Category Archives: India

Indian Army Pillow Case

Most of the Indian made cotton items we have looked at on the blog over the years have been of rather course fabric; serviceable but rather rough. Tonight though we have an Indian made pillow case that is rather finer in weave and quality than I am used to with Indian items:imageThis is certainly Indian Army issue as it has a distinctive circular inspectors stamp in black ink on the edge of the opening:imageThere would also have been a large circular stamp with an Indian Army ownership mark and date of acceptance, but this is either very worn, or more likely very badly stamped and is virtually invisible now:image I suspect these pillow cases would not have been on general issue to troops, but rather were for officers or more likely patients recovering in military hospitals. Here we see an example of an Indian Army hospital with examples of the pillow case being used by the patients:imageThere were of course a wide variety of hospitals from large establishments like the example in Rawalpindi seen in the photograph above, to field hospitals in tents a few miles from the front line. Margaret Ledger was a QARANC nurse in India:

At Bombay Station, where we assembled, we were given further instructions by officers, who were awaiting our arrival. We were all dispensed into various trains. I was posted with other Nursing Sisters to Secunderabad. It is in Hyderabad Province. Eventually we arrived at our destination, after travelling several days in the train. We were tired and it was very hot and humid.

The next day we commenced our nursing duties. I was posted to the Operating Theatre. We sterilised our instruments in large fish kettles, and the work consisted of casualties transported from the front line in Burma. The casualties were British, Indian, African and other personnel brought to Base Hospitals by train. Some had been shipped by hospital ships to Madras, then conveyed by train to various military hospitals. Some had travelled for days in the heat of India and were very weary. They had dysentery and malaria and other topical diseases, as well as their severe wounds. The Operating Theatre staff worked from 7.00am or before that time until 12 midday. No patient was anaesthetised during the heat of the afternoon, it was too hot. Therefore work commenced again at 5.00pm or 6.00pm. There was no air conditioning or fans in the Operating Theatre. We were all sweating and it was very hot with masks over our faces. However we survived and progressed with our work. 

After nine months in Secunderabad, I was posted to a jungle hospital in Mysore Jungle, many miles away from Secunderabad. I travelled alone on the train to Bangalore. There were other travellers on the train, mostly natives of India and some British troops, but I was the only Nursing Sister. I was locked in my small compartment, and at every station we stopped, an officer came to check that I was safe. There were many incidents on the trains, chiefly stealing. However I eventually arrived in Bangalore Station, and was conveyed to the British Military Hospital by an officer, who had been awaiting my arrival.

At Bangalore Military Hospital I met two other Nursing Sisters, who had been posted to the Jungle Hospital. We awaited further instructions from G.H.Q. Delhi. During this time we worked in the British Military Hospital in Bangalore. The patients were similar to the casualties in Secunderabad. There were Italian prisoners of war, who were captured in North Africa, who were employed on general duties. They were very polite, but enjoyed hiding away from work. One day three of them had disappeared, and I went to search for them, because we were short of staff. They were sitting outside the Quartermaster’s Stores. I told them to come back to the ward. In a chorus of three voices, they replied “Madam, we do not make war, we make love”.

Eventually Eileen, Margaret and myself received orders to proceed to Gudalur in Mysore Jungle. We boarded a train to Mysore and we were met by the Commanding Officer, Major Bathgate, who had brought adequate transport to enable our tin trucks and other luggage to be conveyed with ourselves to the Jungle Hospital, which was to be our home. It was a memorable time, we stayed in Gudalur for five months. It was a small hospital, 105 bedded in tents, Indian, Gurkha and English patients. The two Medical Officers were Major Bathgate and Capt. Henry Oaks. The Nursing Sisters were Eileen Bowman, Margaret David and Margaret Ledger. The Nursing Orderlies were mainly British with a few Indian and Gurkha. We were kept busy with various tropical diseases; accidents were frequent because there were many troops in the jungle, all preparing to go to Burma. This was 1944 and the Burma Campaign was in full activity. Many of the men were ill with various complaints, therefore the hospital was always busy. The three of us enjoyed our daily tasks. We did not have days off, but we kept going and enjoyed the experience. We were all very happy in this jungle.


