gives the background to the sending of Territorial Force troops to India , thereby releasing regular units for service in France.

The website The Long, Long Trail ( states
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.

  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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).

Page 164 from Kitchener's Army and the Territorial Forces by Edgar Wallace[6] and "The Territorials in India", by Major-General Nigel Woodyatt[7] provide some background.

This Great War Forum thread advises the book A Strange War: Burma, India and Afghanistan 1914-1919 by C P Mills 1988 describes experiences of Territorials in India during the Great War. The book is available at the British Library. The Regiment was the 2/5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry

POW Camps in India

See article POW Camps in India-First World War

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 FIBIS Biographies reading list
  • Spencer, William First World War army service records : a guide for family historians The National Archives, 2008 See Review in FIBIS Military reading list. This book is available in the FIBIS Shop

British Library holdings

  • 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]
  • 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 Indian Army


  • First World War Medal Index Cards The National Archives Documents Online. Includes a Search facility, information about the medals and how to read the cards, and information about Indian Army Medal Index Cards, catalogue references WO 372/25 to WO 372/29
Images of the medal index cards are also available on the commercial site Ancestry. A researcher has commented, in respect of some particular cards, that the images are clearer on Ancestry, and you can also view the back of the cards.[8]. The Ancestry website advises some records including Indian Army cards are not included. The images may also be available on other commercial sites.
Lost or stolen medals cannot be reissued officially (by the Ministry of Defence), replicas may be obtained from medal companies or dealers. [9]
The British War Medal 1914-1920 Includes eligibility and images of the medals.

External links

Historical books online


  1. "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.
  2. "Christopher Hawes in Conversation with Glenn D'cruz" in The International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies Volume 3, Number 1, 1998.
  3. "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
  4. Speeches by Lord Chelmsford, viceroy and governor general of India, page 172, 1919
  5. India and the Western
  6. Kitchener's Army and the Territorial Forces: the Full Story of a Great Achievement, page 164 by Edgar Wallace 1915
  7. "The Territorials in India",page 255 from Under Ten Viceroys: the Reminiscences of a Gurkha by Major-General Nigel Woodyatt, Colonel 7th Gurkhas. 1922
  8. By email to User:Maureene dated 14 January 2011
  9. Medal FAQs Ministry of Defence (U.K.)