Despatch from India in March 1919

The following despatch from His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief in India on the part taken by India, including the Indian States, in the prosecution of the war, has been received
from the Government of India: —

Army Headquarters, India.
Dated Delhi, 13th March, 1919.

From the Commander-in-Chief in India,
To the Secretary to the Government of India,
Army Department.

In continuation of my despatch dated 20th August 1918, I have the honour to submit the following brief review of the part played by India, including the Native States, in the
prosecution of the war: —

2. The strength of the Army in India at the outbreak of war was approximately 77,000 British and 159,000 Indian ranks, exclusive of 38,000 Volunteers and 35,000 Indian reservists. Judged by pre-war standards, these numbers are large; but, if the services rendered by India in the early stages of the war are to be assessed at their full value, it is important to emphasise that this force was in no sense a potential reserve to the armed forces of the British Empire. As the Government of India are aware, the primary functions of the pre-war Army in India were two-fold, namely, the maintenance of order within and on the borders of British India, and, secondly, theprovision of a field army capable, should the necessity arise, of undertaking a campaign beyond the border for purposes of defence against external aggression. The Army in India was in no sense maintained for meeting external obligations of an Imperial character.

3, It is true that there have been many precedents for the employment of small contingents from India in support of Imperial interests in other parts of the world, but it has never been the policy to maintain troops in India in excess of those actually required for the protection of her own interests; and as the strength of the Army in India has hitherto been governed by these considerations alone, no appreciable contingent could be furnished for employment overseas without involving considerable risk. At the same time it was recognised that in the event of an emergency
threatening the integrity of the Empire, the Government of India might be called upon to accept this risk with the object of adding to our strength at the decisive point: the Army was therefore organised and equipped, as far as was compatible with its main role, so as to be capable of affording ready co-operation in such direction as His Majesty’s Government might indicate. Only a few days before the outbreak of war, the conclusion had been arrived at and communicated in a despatch to the Secretary of State that, provided conditions were normal in India and on her frontiers, the Army Council could usually rely on India to provide a force of two divisions and one cavalry brigade, and that, in circumstances of special urgency, it might be possible, though at some risk, to provide an additional division.

THE BRITISH INDIAN ARMY ON THE HOME FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 52588) Troops of the 18th Battalion, Indian Labour Corps repairing a road. Copyright: © IWM.

4. The outbreak of war occurred at an inconvenient juncture for purposes of mobilisation and the despatch of forces overseas. A large proportion of the British troops were located in summer quarters in the hills, in many cases at long distances from the railway; the Indian troops were largely on leave; and a large number of British officers were at home on furlough, 530 of whom were detained on the outbreak of war for employment under the War Office. Moreover, the incidence of the monsoon season was a severe handicap to Indian troops, the bulk of whom had never before crossed the ocean. In spite of these difficulties no time was lost in mobilising the required forces and requisitioning the necessary sea transport.

5. The first request for troops received from His Majesty’s Government was for two Infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade for garrison duty in Egypt and the Sudan. The 3rd and 7th Divisions and 9th Cavalry Brigade were accordingly mobilised and made ready for despatch overseas; but, in informing the Secretary of State of these arrangements, it was urged that the relegation of these troops to garrison duty would be keenly felt by the men themselves, and that it was most desirable from every point of view that India should be represented on the European front. The destination of the contingent was accordingly changed to Marseilles. At the same time a request was received for a complete cavalry division, and subsequently for a second cavalry division, instead of the one cavalry brigade originally asked for; these were at once placed under orders, and the first convoy transporting the contingent to France sailed from Bombay on the 25th August, i.e., within 3 weeks of the declaration of war. The bulk of the force had disembarked at Marseilles before the end of September, and less than a month later were in action in Flanders. The total strength of the original contingent despatched to France amounted approximately to 16,000 British and 28,500 Indian ranks.

6. A request was also received within the first few days of the war for the preparation of a mixed force, including six battalions, to deal with German East Africa, and for three additional battalions for the protection of Zanzibar and the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, the operations of the latter being controlled by the Colonial Office. The despatch of the former was somewhat delayed by shortage of shipping and the difficulty of providing naval escort, (the German cruisers Emden and Konigsberg were at this period at large and the former had appeared off Madras on the night of the 22nd-23rd September) but the force eventually arrived at Mombasa on the 31st October, and sailed for Tanga next day. One of the three battalions for British East Africa sailed on 19th August, and was in action at Tsavo on 6th September. With the arrival of the remaining two battalions the two forces were amalgamated under one command. The strength of these two contingents, which  contained a large proportion of Imperial Service Troops, amounted approximately to 1,500 British and 10,250 Indian ranks.

7. In the meantime, the threatening attitude of Turkey had made it necessary to take steps for the protection of the Abadan pipeline, and it was decided to despatch a brigade of the 6th Division (which had been mobilised in anticipation of further demands) to demonstrate at the head of the Persian Gulf, without, however, taking hostile action. This brigade embarked on the 16th October, and arrived at Bahrein on the 23rd. With the declaration of war against Turkey a week later, the brigade was ordered to take Fao, and a second brigade was placed under orders to support it. The remainder of the 6th Division sailed for the Shatt-al-Arab on the 20th November. The strength of this advanced guard of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force amounted approximately to 4,500 British and 12,000 Indian ranks.

8. A further commitment was accepted by the Government of India in despatching to Egypt, at the request of His Majesty’s Government, a force of six infantry brigades (including one composed of Imperial Service troops) and one Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade. While en route to Suez one of these infantry brigades took part in the action at Sheikh Said on 10th November. These troops, numbering approximately 1,500 British and 27,250 Indian ranks, disembarked in Egypt during November and December. A small Indian contingent also co-operated with the Japanese in the
attack on the German naval base at T’sing-tao in North China.

