Christopher Trevelyan © King-
The Indian Army on campaign 1900-
Driver Narain Singh IDSM , 21st Mtn. Battery
Private Ponnu Sami, 4th Madras Pioneers
Private F.Xavier, 21st Madras Pioneers
Havildar Bikran Singh, 3/23rd Sikh Infantry
Havildar Bishan Singh IDSM, 15th Sikhs -
Sepoy Kanhaiya Singh, 48th Pioneers
Naik Nadan Shah, 128th Pioneers
Sepoy Burhan Ali IOM, 76 Punjabis
4576 Havildar Bishan Singh, IDSM
Lt.Col. M.S.Grewal Collection
Havildar Bishan Singh joined the India Army on 5th April 1903, and served with the 15th Sikhs during his entire military career. When the Great War began, Havildar Bishan Singh was with his regiment when it proceeded to France as part of Indian Expeditionary Force A. At the time, the 15th Sikhs was part of the Jullundur Brigade along with the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment, 47th Sikhs, and 59th Rifles (Frontier Force) in the Lahore Division. Arriving at Marsailles on 26th September 1914, the Indian Corps quickly received new rifles and undertook some organization and training. Less than a month later, much of the Corps was sent into a desperate situation at the front and at once begun suffering heavy casualties. The 15th Sikhs alone suffered 260 other ranks killed and wounded by 1st November 1914. It was during this period that Havildar Bishan Singh was both wounded by enemy shelling, and won the Indian Distingished Service Medal and was Mentioned in Despatches for his actions and bravery. Unfortunately, his wounds were severe enough to force his early pensioning on 27th May 1916.
Besides his IDSM and MiD, Havildar Bishan Singh IDSM was awaded two Sanads which granted a square of land and supplentary monthly income for his distinguished service. His 1914 ‘Mons’ Star is said to have been lost during partition. If anyone knows the location of the Star today, please feel free to let us know even if it is not for sale. To see images of Havildar Bishan Singh’s Discharge certificate and Sanads, please click here.
His grandson, Lt.Col.M.S.Grewal whom himself served in the Indian Army for 36 years, contibuted the following letter regarding Havildar Bishan Singh and the images provided:
I would also like to share the following information about my grandfather Hav. Bishan Singh. He was born in village Gujjarwal in Distt.Ludhiana (Punjab) in a Jatt Sikh family. He did not have any formal schooling but studied at home only. He joined the army on 05 April, 1903 and served the British Indian Army for about 13 years 01 month and 22 days and was pensioned on 27 May, 1916 on medical grounds with all pension benefits as he was injured during the action in the face of the enemy.
After his retirement from army at the age of 32 years, he took to farming
at the land which he was rewarded-
He died in Aug. 1969 at the age of about 90 years as a very satisfied and proud soldier
who fought the World War-
We all as his descendents are very proud of him and after his death are carrying on with the family traditions of joining the army and serving the nation.
1009 Sepoy Burhan Ali, IOM 2nd Class
CJ Trevelyan Collection
Sepoy Burhan Ali, orderly of Subadar-
His IOM citation reads:
For very conspicuous gallantry at Khafajiyah, Mesopotamia on the 15th May 1915 in being one of a small party who under heavy fire gallantry rushed the doorway into a fort which was stubbornly helf by some 50 armed Arabs. Sepoy Burhan Ali was shot dead in doing so. [849/3.9.15.Posthumous]
From the Regimental History of the 1st Punjab Regiment:
The gateway of the fort was a narrow entrance some eight to ten feet broad,
and this was charged by a party of six under Subedar-
1009 Sepoy Burhan Ali
Died 15th May 1915
Son of Zaman Ali, of Kahuta Rawalpindi, Punjab.
Commemorated on the Basra Memoral, Panels 47and 66.
108 Havildar Bikran Singh
3/23rd kh Infantry
Courtesy of a Private Collection
The 3/23rd Sikh Infantry was raised at Jullunder on 20th January 1918, and was composed of four companies of Mazbi and Ramdasia Sikhs. It was disbanded on 30th April, 1922. During its short existence, the regiment saw active service in Iraq, where it helped to quell the tribal uprising that erupted there in June 1920. 108 Havildar Bikran Singh was one of the senior NCO's who served with the 3/23rd Sikh Infantry in Iraq, and for his service, he was awarded the 1918 General Service Medal with the 'Iraq' clasp, which is pictured above.
