Addition of new material: the historian, Rozina Visram suggested I add copies of the original documents I’d looked at, as they may be of interest to scholars and history geeks. Accordingly, please scroll to the bottom to view 3 galleries.
‘Dear Reader,’ I’ll start with a warning: this is the longest blog I’ve posted.
The road to fame may be littered by broken dreams, but Laurence Fox, an English actor many of us have never heard of, recently decided to give his career a boost by trying to make himself controversial and infamous.
Firstly he decried the idea of institutional racism, saying he didn’t believe in it and then – going where angels fear to tread – criticised the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’ World War 1 film 1917, calling it “an oddness in casting” and going on to say “there is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way.” This is a man who was educated at Harrow, one of the UK’s elite public schools, not only contradicting himself, but displaying breathtaking ignorance.
I suppose once you hitch your stars to a particular bandwagon you have to keep it rolling, no matter how much truth gets trampled along the way. Except that history and evidence, like Scrooge’s ghosts, may raise inconvenient truths and bring your bandwagon to an ignominious halt.
I doubt Laurence Fox knew what hit him, when British-Sikh Twitter sprang into action, unleashing a treasury of information, photographs and letters, leading to #Sikh trending on Twitter, the modern-day equivalent of banner headlines. The Mirror newspaper carried an article by Tanmanjeet Dhesi MP and even those bastions of the right wing, The Spectator and The Daily Mail published stories about the contribution of Sikh soldiers in WW1. Before the week was out, Laurence Fox was compelled to issue an apology. His image rather dented.
I’m sure Fox must have thought he was being rebellious and provocative, but the ‘Sikh Soldier Storm,’ as I call it, demonstrated the importance of information and research being available. Compelling me to look at the research I had done in 2019 into my grandfather’s service in WW1, and wonder whether I should put it in the public domain.
Actually my first blog on this site was in response to the Letter to an Unknown Soldier project, based on my grandfather, and father (in a different but also dangerous situation).
My grandfather was Bir Singh Randhawa, a Havildar. I’ve concentrated on the years 1901 to 1919 (although a 1920 document is included). This account of the 25thPunjabis is certainly not comprehensive, but I hope it adds to the story of one particular regiment during the colonial period and the First World War.
When I began we weren’t even sure which regiment my grandfather had belonged to or what his service number was. His medals had been sold a very long time ago, information had been lost during the dislocation of Partition, and family migrations to the UK and USA. However, family stories placed him at Hong Kong, Ypres, Mesopotamia and some other countries.
First Battalion 25thPunjabis
With the brilliant help of Amandeep Madra OBE of the United Kingdom Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and Dr. Tejpal Singh Ralmill – whose great-grandfather’s story is included in this Daily Mail article), not only did I discover my grandfather’s regiment, which turned out to be the 25thPunjabis, but also his service number and other precious information. My grateful thanks to both Amandeep and Tejpal.
The section on the Hong Kong Gurdwara is included, as many regiments of Sikh and Indian soldiers, who’d been stationed in Hong Kong over the years, had contributed towards its construction. Additionally Indian sailors used to stay there when their ships passed through. I will add here, that my grandfather who was in charge of stores, ensured (in whatever way he found possible) that the Gurdwara always had provisions. I’ve also been told that whenever soldiers went to the Gurdwara for services, most of them took contributions. The Gurdwara served as a focal point for Indians arriving in Hong Kong, trying to migrate to Canada, and coming up against the racist Continuous Passage rule, which led to the Komagata Maru Incidentin 1914.
During the war, the regiment sent drafts to replenish sister regiments fighting in other territories, however I couldn’t find the information on these. The 25thPunjabis aren’t listed as serving in France; I’m presuming if my grandfather served at Ypres, he must have been with a draft of soldiers sent to reinforce regiments fighting there. The 27thPunjabis were in France.
The notorious General Dyer, known as The Butcher of Amritsar, for the Jallianwala Bhag Massacre of 1919, commanded the 25thPunjabis in India and Hong Kong. Thankfully (from a personal point of view), he was transferred from the regiment around December 1914, and is recorded as arriving in Rawalpindi at that time. Dyer never again led the 25thPunjabis. During WW1 he commanded the Seistan Force.