9. In addition to the organised forces despatched to France, East Africa, Mesopotamia and Egypt, 32 British Infantry battalions and 20 batteries of artillery, aggregating 35,500 British ranks, were sent independently to England to facilitate the expansion of the army at home, and were gradually replaced by 35 Territorial battalions and 29 Territorial field batteries. The small residue of the pre-war British regular garrison was concentrated in formations on the North West Frontier, while the Territorial units underwent a course of intensive training. These latter fully proved their fighting value during, the later stages of the war; but for the time being they had much to learn as regards warfare under the novel conditions of a country like India. Thus, by the close of 1914, India was maintaining four overseas forces amounting in the aggregate to over 100,000 men of all ranks, and had in addition exchanged 35,500 of her best British regular troops for an equivalent
number of semi-trained Territorials with inferior armament and equipment. Moreover, the stock of rifles in India had been reduced to a very low figure by demands from the field and by the transfer to the War Office of a large number which were under manufacture in England. The number of mobile guns had similarly been reduced from 474 to 270, and necessitated the reorganisation of batteries on a 4-gun basis.

10. This situation was rendered possible in a large measure by the absence of serious disorder on the frontiers. His late Majesty the Amir of Afghanistan maintained an attitude of strict neutrality, which was reflected in the attitude of the frontier tribes generally. Sporadic attempts to stir up fanatical feeling were, however, reported towards the close of 1914 from the Tochi Valley and the Mohmand country (involving the employment of a part of the 2nd [Rawalpindi] Division); some minor punitive operations were also rendered necessary on the North-East Frontier to deal with some long-standing unrest among the Kachins. In spite of the entry of Turkey into the war, occasioning grave concern among the Muhammadans of India, the internal situation remained calm, and though a few isolated signs of unrest manifested themselves in different parts of the country, these were for the most part traceable to German influence and propaganda, and were promptly
dealt with. Viewed as a whole, the general situation within and on the borders of India appeared to justify the risk which had been taken in depleting the country of so important a part of its armed strength and in introducing so large an untrained element into the British garrison.

11. As the Government of India are aware, the outbreak of war had been the signal for a remarkable and spontaneous demonstration of enthusiasm throughout the country, accompanied by practical expressions of loyalty in the shape of offers of assistance of every kind. Ruling Chiefs placed their troops and treasure unreservedly at the disposal of the Government, and a constant stream of gifts in money and kind flowed in from every section of the community. There was, in fact, a general rally of every grade of European and Indian society. ‘The ladies of India found an outlet for their energies in the various associations which were formed for the relief of distress, the care of the sick and wounded, and the provision of comforts for the troops in the field. A number of Indian gentlemen came forward to offer their assistance in safeguarding the interests of the Indian soldier on service by enquiring into petitions received from the field, attending to the needs of his family, and in various other ways; and a number of others offered their services in the task of explaining the issues of the war to the more ignorant classes, steadying public opinion, and combating hostile intrigue and propaganda. These and various other activities, in which much unobtrusive but valuable service was rendered by individual workers, continued to develop in scope, volume and effect throughout the whole period of the war.

Imperial War Museum photograph (Q 28831) The Meerut Cavalry Brigade passing through a village to a forward area in France; August 1915. Copyright: © IWM.

12. In many respects 1915 was the most critical period of the war as far as India was concerned. The outstanding feature of the year was the growing importance of the campaign in Mesopotamia, involving a steadily increasing demand for men and material at a time when the armed forces of the country had been reduced to a dangerously low level. The year was, in fact, one of strenuous endeavour to comply with demands which constantly threatened to outpace the ability of the country to meet them. During the year contingents from India were engaged in France and Belgium, in Egypt, in Gallipoli, in Mesopotamia, in South and East Persia, in East Africa, in the Cameroons, in the Aden Hinterland, in Somaliland and on the North-West and North-East Frontiers of India, besides garrisons at several colonial stations. The mere enumeration of these theatres will convey some idea of the complex nature of the problem which confronted those responsible for the provision of the necessary men and material.

13. The rapid expansion of the British Army at home made it possible towards the close of the year to release the Indian Army Corps from France. The Corps had helped to tide over an anxious period, and had fought at Festubert, Neuve Chapelle, Loos and the Second Battle of Ypres; but now that British troops were available to take their place, it was felt that they could be used to better advantage under more congenial climatic conditions. Their employment in a theatre nearer India would, moreover, effect an appreciable saving in sea transport and generally ease the administrative difficulties inseparable from the maintenance of a force so far from its base of supply. The Corps accordingly embarked in November and December for Mesopotamia. The two cavalry divisions were, however, retained in France.

14. From the small beginnings narrated in paragraph 7, the 1915 campaign in Mesopotamia assumed a character of the greatest importance to India, since its reaction was felt all over Persia, and, indeed, throughout the East. Moreover, it was in this direction that India, by reason of her geographical position, could contribute most effectually. It is outside the scope of this brief review to trace the sequence of events which led up to the gradual development of the operations; these are already well known to the Government of India. Suffice it to say that early in the year urgent representations from’His Majesty’s Government led to the increase of the force from one Division to the strength of two divisions and one cavalry brigade; one infantry brigade was obtained
from Egypt, but the remainder of these additional troops were provided from India, and reached Basrah by the end of March. In the autumn, two more brigades were sent from India, and towards the close of the year the leading units of the Indian Army Corps from France began to arrive in the country. The provision of these additional formations from the depleted garrison of India was a matter of grave concern, and was only made possible by the promise of His Majesty’s Government to send a number of British Garrison Battalions from home for second-line duty in India. By
the close of the year the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force had grown from the strength of a single division to over 50,000 fighting men.

15. It was soon apparent that the Expeditionary Force in German East Africa would continue to draw largely upon India for men and material. Some of the units which had suffered severely in the early stages of the campaign were withdrawn to India and replaced by fresh units, and four additional battalions were despatched during the year. But the chief burden imposed by the East African campaign at this period, and, indeed, throughout the war, was the replacement of wastage rather than the provision of complete units; in certain cases demands were received for draft reinforcements amounting to over fifty per cent, of establishment before the unit had been three months in the country. The Government of India will appreciate the difficulty with which such demands were met at a time when the recruiting organisation was still undeveloped, and when France, Gallipoli and Mesopotamia were making constant and heavy calls on the trained manhood of the country.

