Literary Thoughts edition presents Famous Fights of Indian Native Regiments by Reginald Hodder ------ "Famous Fights of Indian Native Regiments" is an account on the Indian army, written in 1914 by Reginald Hodder (1867-1926). All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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Transscribed and Published by Jacson Keating (editor)
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"I look to all my Indian soldiers to uphold the Izzat of the British Raj against an aggressive and relentless enemy.
"I know with what readiness my brave and loyal Indian soldiers are prepared to fulfil this sacred trust on the field of battle shoulder to shoulder with their comrades from all parts of the Empire. Rest assured that you will always be in my thoughts and prayers.
"I bid you to go forward and add fresh lustre to the glorious achievements and noble traditions of courage and chivalry of my Indian Army, whose honour and fame are in your hands."
Soldiers of the Indian Army Corps,
We have all read with pride the gracious message of his Majesty the King-Emperor to his troops from India.
On the eve of going into the field to join our British comrades, who have covered themselves with glory in this great war, it is our firm resolve to prove ourselves worthy of the honour which has been conferred on us as representatives of the Army of India.
In a few days we shall be fighting as has never been our good fortune to fight before, and against enemies who have a long history.
But is their history as long as yours? You are the descendants of men who have been mighty rulers and great warriors for many centuries. You will never forget this. You will recall the glories of your race. Hindu and Mahomedan will be fighting side by side with British soldiers and our gallant French Allies. You will be helping to make history. You will be the first Indian soldiers of the King-Emperor who will have the honour of showing in Europe that the sons of India have lost none of their ancient martial instincts and are worthy of the confidence reposed in them.
In battle you will remember that your religions enjoin on you that to give your life doing your duty is your highest reward.
The eyes of your co-religionists and your fellow-countrymen are on you. From the Himalayan Mountains, the banks of the Ganges and Indus, and the plains of Hindustan, they are eagerly waiting for the news of how their brethren conduct themselves when they meet the foe. From mosques and temples their prayers are ascending to the God of all, and you will answer their hopes by the proofs of your valour.
You will fight for your King-Emperor and your faith, so that history will record the doings of India's sons and your children will proudly tell of the deeds of their fathers.
JAMES WILLCOCKS, Lieut.-General Commg. Indian Army Corps.
Camp, Oct. 10th, 1914.
Our native army in India is principally composed of Sikhs, Pathans, Punjabi Mussalmans, and Gurkhas. Each of these races has acquired in its own way a high reputation for valour and martial skill, and it need not be doubted that the men drawn from these sources in the East to confront a relentless foe in the West are absolutely reliable.
Quite a third of the Indian Army is composed of Sikhs. They are not exactly a race, but are a military and religious caste, the only modern importation into their religion being a savour of socialism. The Sikh sect dates from the fifteenth century, when Baba Nanak raised them, so to speak, from the indiscriminate mass, to governing positions in the Punjab. This was partly owing to their strong religious sentiment, but principally to their military capabilities. In course of time, they came to dominate the whole of Northern India, and reached the height of their power under the Maharajah Runjit Singh (1780-1839). The Sikh wars of 1845-6 and 1848-9 are a matter of history. In these both British and Sikhs fought with the utmost gallantry. But, since 1849, the brave Sikhs have been loyal British subjects, and have fought on our side not only in the Indian Mutiny, but in Abyssinia, Afghanistan, China, Burma, Somaliland, and Tibet. At the present time, the Indian Army includes thirteen Sikh battalions, and there are one or more Sikh squadrons in each of the cavalry regiments, as well as a company or two in each of the infantry battalions.
The Khalsa Sikh is the beau-ideal of everything high and noble in the Sikh race. Stirred by the depths of his own religion, he fought and conquered at its behest. And to him is owing the high reputation and romantic popularity of an honoured name. The Khalsa Sikh is derived from many different castes, but principally from the Jats of the Punjab, whose character has responded to, and whose development has been moulded by, the self-reliant, warlike, and manly teachings of their ideal lawgiver and hero, Govid Singh, from whom their name is derived—the word Sikh being originally Singh.
It is to the Jat element that the Sikh owes his most lofty characteristics. Thus the Jat Sikh respects himself wisely. His racial pride is based on the knowledge that he is justly, and without doubt, the flower of India. With him, as with all others who undertake great deeds in the present, the natural stimulus to such deeds is the stirring song of heroic achievements in the past.