In the re-organisation of the Indian armed forces in 1922, the regiment was renamed 1st Battalion 15th Punjab Regiment
At Partition, in 1947, it was allocated to the Pakistan Army, where it continues to exist as 9th Battalion The Punjab Regiment. Regimental records were passed over to the Pakistani army: https://www.revolvy.com/page/25th-Punjabis
I’ve included copies of a couple of pages (at the end) from War Diaries and secret communications, held at the National Archives. This material isn’t always chronological as much of it has been lost, and some of the pages from the War Dairies are really difficult to decipher as they were written in pencil – over a hundred years ago. The War Diaries provide a day-to-day record of the work and activities of the regiment. They certainly worked hard.
Background and History
The following material has been taken from sources available in the UK, which includes the National Archives at Kew, The British Library, The United Kingdom Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA), andThe National Army Museum. As well as at Researching the Lives and Service Records of First World War Soldiers-The 25th Punjabis in the First World War.
Most of the information on 25thPunjabis comes from “15thPunjab Regiment. 1stBattalion”by J. E. Shearer. Although the book is called 15thPunjab Regiment, it covers the regiment’s history as 25thPunjabis. J. E. Shearer, who I believe retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, was an officer of the regiment. Very few copies of the book exist, but I was able to use the one at The British Library.
A note: when recruits registered to join the army, they weren’t identified by surnames, but the name of their father and their village.
The 25thPunjabis was an Infantry Regiment: ‘the branch of an army that engages in military combat on foot. Traditionally relies on moving by foot between combats, but may also use horses, military vehicles, or other transport.’
“The first thing to understand is the Indian Army ranks at the time (and today) and their British equivalents. One started as a sepoy (private) and gradually rose up the ranks – but not always every few years. One could remain a sepoy for 10 years or so and then when the opportunity arose, shoot up to havildar (sergeant). Subedar Major was the highest rank.” (Tejpal Singh Ralmill)
Badge of 25th Punjabis
The25th Punjabiswas an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army. It was raised in 1857, as the 17th Regiment of Punjab Infantry. Designated as the 25th Punjabis in 1903.
How the regiment was organized:(as far as I understand, but happy to be corrected.)
Platoon: part of an infantry company, usually 25-30 soldiers.
Company: consisting of 150 – 200 soldiers
Battalion: consisting of 4 or more companies
Regiment: consisting of 2 or more battalions
The regiment comprised 1 battalion, therefore it was known as, and written as: 1/25thPunjabis.
From: Indian Infantry Regiments 1860–1914: Barthrop. “Turbans were approved in 1860 to replace the Kilmarnock cap.” In order to achieve cohesiveness and regimental loyalty, English officers attached to regiments wearing turbans, themselves wore turbans. (I believe this was later changed).
Most of the following information is from Lt. Col. J. E. Shearer’s book “15thPunjab Regiment. 1stBattalion” using the writer’s vocabulary. J. E. Shearer had known the Battalion since 1912 when stationed in Hong Kong and was often in its mess at Lai-Chi-Kok.
- In 1898 a new March Past was introduced (the March in the opera ‘Rigoletto’) as the former March Past was found to belong to the Rifle Brigade.
- Change in organisation: In 1900 the “wing” system was discontinued and the eight companies were reorganized into “double companies”:
No.1 Double Company, consisting of “A” and “B” Companies (both Sikhs).
No. 2 Double Company, consisting of “C” and “D” Companies (both Dogras).
No.3 Double Company, consisting of “E” and “F” Companies (both Punjabi Muslims)
No. 4 Double Company, consisting of “G” Company (Khattaks) and “H” Company (Sikhs).
- 1903 the Battalion provided a guard of honour to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught on their visit to Peshawar City.
- 1905 the Battalion took part in the review at Rawalpindi for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.
- In 1907 the Battalion took part in a review at Rawalpindi for His Majesty Habibullah Khan, Amir of Afaganistan. And later provided the guard of honour at the railway station on the departure of His Majesty the Amir.
The Zhaka Khel and Mohmand Campaigns of 1908:
- Zhaka Khel is an Afridi tribe inhabiting north-eastern portion of Tirah between the Khyber Pass and the Bara River. On 28thJanuary 1908 Peshawar City was raided in broad daylight by 70 or 80 tribesmen led by the notorious “Multani” who’d been a sepoy in the 26th Punjabis. On this raid he had taken a bugler with him.
- After grabbing property valued at over I lakh rupees, while escaping the city, his bugler blew the “No Parade”, confusing the troops pursuing him, allowing him and his raiding party to escape.
- After that it became a rule, on the North-West frontier, that troops must always be dismissed by verbal orders.