The 3/23rd Sikh Infantry arrived in Iraq on 18th August with 699 officers
and men under the command of Lt.Col. P.G.Carey, and was thereafter sent to Nasiriyah
in the Euphrates Valley. By the 30th September, the 3/23rd Sikh Infantry was organized
as part of a mixed force under the command of Brigadier-
On 1st October, the mixed force left Nasiriyah and marched to Ur. There
it was joined by Major-
For the next few days, punitive measures were taken against a number of hostile villages on both sides of the Euphrates. On 8th October, the 3/23rd Sikh Infantry was sent to inspect the remains of the Greenfly. When it arrived, they found the ship stripped of everything that could possibly be removed. In addition, its two guns were rendered useless, and the entire ship was riddled with bullet holes. Only one body was found, that of a European crewman who had suffered several wounds. There were no signs of what happened to the rest of the crew.
By the 12th October, the relief column was less than five miles away from Samawah. As the Arab force investing the town showed no signs of retreating, it was decided to attack them the following day. The assault, which benefited from the support of four airplanes early in the morning, went well, and by early afternoon most of the rebels had fled. In the engagement, as many as eighty Arabs were killed, including twenty who drowned while attempting to flee across the Euphrates. On the 14th October, the relief column entered Samawah, and found the garrison to have weathered the two month siege quite well. Overall, with the exception of the Greenfly disaster, the relief of Samawah went better than expected. Casualties of the Samawah relief force, including the dead and missing crew of the Greenfly, amounted to only 11 killed, 32 wounded, and 29 missing.
As there were no signs that the tribes in the lower Euphrates were willing to submit, it was deemed necessary to carry out further punitive measures. On 15th October, the 3/8th Gurkhas destroyed a number of villages south of Samawah, and in doing so found a 13 pdr. gun that had been captured from a British armoured train earlier in September. Two days later, a column under the command of Lt.Col. Huddlestone, CMG, DSO, which consisted of two squadrons of Hodson's Horse, two sections of field artillery, the 3/5th and 3/8th Gurkha Rifles and the 3/23rd Sikh Infantry, sent out for the day to destroy additional villages south of Samawah.
In late October, operations were suspended for a few days to allow civilians
to return to Samawah, which had by then become practically deserted. By November
however, small punitive operations were again in full swing. Meanwhile, at Samawah,
a large column was again assembled under the command of Brigadier-
At 0550 on 11th November, the advanced guard set out. Its left was protected
by the Shatt-
Punitive operations continued around Samawah until the 18th November, when as a sign of submission, seventeen Indian crewmen of the HMS Greenfly were returned by the tribes in the area. By the 6th December, all of the tribes had come to terms, and most of the looted items from the Greenfly and several thousand railroad sleepers had been returned. The uprising in the lower Euphrates was over.
564 Sepoy Kanhaiya Singh
CJ Trevelyan Collection
Kanhaiya Singh, of Samrala in Ludhiana District Punjab, joined the 48th Pioneers during the years leading up to the Great War. In 1911, Kanhaiya Singh was with his Regiment when it carried out preparations for the great 1911 Delhi Durbar. For his good service, he was awarded the 1911 Delhi Durbar Medal, and subsequently had it very neatly engraved with his name, number and regiment. It would be the only medal he would ever wear.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, the 48th Pioneers
was added to the strength of the 6th (Poona) Division which, as events would unfold,
was bound for Mesopotamia. Disembarking in mid-
All ranks were desperately hungry, and in some units hunger broke the bonds of discipline, Arabs and even Turkish soldiers were waylaid and robbed of food, sepoy snatched food from sepoy, and ration dumps were rushed. There were no sign of such madness in the 48th Pioneers and alone of the Indian regiment they were employed to guard the ration dumps.
Roughly three hundred and forty other ranks of the 48th Pioneers were besieged in Kut, of which roughly three hundred were taken Prisoner. The rest were too sick to march, and were exchanged for Turkish prisoners. Of the three hundred to march into Turkish hands, only ninety would ever see India again. The rest were either murdered at the hands of the Turks, or died of disease, malnutrition, and neglect. Sepoy Kanhaiya Singh was one of the majority. He died on 29th March 1917 after nearly a year of captivity, somewhere in Mesopotamia.
564 Sepoy Kanhaiya Singh
Died 29th March 1917
Son of Pophi, of Sahja Majra, Samrala, Ludhiana , Punjab
Commemorated on the Basra Memoral, Panels 56 and 57.
