Railways in the Middle Eastern Theatre

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Railways in the Middle Eastern Theatre during the First World War

16,241 railway workers were released from the Indian railways or were specially recruited for military duty or military railway work overseas [1]


In Persia , "in 1915, at the time of the revolt of Tangestan, [British military] reinforcements were sent [to Busehr (Bushire, the main port)] in order to counteract the moves of the German consul,… .On that occasion a narrow-gauge railway 37 miles long was constructed to link Busehr with Borazjan, on the way to Shiraz….At the same time a factory for constructing railroad equipment was established at Busehr. The evacuation of the town by the British in March 1919 put an end to these attempts". [2]


"Without the work of the Indian auxiliaries on the Mesopotamian railways – which supplied almost every requisite for fighting and for everyday living on campaign –the Allied forces would never have enjoyed the victory they achieved."[3]

Major Frederick Cole and his unit from India built the railway from Basra to Baghdad in Iraq, then Mesopotamia. (Major Cole was Inspector of Railways in India from about 1915 to 1930).[4]

Rail track was sent from India. “For Mesopotamia, we pull up existing lines.”[5]

Trains were sent from India, including fourteen military trains in 1916. In 1918 the entire (locos, rolling stock, track, and all fixtures and fittings) Powayn Steam Tramway, in Bengal was sent for use on the Bushire Light Railway in Persia.[6]

The Iraq Railways and the Indian Railway Department were a Unit and Regiment of the Indian Army in Mesopotamia during World War 1 according to a soldier’s record on the CWGC.[7] First World War medal card indexes (refer The National Archives Documents Online: First World War Medal Index Cards ) mention Mesopotamian Railways, Iraq Railways and Railways Baghdad as corps, with Mesopotamian Railways being mentioned more frequently, but it is not known by us to what extent these three differ. In addition, there are other railway units mentioned, which may be Mesopotamian based, but which could be in other theatres. Refer separate list.

See Also

External links

For more about the Baghdad Railway see Prisoners of the Turks (First World War)
Monks, D E. Rank: Major. Date of Death: 11/12/1918
Regiment: Bengal North Western Railway. Service: Railway Survey Siestan (Persia)
  • The Great War - Borht Projects The British Overseas Railways Historical Trust. Includes images of models of War Department locomotives and rolling stock and details of the Trust WW1 book project.

Historical books online


  1. First World War: A Global view: India: Indian Army (select Indian Army option) The National Archives, quoting the reference MUN 5/176/1143/16.
  2. Busehr (archive.org link) Encyclopaedia Iranica
  3. Memorial Gates Trust, First World War-Mesopotamia (archive.org link)
  4. Vay to go by Alison Gibson from Mid-day.com, now archived.
  5. The First World War, 1914-1918, Volume II, page 114 by Charles Repington 1920,(Archive.org) quoting a letter from Sir Charles Monroe, C-in-C in India, dated Simla, August 15, 1917
  6. Indian / South-Asian Industrial Locos: Military Trains by Simon Darvill. IRFCA (archive.org link)
  7. Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s record for J. Flatman