16. No additional troops, other than draft reinforcements, were sent to Egypt during the year. The force was, in fact, reduced by the transfer of six battalions to Gallipoli, and two brigades to Mesopotamia, one of which was also employed for a few months to reinforce the garrison at Aden. Three battalions were also sent independently from Egypt to France.

17. In minor theatres, the year brought several lesser commitments. In theatres outside the Indian sphere small contingents were employed in the Cameroons and Somaliland; within the Indian sphere, the incursion of a Turkish force into the Aden Protectorate involved the organization of a small force for the protection of the fortress; and in the Gulf of Oman, minor operations were rendered necessary at Musqat, Jask, and Chahbar. Early in the year German agents began to show great activity in Persia, and missions under the leadership of Neidermeyer and Setter were despatched from Berlin via Baghdad. To counteract the activities of these missions, which reached Persia in May, a cordon of troops was established, in conjunction with the Russians,
in East Persia.

18. Throughout the year the situation on the North-West Frontier of India r was somewhat unsettled as the result of hostile activities among the tribesmen, the Haji of Turangzai and the Hindustani fanatics being particularly troublesome centres of intrigue. Operations became necessary in Baluchistan, the Tochi Valley, the Mohmand Border, Swat, Buner, and the Black Mountain, on a scale which involved the employment of the whole of the 1st [Peshawar] and part of the 2nd [Rawalpindi] Divisions. Throughout the year, also, a coterie of disaffected Indians, acting as hostile agents and directing their operations from overseas, endeavoured with small success to sow disaffection among the troops and to create internal disorder. A disquieting feature was a wave of unrest in the Punjab; this, however, was firmly suppressed, and has in no way tarnished the record of the Province as the most productive recruiting area in the country. Repeated efforts were made under German guidance to ship arms to India via Batavia and Siam, but were frustrated by the vigilance of the police, not only in India itself, but at Shanghai, Singapore, and Bangkok. In this and many other connections relating to India’s military activities, I have always been able to rely on the civil, naval, and military authorities at Singapore, and particularly on Major-General D. H. Ridout, C.B., C.M.G., Commanding the Troops, for the most cordial co-operation and unceasing vigilance on our behalf. The mutiny at Singapore was an ugly incident which, though occurring outside India, had an unsettling effect. The year was thus one of anxiety both, within and on the borders of India, more especially as the constant demand for reinforcements overseas reduced the proportion of internal security troops to what, according to pre-war standards, was dangerously below the safety level.

19. By the spring of 1915, the whole of the Territorial contingent from home had reached India; but the intervention of the hot weather makes training a slower process in India than elsewhere, and it was not till towards the close of the year that they could be regarded as in any sense a substitute for the troops they had replaced. Their steady improvement was, however, a reassuring element in the situation. The Army also received a valuable acquisition of strength in the shape of six Nepalese battalions—increased nine months later to ten— which the Nepal Durbar generously placed at the disposal of the Government of India for the period of the war. But the backbone of the Army in India at this period was the small contingent of British and Indian Regular troops, who, though precluded from sharing in the honours won by their comrades overseas, played a no less efficient and important part in the attainment of the common end by guarding the frontiers of India with a vigilance and devotion to duty which enabled the training of the Territorial units to proceed without interruption and the Indian Army to expand in a measure never before contemplated. It is due to these units that I should mention them by name, and I therefore append a list of those which were retained in India throughout the whole period of the war : —

21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers.
M Battery, R.H.A.
4th, 38th, 74th, 77th, 79th, 89th, 90th, 101st and 102nd Batteries, R.F.A.
Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9 British Mountain Batteries, R.G.A.
Nos. 51, 52, 60, 62, 64, 68, 73, 74, 75. 82, 94 ,and 101 Companies R.G.A.
2nd Battalion, the King’s (Liverpool Regiment).
2nd Battalion, Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry.
1st Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment).
1st Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment).
1st Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment.
1st Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment).
2nd Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment).
1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse).
8th Cavalry.
17th Cavalry.
31st Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers.
35th Scinde Horse.
37th Lancers (Baluch Horse).
39th King George’s Own Central India Horse.
1st Battalion, 12th Pioneers (the Kalat-i-Ghilzie Regiment).
1st Battalion, 35th Sikhs.
1st Battalion, 86th Carnatic Infantry.
2nd Battalion, 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles.
No. 11 Company, 2nd Queen Victoria’s Own Sappers and Miners.

20. Meanwhile, it was fully appreciated that the war would be a long and tedious one. It is important to emphasise here that whereas the pre-war policy of His Majesty’s Government required of India that she should be prepared merely for a hill campaign beyond her frontiers, the general policy of the Empire on the outbreak of war dictated a, concentration of effort towards the strengthening of our position in Europe and the North Sea. The energies of India had therefore been directed towards this common object, expenditure on subsidiary projects being reduced to the lowest possible limits; hence, the: decision of His Majesty’s Government to develop the campaign in Mesopotamia far beyond the limits originally assigned to it presented a problem of great difficulty and involved a re-adjustment of the financial, commercial, manufacturing and military resources of India. It must be remembered also that at this period the resources of the United Kingdom were required almost exclusively to meet the demands of the British forces in Europe, -and the various Indian contingents enumerated in paragraph 12 were therefore dependent chiefly on India as their base of supply. The wide variety of climatic and other conditions under which these contingents were serving was in itself a source of extreme difficulty and taxed the resources of
India to the utmost. In July, 1915, the munition-making resources of the country were first co-ordinated by the Railway Board, which employed’ a special staff to supervise and develop the output. Much use was made in this way of the capacity of the railway workshops, in which considerable quantities of shell cases were manufactured, as well as a great variety of miscellaneous articles which could not be produced by the Ordnance and other Government factories.