4116 Naik Nadan Shah
CJ Trevelyan Collection
4116 Naik Nadan Shah of the 128th Pioneers died on 7th January 1916 during the
battle of Sheikh Saad and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial. The following account
is taken from the History of the Bombay Pioneers by Lt.Col.W.B.P.Tugwell. It is a
narrative of the role played by the 128th Pioneers on 7th January 1916, during operations
to relief the besieged 6th Division in Kut-
At 12.5 p.m. the headquarters, 4 machine guns and two companies (No.1 Coy., Major Barratt, and No.2 Coy., Capt.Goodfellow) of the 128th Pioneers had received orders to cross the bridge (to the left bank of the Tigris River) and come under General Younghusband's orders. The bridge was not completed till 1.15 p.m. when this half battalion at once crossed to the left bank, where they received orders to "follow up the attack being made by the 19th, 21st and 35th Brigades and to attach themselves to the 21st Brigade." As the 21st Brigade had had more than two miles start, its locality could only be vaguely indicated, but it was hoped that as the Pioneers approached nearer to the fight, they would be able to get in touch with Brigade Headquarters. Col.Creagh accordingly led his half battalion off into the desert. They soon began to come under shell fire, and one of their first casualties was the only charger so far issued to the regiment, wounded by shrapnel bullets.
As the Pioneers advanced in the column of route they could see, now and then, what appeared to be scattered palm trees appearing and disappearing in a pool of water about a half mile ahead. It was not until some of these objects emerged from the mirage that they could be recognized as orderlies or walking wounded. Instructions had been issued that any wounded man, unable to walk back to a first aid post, was to be placed under any available cover (actually there was none) with his rifle with fixed bayonet stuck in the ground, butt uppermost, as an indication for the stretcher bearers. The many rifles thus stuck in the ground made a curious sight.
After marching for a time, the troops in front could be observed, though distorted by the mirage, and they all appeared to be merged into the fight. Wounded and other individuals met could give no information as to the position of the 21st Brigade. Suddenly the Pioneers came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire from their front and obliquely from their left, shell fire also increased, and their casualties became numerous, the ground being devoid of cover and as flat as a billiard table. Still pushing on, these two companies found themselves in the firing line, between and partly mixed up with the Buffs and Black Watch. They had stumbled on a small gap between the 35th Brigade and part of the 21st Brigade. Here they joined in the fire fight at a range estimated at 600 yards. It was difficult to locate any targets, but the bursting of our own shells was taken to indicate the line of hostile trenches, and occasionally a Turk was seen to get up and run, as if moving from one trench to another. The half battalion managed to work forward some further distance towards the enemy, but Colonel Creagh, seeing that the whole line was held up and that he had only some 150 men left, then ordered his companies to dig in, which they did under very heavy fire, their pioneer equipment enabling them to get under cover quickly. Colonel Creagh had been wounded, but managed to carry on, and this half battalion of the 128th had lost 26 men killed, 5 missing believed killed, and 2nd Lt. E.H.Gill, Subadar Khushal Khan, Jemadar Syad Hassan and 199 men wounded. The other two companies had no casualties on the 7th.
8843 Lance Naik Mirzak
South Waziristan Militia
Courtesy of a Private Collection
The South Waziristan Militia was raised with the North Waziristan Militia in 1900
from Pathans of the North-
Many at first questioned the logic of providing arms to the Wazirs, Mahsuds
and other tribes who had over the years built up such a reputation for violence,
cunning, and unscrupulous behavior. Of course there were numerous minor incidents
over the next few years that lent credence to this view, but by and large the Militias
worked, and the Frontier remained fairly quiet up to the Great War. During the test
The Afghan invasion of British India in May 1919 proved to be too great
of a strain on the loyalties of most trans-
In neighbouring Waziristan, the advance of a large Afghan force under the command of Nadir Khan resulted in the withdrawal of the North Waziristan and South Waziristan Militias from their posts. Although tactically sound, this decision only reinforced wild rumors that the British were beaten for good. Virtually all Wazirs and Mahsuds in the North Waziristan Militia soon deserted with their arms. Many of the other enlisted tribesmen however kept their heads, and there was much less bloodshed than there might otherwise have been.
On 21st May 1919, Major G.H.Russell, Commandant of the South Waziristan
Militia, learnt of Nadir Khan's advance. Soon afterwards he received orders from
the Chief Commissioner to abandon his posts, and retire on Mogul Kot thirty-
Major Russell's plan was to evacuate Wana on 26th May in an orderly fashion, taking with him a sufficient amount of water, transport, arms, and what treasure there was. All surplus ammunition and supplies were to be destroyed. He would then pass the western posts of the South Waziristan Militia and pick up their garrisons. Two other British officers with a small escort were to leave slightly earlier to pick up the garrisons of the Militia's three eastern posts.
