Category Archives: India

Indian Troops Marching in the Desert Press Photograph

This week’s photograph considers a third and final press photograph of the Indian Army training in World War Two. The previous photographs can be viewed here and here, however unlike the last two images this one was not taken in India, but in the deserts of North Africa:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001The back of the photograph has the usual caption for the press:skmbt_c36416120708310_0001This reads:

Indian troops, which were the first of the Empire troops to take up their station in the Middle East, have soon settled down in their desert camp. The picture shows Indian troops led by British Officers, marching out of their camp in the desert.

And in the background of the photograph this camp can be seen, with a selection of tents:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copyAnd a single more permanent outhouse:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-2The men wear desert shorts and shirts with jumpers. Their equipment is simply a leather belt and pair of 03 pattern ammunition pouches:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-3A senior NCO marches at the head of the column with his swagger stick:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-4Note the different shade to his jumper, his collared shirt and that he wears what appears to be a Sam Browne belt without any shoulder straps. The two British Officers march in front of the main body of men:skmbt_c36416120708301_0001-copy-5Each wears the peaked cap synonymous with his status as an officer.

There was considerable interest in the Indian troops fighting in the desert, with visits to inspect them from various dignitaries. The Daily Mail of February 15th 1940 reported:

Units of the Indian Army massed in the desert outside Cairo this morning heard a message from the King-Emperor read to them by Mr Anthony Eden, Secretary for the Dominions.

Bearded Sikhs, Rajputs, Jats, Punjabis and Madrassis, dressed in Indian battle-dress of shorts, puttees and grey sweaters, and the varied turbans, cheered lustily at the end of Mr Eden’s speech.

A parade followed watched by Mr Eden, Sir miles Lampson, the British Ambassador in Cairo, and General Sir Archibald Wavell, commanding the British forces in the Near East.

Mr Eden said the whole Empire was grateful to the Indians. The unity of all sections of the Empire was the assurance of final victory.

Indian Red Cross Folding Mirror

My thanks go to Rob Barnes, who has very kindly given me tonight’s object. A small folding shaving mirror given out by the Indian Red Cross:imageThis mirror is made of heavy duty cardboard covered in a printed paper, it opens out to reveal the mirror:imageAnd this can then be folded so it becomes free standing to allow you to shave with it:imageThe folded mirror is only about 3”x2” and would easily have fitted into the soldier’s wash roll. The Indian Red Cross had been founded in 1920 and supported humanitarian aid to Indian soldiers both during their service time and once they had been made prisoners of war. The Indian Red Cross is still functioning today and it’s official role, outlined in the post war period is:

(1) Aid to the sick and wounded members of the Armed Forces of the Union in accordance with the terms and spirit of the Geneva Conventions of 12th August, 1949 and discharge of other obligations devolving upon the Society under the Conventions as the recognized auxiliary of the Armed Forces Medical Services.

(2) Aid to the demobilized sick and wounded members of the Armed Forces of the Union.

(3) Maternity and Child Welfare.

(4) Junior Red Cross

(5) Nursing and ambulance work.

(6) Provision of relief for the mitigation of suffering caused by epidemics, earthquakes, famines, floods and other disasters, whether in India or outside.

(7) The establishment and maintenance of peace among all nations in accordance with the decisions of the International Red Cross Organization.

(8) Work parties to provide comforts and necessary garments, etc., for hospitals and health institutions.

(9) The expenses of management of the Society and its branches and affiliated societies and bodies.

(10) The representation of the Society on or at International or other Committees formed for furthering objects similar to those of the Society.

(11) The improvement of health, prevention of disease and mitigation of suffering and such other cognate objects as may be approved by the Society from time to time.

During World War Two they published this leaflet explaining their work and encouraging contributions:010

009It was also published in Urdu:006005And Hindi:008007

One of the major initiatives the Indian Red Cross was involved with was preparing care packages for troops captured by the Japanese, these parcels contained:

  • 8 ounces fruit in syrup
  • 16 ounces lentils
  • 2 ounces toilet soap
  • 16 ounces flour
  • 8 biscuits
  • 8 ounces margarine
  • 12 ounces Nestle’s Milk
  • 14 ounces rice
  • 16 ounces pilchards
  • 2 ounces curry powder
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 1 ounce dried eggs
  • 2 ounces tea
  • 1 ounce salt
  • 4 ounces chocolate

Troops in India on a Routemarch

Tonight we have the second in our trio of Indian Army press photos. Again this is a wonderfully taken shot and depicts a groups of recruits setting out from camp on a route march:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001The caption on the back reads:

A picture taken at an Army training establishment “somewhere in India” where Indians are undergoing training for Army life. Village boys joining the Army are given the opportunity of enjoying life on a wider scale, with good pay and many opportunities for advancement.