THE BRITISH INDIAN ARMY IN INDIA, 1914-1918 (Q 81668) Troops of the 1st Battalion, 4th Gurkha Rifles (1st/4th GR) unloading their equipment at Karachi after their return from Egypt, 1915-1916. Copyright: © IWM.

21. Except in Mesopotamia, where the campaign continued to grow in scope and importance and called for a determined redoubling of effort, the year brought no outstanding developments as far as the Army in India was concerned. The Indian contingent in France, already reduced by the withdrawal of the Indian Army Corps at the end of 1915, was further reduced in June, 1916, by the transfer of the Meerut Cavalry Brigade to Mesopotamia; but, at the request of His Majesty’s Government, India undertook two additional responsibilities in France with the object of conserving British man-power in that theatre, viz., the provision of a monthly draft of artillery drivers and the raising of a large number of labour corps for work behind the line. These latter, aggregating some 28,000 men, were formed with great rapidity by Local Governments. They represented a wide variety of race, creed, and language, including numbers from the remotest confines of India, such, for example, as Kukis, Manipuris, Khasis, and Garos from the borders of Assam, Chins from the hills of Burma, and Santalis and aborigines from Chota Nagpur. The rapidity with which these men were enlisted and organised under specially selected officers who knew and understood them reflects the greatest credit on the Local Governments concerned. To provide reinforcements for  Mesopotamia, the Indian contingent in Egypt was reduced to the strength of one cavalry and two infantry brigades, and the abandonment of the Dardanelles campaign also set free the Indian units in that theatre for the same purpose. In East Africa no important developments occurred, but the rate of wastage continued to rule high, and was a constant source of anxiety.

22. Throughout the year the chief responsibilities of India were centred in the Mesopotamian campaign. In addition to the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) Divisions, which reached Basrah early in the year, a reinforcement of five additional (battalions was sent from India, and three infantry (brigades were mobilised in readiness to proceed if and when troops were received from England or Egypt to replace them. At the same time the 13th British Divsion in Egypt was placed under orders by the War Office to proceed to Mesopotamia. As the Government of India are aware, only a portion of these troops arrived in time to take part in the operations for the relief of Kut-el-Amarah. The loss of prestige associated with .the failure of these operations was much less than might have been expected, a circumstance which can be attributed to the stubborn defence offered ‘by the besieged garrison, and to the gallantry, self-sacrifice and endurance of the troops who had endeavoured to relieve them.

23. The fall of Kut was followed by a period of reorganisation preparatory to the resumption of operations by more deliberate methods. The force was reorganised into two Army Corps and a Cavalry division, the latter being completed by the Meerut Cavalry Brigade, which sailed from France at the end of June. Immediate steps were taken to reconstitute the fourteen Indian’battalions which had been lost in Kut; six of these were raised in Mesopotamia by means of drafts and the remainder in India. Steps were also taken to relieve with fresh, troops from India some of the units
which had been continuously on service since the beginning of the war and which had suffered severely in the relief operations; three additional battalions were also sent from India for garrison duty on the Lines of Communication.

24. An important change also took place in the system under which the force was controlled and administered. It had been decided in February that the control of operations in Mesopotamia should be exercised by the War Office through the Commander-in-Chief in India, the chief provisions of this arrangement being: —
(a) that the Commander-in-Chief would receive his instructions with regard to military operations from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff under the authority of the Secretary of State for War in exactly the same manner as Commanders-in-Chief in other theatres;
(b) that India would remain the main base of the force which would continue to be administered by the Commander-in-Chief in India, such requirement of the force as India could not meet being supplied by the War Office from other parts of the Empire, subject to the general policy at the time being decided upon by the War Committee; and
(c) that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Commander-in-Chief in India would correspond direct in regard to the requirements of the force in Mesopotamia, but all questions of principle or policy likely to affect the military or internal security of India or the political situation in Persia or the Gulf would continue to be referred by the Commander-in-Chief to His Excellency
the Viceroy. In July this control was extended also to the administration of the force, i.e., that India continued to be its main base of supply, but that the Commander-in-Chief became responsible to the Army Council, instead of to the Government of India, for the provision of the necessary personnel, supplies and material.

25. In minor theatres within the Indian sphere, the chief event was the despatch of a mission to South Persia at the request of the then Persian Government with the object of restoring and maintaining order, and of creating the force known as the South Persia Rifles. In conjunction with the Russians a small force was also maintained throughout the year in East Persia, to frustrate the activities of hostile agents in the direction of Afghanistan and India. At Aden, no events of importance occurred, though the Turkish column remained in the vicinity of the fortress.

26. In spite of the Arab revolt and the fall of Kut, both of which events might have been expected to produce an unsettling effect on the border tribesmen, the situation on the North-West Frontier of India gave less anxiety than in the previous year. A small column from the 4th [Quetta] Division suppressed without difficulty some local disturbance in Baluchistan and it became necessary in October to institute a strict blockade against the Mohmand tribes whose uncompromising .attitude continued to be a source of annoyance. Elsewhere the frontier remained quiet. Though there was some recrudescence of anarchy in Bengal, the internal situation also showed a general improvement.

27. The sixteen garrison battalions which arrived from home during the year brought a valuable acquisition of strength to the Army  in India, for not only did they set free sufficient Territorial and Indian battalions to add a much needed division to the Field Army, but they greatly facilitated the task of reinforcing British units overseas. The Territorial battalions had by this time acquired a high standard of efficiency, and though there had as yet been no occasion to employ them in operations on the Indian frontier, the seven battalions which had been sent to Mesopotamia soon
proved their quality.