- A force was sent in retaliation. The Brigade (including 1/25th) was ordered to mobilise on 3rdFebruary 1908. On 12thFebruary it arrived by rail at Jamrud and was immediately ordered to piquet the Khyber Pass up to Ali Masjid.
- On 14thFebruary the 1stand 2nd Brigades of the Field Force arrived. The next day, on 15thFebruary embarked on a punitive expedition to the Bazar Valley.
- The 1stBattalion (including 1/25th) carried out daily road protection duties between Ali Masjid and the Chora Kandao, and between Ali Masjid and Jamrud.
- On 2ndMarch 1908 the Battalion followed the last of the Field Force back to Peshawar and returned to Rawalpindi by rail.
- For these operations the Battalion received the 5thIndian General Service Medal (green-blue-green ribbon) with the clasp “North-West Frontier, 1908.”
Between 10thand 17thMarch 1908 the Battalion celebrated its Jubilee. Pensioners of the Battalion were entertained, and a durbar and a rifle meeting were held for them.
- From 5thMay to 6thJune 1908 the Battalion was sent to Nowshera where it was put on garrison duty (the Nowshera Brigade itself having been sent to subdue the Mohmand tribe (same region as Zakha Khel. North-West Frontier).
- In March 1910 the Battalion moved to Multan.
- Delhi Durbar 1911. “The Battalion had the honour of taking part in the Durbar held at Delhi by Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. Their Majesties graciously presented portraits of themselves to the Battalion on this occasion, and one hundred Durbar Medals were received for issue to all ranks of the Battalion.”
The Durbar was held for the formal purpose of enabling King George V as Emperor of India to announce his coronation to his subjects in India, and to receive homage from the Viceroy and his officers, and from the Indian ruling princes. The Emperor and Empress, Queen Mary, sat on a covered dais in an arena composed of two amphitheatres. The total number of participants and spectators was estimated at 100,000, including over 30,000 British and Indian soldiers.
- Hong Kong 1912 -1914: The Chinese Revolution came to a head between 1911-12 and China declared itself a republic. The British Government feared the general state of unrest would result in wholesale murder of European missionaries, as had happened at the beginning of the Boxer War of 1900, so orders were issued for the immediate move to Hong Kong of an Expeditionary force. This consisted of: 24th(Hazara) Mountain Battery and the 25th and 26th Punjabis.
- The Battalion journeyed from Multan, and embarked at Karachi in R.I.M.S. Hardinge on 22ndJanuary 1912. Reaching Hong Kong on 7th February. The Battalion then went into camp for three months on the Kowloon Reclamation Ground.
Extract from book: “Hong Kong is an island, with Kowloon the mainland on the other side of the harbor. The present docks and railway station at Kowloon did not exist in 1912. The whole of that very large area was then being “reclaimed” by carting gravel down from the hills.
The camps of the 25thand 26thPunjabis were in the area now occupied by the Eastern Exchange Hotel and Kowloon railway station.”
- After 3 months the troops moved into the Standard Oil Company’s godowns at Lai-Chi-Kok, which had meanwhile been fitted up as temporary barracks.
- As the Chinese were engaged in their own, internal struggle, British territory and subjects had not been attacked, but sufficient risk existed, not to move the units from Hong Kong.
“We remained at Lai-Chi-Kok until August 1914. Except that the men suffered a certain amount of inconvenience through being so far from their homes and their families for so long, all ranks – British and Indian – thoroughly enjoyed their stay at Hong Kong. The ground gave us excellent facilities for mountain warfare training, and we also did a certain amount of amphibious training in co-operation with the Navy. All the men learnt to swim well, and many of them were taught to row. But except for two typhoons (in each of which the wind attained a velocity of 150 miles an hour and did considerable damage), and a dangerous fire in one of the many oil tanks in our lines at Lai-Chi-Kok, life was uneventful until August 1914.
Our men did excellent work at that fire, removing tins of petrol at great risk to themselves from a building near the blazing oil tanks and were officially thanked for their gallantry by the Governor of Hong Kong.
Throughout their stay in the Colony the Battalion gained first place each year in the China Command Athletic Meetings; and also each year won the United Services Recreation Club Hockey Tournament. In each case the runners-up were the 26thPunjabis.”