Photo shows:- Route March- out into the warm, sun bathed countryside the sepoys march. They are now fully-trained soldiers ready to carry on the tradition of the Indian Army. skmbt_c36416120708300_0001The main body of men marching out are all dressed in khaki drill uniforms with 08 pattern webbing and rifles:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copyAs on the last photo we had of Indian troops training, two distinct turban designs can be seen, those with a khulla being Muslim soldiers:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-2And those without being Sikhs:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-3A senior NCO marches beside his men, with his webbing set up to carry a revolver and binoculars, and a small cane in his hand:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-4A British officer can be seen further back keeping an eye on the column:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-5In the background can be seen the large sheds and workshops of the training base:skmbt_c36416120708292_0001-copy-6Route marches remain an integral part of military training. They help improve fitness and stamina, provide a good outlet for soldiers energy and help encourage ‘toughness’. They are also a good way for junior officers to practice map reading/getting lost without any major repercussions. Finally, perhaps the most important thing going for route marches is that they are very cheap! Always a consideration with tight military training budgets!

Indian Army Recruits practicing with Rifles and Gas Masks

This week’s photograph is a particularly nice shot of Indian troops practicing at a rifle range whilst wearing respirators:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001This image is particularly well taken, explained by the fact that this was a professionally taken photograph for press use. The label on the back indicates that it was taken for the Topical Press Agency and the description reads:

A picture taken at an Army training establishment “somewhere in India” where Indians are undergoing training in Army life. Village boys joining the Army are given the opportunity of enjoying life on a wider scale, with good pay and many opportunities for advancement.

Photo shows:- Accustoming the recruit to the rifle and gas-mask combined during rifle practice.

The men here wear Mk IV general service respirators like this one here:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copyThey also wear their traditional regimental headgear, with some wearing a simple turban:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copy-2And others wearing it with a khulla, a cloth cone worn at the centre of the turban:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copy-3There were numerous different ways of wearing the turban, as indicated by this diagram from between the wars:turbansIn the photograph above it is most likely that those with the khulla are muslim troops, and those without Sikhs. The trainees here each hold the Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rifle:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copy-4Note the white bands painted around the forestocks:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copy-5These indicate that these rifles are drill purpose examples for training and should not be used for firing. In the background can be seen the buildings of the training establishment:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copy-6And a large frame with ropes hanging down to practice rope climbing:skmbt_c36416120708290_0001-copy-7This is one of a series of three press photos I have picked up depicting training in the Indian Army, the quality and subject matter of these is far more interesting than many run of the mill personal snaps and we will be returning to the others over the coming weeks.

Indian Made 37 Pattern Bayonet Frog

Earlier this month we looked at a set of Indian made 37 pattern shoulder braces and delved into the history of the Bata company. The other major manufacturer of webbing in India were the Government Harness and Saddlery Factory, Cawnpore and tonight we are looking at a bayonet frog from that company. The frog is made to the same basic design as other examples from across the Empire:imageThe webbing has the distinctive slightly striped pattern of Indian production. The loops at the base of this frog do not have any cut outs for spike bayonets- The Indian Army sticking with the SMLE and sword bayonets for the most part and not needing to modify their frogs in the same numbers as the British:imageThe stitching holding the frog together has a distinctive arch shape to it, allowing the process to be done with one pass of the sewing machine:imageThis compares with the much squarer stitching used on British made frogs where the stitching turns through 90 degrees rather than being a single arc. The stitching is through both layers of webbing so can be seen on the rear as well:imageThis frog was made in 1942 and has the ‘CA1942’ stamp of the manufacturer The Government Harness and Saddlery Factory, Cawnpore indistinctly stamped on the back:imageThe following history of the factory comes from ‘Karkee’ and is the most comprehensive I have come across, as ever if you get the chance check out his superb threads on the Warrelics forum covering British and Empire equipment:

After the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the capture of reserve stocks by rebels, the British Army in India faced severe shortages of harness saddlery and leather accoutrements. Resupply from England involved a long sea voyage around the Cape of Good Hope which damaged much of the leather equipment. Lieutenant John Stewart of the Bengal Artillery was ordered to stimulate the local leather industry and established the Government Harness & Saddlery Factory, Cawnpore in 1863. Many other private leather and textile firms followed and Cawnpore quickly became a major industrial center in Northern India.