Royal Artillery Indian Christmas Card

Now we are all filled up on mince pies and mulled wine, we come to the last of our annual Christmas related objects, a third and final Christmas card (I hope you haven’t been too bored by all these!). This card is from a member of the Royal Artillery and shares a lot of design similarities with the example we looked at on Christmas Eve:SKM_C284e17120716040The card has the same basic design of a regimental crest on the front and a piece of ribbon in the regimental colours to secure all the parts together. Inside the card has a nice line drawing of a boar hunt in India:SKM_C284e17120716041This hunt, known as ‘pig sticking’ was hugely popular amongst officers in India before the partition. The following detailed description comes from a hunting website and explains the practice:

The modern sport is the direct descendant of bear spearing which was popular in Bengal until the beginning of the 19th century, when the bears had become so scarce that wild pigs were substituted as the quarry. The weapon used by the Bengalese was a short, heavy, broad-bladed javelin. British officers introduced the spear or lance and this has become the recognized method of hunting wild pigs in India. The season for hunting in northern India, the present headquarters of the sport, is from February to July. The best horses should be quick and not too big. Two kinds of weapon are used. The long, or underhand, spear, weighing from two to three pounds, has a light, tough bamboo shaft, from seven to eight feet long, armed with a small steel head of varying shape. This spear is held in the hand about two-thirds the distance from the point, with the knuckles turned down and the thumb along the shaft. The short, or jobbing, spear is from six to six and a half feet long, and somewhat heavier than the longer weapon. It is grasped near the butt, with the thumb up. Although easier to handle in the jungle, it permits the nearer approach of the boar and is therefore more dangerous to man and mount.

Having arrived at the bush-grown or marshland haunt of the pigs, the quarry is “reared,” i.e. chased out of its cover, by a long line of beaters, usually under the command of a mounted shikari. Sometimes dogs and guns loaded with small shot are used to induce an animal to break cover. The mounted sportsmen, placed on the edge of the cover, attack the pig as soon as it appears, the honour of “first spear,” or “spear of honour,” i.e. the thrust that first draws blood, being much coveted. As a startled or angry wild boar is a fast runner and a desperate fighter the pig-sticker must possess a good eye, a steady hand, a firm seat, a cool head and a courageous heart. For these reasons the military authorities encourage the sport, which is for the most part carried on by the tent clubs of the larger Indian station.

Robert Baden Powell gave what seems to be a most remarkable description to modern ears:

Try it before you judge. See how the horse enjoys it, see how the boar himself, mad with rage, rushes wholeheartedly into the scrap, see how you, with your temper thoroughly roused, enjoy the opportunity of wreaking it to the full. Yes, hog-hunting is a brutal sport—and yet I loved it, as I loved also the fine old fellow I fought against…Not only is pig-sticking the most exciting and enjoyable sport for both the man and horse as well, but I really believe that the boar enjoys it too.

The card was sent from Muttra, in the United Provinces:SKM_C284e17120716041 - Copy (2)Muttra was one of the main centres for the sport, as recounted by Francis Ingall in his great book ‘Last of the Bengal Lancers’:

Hog-hunting was a popular sport in the sub-continent in those days, but it was most enthusiastically pursued at Meerut, Muttra and Delhi. Generally speaking, only the male pig was considered eligible for the hunter’s spear. The wild-board of India can weigh well over three-hundred pounds; he has razor-sharp tushes about six-inches long, is incredibly speedy and agile, and knows no fear. Even the lordly tiger in his own jungle will turn away from a big tusker on the rampage. A quick flick of that massive head with its wicked tushes and man, horse or tiger lies bleeding and disembowelled in a pool of blood and guts.

King Edward’s 2nd Ghurkha Rifle’s Christmas Card

I hope you are all having a restful Christmas Eve and you are looking forward to tomorrow. As is now customary on the blog, the next three days will see us focus on Christmas related objects, this year we have three different Christmas cards. We start tonight with a card sent from an officer in the 2nd King Edward’s Own Ghurkha Rifles. I believe this card dates form between the wars and has the regiment’s crest embossed on the front:SKM_C284e17120716040 - CopyThe card is held together with a piece of ribbon in the regimental colours. Inside there is a painting of a member of the regiment during the Indian Mutiny:SKM_C284e17120716041 - CopyThe caption which accompanies this painting reads:

Incident in the Subzee Mundee, Delhi, 1857

An eye-witness to this incident relates how he saw a rebel thrust his head through an opening in a serai wall just as a man of the Regiment arrived under it. The latter at once seized the rebel by the hair and struck off his head with his khukri.