At 6 P.M. on 26th May, Captain Traill and Lieutenant Hunt left with their
escort for the eastern posts. Soon afterwards, Major Russell informed his Pathan
officers that they must prepare to withdraw in short order. At first everything went
according to plan, but it didn't take long for the Wazirs with some Afridis to seize
the keep with its treasure and arms. Efforts were made to come to terms with the
mutineers, but to no avail. At 9.45 P.M., Major Russell had no choice but to begin
the journey, leaving everything of value behind in Waziri hands. He had with him
five British officers, roughly three hundred loyal Pathan officers and men, and over
one hundred unarmed Indian followers, such as shopkeepers, water-
The column marched the first twenty miles straight through the night. At 7.00 A.M., they reached the first Militia post at Toi Khula. Instead of being welcomed, they were fired upon by its mostly Waziri garrison. It seems that news of Russell's retreat arrived before he did. Again left with little choice, Russell was forced to carry on to the next post at Moghal Kot, a distance of another fourteen miles.
As morning turned into afternoon, the column was subjected to the brutal
heat of the mid-
When Russell reached the Tesh Plain he was joined by two friendly parties. The first was that led by Captain Traill, who had caught up after picking up those still loyal from the eastern posts. The second was a platoon of South Waziristan Militia Sherannis led by its Subadar. Having originally deserted back at Wana, they apparently had second thoughts about their disloyalty, and their return was most welcome.
As the column came within two miles of Mogul Kot, they met elements of the Zhob Militia, which had come up to support Russell's retreat. This greatly aided matters. Reaching Mogul Kot by nightfall, it soon became evident however that the fort could only offer temporary relief. Being just large enough to accommodate all the men and followers, the animals had to be left outside, and there was only enough rations to last a couple of days . Russell wanted to push on as soon as possible, but his column, and especially the followers, were exhausted and badly needed rest.
During this time, a number of stragglers came in, and a party of one British Officer and seven Sowars of the South Waziristan Militia also arrived. Meanwhile, the tribesmen had used the rest period to greatly increase their numbers. Now surrounding Mogul Kot, they continued on with their heavy sniping inflicting numerous casualties.
By 30th May, the column was ready to move on to Mir Ali Khel, which was yet another fourteen miles south. Of these fourteen miles, the last seven were to have been piqueted by the Zhob Militia. One hundred mounted infantry of the Zhob Militia was also to met Russell as he left Mogul Kot at 6.30 A.M.
By 8.30 A.M., they still had not arrived, so Russell decided he could not wait any longer. When the front doors of the fort were opened, Russell was met with a barrage of enemy fire that completely prevented their exit. Quickly closing the doors back up, a hole was instead made in the back of the fort with what tools they had.
Filing out through the rear, the retreat started off badly and only got worse. The very first piquet sent out by Russell went too far ahead, and ignored all signals to return. At the sight of this, much of the column lost heart and discipline, and many began to make for Mir Ali Khel as fast as they could, often abandoning their arms along the way. Little could be done to stop the ensuing panic. From the Official History:
The officers attempted to stem the route but in no case with success,
for when an officer turned away from those he had collected, the men immediately
disappeared. After four or five miles had thus been traversed the mounted infantry
of the Zhob Militia appeared in sight holding piquets to cover the progress of the
column. Efforts were again made to rally and re-
Casualties were heavy during this final retreat. Five British officers
were killed, including Captain Traill, and two wounded. One of these was Major Russell,
who was shot through both legs. Only one British officer, Lieutenant Barker, survived
unscathed. Eight Pathan officers were also killed and an estimated forty Other Ranks
became casualties, including 8843 Lance-
The consequences of the collapse of the South Waziristan Militia were serious.
Over one thousand rifles and seven-
In the end, it would take some of the most intense fighting the Frontier had ever seen to bring order back to Waziristan. Thereafter, a new 'Forward Policy' was adopted to keep much closer tabs on the Wazirs and Mahsuds.
Despite the wishes of some, the North and South Waziristan Militias were eventually reconstituted as the North and South Waziristan Scouts. Many important lessons were learnt however as to who could be relied upon in the future, and who could not.