28. Great strides were made in India during the year in the development and coordination of military effort. The rapid expansion of the force in Mesopotamia had emphasised the difficulty of maintaining a modern army in a tropical country, devoid of supplies, with undeveloped means of communication, and with no proper port of entry. The energies of the Railway Board, which
still controlled the manufacturing war industries, were concentrated on the betterment of these conditions; and before the end of the year the port of Basrah had grown from an undeveloped riverside into an efficient base; Basrah and Nasariyeh had been linked up by metre-gauge, and Qurnah and Amarah by narrow gauge track; and 24 miles of light railway had been constructed close to the fighting  front. The large bulk of the river craft sent to Mesopotamia during the year was provided by India, and the whole of the railway material and personnel.

29. In October, a very considerable expansion was effected in our recruiting arrangements, which henceforward were organised on a territorial, instead of a class, basis, and from the beginning yielded good results. For the first two years of the war recruitment had been conducted on pre-war lines, through the agency of Recruiting Officers appointed for each class, irrespective of the civil administrative divisions. Non-combatants were obtained by the Branch or Department concerned, with the result that each was in competition with others, and varied terms were prescribed, even
for men of the same class similarly employed. In October, 1916, the entire control of recruitment for all services was vested in the Adjutant-General, and radical changes were introduced without delay. Henceforward all recruitment was conducted on a strictly territorial basis; the local recruiting staff was organised; and recruitment of all classes, both combatant and non-combatant, was brought into close relation. The result was immediate. The strength of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force alone had risen to over 120,000 at the close of the year, and that of the Army in India to 79,000 British and 177,500 Indian ranks. The permanent wastage in Mesopotamia at this period was 2,300 a month, and in India, 3,500 a month; and it was calculated that a total monthly  increase to the army of 11,750 fighting men and 8,250 followers was necessary in order to meet our various commitments overseas. The enlistment of labourers on a large scale was also inaugurated in 1916, especially for France and Mesopotamia, and was extended to a number of classes which had hitherto never been tapped for military purposes.

THE CAMPAIGN IN MESOPOTAMIA 1914-1918 (Q 24794) Men of the 45th Sikhs (52nd Infantry Brigade, 17th Division) attending a Diwan (religious service) whilst on campaign in Mesopotamia. Copyright: © IWM.

30. During 1917, the chief events of the year were still centred in Mesopotamia; elsewhere no important developments occurred as far as Indian Expeditionary Forces were concerned. In France, the non-combatant strength of the Indian Contingent was increased by over 200 per cent, by the despatch of the 54 Labour Corps from India referred to in paragraph 21. Notwithstanding the
strange surroundings into which they were suddenly transported and the trying climatic conditions to which they were subjected, these men rendered a good account of themselves and some of the corps especially distinguished themselves under fire during the German offensive the following year.

31. The strength of the contingent in Egypt was increased by four Indian battalions during, the year, three of which were raised locally by the despatch of drafts; and, at the request of His Majesty’s Government, nine Territorial battalions were also sent to Egypt. East Africa continued to make heavy demands for draft reinforcements in proportion to the number of units employed, but an important advance was made during the year towards the successful conclusion of the campaign. Three Imperial Service Battalions which had been serving in the country continuously for three years were withdrawn to India to rest and refit. In addition to drafts, one cavalry regiment, one battery of mountain guns and three battalions were sent as complete units during the year.

32. In Mesopotamia, the series of operations which culminated in the capture of Baghdad completely transformed the military situation, and produced political effects of far-reaching importance. India’s share in the achievement of this important success consisted in the provision of over three-quarters of the force employed, over three-quarters of the river craft, and the whole of the railway material and personnel without which the operations would have been impossible. Of the 86 battalions included in the force at the date of the capture of Baghdad, India had contributed 73, and all
but 2 of the 43 squadrons of cavalry.

33. Before the end of the year, a further important contribution had been made. The disintegration of Russia had impaired the fighting efficiency of the Russian troops, and, in the absence of any co-operation from that quarter, it became necessary to provide some substantial reinforcement for the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. Steps were accordingly taken to form two additional infantry divisions and one cavalry brigade. Certain of the technical units for these formations were obtained from home or by redistribution within the force, but the whole of the infantry and
cavalry, and the personnel and horses for two brigades of field artillery were provided by India; in addition, one cavalry regiment and ten infantry battalions were sent to Mesopotamia as unallotted units. At the close of the year the force had reached its maximum strength of over 420,000, including followers.

34. Except on the North-West Frontier of India, no important events occurred in the minor theatres. An active defence was maintained at Aden throughout the year; and in South and East Persia several minor operations were undertaken against raiders, robber bands and gun-runners. In March the force at Bushire, which had hitherto been part of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force,
passed, under the orders of His Majesty’s Government, to the direct control of the Government of India. On the North-West Frontier of India, important and successful operations were undertaken against the Mahsuds in Waziristan, lasting from March to August; these operations, which have been dealt with separately in my despatch dated 20th December, 1917, involved the employment of part of the 2nd and 16th Divisions, as well as the troops of the Derajat and Bannu Brigades. In July the Mohmands came to terms, and the blockade was raised. Elsewhere activity on the frontier was confined to dealing with trans-border raids. The internal situation remained calm throughout the year.

35. Meanwhile, important strides were made in the provision of facilities for rapid training and in the expansion of the army. Five garrison battalions were received from home during the year, and 55 new battalions were raised in India, besides a large number of technical and administrative units. The receipt during the spring of 169,000 rifles greatly facilitated the training of these new troops. Other notable features were the increasing and successful enrolment of labour, both skilled and unskilled; the enlistment of companies of ex-sepoys for garrison duty in India; the rapid expansion of the Indian Army Reserve of Officers; the establishment of Followers’ Depots; and the creation of Technical Training Schools, such, for example, as those for railway signallers, marine engine drivers, mechanical transport drivers, ice-mechanics, clerks, etc., etc.