Very Christmassy!

The card was sent to ‘Aunt may’ from ‘Tim’:SKM_C284e17120716050The sender also included a short hand written message on the back:SKM_C284e17120716050 - CopyThis reads:

I have managed to get leave- 7 days- over Christmas and am travelling door to door. Everything seems to be going alright, but return here after Christmas. I am looking forward immensely to getting home.

Please give my love to William and David, with my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

The 2nd King Edward’s Own Ghurkha Rifles was one of the regiments that remained with the UK after the partition of India and was merged with other Ghurkha regiments in 1994 to become part of the Royal Ghurkha Rifles.

Army Rifle Association India Cup Commemorative Spoon

It is perhaps unsurprising that competitive rifle competitions have always been popular in the armed forces. Good marksmanship is an essential military skill and men competing against each other naturally try to improve their own skills which in turn translates to better trained men in the field.

The Army Rifle Association was formed in 1893 and exists today, it’s stated purpose being:

The aim of service competition shooting is to promote interest in small arms shooting for Service purposes by means of individual and collective competitions, framed to include practice in methods which will lead to increased EFFICIENCY ON THE BATTLEFIELD

These competitions became important parts of the regimental year and India was no exception with several prestigious competitions run there for regiments stationed in the country. Tonight we have a delightful spoon that brings one of these to mind:imageAlthough it is not hall marked, I suspect this spoon is in fact made of silver but being produced in India it is not marked in the same way a British made example would be. The top of the spoon has an elegant lion and the initials ARA for the Army Rifle Association:imageThe rear of the spoon is engraved ‘India Cup 1938’:imageThe India Cup was a platoon rifle and Lewis gun competition held in India and I suspect this spoon was given out to one of the participants as a souvenir of his time competing in the match.

India took its rifle competitions very seriously and until the early 1930s sent a team to the annual shooting matches at Bisley in the UK. Unfortunately at this point the cost could no longer be justified and they pulled out of the competition, as bemoaned in The Times in February 1935:

The news, just received from the Army Rifle Association of India, that for reasons of economy it is not proposed to have a team representing the Indian Empire at the Imperial meeting this year has caused surprise and regret.

For many years the India team has been built up from those on leave in this country, stiffened by a backbone of old hands who have retired from the Services, so there is no heavy cost of transport, as there is for teams from Canada and other parts of the Empire. Particularly unfortunate is it that the team should withdraw this year when there will be a big gathering of Empire marksmen to celebrate the King’s Silver Jubilee.

The criticism that this Indian team as it has been constituted for many years past does not truly represent the shooting ability of India can be made with justice; but the commandant must always cut his coat to his cloth. With a more liberal financial endowment the best Indian marksmen could be brought home instead of a team’s being picked form those who are on leave.

Interwar Indian Army Photograph Album

During the Great War most informal photographs of military life were taken by officers. The Kodak vest model was introduced in 1912 and was hugely popular, however even though it was easily affordable to the officer classes, it was still out of reach of most private soldiers. Most ordinary soldiers therefore used a much cheaper camera, the Box Brownie. Even so the opportunities to take photographs in wartime was very limited and it was not until the inter-war period that we start to see photography really taking off amongst the private soldiery. Photographs by ordinary soldiers are still comparatively rare however as unless they were near to a large town to get them developed, the kit and chemicals needed to develop early film were bulky and expensive and again much easier for officers to access.

Tonight we have a series of photographs from India between the wars that I believe were taken by an ordinary soldier and depict everyday life in the Jewel of Empire. I debated looking at the photographs individually but I feel the impact and impression of daily life is far clearer by looking at them as a set. None are of great artistic merit, but they do capture the atmosphere and sense of place very well and some of my particular favourites are the soldiers on bicycles and the native sepoy. This is very much a barrack room view of army life and the photographs depict ordinary soldiers and NCOs rather than the officers, the barracks are dusty and simple and the landscapes are of the rough country around the base rather than any spectacular views from a Raja’s palace- I rather like them all the more for their simplicity and ordinariness. Sadly I have no context at all for he photographs and we do not know when, where or by whom they were taken.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image and to view them as a slideshow.