Over several years, Sikh and other Indian soldiers stationed in Hong Kong, had contributed to the fund for building a Gurdwara. This photograph is from the inauguration of the Gurdwara in 1902: https://bit.ly/2sWTVcw
- The following newspaper article, and the post written by Teulu, give a history of the Gurdwara and its importance to the Sikh and Indian community (comprising mostly of men at that time, I assume).
The Hong Kong Telegraph, 12 May 1902, page 2:
NEW SIKH AND HINDU TEMPLE
INAUGURATED AT HONGKONG
“Every credit is due to members of the Sikh and Hindu community of Hongkong for the generous manner in which they have subscribed to the funds for a new temple in the Colony. The idea has been mooted for the past twenty years, but the heavy cost of such an undertaking prevented its accomplishment. But now the difficulty has been overcome and yesterday morning the temple – Siri Guru Singh Sabha, Hongkong – was fittingly inaugurated. A large gathering attended the ceremony, and after meeting at the Central Police Station marched through Wanchai to the Gap behind Morrison Hill, where the new temple has been erected. Major Berger kindly permitted the band of the Hongkong Regiment to be present. The Sacred Book was deposited in the building and a religious service followed. Afterwards a general meeting was held at which there were present Subadar Ikbal Singh, R.A., president of the committee; Jemadar Lal Singh, H.K. Police, vice-president; Lala Sham Das, representing the Hindus on the committee; Seth Wasia Mall, representing the merchants and Sirdar Kehr Singh, representing the watch-men; Bhai Raga Singh, priest; Subadar-Major Sirdar Khan, H.K.R. (who assisted in getting the band); Subadar Teja Singh, former president of the committee, who came from Singapore to take part in the ceremony; Subadar-Major Sri Garjadhar Pershed, 5th Hyderabad Regt.; Subadar Langh, 22nd Bombay Inf. A number of Europeans were also present, including Mr. B. Brotherton Harker, the architect.
After a statement by Lada Sham Das in Hindustani, Subadar Teja Singh gave an address in English. He pointed out that in the Colony there was a Sikh and Hindu community of about 700, but that though the R.A., the Police and the merchants had each a copy of the Sacred Book at their respective places, there had hitherto been no centre where they could jointly offer their prayers and engage in the service. The provision of such a place had been thought of for the last twenty years, but the heavy cost had always stood in the way of its accomplishment. The coming of the China Field Force brought an opportunity however of their wishes being carried out. The Sikhs in the Force were asked to subscribe and every soldier, policeman and watchman in the Colony gave one month’s pay and merchants one month’s income. (Hear, hear.) The China Field Force assisted them very ably and other outside stations sent in their portions. For their success in securing a site from the Government thanks were due to Captain Bland, R.A., Mr. May of the Police, His Excellency the General Officer Commanding, and Mr. Ormsby of the P.W.D. The subscriptions were limited to Sikhs and Hindus. They had not thought it necessary to appeal to others for support and, thank God ! they had been able to effect their purpose, though they had no doubt that had they appealed to others that appeal would not have been made in vain. Among the subscriptions worth noting were $2,500 from the H.K. Police, $2,285 from the Nos. 1 and 2 Companies, H.K.S.B.R.A., $1,461 from the China Field Force, $223 from the Victoria Gaol, and $684 from the Shanghai Municipal Police. The total sum amounted to about $10,500. After expressing the hope that the Public Works Department would grant permission for the erection of the proposed small crematorium, Subadar Teja Kingh went on to say that their special thanks were due to Mr. Harker, who had kindly assisted them in getting the temple ready under circumstances of considerable difficulty and had done so in a manner reflecting the greatest credit upon him. He had now every great pleasure in asking Mr. Harker to accept, for Mrs. Harker, a ring as a token of their appreciation of his services, and he wished him and his wife long life and prosperity. (Applause.)
Mr. Brotherton Harker, in acknowledging the gift – a handsome gold ring set in diamonds – thanked the donors very heartily for their kindness. That gift was a token of their appreciation of his endeavours to construct their temple to the best of his ability. The circumstances attending its construction had rendered his take ((sic. should be “task”?)) rather difficult, but he was pleased to think that his work had given them satisfaction. (Applause.)