36. The experience of previous years led to some important developments, also, in the war organisation of our civil resources. The Indian Defence Force came into being early in the year and by reason of its wider constitution was able to replace and extend the duties hitherto partially performed by the Volunteer Force. In particular, it took a more effective share in the prosecution of the  war by undertaking certain garrison duties in India with the object of releasing regular troops for service overseas. The Munitions Board was created in March as a temporary department of the Government of India, taking over the war work of the Railway Board and the Department of Commerce and Industry. Its chief functions were the co-ordination of demands for articles not manufactured or produced in India; the application of the manufacturing resources of India to war purposes; the collection and dissemination of industrial intelligence; and the disposal of  Government indents and priority applications. Controllers of Munitions were also appointed in each of the chief provincial centres of India and steps taken to establish similar agencies in the  principal Native States. Another important development of the year was the creation of the Central Recruiting Board, a combined civil and military organisation at the Headquarters of  Government whose principal functions consisted in the guidance and control of the Provincial Boards established simultaneously in each Province and Administration. The required monthly and yearly quota of recruits were allotted by this body to the various Provinces on the basis of martial population and the needs of the Army, and in each Province the organisation was extended to each civil district, so that the rate of recruitment and the degree of exploitation in every part of India could be kept under constant supervision.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE SINAI AND PALESTINE CAMPAIGN, 1915-1918 (Q 12499) Indian troops, of the 7th (Meerut) Division, at a ‘Pay Parade’ in the open air. Copyright: © IWM.

37. In their effect on India, the German offensive in France and the Turco-German attempt to move eastward across the Caspian were the outstanding features of the closing year of the war. Broadly speaking, their effect was twofold. In the first place, due to the defection of Russia, the move eastward opened up the prospect of the war spreading in the direction of the Indian frontier and introducing complications with Afghanistan — a danger which necessitated a further searching examination of our military position and a careful stocktaking of our resources, in order to enable us to meet the menace at as great a distance as possible from our frontier. In the second place, it involved a further and larger demand for men than had hitherto been contemplated, for not only did it become necessary to increase the Armies in India and overseas, but the extreme urgency of concentrating British man-power on the Western Front threw upon India the additional  obligation of replacing the British soldier wherever he could be spared. This involved a general reshuffling of Indian units and formations, and the shifting of the centre of gravity, with the course of events, from Mesopotamia to Palestine.

38. As part of the general scheme for conserving British man-power, the two Indian Cavalry Divisions in France were broken up as such early in the year and transferred to Egypt. The bulk of the Labour Corps having also left France during the year on expiration of their contract, the Indian contingent in that theatre at the signing of the Armistice had been reduced to about 12,500 fighting men —mainly artillery drivers — and 6,500 followers. This, however, represents only a small fraction of the numbers which had been sent to France during the course of the war, viz., 151,430 of all ranks and categories, British and Indian, excluding 42,430 British ranks who were sent independently to England early in the war.

39. In addition to the eleven Indian Cavalry Regiments received from France (which included the Jodhpur Imperial Service Lancers), the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was increased by the 7th (Meerut) and 3rd (Lahore) Divisions from Mesopotamia during the first half of the year. In addition to these two complete divisions, 22 battalions (including two Imperial Service units) were sent from India; and these, together with the eleven Indian battalions already in the force and six others which were formed in Mesopotamia and sent to Egypt separately, were used to convert the 10th, 53rd, 60th and 75th British Divisions to Indian establishment. A number of ancillary units, including four Mountain Batteries, were also sent from India, and six new Field Companies, Sappers and Miners were raised locally from existing companies, the personnel so withdrawn being replaced by drafts from India. Administrative units also received proportionate reinforcements, especially in medical personnel and equipment. At the signing of the Armistice the Indian element in the force stood at nearly 103,000 fighting men and 15,000 followers. I do not need to remind the Government of India of the exploits of these troops, many of them young and untried, during the closing stages of the campaign; they have received full recognition in General Sir Edmund
Allenby’s despatch on the operations, and have been rewarded by an encouraging message of appreciation from His Majesty the King.

40. While the possibility of a Turkish attack in Mesopotamia grew less during the year, an additional responsibility was thrown on the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force by the conclusion of the Armistice, in December 1917, between revolutionary .Russia and the Central Powers. For some time past the defection of Russia had removed any serious obstacle from the path of German penetration towards the Caspian; but the conclusion of the Armistice and the consequent withdrawal of the last remnants of the Russian Army would have left an open road, not only into Persia, but through Persia and Trans-Caspia towards Afghanistan and India, had not counter-measures been promptly taken. The maintenance of our troops on the Caspian necessitated road  construction and the provision of mechanical transport on a large scale in North-West Persia, involving large demands on India for mechanical transport drivers and road-making personnel and equipment. The extension of the railway system towards Khanikin was also a serious drain on India’s resources in railway material.

41. During the year, 15 new battalions were raised in Mesopotamia by withdrawing a company from each of 60 battalions already serving with the force, the latter being brought up to establishment again by drafts of young soldiers from India. Six of these new battalions were sent to Egypt, the remainder to India. Three companies of Sappers and Miners were raised in the same way and personnel sent from India to convert two British Mountain Batteries to an all-Indian basis. At the close of the campaign the Indian personnel in Mesopotamia amounted to approximately 113,000 fighting men and 183,000 followers, the latter figure including 26 Labour and Porter Corps and a very large number of Railway and Inland Water Transport categories.

42. Another measure in connection with the release of British troops for service in France was the despatch of 12 Indian battalions from Mesopotamia to Salonica. These battalions left Basrah during September and October, and on arrival at Salonika were incorporated in the 22nd, 27th and 28th British Divisions, some of which were subsequently employed in the Caucasus and on the Black Sea Coast. They were to have been replaced in Mesopotamia by 12 newly raised battalions from India, but only two of the latter had left India when the Armistice with Turkey was signed.  Two Agricultural Labour Corps and the personnel of four Indian General Hospitals were also sent to Salonika from India during the closing stages of the war. The strength of the Indian contingent in that theatre on the signing of the Armistice with Germany was approximately 15,000 fighting men and 3,000 followers.