The Pathans emanate from the Afghan race, and inhabit the hills of the north-west frontier of India. While many of the clans are Shiahs, the majority are orthodox Mussalmans. These Pathans, who frequently figure in novels dealing with Indian life, are, in their way, romantic figures. They are not only tall, handsome, and striking in appearance, but they have also a very independent character, obeying discipline for discipline's sake, and their officers for love of them. It is very strange that their facial characteristics are decidedly Jewish in type. It may be asked why there are only Company regiments, and no Class regiments of the Pathans. The reason is that, while they do not possess all the qualities which make for the complete efficiency of the Class regiment, they have unusual merits which are a very desirable leaven to almost any body of fighting men. They are certainly an admirable factor in combination with Sikhs and Punjabi Mussalmans.
The Punjabi Mussalmans were the original inhabitants of the Punjab, and their strong characteristics are still uppermost in that province. By race they are both Rajput and Jat, but their clans are many. From their wealthy families are recruited many fine cavalry regiments. They have a particular leaning towards mountain cavalry work, and this tendency has been fostered by the Government. Taking them all round, they are most efficient and courageous soldiers, and their attachment to their officers is proverbial.
As to the Gurkha, he needs but slight introduction. He is, so to speak, the "Little Benjamin" of the force from India, and excites great interest by his high courage and remarkable skill.
When the Gurkhas were told that they were wanted to fight in the great war they asked, "Shall we all be killed?"; and the officer said, "Not all." They inquired, "Shall a great many be killed?" He replied, "Possibly." Then they asked, "Will a hundred come back?" "Perhaps so." "That will be enough," they said; "our people will know that we have fought well."
The Gurkha's skill with his kukri is so remarkable as to appear absolutely unerring. Given a human mark—let us say in the shape of a German—he can take off his nose or ear, or pierce his eye with deadly precision. No knife-thrower in the world can so accurately and closely fence in a man standing against a wall as can a Gurkha with some twenty knives—without drawing a drop of blood. A soldier writing from the front concludes his mention of these terrible little men with the passage: "God help the Germans these men come across, for nobody else can. Death to them is a pastime." Yet, though the art of throwing the kukri is perfection itself among the Gurkhas, it must not be supposed that they make a practice of throwing it at the enemy. They would not run the risk of losing the beloved weapon for the sake of killing one German.
The well-known fighting races inhabiting the Punjab, such as the Sikhs and Pathans, are supplemented by a considerable number of smaller fighting castes. All these are either of Rajput, Jat, or Tartar descent; but, being mostly Mahomedans, they are prone to claim Moghul or Arab origin. Though not very distinct from some of the more unwarlike Punjab castes, they have, at some period of their history, displayed enough valour to acquire the ascendancy over neighbouring districts, and the memory of this has given them that pride of blood and race and that spirit of self-reliance which so largely constitute the martial instinct. The smaller Mahomedan fighting tribes of the Punjab are often grouped together under the generic term "Punjabi Mahomedan."
The most important, from a military point of view, are the Ghakkars, who make excellent soldiers. They are fine men, fierce, proud, and high-spirited.
Awans and Sials.—These were at first soldiers, and latterly agriculturists. During the Mutiny the Sial chief remained loyal, and rendered active assistance by raising a small body of cavalry from his tribe for Imperial use.
The Kharrals are also a well-built, hardy tribe, possessing the martial instinct in a high degree. The Bhattis and the Khokars are also among the warriors of India.
[Note.—The warriors of India have a score to settle with the Germans. It is a private matter not to be mentioned in the same breath with the whole- hearted loyalty of the Indian troops, but at the same time it will lend a keener edge to every kukri, a more formidable point to every lance and bayonet, a more deadly aim to every bullet. What rankles justly in the Indian's breast in this. During the Boxer Insurrection of 1900 the Germans treated the brave Indian troops fighting by their side as if they had been the dirt of the earth. Our noble Indians, whose traditions were clothed in glory long before the Germans knew proper clothing of any kind, have not forgotten this. For fourteen years they, too, have been looking forward to "the day." And now it has come. "For the Padisha and the Right!"—if one could read their thoughts —"and, incidentally, a squaring of accounts!"]