The building is a handsome structure reflecting credit on the architect, Mr. B. Brotherton Harker, who has had to contend with circumstances of considerable difficulty in connection with the work. The basement floor is arranged as a shelter for strangers and will accommodate 30 or so such. A cook-house and offices are adjoining. Above is the temple proper, a spacious oblong apartment, 30 feet by 50 feet, running the whole length of the building and opening out on to balconies on each side. At the upper end sits the officiating priest, and the floor is laid with carpets for the worshippers. The hall is approached from the front by a broad flight of steps. The facade of the temple is of Moresque design and presents a very pretty appearance. Except for the grant of a site by the Government, the entire cost of erection of the temple has been borne by the Sikh and Hindu community of this and some neighbouring coast towns. Yesterday’s ceremony was the culmination of a design which the Sikh and Hindu community in these parts have fondly cherished for something like twenty years. The $12,000 or so that the completed temple and crematorium are estimated to cost have been almost alll subscribed, but only by the exercise of great self-denial on the part of those concerned. It is unfortunate that now, when the scheme is on the direct road to completion, an objection should have been put forward by the Government to the effect that they cannot authorise the construction of the crematorium in the form proposed. Hitherto the cremation of the Sikh dead has been carried out by the primitive method of a wood-fire in the open air. In connection with the temple a crematorium was proposed to be built at a cost of $500 or $600 which would have sufficed for all the needs of the community, but the authorities decline to sanction such a structure and recommend the erection of a crematorium on the European model. Such a place would cost anything from $20,000 to $30,000 and as the cost of cremating a dead body in that fashion is correspondingly expensive as compared with the present system, the Sikhs find themselves quite unable to follow the Government’s recommendations.”
An excerpt from a post by Teulu on the same website about the Gurdwara: https://bit.ly/2sWTVcw
“As I understand it, the Sri Gura Singh Sabha temple was established in Hong Kong about 1901 to meet the spiritual needs of Sikh residents in the city. Many Sikhs, at the turn of the century, were employed in British army regiments stationed in Hong Kong or served as policeman and guards in the city.
According to our family historical information the gurdwara in Hong Kong was an important component in the emigration of Punjabi men from India to Canada during the first decade of the 1900s. Between 1904 and 1908 about 5,000 Punjabis, some Hindus but mostly Sikhs, travelled from India to British Columbia, Canada via Hong Kong. Their original port of departure was usually Calcutta.
Our ancestor from the Punjab travelled in 1906 from Calcutta aboard a Jardine Company cargo boat, which made many stops in south east Asia before arriving in Hong Kong. This city was a vital stop for all emigrants as there was no immigration office in India. The Hong Kong immigration office handled the procedures required for final clearance to proceed to Canada – medical exams, documents, interviews etc. Emigrants from India found refuge and safe haven at the Hong Kong gurdwara while waiting for travel permits.
Temple officials provided not only food and lodging but also assistance with finances, medical concerns and booking arrangements. Most of all the gurdwara offered fellowship and security to the travellers who had embarked upon a life altering journey in search of a better life.”
- Later, in WW11, the Gurdwara provided shelter for locals. Unfortunately, it was bombed during the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong. One of the raids killing the Head Granthi and injuring others.
- A larger temple was later built on the site with funds from Sikhs and non-Sikhs, and a crematorium added in 1917. The Gurdwara exists to this day, and has been enlarged and modernised. http://www.khalsadiwan.com
The Story of the Stowaway
Our family’s destiny was also changed by the Hong Kong Gurdwara. When our great-grandfather died at a young age, our great-grandmother was left with five children to bring up on her own, four sons and a daughter. The eldest two sons, Bhagwan Singh and my grandfather Bir Singh, endeavoured to provide for the family as best they could. Whilst Bhagwan Singh worked on the land, my grandfather joined the British Indian army.
When the 25th Punjabis were stationed in Hong Kong, and my grandfather ensured the Gurdwara always had sufficient provisions, sailors who’d stay at the Gurdwara between their sea journeys, wanted to express their appreciation to him, and made him an extra-ordinary offer: “If anyone from your family wants to get to the United States, we’ll make it happen.” The sub-text was understood by all, no documents or passports would be involved. Whoever accepted this offer, may never be able to return home.
My grandfather wrote to the family, and I presume after discussions amongst them, his eldest brother Bhagwan Singh volunteered for this journey into the unknown. Accordingly, leaving his young wife with the family, sometime later Bhagwan Singh arrived in Hong Kong, and from there was spirited away into the interior of a ship.
After a journey of around a month across the Pacific, family stories say he was taken ashore in California by the sailors. A stranger in a strange land. A man who changed the destiny of his family.