43. Early in the year the situation in East Africa was such that General Vandeventer was able to release the greater part of his force; and with the exception of 4,500 men of all ranks (mostly railway personnel), the whole of the Indian contingent had been withdrawn to India when the Armistice was concluded. The campaign had been a long and trying one, and disease had throughout taken a heavier toll than the enemy’s bullets. Although the strength of the Indian contingent had never reached 15,000, and casualties in action had been comparatively few, over three times that number were sent from India during the course of the campaign.

44. The cessation of hostilities found the situation at Aden unchanged, no increase or decrease having taken place in the size of the force employed; but, to enforce the terms of the Armistice on the Red Sea littoral, an additional battalion had to be obtained from Egypt, bringing the strength of the force to about 7,500 fighting men. It is inevitable that an inactive campaign of this nature,  carried out under trying conditions of climate and terrain, should involve considerable hardship on the troops employed; these hardships have been cheerfully borne, and resulted in no loss of  efficiency or morale.

45. The continued hostility of the Khans of the Bushire Hinterland, combined with an unprovoked attack by the Kashgais upon Sir P. Sykes’ mission at.Shiraz, made deliberate operations in that theatre inevitable. This additional commitment, coming at a time when troops were sorely needed in other theatres, and involving the employment of over 20,000 fighting men and followers and the laying down of 50 miles of light railway, was a serious embarrassment. The operations were still in progress when the Armistice was signed, and will form the subject of a separate despatch.

46. The withdrawal of the Russians made it necessary early in the year to recast the whole of the arrangements in East Persia for frustrating the activities of hostile emissaries in the direction of Afghanistan and India. The cordon of troops was accordingly extended as far northward as Meshed, where a military mission under Major-General W. Malleson, C.B., C.I.E., had previously been  established. Later, with the object of preventing interference in North-East Persia by the Soviet forces in Turkestan, it was reorganised as a Field Force and extended to the Trans-Caspian railway at Askabad, where it came into touch with the detachment from the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force located at Krasnovodsk. The troops provided from India for the East Persia Cordon  mounted to about 4,000 fighting men, and included six squadrons of cavalry and 3.5 battalions of infantry. These operations are still in progress, and will be dealt with in my next despatch on minor operations.

47. On (the North-West Frontier of India, important operations (which I have already described in my despatch dated 13th (September, 1918) were undertaken in February, March and April against the Marri tribes, and involved the employment of troops from the 2nd, 4th and 16th .Divisions; on the North-East Frontier, also, unrest among the Kukis necessitated
minor operations, -which are still in progress. Elsewhere the frontier remained quiet throughout the year. The internal situation also gave no cause for anxiety.

48. In September, His Majesty’s Government asked for the service of a British battalion from India to join the Allied Expeditionary Force assembling at Vladivostok. The 1-9th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, was selected for this duty, and sailed the following month. This was the first unit of the Territorial Brigade which arrived in 1916 to go overseas. Of the units which formed  the three Territorial Divisions sent to India in 1914-15, all but nine battalions and nine field batteries had served or were still serving in overseas theatres. These units had been among the first to  volunteer for general service in August, 1914, and I fully appreciate their regret that circumstances have found no wider outlet for their enthusiasm than is afforded by a long period of garrison duty in India. Nevertheless, this duty has been one of first-rate importance. Coming to India only partially trained and wholly new to the customs and conditions of the East, these units applied themselves wholeheartedly to the task before them, and have proved themselves worthy representatives of the famous names they bear. Few opportunities of earning distinction have fallen to their lot, but the part they have played in the prosecution of the war is to be measured not merely by the record of their own achievements in India, but by the achievements of those regular units which they released for service overseas. This is the true measure of their service to. the Empire. They will leave India with a reputation for soldierly qualities fully in accord with the highest traditions of the British Army. I append a list of these eighteen units: —
1091st, 1093rd, 1094th, 1096th, 1097th, 1098th, 1103rd, 1104th and 1107th Batteries, R.F.A.
1-4th Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment).
2-5th Battalion, Prince Albert’s (Somerset Light Infantry).
2-4th Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
1-4th Battalion, the Border Regiment.
2-4th Battalion, the Border Regiment.
1-5th Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment.
1-4th Battalion, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment).
1-10th Battalion, the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment).
2-4th Battalion, the Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire Regiment).

49. In India, the year was one of exceptional activity. A conference was held at Delhi towards the end of April to consider what measures should be taken in response to the Prime Minister’s appeal for a rallying of India’s resources to the assistance of the Empire. As a result of resolutions passed at this conference, the offer was made to raise and train an additional 500,000 combatants  within a year. No time was lost in translating this offer from words to deeds, and it is safe to say that the figure would have been reached without difficulty, had not the armistice intervened and made further recruitment unnecessary.Princes, Local Governments and people cooperated wholeheartedly with Provincial Recruiting Boards in obtaining the required number of men, and the  ate of recruitment rose rapidly throughout the year. The effect of local effort was particularly conspicuous in the North-West Frontier Province, Punjab and United Provinces, which throughout the war have taken the lead in the provision of recruits. To stimulate the movement, a gratuity was granted to every man who completed the recruit’s course, and, in addition, a war bonus, payable  every six months, to every Indian officer and soldier. The monthly intake of combatant recruits rose from 16,000 in May to over 37,500 in September.

50. It would be impossible within the limits of this brief review to specify the various channels into which the military activities of the country were directed during the closing stages of the war; but I do not need to remind the Government of India that the enlistment of the men themselves was only one, and by no means the most complex, problem associated with so large an increase to the Indian Army. The housing, clothing, equipping, feeding and training of these additional recruits each presented problems requiring most careful foresight and the closest attention to detail. It reflects great credit on the various departments concerned that the work was carried through without serious hitch or dislocation to the normal life of the country.