Commands.—A Command is one of the principal administrative portions into which the Army of India is divided. There are four such Commands—the Punjab, Bengal, Madras, and Bombay. Each Command is presided over by a Lieut.-General, and is further divided into first and second class districts, commanded by Major-Generals and Brigadier-Generals respectively. The principal executive authority is vested in the Commander-in-Chief in India, subject to the control of the Governor-General, who is, by law, the supreme head of the Army.
Native Cavalry.—A regiment of native cavalry, with the exception of the Guides and the Lancers of the Hyderabad Contingent, consists of four squadrons. The strength varies slightly, but is usually eight British officers, one medical officer, seventeen native officers, and 608 noncommissioned officers and men.
The native cavalry, with the exception of the Body-Guards and the three regiments of Madras Lancers (now the 26th King George's Own Light Infantry, the 27th Light Cavalry and the 28th Light Cavalry), is organised on what is called the Silladar System, i.e., the horses, saddlery, clothing, equipment and war arms (except carbines and revolvers) are the private property of the regiment, and are provided for by funds to which all ranks pay donations on joining, with monthly subscriptions throughout their entire service. This system is characteristic of their dignity and standing. The original donation, or assami, is returned on a man being pensioned or discharged. A baggage mule or pony, and a driver who acts as grass-cutter, are maintained by every pair of fighting men. Two Sowars, mounted on fast-trotting camels, are attached to each squadron for the rapid conveyance of orders over long distances. The native cavalry is armed with sword and carbine. Lancers carry their own special weapon in addition. All corps are trained in the use of the lance, which in some regiments is carried by the front-rank men.
The Ranks.—The native ranks and their respective duties are as follow:—
Risaldar-Major.—The chief native officer of the regiment. The badge of his rank is a crown worn on each shoulder-strap. He commands a half-squadron, and is the confidential adviser of the Commandant in all matters relating to the native ranks.
Risaldar and Ressaidar.—Half-squadron commanders. The badge of the former is three stars; of the latter, two stars, worn on each shoulder-strap.
Woordie-Major.—Native adjutant. He is generally a Ressaidar.
Kot Dafadār.—The senior non-commissioned officer of the regiment.
Native Artillery.—A native mountain battery has an establishment of five British officers, three native officers, and 253 non-commissioned officers and men. The armament consists of six 2.5 in. R.M.L. guns, carried on mules.
The only native field batteries now maintained are those of the Hyderabad Contingent. Each battery consists of two British officials, two native officers, and 128 non-commissioned officers and men. The armament consists of two six-pounder S.B. guns and two twelve-pounder howitzers.
Native Infantry.—A single battalion of native infantry is organised in four double companies, and has a complement of nearly twenty British officers, one medical officer, sixteen native officers, and eighty non-commissioned officers. The strength of the rank and file varies from 800 in the Punjab and Bengal to 720 in Madras and Bombay. To facilitate transfers in war time, the infantry, with a few exceptions, is organised into groups of two or three linked battalions, having a common regimental centre. Each battalion has a reserve, varying in strength from 218 to 160 men.
Native ranks and duties are:—
Subadār-Major.—Principal native officer of the battalion and confidential adviser of the Commanding Officer on all matters relating to the native ranks. He also commands a company.
Recruiting.—For recruiting purposes, India is divided into districts, each in charge of an officer, who recruits only for some particular race. All recruiting parties detached from regiments work under his orders, and all candidates for enlistment are brought to him for approval after undergoing medical examination. The number of applicants for service, especially for the Silladar Cavalry, is often in excess of the number of vacancies available. Recruits must be from sixteen to twenty-five years of age. There is a comparative scale of chest measurement to height, the minimum in each case being 33 in. and 5 feet 6 in. Special standards are allowed for Gurkhas, Dogras, and Mazhbi Sikhs. A native soldier enlists for three years. At the end of that time he may either claim his discharge or prolong his service up to twenty years, when he becomes entitled to a pension. All enlistments are for general service, with liability to serve wherever required.
Racial Composition.—Regiments of native cavalry and battalions of infantry are organised on the class system. They may be composed entirely of one class, when they are called "Class" regiments, or they may be recruited from three or four classes, kept apart in separate companies, when they are styled "Class Company" regiments. For instance, the 14th Sikhs, composed of eight companies of Sikhs, would be an example of the former, while the 30th Punjab Infantry, composed of four companies of Sikhs, two of Dogras, and two of Punjabi Mussalmans, would serve as an example of the latter.