As for Lance-
667 Driver Narain Singh, IDSM
21st Kohat Mountain Battery F.F
Courtesy of a Private Collection
Narain Singh served as a Mule Driver in the 21st (Kohat) Mountain Battery (Frontier Force). On 17th September 1914, following the outbreak of hostilities, the Battery embarked for the Suez Canal as part of the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade*. It remained in Egypt along the Canal defences for the next six months, and helped repel the Turkish attacks of early February 1915.
On 4th April, 1915, the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade left Egypt
to support the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in its assault on the Gallipoli
peninsula. At 6:30pm on 25th April, the 21st (Kohat) Mountain Battery (FF) landed
on Anzac Beach closely on the heels of the infantry. In the face of heavy Turkish
fire, but with support from the HMS Bacchante, the Battery managed to get off the
beach without suffering any casualties. Over the next several weeks, the Battery
saw virtually non-
Many acts of bravery were conducted by the officers men of the Battery
during these most difficult times. In the History of the Indian Mountain Artillery,
It was noticed that he was covering his eyes with his hand, though at no time was there any delay or interruption in the transmission of orders. Later, during a lull, it was found that a bullet had passed behind both eyes and he was quite blind. Karm Singh stuck to his duty until forcibly removed. For his bravery, he was awarded the Indian Order of Merit.
Another Indian Other Rank who was awarded the Indian Order of Merit was Naik Jan
Mohammed. He maintained fire at the enemy "...after his emplacement had been blown
in by a high-
Driver Narain Singh was also decorated with an Indian Distinguished Service Medal (pictured above) for "... many instances of bravery while mending telephone line under fire..." In Tales of the Mountain Gunners, Colonel A.C.Ferguson relates...
...The only other point worth mentioning before the Suvla Push is the communications. Owing to losses among signallers, and the battery being split up into three bits, each with a distant O.P., we were soon reduced to one signaller per phone who was on duty day and night, always sleeping with his instrument in his ear. The headquarters phone was run by the Mess Orderly, Pyara Singh, in addition to his other duties. We had one linesman only who managed to keep alive during the whole war in some wonderful way. He was always out repairing lines in dangerous places, and two or three times brought back chits from Australian Officers to say they had seen him repairing lines under heavy fire. His name was Narain Singh and he got an I.D.S.M...
Over the course of the Gallipoli campaign, the 21st (Kohat) Mountain Battery (F.F.) fired a total of 12,248 rounds. Casualties amounted to 11 men killed and 134 wounded. The Battery also lost 35 pack mules killed and another 119 wounded. The Battery earned 3 Distinguished Service Medals, 1 Order of British India, 4 Indian Order of Merits, 5 Indian Distinguished Service Medals and 25 Mentions in Dispatches.
After a rest and refit, the 21st (Kohat) Mountain Battery (F.F.) returned
to the front, but this time served in Mesopotamia and Persia from 1917-
* The 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade was comprised of the Brigade HQ, the 21st (Kohat) Mountain Battery (F.F.), and the 26th (Jacob's) Mountain Battery.
2374 Private Ponnu Sami
4th Madras Pioneers
Courtesy of a Private Collection
The 4th Madras Pioneers as a complete Regiment did not serve on the N.W.Frontier
during the 1897-
From all accounts, it appears that men of this detachment were entitled
to the 1895 India General Service Medal with one clasp only. No records have yet
been found on 2374 Private Ponnu Sami, but he may have continued to serve on with
the Regiment on into the Great War 1914-
2036 Private F.Xavier
21st Madras Pioneers
Courtesy of a Private Collection
The 21st Madras Pioneers was the only Regiment of the Madras Presidency,
other than Sappers & Miners, to join the two division strong Tirah Field Force on
the N.W. Frontier of India during the 1897-
The 21st Pioneers, who had been largely employed as Corps troops and felt that they had not had their fair share of fighting, had petitioned to be given a more active role, and the General agreed to their doing rearguard on the date in question. After the destruction of Burg, the enemy, having as usual collected on the hills all around, closely followed the rearguard as soon as the piquets were withdrawn. Knowing that they were faced with a Madras regiment they thought the opportunity too good to be missed and closed in on the 21st with a recklessness which they had at no time previously displayed. But the Madras Pioneers stool firm and inflicted on the tribesmen heavier casualties than any which they had sustained to date....It is also worth noting that the 21st Pioneers, in spite of the intense cold, were one of the healthiest battalion engaged in these operations.
For their role, the Regiment earned a commendation of "great coolness and staunchness" while acting as rearguard.
On the morning of 28th December at a quarter to five o-
In 1903, the 21st Madras Pioneers would be re-
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