The British Army is the land-based forces of the United Kingdom. The British Army was heavily involved in Imperial affairs in India and most regiments (both infantry and cavalry) served in India at some point. Throughout the nineteenth century, a significant number of British troops were stationed at India at any one time. In 1847, for instance, around 20% of British Army regiments were on the sub-continent.
A British man, or man of British descent could also be a soldier/officer in one of the Presidency Armies. These were seperate from the British Army, instead consisting of regiments formed by the East India Company and under their control.
Any regiment name prefaced by the initials H.M. (Her or His Majesty's) is a British Army regiment, although the term is not strictly applied, especially amongst the ecclesiastical records. These regiments may be referred to as "Royal Regiments".
Regiments are divided across several arms of the army, these being the Cavalry (who fought mounted on horseback), the Infantry (soldiers who fought on foot) and the support arms such as the Artillery (who used weaponry such as canons and large guns) and the Engineers construction, demolition, surveying etc.)
The article History of British Army Infantry Regiments is a general history of the origin and development of the infantry regiments and explains some of the reforms that took place.
- To browse British Army regiments, see List of HM Regiments.
- To browse the Infantry category, see British Army Infantry Regiments
- To browse the Cavalry category, see British Army Cavalry Regiments
- To browse the Artillery category, see British Army Artillery Regiments
The cap badges of a few regiments can be found in Cap badge images.
Regiment names terminology
Regiments, especially prior to the twentieth century, were not named in a uniform manner and the historical terminology used can be unfamiliar to a beginning researcher. Some common terms and the regiment types they apply to can be found below.
Wars and campaigns
The British Army were involved in numerous wars, campaigns and battles in India and the surrounding region. The Fibiwiki has a Chronological list of wars and campaigns.
- To browse wars in the region, see the Wars and Campaigns category.
- To browse battles, see the Battles category.
There are various sources of information for finding out about a man in the British Army. For a comprehensive description of sources available in the India Office Records, see Peter Bailey's article in FIBIS Journal 13.
Unlike those of the presidency armies, muster rolls for British Army regiments stationed in India are not at the British Library but are instead at The National Archives at Kew in London. Discharge papers (usually contains service/attestation information) and pension records may also be found at TNA. Discharge papers up to 1854 are listed alphabetically by name and can be searched online. Copies (paper or digital) of TNA records can be ordered by distance for a fee. Another useful TNA source may be the WO22 subseries Army and other pensions paid out locally in India, Ceylon and China. The National Archives is working with findmypast.com to scan and place online two series of records: WO 97 (Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers' Service Documents 1760-1913) and WO 96 (War Office: Militia Attestation Papers 1806-1915). The aim is to have all the records online by 2011. This India List link is about WO 97 documents.
If the man married, had children or died out on the Sub-continent then records of these occurences can often be found in the India Office Church records. However, some regimental chaplains only filed their BMDs with the General Register Office in London and certificates of these army returns can be obtained via them by ordering them online. The British Army Overseas Indexes can be found in genealogical libraries, the National Archives and searched on various websites including findmypast.com and familyrelatives.com. Also refer Chaplains Returns.
Note that if a record is available both in the Church records and in the General Register Office records, the latter may contain more information, at least for some time periods. By way of example, in 1903 the additional information was the nationalities of the groom and bride, and the occupations of the fathers of the groom and bride.
Additional sources include:
- 1911 England and Wales Census.
British Army personnel in India, together with their families appeared for the first time in an England and Wales Census in 1911.
Search the 1911 census data.
- History of the British Army Wikipedia.
- Recruitment in the British Army Wikipedia.
- British Army Regiments 1881 (The Childers Reforms) Wikipedia.
- Indian portion of In Search of Forlorn Hope by John M Kitzmiller - lists the location/year of all British regiments that served in India and related regions.
- Stephen Lewis' Soldiers Memorials lists NCO and other ranks graves in India by surname, amongst other memorials. Officers Died is the equivalent commissioned ranks site.
- Kevin Asplin’s site The Asplin Military History Resources, which is about British Army history in the Victorian era, includes pages relevant to the British Army in India.
- Britregiments is a mailing list for general questions about British Regiments (including those in the Indian Army). Their website says “Questions about a unit's history, movements, heritage, practices and regalia are most welcome and encouraged”.
- A helpful website which has closed is regiments.org, here is the Archived Site.
Historical books online
- Strength, Composition and Organization of the Army of Great Britain by Capt Martin Petrie (1864).
- Camp and Barrack-room, Or, The British Army as It Is by John Mercier McMullen, a late Staff Sergeant of the 13th Light Infantry (1846).