Category Archives: India

Farewell to Lord Birdwood, India, 1930 Postcard

In 1930 Sir William Birdwood stepped down as commander of the Indian Army. As part of his farewell he visited a number of garrisons in India to review his troops before returning to Great Britain. Tonight’s postcard depicts part of this tour, with the Royal Scots Fusiliers parading at Dagshai on 8th October 1930:SKM_C30819032614410Dagshai might be familiar to readers as we looked at another couple of postcards from this base on the blog last year. Here the Royal Scots Fusiliers are lined up on the parade ground, wearing cut away khaki drill tunics over woollen trews. Each wears a Wolseley helmet on his head:SKM_C30819032614410 - CopyOne can’t imagine it was very comfortable wearing woollen trousers in the heat of the Indian sun!

Two officer watch on in the foreground:SKM_C30819032614410 - Copy (2)Whilst a small crowd of the civilian population of the garrison watch on from above the parade ground:SKM_C30819032614410 - Copy (3)It is hard to tell, but some at least appear to be natives and might be part of the regiment’s entourage of hangers on.

One small detail I particularly like is the heavy roller for flattening the parade ground, which is parked up on the edge of the field:SKM_C30819032614410 - Copy (4)The markings on the parade ground itself suggest that it also doubled up as a sports field for the men of the garrison.

On his return to England a dinner was held in honour of Field Marshall Sir William Birdwood and as part of the after dinner speeches he reflected in the soldiery serving in the subcontinent. The Times reported that he had said that:

The British soldier serving in India was today just the loyal, fine and magnificent fellow he had always been. During his 45 years’ service there had been an enormous number of changes in administration and organisation; but he thanked God that there was one factor that had not changed, and that was the British soldier (cheers), and he hoped he would never change. It seemed to him essential to maintain the existing strength of the British force in India. The Indian soldier was a magnificent, true, brave and loyal fellow. If, as was sometimes said, the Indian soldiers were children, he would say that the British officer should (and often did) treat them as his own children, and not as somebody else’s. The sepoy was as devoted as ever to his British officer.

Photograph of an Armoured Car Column, North West Frontier Province, 1937

The interwar period saw the increasing use of modern technology to police the tribal regions of the North West Frontier of India. Budgets between the wars were being squeezed, but aircraft and armoured cars offered a seemingly cheaper way of controlling the tribesmen of this region rather than traditional ‘boots on the ground’. Road building had been prioritised since the start of the twentieth century, but new roads were emphasised throughout the interwar period and these revolutionised British operations. They allowed men and supplies to be moved to troublesome areas quickly and, when supported by armoured cars, relatively safely. This week’s photograph is a fantastic image of a road convoy taking a break in the NWF in 1937 during the Faqir of Ipi’s rebellion:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (5)The back of the photograph indicates that this was taken at Tanai Fort ‘en-route for Manzai (and Delhi) from Wana. Wana was a fort in Waziristan whilst Manzai was in Baluchistan.

The part of the convoy seen here consists of an armoured car:SKM_C30819021407550 - CopyNote the British soldiers taking a breather around the armoured car, each is wearing khaki drill with Cawnpore style solar topees. Behind this armoured care are a four wheel and a six wheel truck:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (2)And three further armoured cars:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (3)Also in the picture is a dispatch rider’s motorcycle:SKM_C30819021407550 - Copy (4)The armoured cars seem to be Crossley type cars rather than Rolls Royce designs. The domed turrets were particularly Indian in design and sported Vickers machine guns that could be slotted into four different sockets to provide all round fire. On top of each turret sits an armoured cupola for the car’s commander to sit in and control fire from. This example is preserved and on show at the Tank Museum in Dorset:imageEven with armoured cars, these convoys could be perilous:

On the early morning of 9 April 1937, a convoy set out from Manzai fort destined for the garrison at Wana carrying supplies and some officers and men returning to their units at Wana. The convoy was a large one, comprising forty-nine lorries, an ambulance, and three private cars, all escorted by four armoured cars, with infantry and a detachment of Sappers and Miners in lorries. One of the armoured cars was at the front, another at the rear, and two more were amongst the transport. Similarly, the infantry in their lorries were distributed along the length of the convoy. The long snake of lorries wove its way uneventfully past Jandola and then westward onto the Jandola-Wana road. At about 7.40 am it was ambushed in the Shahur Tangi, a narrow, steep-sided, three-mile long gorge, eight miles west of Jandola. There, having been slowed by camels let loose on the road, the convoy was attacked by a large party of Mahsuds and Bhitannis, who had occupied positions on the precipitous hillsides.

The leading armoured car and first three trucks, having passed out of the gorge, were not attacked directly and sped to the next manned outpost, carrying news of the attack. Meanwhile, the lorries at the front of the convoy in the gorge were disabled when their drivers were killed, trapping the others behind. Raiders hidden in the rocks close to the road attacked the convoy along its length causing very heavy casualties but, although some trucks were looted, the armoured cars, the infantry escort and the other troops with the convoy fought most gallantly and prevented the convoy from being overrun. An aircraft providing support overhead was badly damaged and forced to land. Reinforcements arrived later in the day and fighting continued sporadically until nightfall. In the evening as the firing lessened the lorries that could be moved were either sent on to Sarwakai or back to Manzai and the wounded were evacuated. By the following morning the raiders had gone…In total, the attack claimed seven British officers and two other ranks (Turner and Davies) killed, five officers and one other rank (Bowkett) wounded, 20 Indian other ranks killed and 39 Indian all ranks wounded.