Finding work wherever he could, he sent remittances back home; in 1918 transferred a substantial sum to my grandfather so he could buy large tracts of land for the family; after Partition, when the family had to abandon everything and flee for their lives, he sent $20,000 to give them immediate help. In succeeding decades, he helped numerous family members, with the finances to get to Europe or the US, enabling future generations to pursue the professions, become teachers, doctors, business people and artists.
We honour his memory, a man who endured on his own, and kept faith with those who needed him. My great-uncle, the stowaway.
- Further to 25thPunjabis in Hong Kong 1914 –Composition of Regiment at that time:
3 Companies of Sikhs,
2 Companies of Dogras,
2 Companies of Punjabi Muslims.
1 Company of Pathans.
- Extract from the regiment’s confidential report for 1914-15 when inspected by Major-General Francis Henry Kelly, Commanding troops, China:
“Turn-out: Satisfactory. Drill quite good considering the very little opportunity for practice. At manoeuvre the regiment is useful and well trained. There has been a great improvement in musketry since they got the new rifle. Signalling is distinctly good. Equipment and accoutrements are well-cared for – no easy task in this climate.
British Officers take great interest in their men and are very keen. The Indian Officers, like the men generally, are a fine lot.” http://bit.ly/2OgW65M
WORLD WAR 1
The 25thPunjabis are listed as serving in India, Hong Kong, Mesopotamia, Salonika and Turkey.
- Chpt.12: The Great War (1914 to the Armistice, 1918. J.E. Shearer).
The regiment is still in Hong Kong, when war is declared; the Governor of Hong Kong and the British fear there will be sabotage of infrastructure. Martial law is imposed and troops organized to guard strategic points and major Government installations.
However, as the war progresses and manpower becomes stretched, by February 1915 the Battalion has been ordered to leave Hong Kong and arrives in Jhelum on 15thMarch. It’s put on outpost duty in Miran Shah and Tochi.
On 4thApril 1916 a detachment of the Battalion carried out a “gallant and successful action at Ahmadzai,” against raiders. One sepoy was killed and 3 wounded.
- During this period the Battalion sent many very large drafts of soldiers to the following units:
59th Rifles in France
27th Punjabis in Mesopotamia
28th Punjabis in Mesopotamia
45th Sikhs in Mesopotamia
- November 1917, the Battalion was ordered to Mesopotamia. Sailed from Karachi in the H.T. Elephanta on 21st. Disembarked at Basra on 27thDecember 1917.
- After a few days halt at Makina Masus camp, the Battalion moved up the river Tigris by steamer. Disembarked on 12th January 1918 and moved to “Iron Bridge” to join the 54thInfantry Brigade of the 18thIndian Division.
- The 18thDivision moved to Samara in March 1918 to guard approaches to Baghdad from Mosul and Western Kurdistan.
- In the summer of 1918 additional experienced Indian Infantry units were needed in Palestine and each of the 1stBattalions were ordered to detach one complete company.
- In September 1918 Indian troops were asked for, to help with the “final push” on Salonika.
- The 1/25thPunjabis were one of the regiments selected to go, and sailed on the H.T. Danube.
A Page from a War Diary of 25th Punjabis. H.T. Danube (Crown Copyright: National Archives).
A short version from http://bit.ly/2uWutbe : “Parades and inspection by officer commanding troops and master of ship at 11am. In afternoon a lifeboat is lowered and teams of British Officers, Indian Officers and one each from HQ A Company and B Company compete in race round ship. Representatives from Companies at 5pm watch man in canvas tank demonstrating use of lifebelt.
17th October 1918 – HT Danube – inspection of ship at 11 am. Parades from 7.30 am to 10.30 am and 12.30 to 1.30 and 3.30 to 5.30pm. Parades, running and physical training. Lewis gun, musketry, lectures, cleaning of equipment and classes held for Havildars and Naiks. Alarm Parade held at 5pm.
22nd October 1918 – HT Danube – No. 4982 Sepoy Ghulam Ali Shah dies of pneumonia at 4.20am, the ship stopping for a moment at burial.
From another War Diary of 25th Punjabis : 22nd February 1919 – HT Katoria – “Rounds at 10.30 am. men stand at boat stations whilst passing through swept minefield, until 2 pm. Arrive Chana 2 pm. Heavy fog, proceed slowly and anchor.”
- The H.T. Danube, arrived at Salonika on 20thNovember 1918. Units from the French, Serbian, Italian and Greek armies were also at the port.