51. As regards the disposal of the 500,000 combatants, it was calculated that after providing for the normal draft requirements of the forces overseas and the replacement of wastage in India, the balance would provide for the raising of seven new divisions. At the request of the Army Council, however, it was decided to use them almost entirely for the replacement or dilution of British units in existing divisions overseas; and the only new Indian formations raised during the year were two mounted brigades and three infantry  brigades which were sanctioned in July as a temporary addition to the field army in India. The latter measure was taken in view of the altered strategical situation, as also was the complete mobilisation of the 1st and 4th Divisions, the 1st Cavalry Brigade, and the three Frontier Brigades in July. Steps were taken at the same time for a minute examination into the readiness of the Army in India to take the field; mobilisation procedure was overhauled; the condition of frontier roads improved; reserve stocks of foodstuffs accumulated; base supply establishments reorganised; and arsenals expanded. Steps were also taken in  conjunction with Local Governments to register the available transport resources of the country.

52. In connection with the raising of new units, mention should be made of the formation of five battalions from the civil police of the Punjab, United Provinces and Behar and Orissa,—a measure which proved an unqualified success and which was only made possible by the ready co-operation of the local governments concerned. Another new departure, undertaken with the concurrence of certain of the Ruling Chiefs, was the conversion of certain Imperial Service battalions into temporary regular units of the Indian Army; battalions were raised in this way in Patiala, Bharatpur, Jodhpur, Bikanir, Dholpur, and Kolhapur. In all, 85 new battalions of infantry were raised during the year.

53. Concurrently with the increase of the army, the operations of the Indian Munitions Board continued to expand in all directions, increasing the output of the factories, stimulating local  manufacture, and conserving to the best advantage the small residue of imported stocks which remained available in India after three and a half years of war. During the year the average monthly output of the Army Clothing Factories rose to three times the normal yearly output before the war, and in one month reached its maximum figure of two million garments. Over a million and a half
pairs of boots were supplied against army demands in the 12 months preceding the armistice. The output of the ordnance factories also showed a steady increase. With the object of setting free the plant of government factories to meet immediate and specialised demands as they arose, the outside manufacture of war stores was encouraged as much as possible by instruction in methods of manufacture, and by the provision of raw material, patterns and specifications. The inauguration of extensive schemes of irrigation and agricultural development in Mesopotamia made heavy additional demands on India during the year; and the extension of the railway system in the same theatre continued to make serious inroads on available rolling stock and material During the war, 1,855 miles of railway, track, 229 locomotives and 5,989 vehicles have been sent out of the country. The programme of river craft construction allotted to India was completed before the armistice was signed, by which date 940 craft of various descriptions had been purchased, constructed or re-erected in India for service overseas, mostly in Mesopotamia. In this connection much assistance
was rendered by the Indian Rivercraft Board, a voluntary organisation developed under the direction of the Railway Board, and which consisted of representatives of the principal engineering firms at Calcutta, with affiliated committees at Karachi, Bombay, and other ports. Improvements to the port of Basrah have continued uninterruptedly, and it has now been converted into a base capable of handling 180,000 tons of stores a month.

54. In the foregoing narrative I have endeavoured to convey some idea of the part played by India during the war, of the wide variety of obligations which were thrown upon her as the scope of the war developed, and of her endeavour to meet those obligations, often in circumstances of extreme difficulty. It may perhaps serve to illustrate her effort more graphically if I append a few figures  showing the extent of her contribution in terms of men. On the outbreak of war, the combatant strength of the Indian Army, including reservists, was 194,000 Indian ranks; enlistments during the war for all branches of the service amounted to 791,000, making a total combatant contribution of 985,000. Of this number, 552,000 were sent overseas. As regards non-combatants, the pre-war strength was 45,000; an additional 427,000 were enrolled during the war; and 391,000 were sent overseas. The total contribution of Indian personnel has thus been 1,457,000, of whom 943,000 have served overseas. Casualties amounted to 106,594, which include 36,696 deaths from all causes. The number of animals sent overseas was 175,000. No department has been more closely  connected with the war, or has rendered heartier co-operation, than the Railway Department. The great increase of military traffic produced by the war synchronised with a serious shortage of shipping, and this threw upon the Indian railways a volume of traffic, normally sea-borne, which they were never designed to carry. Nevertheless, by the exercise of the utmost resource, foresight and initiative, serious dislocation to traffic has been successfully avoided, and even in circumstances of extreme difficulty, railway administrations have freely surrendered personnel and material for service overseas. The resources of the Royal Indian Marine have similarly been taxed to the utmost. Not only has this service been responsible for the transportation overseas of nearly 950,000 men and 175,000 animals, but it has also been charged with a variety of other duties. Throughout the war, the work of the Royal Indian Marine has been accomplished with commendable efficiency and despatch.

55. In previous despatches I have expressed my gratitude, in the name of the Army in India, to the thousands of loyal and devoted workers who have contributed in various spheres of activity to the prosecution of the war; and now that the war has been brought to a successful conclusion, I cannot do more than reiterate that expression of thanks. The various departments of the government of India, the heads and members of Provincial Governments, the Ruling Chiefs, Railway Administrations, Chambers of Commerce, Port Trusts and Municipalities, the Mercantile
Marine, the numerous associations for the relief of distress and the care of the sick and wounded,—work in which the ladies of India have played a leading part,—the great nonofficial and  commercial communities, and a host of individual workers,—one and all have laboured with conspicuous devotion. Last, and perhaps most important of all, I desire to express the great debt which, the Empire owes to the troops themselves, British and Indian, combatant and non-combatant, who have contributed so largely, often with their lives, to the attainment of the common end. A list of those whose services have been of particular value and whose assistance; and work I desire to bring specially to notice forms the subject of Appendix I of this despatch.

I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
C. C. MONRO, General,
Commander-in-Chief in India


This despatch in the “London Gazette”

British field commanders’ despatches

British units stationed in India in July 1914

The campaign in Mesopotamia