Army Education Certificate

In order to be promoted to Sergeant, the British soldier needed to have completed a Second Class Army Certificate of Education. This was a qualification that showed he had mastered certain subjects sufficiently to be considered for promotion and helped weed out those soldiers of insufficient intellectual ability to succeed as an NCO. These exams were held regularly, both in the UK and at overseas garrisons. The certificate had been set up in the mid Victorian era and AR Skelley describes its foundation in his book ‘The Victorian Army at Home’:

In 1861 a new inducement towards learning was the army certificate of education. On the recommendation of the Council of Military Education three levels or standards were set out and were linked with promotion in the ranks. The third-class certificate specified the standard for promotion to the rank of corporal: the candidate was to read aloud and to write from dictation passages from an easy narrative, and to work examples in the four compound rules of arithmetic and the reduction of money. A second-class certificate, necessary for promotion to sergeant, entailed writing and dictation from a more difficult work, familiarity with all forms of regimental accounting, and facility with proportions and interest, fractions and averages. First-class certificates were a great deal more difficult and were required for commissions from the ranks. Successful candidates had to read and take dictation from any standard author; make a fair copy of a manuscript; demonstrate their familiarity with more complicated mathematics, except cube and square root and stocks and discount; and as well prepare for examination in at least one of a number of additional subjects. After 1887 candidates were examined in British history and geography in place of a special subject. First-class certificates were awarded on the results of periodic examinations held by the Council (later Director-General) of Military Education. Second and third-class certificates were presented on the recommendations of the Army schoolmaster. The third-class certificate of education was considered to be too high given the level of literacy of many army recruits, and the Commission urged the introduction of a fourth (minimum) standard.

These certificates were still very much in use in the interwar period and tonight we have a lovely example of a Second Class Certificate issued in 1932 to a private serving in India:SKM_C30819030107530My thanks go to Andy Dixon who kindly passed me this certificate, knowing my love of all things Indian. The certificate was awarded to Pte E Dixon of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry:SKM_C30819030107530 - CopyHe took his exam in Agra in December of 1932:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (2)He studied four subjects:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (3)And the award was made in Delhi on 3rd January 1933:SKM_C30819030107530 - Copy (4)Note how the dates have had the ‘2’ crossed out and the year typed next to them! It seems a bit mean of the Indian Authorities to do this when this was probably the only educational certificate Pt Dixon would ever receive!

It is often forgotten how important the army was in educating working class men in the early twentieth century. Many young men joining the military had very limited education, few were truly illiterate thanks to nineteenth century reforms of the education system, but many had left school at a very young age and had only limited reading, writing and arithmetic. The army education certificates encouraged them to learn and prepared them for potential promotion whilst giving an ever more technical military a pool of better educated and more useful men.

Institute and Depot Barracks Kasouli Hill Postcard

Last year we looked at a postcard of the Indian hill station of Kasauli here. Today we have another image of the same barracks, but taken looking back the opposite way and this time showing the Institute as well:skm_c30819010312060 - copyThis is a black and white image that has been tinted to colourise it, this type of postcard proving popular around the time of the First World War. In the centre of the image is the barrack square itself:skm_c30819010312060 - copy - copyThe barrack buildings of the depot surround it and are of typical Indian design; single story with broad verandas and high roofs to allow air to circulate:skm_c30819010312060 - copy - copy (2)The Kasauli Institute sits on the hill above:skm_c30819010312060 - copy - copy (3)The Kasauli Institute was founded in 1904 as a research facility for medical and public health under the directorship of Major David Semple RAMC. To start with it specialised in dog bites, its first year saw it treat 321 cases, this had risen to 22,000 by 1938. It was also a teaching institute and a 1904 copy of the British Medical Journal explained:

The laboratories of the Institute have been thrown open for the instruction of officers of the R.A.M.C. and I.M.S., and have been employed for clinical diagnoses of material from all parts of India, for the preparation of typhoid vaccine, diphtheria and tetanus antitoxins, and for research.

Today the facility is known as the ‘Central Research institute, Kasauli’ and the location specialises in vaccine research.

Postcard of Dalhousie Barracks, Calcutta

This week we return to India again for our weekly postcard, which this week is a fine study of Dalhousie Barracks in Calcutta:skm_c30819010312060I believe this postcard dates from around the time of the First World War and the building still stands today as part of the Indian Army’s Fort William. This description comes from a book called ‘Fort William Calcutta’s Crowning Glory’ by M.L. Augustine:

As soon as one enters the Fort through the East Gate, a massive structure of a four storeyed building captures one’s attention. Constructed during the period of Lord Dalhousie (Between 1848-56), this triangular building is named after him. It is the only building of its type in India that can accommodate an entire infantry battalion with its stores, arms, ammunition, and officers. A thousand bodies live, eat, sleep and train themselves for war on its premises. On the ground floor there is a temple. Ironically, next to the temple are the Quarter Guard, the armoury of weapons and the prisoners’ cells. It is said that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was once incarcerated in this building before he fled to Japan, though there is no documentary evidence to support this in any manner.