- While the 25th Punjabis were in Salonika, the “Vardar” was blowing: an icy wind coming straight off the snow-covered Balkan Mountains, penetrating everything, “making one feel shriveled up with cold,”. Inspite of the intense cold, the writer notes that the “men remained very fit.”
- The units came to be known as The Army of the Black Sea 1919-21.
- February 1919 the Battalion moved to Gallipoli, where it joined the 84thInfantry Brigade The Brigade was composed of:
2nd battalions The Cheshire Regiment
1stbattalion The South Wales Borderers
84th Machine Gun Company
- At Gallipoli the 1/25th Punjabis was quartered in an old Turkish hospital, “the filth of which was incredible.”
- About a month later moved to Scutari, subsequently ordered to march to Bostandjik, (about 9 miles away).
- September 1919 the Battalion moved to Afium Kara Hissar in Anatolia. Began intensive work on 26thSeptember, to “evacuate” 100 million rounds of ammunition from Kutaya by rail. Finishing on 8th October.
The regiment later received a personal letter from Sir George Milne thanking them: “The operation, which entailed long and continuous work, reflects great credit on all concerned.”
1st March 1920. Copy of a Defence Scheme at Afion Kara Hissar. “TIAR HO” is listed as the warning message in case of disturbances. The ink has become faded, but military history geeks may find this fascinating.
Conclusion: I don’t believe in war; the human cost is incalculable and the material destruction beyond all reason. The duty of governments should be to so conduct themselves, we never even get to that cliff-edge, never teeter on the brink. Given the current leadership of the world’s most powerful countries, these words may sound futile. Well, if words aren’t spoken, the ideas aren’t articulated.
In researching and writing about the 25 Punjabis, I recognise and honour the endurance and courage of ordinary men (and women) when flung into war situations and desperate battles.
Shamsher Singh Sohota got in touch with details of his great grandfather, Mula Singh who served in the 25th Punjabis till 1917, attaining the rank of Subadar Major ‘Bahadur’. It’s fair to assume my grandfather and Mula Singh would have known each other. Both received the 1908 medal for operations in Zakka Khel and the 1911 Durbar medal.
The following information on Subadar-Major Mula Singh has been researched by Tejpal Singh Ralmill from the 1917 January Indian Army List. Service history: Enlisted: 20/04/1889. Jemadar: 14/12/1902. Subadar: 30/09/1904. Subadar-Major: 16/01/1913. Retired: 30/04/1917 as a Subadar-Major ‘Bahadur’. Title of ‘Bahadur’ is in view of being awarded the OBI 2nd Class (Order of British India.) War Service History: 1. North West Frontier of India (NW F) Isazai, 1892. 2. Chitral, 1895, Relief of Chitral. Medal with clasp. 3.NWF of India. 1897-98. Tochi. Medal with clasp. 4.China 1900. Medal 5. NWF of India, 1908, operations in the Zakka Khel. Medal with clasp.
Subadar-Major Mula Singh’s name is 3rd on the roll.
The first name is the notorious Reginald Dyer, of the Jallianwalah Bagh massacre (the 25th Punjabis were not involved. Dyer was transferred from the regiment in 1913)
At Partition, the 25th Punjabis were allocated to Pakistan, where the regiment became 9th Battalion The Punjab Regiment. Colonel (Rtd.) Shaukat Ali got in touch to say that he had served with the regiment, providing a connection to contemporary times.
“Col Shaukat Ali , Psc DOC: 10 Apr 1987 Commissioned in: 9th Battalion The Punjab Regiment. (Ex 25th Punjabis) DOR : 1 Nov 2014. Retired as: Colonel. Unit Service Record: I have the honour to be part part of this Battalion which has a glorious past both in peace and war since 1857. The beginning of my service with the unit dates back to May 1987 just after passing out when the unit was in Lipa sector, Azad Kashmir. I also had the honour to command my parent Regiment (9 punjab) in Siachen Sector, in 2005/6.”
Stained glass window memorial to the Indian Soldier, 1970
Designed by David Maile and made by G Maile and Sons, 1970.
The British Government in India installed stone plaques in villages which sent men to fight in the war. The village of Dulmial (now in Pakistan) is known for having sent all its men to fight in ww1.
The following three galleries contain copies of pages from war diaries, secret and official communications, held at The National Archives (Kew), for 1/25th Punjabis, as part of The Army of the Black Sea. May not be in strict chronological order. A rough guide to the date range of each album is given.