Indian Army Canteen Board Plate

A couple of weeks ago we looked at a knife and fork emblazoned with the crest of the Indian Amy Canteen Board. Since that post I have been very lucky to add a matching dinner plate to the collection :imageThis is a large plate, about 12″ across, with a black border around the edge, the only marking on it at all is the black transfer print of the Army Canteen Board’s logo:imageAs noted on the last post, this institution was liquidated in 1927. I am struggling to find exact details but it does seem to have come under criticism for wasting public money and left a large number of creditors in its wake when it was wound up. Indeed concerns had become so great that Earl Winterton in the British Parliament was forced to make a statement about its winding up in 1927:


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he can explain why the Government of India has decided to dissolve the Army Can teen Board; and what system it proposes to adopt in its place?


As regards the first part I would refer to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) on the 7th June last, of 5 which I am sending the hon. Member a copy together with a copy of the Report mentioned therein. As regards the second part, I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement recently issued by the Government of India on the subject

Following is the statement:

As a result of inquiries the Government of India have decided to revert to the system of unit contractors existing before the Army Canteens Board (India) was constituted, and arrangements are now being made under which contractors will take over canteens from the Board in the Northern and Western Commands.

Certain conditions designed to ensure efficient service and to safeguard the interests of troops have been drawn up. These conditions have been accepted by a representative body of contractors and will be made applicable to all canteen contractors throughout India. They include a minimum rate of rebate, the furnishing by the contractor of all rooms in which he functions and inspection by canteen inspectors employed under orders of the Quartermaster-General, particularly with regard to the quality of foodstuffs supplied which will be subject to frequent analysis.

Following its demise the Indian Army Canteen Board fell into obscurity and I suspect that this is the first time a matching set of plate and cutlery have been put together since the late 1920s:imageThis little set has piqued my interest and I will now be on the look out for any more pieces that have somehow survived the last ninety years and arrived in the UK from the other side of the world to add to my little set.

Cawnpore Etching

This week’s image dates back to the nineteenth century and is a fine etching of a group of Highlanders storming the guns at Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny:SKM_C45817022215110In the mid nineteenth century printed etchings gave a way for art to be enjoyed by the masses. Photography was still in its infancy and true paintings were beyond the pocket of most. Etchings could be mass produced and were very affordable. The more wealthy had them framed and hung on the wall, emulating the paintings of the wealthy. The poor decorated their houses by pulling the etchings from magazines and sticking them to the walls, much like the posters of today. Most of these etchings were in fact copies of actual paintings, the engraver’s skill being to translate this image onto metal for reproduction. Consequently some etchings are crude, others like this one are remarkably detailed. As well as scenes from history and famous people, current events and especially British military victories particularly appealed to the Victorians. This particular engraving dates to 1860 and judging by the large number of copies for sale online was a very popular print.

The following stirring fictionalised account of the attack by the 78th Highlanders comes from VA Stuart’s book Massacre at Cawnpore:

The Highlanders of the 78th, led by their pipers, hurled themselves at the enemy positions, the sun glinting on the bright steel of their ferociously jabbing bayonets. The riflemen of the 64th flattened themselves to the ground, then rose, as one man, to advance firing. The 84th, with memories of comrades who had defended the Cawnpore entrenchment, took guns at bayonet point and neither they nor the Sikhs who fought beside them, gave quarter to any gunner who had the temerity to stand by his gun. In their famous blue caps and “dirty” shirts, the young fusiliers fought grimly…they had Renaud, their commander, to avenge and they had brought in blood, the right to call themselves veterans.SKM_C45817022215110 - CopyAnd always the order was “Forward!” Shells burst and round shot and grape thinned the advancing ranks; a 24-pounder held them until it was blown up by Maude’s guns from the flank; then a howitzer from the enemy centre ranged on the charging 78th, forcing them to take cover behind a causeway carrying the road.

Havelock himself rallied them, his sword held high above his head as a storm of shot and shell fell about him. “Another charge like that wins the day, 78th!” he told them and the red coated line re-formed at his bidding and stormed the howitzer’s emplacement, their pipes keening above the noise of battle and the shouts and oaths of the weary, sweating Highlanders.SKM_C45817022215110 - Copy (2)