It was reported that when it was built, Dalhousie Barracks allocated 2000 cubic feet per man inside its building, equivalent to 111 square feet per soldier- at the time this was highlighted as being particularly generous compared to the overcrowded barracks used up to this point. It was also noted that as built ablution rooms and urinals were situated at the ends of the building on each floor for the use of the men, something that was again novel and new in military architecture.

The building has no doubt been refurbished many times over the century, but it remains in daily use by the Indian Army and is still a large and impressive building:capture

Artillery Column in India Photograph

This week’s photograph is a magnificent study of a British Army column on the move through rural India between the wars:skm_c30819010312040The column appears to be a light artillery unit and is entirely mounted, the officers leading on their chargers:skm_c30819010312040 - copyA small group of mounted troopers follows close behind:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (2)Whilst the main column trails behind. There appears to be a succession of guns and limbers, each pulled by four or six horses, with the gun crews either riding pillion or on the limber itself:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (3)The column stretches away into the distance, curving round behind the bridge and shrouded in dust from the horses’ hooves:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (4)In the background a native village sits next to the road, its peaceful slumber rudely awoken by the passing troops:skm_c30819010312040 - copy (5)Behind this column would have trailed a large gaggle of hangers on, everything from cooks and servants to prostitutes and acrobats, all trying to part the soldier form his cash. Marches typically set off early in the morning before the sun became too hot and an advance part was sent ahead of the main column to prepare the following night’s camp. The camp was usually pitched near a small village or town and by the time the slow moving column reached it, hot and dusty, it would be ready for them. Apart for a few sentries, most men were then free to relax and visit the shops if the settlement was small enough. Any large town usually led to an order to remain in camp overnight. The following morning the camp was squared away and the process repeated until the column reached its final destination.

Indian Army Molar Extractors

I am never surprised at the wide variety of equipment that was taken into military service and marked as such. If I can find something weird and wonderful that is marked for the Indian Army as well then so much the better. Tonight’s object definitely falls into this category and is a pair of Indian Army marked molar extractors:imageThis dental tool has a large pair of jaws to clamp around the tooth for extraction:imageThe handles are deeply grooved to aid grip and this tool is specifically designed for the left upper molars, as marked on the inside of the handle:imageNote also the /|\ over ‘I’ mark showing it was accepted into Indian Army service. The tool appears to be dated 1929, If I am interpreting this mark correctly:imageA circular maker’s mark is stamped onto the inside of the opposite side and indicates that this instrument was manufactured in England, before being shipped out to India:imageThis is typical for the interwar period where manufacturing in India was not sufficiently developed to allow these items to be sourced in the sub-continent. The Second World War would see a massive increase in the capacity of the region to produce high quality medical equipment and by the time of independence India would be self-sufficient for this type of simple tool.

Visiting the dentist could be traumatic in the early twentieth century, as described by trooper Tom Canning:

Whilst in training with the Royal Armoured Corps in Barnard Castle, I broke a tooth which necessitated a visit to the Dentist.
Now I have disliked all forms of dentistry as it appears to be filled with people who enjoy hurting other people when there have been many ways of preventing pain of all sorts for many years past.
There was no escape however, and I started the trudge towards the 59th regts. camp some two miles away along the road to west Auckland, hoping that some strange disease had overtaken the Dentist, and that the appointment would be cancelled.
No such luck as I was ushered into the torture chamber. Sure enough I was now one tooth short of the establishment for fighting an enemy. ” I can rectify that” said the chief torturer ” I shall give you a new tooth”, and he proceeded to level off the offending left front incisor.
When he was finished he then suggested that I reappear – same time – same place next week.
The walk back to Streatlam camp was spent in musing how this Dentist could grow another tooth in my head, with no full understanding of how he was to achieve this miracle.
The next visit made it abundantly clear when he started drilling – upwards to-wards my brain ! After six weeks of this torture he then, like a third rate magician, produced this tooth on what appeared to be a very long spike. He then glued this “tooth” into my head – remember that this was way before the advent of “crazy glue” and other forms of adhesives.
On completion of this task he then handed me a mirror. ” but the tooth is blue” I remarked – ” not a problem ” he replied – ” it will be white as snow very soon”!
This I thought, was a ‘porkie” of great dimension which after four years overseas without the benefit of another dentist – the tooth remained blue.
Finally attaining civilian status, this blue thing finally fell off leaving this spike unadorned, much to the amusement of my Dentist who then established that in the course of my wanderings through Europe this spike had moved and affected many of my top teeth. The consequences of this were a complete overhaul of my mouth which left me in the position that should anything stressful occur in my mouth, all I have to do is to mail my dentures to the nearest dental mechanic for his attention and return mailing! No more Dentists for me!