Lyn Innes says
This is fascinating Ravinda. Thanks for posting. I was aware of the many many Indians who fought with Britain in WW1, but not of these details. Nor did I know about their role in Hong Kong. (Incidentally my father fought in WW1 with the Gordon Highlanders and then worked in Hong Kong from 1920-25).
Do you know Santanu Das’s recent book “India, Empire, and First World War” (Cambridge UP)?
Ravinder Randhawa says
Thank you so much. It’s astonishing how many of us are personally connected through our forebears to WW1; I’m full of awe for what they endured and what they accomplished. The story of Ghulam Ali Shah, just one line in a war diary, dying in the middle of an ocean, really touched me. There’re so many stories yet to be discovered.
Haven’t yet managed to read Santanu Das’s book, but it’s on my list.
A Singh says
Many Hollywood films have been produced on WW 1 and 2 with negligible coverage of Sikhs in both the wars, except for films like ‘The English Patient’ and another one or two. Very unfortunate indeed.
Mike Shallcross says
Thanks Ravinder, a wonderful refutation of Laurence Fox’s ignorant remarks. This is what we need to redress the real institutional racism…
Ravinder Randhawa says
Thank you. Appreciate your feedback.
What a splendid piece (and huge amount of work!). This needs to be added to archives, as it draws together so much from different sources. Have you shared it with other relevant groups?
Ravinder Randhawa says
Thank you. Really appreciate the feedback. I’m going to add copies of documents from the National Archives, which may be useful to scholars, by next week hopefully. I’ve shared on the usual platforms such as Twitter and FB, including the FB page The Sikh Military History Forum which gave the post a huge response. Would welcome suggestions of other relevant groups.
Laurence Fox did retract on his “ignorant words”. Being of Punjabi ancestry with my Muslim father experiencing the largest mass movement of people in history, I cannot but try to understand the enormity of his pain and loss. Having said that society is veering in another dangerous direction. Before it has even understood the history of Empire and the contribution made by Sikhs and Muslims https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/12/forgotten-muslim-heroes-fought-for-britain-first-world-war, certain woke groups want to “decolonise” the curriculum at universities. This is where Laurence Fox was right in his points re: the woke brigade. It is trying to erase parts of history it doesn’t like. What is that a reminder of?
Ravinder Randhawa says
Thank you for your comments. As the post makes clear my grandfather and his regiment, which included Muslim soldiers, served in WW1. My family also went through the Partition, and like your father, endured terrible loss and pain.
David Kennedy says
My grandfather, Sergeant Ernest James Newman, was discharged from the Dorset Regiment in November 1911 after more than 19 years service. On his Discharge papers he gives his next address as 25th Punjabis at Multan. The next information I have is a family photo taken ‘in China’ where he seems to have a Warrant Officer crown on his uniform. No date. Next after that he is in the employ of the ruler of Barwani near Mhow in December 1917.
My guess is that he took discharge in order to re-enlist in the 25th Punjabis as a Warrant Officer (and may ultimately have become a Captain). The regiment was sent to Hong Kong in early 1912. I am guessing he returned to India in 1914 or 1915 and left the military to become ‘Director of Music for the State of Barwani’ (according to my mother’s birth certificate).
I have his papers from his service with the Dorsets but would very much like to trace his career with the 25th Punjabis if anyone has any ideas. He died at Mount Abu in 1924.
I have looked at some of the Indian Army Lists for 1912 and 1913 but no mention of him and the 25th is scarcely mentioned. Presumably there was a different list for Hong Kong.
My place of birth contains very different information about Afyonkarahisar.Thank you Ravinder Randhawa
Lt Col Javed Akhtar (Retd) says
Great effort Ravinder Randhawa. You made it very interesting and informative. Following information was quite fascinating:-
– General Dyer
– Book on 15th Punjab Regiment. 1st Battalion. Written by J. E.Shearer.
Bugler blowing “No Parade” to confuse the Troops.
– Fighting a dangerous Fire of Oil Tankers in Hong Kong.
Action in Gallipoli.
– “Tiar Ho” Defence Scheme i the great Fort of Kara Hissar , Anatolia
– 460 ( Nearly all the young Men of Dulmial , Jhelum went to take part in WW-1
– Finally halting of the ship for burial of Sepoy Ghulam Ali Shah was heart breaking the way it has been described.
Very well done Ravinder.
Ravinder Randhawa says
Thank you. Appreciate your comments.