The Government Harness & Saddlery Factory was operated by the Military Supply Department of the Government of India and was entirely devoted to the manufacture of military equipment. It had its own brass and iron foundry for making equipment fittings and during times of mobilization it could place orders with the private firms of Cawnpore, which were brought up to the standards of the harness factory.

The Government Harness Factory expanded rapidly to meet the needs of the Indian Army during the Great War, employing around 4,000 workers by 1916-17. Demand decreased during the interwar years.

In addition to leather accoutrements, the factory began producing Mk V Gasmask Bags and Pattern 1908 Web Equipment components. It is unclear when the production of webbing commenced or if full sets of webbing were manufactured, but extant examples of frogs and water bottle carriers bear 1930s dates. The Government Harness & Saddlery Factory marked their items with a Ca. for Cawnpore, which changed in 1940 to ca. The brass fittings on early pieces were also stamped with the same “Ca.” mark and were probably made on the factory premises. In general, early production webbing is of higher quality with better stitching and fittings. Additionally, some early pieces feature a mix of canvas and webbing.

In November 1941, large scale orders for Pattern 1937 Web Equipment were placed by the Indian Government. The Government Harness & Saddlery Factory produced the full range of components, but the wartime webbing was of a much looser weave with undyed stitching and cruder brass fittings made by outside firms. Additionally, snaps were a mixture of imported British-manufactured snaps made by Newey Brothers, Limited of Birmingham as well as locally made Indian snaps of poorer quality. The latter featured the classic ‘pebbled’ pattern or a snowflake pattern unique to India. The stamps on wartime webbing are often upside down and poorly stamped, which may be due to a largely Indian workforce with less supervision from European foremen. The government factory may have also called upon local private firms to fill these orders during the war.

Men Standing in Front of a Barrack Building In the Tropics Postcard

This week’s postcard is another corker from the age of Empire. In this image, which probably dates from between the wars, a group of soldiers pose in front of a pair of wooden barrack huts:skmbt_c36416111609030_0001-copyThere is no location for this image, but it is clearly in the tropics and it is likely it was taken in India or perhaps somewhere in the South Pacific or China. The figures in the photograph are split into two distinct groups. Immediately in front of the buildings can be seen six men who are most likely other ranks:skmbt_c36416111609030_0001-copy-copy-3Note the collarless grey back shirts and stable belts each appears to be wearing. The two seated figures seem to be peeling potatoes into metal dixies:skmbt_c36416111609030_0001-copy-copyThese metal dixies were to remain in use for decades, with stainless steel examples being manufactured well into the 1980s at least. A wooden bridge crosses a water channel in the foreground:skmbt_c36416111609030_0001-copy-copy-5Stood on this are three men who I am assuming are officers or civilian administrators:skmbt_c36416111609030_0001-copy-copy-4It is interesting to note that whilst the two figures on the left and the six men in the back ground are wearing Wolsley helmets, the man on the left of the bridge has the more modern solar topee- this helmet being larger but lighter and more comfortable to wear. The outer figures again wear military style stable belts.

The buildings in the back ground are made of wood, with pan tiled roves and seem to have corrugated iron attached under the eaves to help deflect rainwater away from the walls. A raised section at the apex of the roof helps ventilate the interior:skmbt_c36416111609030_0001-copy-copy-2

India Service Medal 1939-1945

Last year we looked at the British Defence Medal here, a similar medal was issued in India for those personnel serving three years in a non-combat position. The medal is made of cupro-nickel, 36mm in diameter:imageThe medal was instituted on 6 June 1946 and awarded for service between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945. The obverse has the legend “GEORGIVS VI D:G:BR:OMN:REX ET INDIAE IMP.” (George VI by the grace of God King of Great Britain and Emperor of India) and the crowned effigy of King George VI:imageOn the reverse it shows a relief map of India and the words “INDIA” and “1939-45”:imageThe ribbon represented the colours of the Order of the Star of India and the Order of the Indian Empire with stripes in light and dark blue:ribbon_india_service_medalCo-incidentally the same colours were used for the roundels of RAF and Empire aircraft in the Pacific theatre.

The medal was awarded to British and Indian officers, warrant officers and other ranks of the Indian Forces and Indian Civil Defence Service. Those eligible for the medal included enrolled non-combatants and civilians in Military employ and Emergency Commissioned Officers and British other ranks of either the British or Indian Army, providing that they resided in India prior to 3 September 1939. It was not to be awarded to those who qualified for the Defence Medal.