Forage and Rations.—The native soldier pays for his own food and, in the Silladar Cavalry, also for the upkeep of his horse. A regimental bazaar is attached to each corps, from which the men purchase their rations. When the cost of the daily ration exceeds Rs. 3.8.0 per month, compensation is granted by the Government for the difference. On field service the native soldier draws free rations, and in addition to his ordinary pay is granted a special monthly allowance.
Quarters.—The quarters of native troops, except in Burma and on the North-west Frontier, are ranges of huts, called lines, which have to be built and kept in order by the corps temporarily occupying them. To defray the cost of repairs, the Government makes an allowance, which is paid monthly.
Education.—Each regiment and battalion has a school, at which attendance is voluntary. Sepoys are required to pass an easy examination in reading, writing, arithmetic and drill before promoted to non-commissioned rank.
Bands.—These are maintained by infantry, but not by cavalry. All Gurkha battalions and many corps in which Pathans are enlisted have pipers as well as bandsmen, buglers and drummers. The pipers make their own pipes, in imitation of the Scottish bagpipes, and acquire considerable efficiency under the instruction of Highland bandmasters.
Furlough and Leave.—The popularity of service in the native army is largely due to the liberal manner in which furlough and leave are granted.
Dress.—The dress of the native army is picturesque and distinctive. Kilmarnock caps are worn by the Gurkhas and Garhwalis, otherwise the universal headdress is the turban or pugri. In the Silladar Cavalry all uniforms are provided under regimental arrangements. In the other regiments clothing is issued by the clothing factories at Calcutta and Madras, but the khaki uniform, and all necessaries, such as great-coats, boots, pugris, haversacks, water-bottles, bedding, cooking-pots, etc., are purchased or manufactured regimentally, and may be had from the quarter-master at fixed prices.
Most of our native Indian soldiers are either peasant proprietors or cultivators, and on retirement from service return to their former employment. Some, however, accept minor posts with the civil administration, such as those of caretakers or messengers.
The Indian soldier is generally excellent in sports and athletics. The skill of the Sowar in tent-pegging, lime-cutting, and his daring feats of horsemanship are well known. In the infantry, wrestling is a favourite amusement, and certain classes, more especially Gurkhas, are keen sportsmen in the all-round sense of the word.
The military and agricultural classes of India are seen at their best in the native army. Enthusiastic in his profession, endued with great pride of race and considerable spirit, the native soldier feels that there is a camaraderie and a community of interests between himself and his British officers which are wholly lacking in his relations with civil officials. Daily intercourse in the lines, and in various games and sports, affords opportunities for mutual acquaintance, and enables British officers to acquire that personal influence over their men which has been so largely responsible for the brilliant results achieved by most of our great men of India.
There are three great classes of Sikhs: the Sikh by race, the Sikh by religious sect, and the Sikh by political conviction. They are, however, divided tribally as follows:—
The Jat Sikhs,
The Khattri Sikhs,
The Kamboh Sikhs,
The Lobana Sikhs,
The Sikh Chuhras or Mazhbis,
The Sikh Tarkhans,
The Kalal Sikhs.
The Jat Sikhs.—Our Jat recruits are drawn from the Eastern Jats, a race of hardy husbandmen. They are, so to speak, a clan of Indian agricultural peasantry. They came originally from the highlands of Scythia. These men possess the necessary instincts of the soldier, and their history has been marked by stern, hard fighting.
The Khattri Sikhs.—These are the merchant caste of the Punjabis.
The Kamboh Sikhs.—These make excellent soldiers, being of very fine physique and possessing great courage. They have always been noted for their cunning strategy, which now, being far less "slim" than in former times, has developed into the permissible strategy of war.
The Lobana Sikhs.—These are the social equals of the Jats.
The Sikh Chuhras or Mazhbis.—The term "Mazhbis" has now come to be applied to all Chuhras who have adopted Sikhism as their religion. The true Mazhbis are descendants of certain Chuhras, who rescued in a heroic fashion the body of Gurai Teg Bahadur from the Mahomedans, thus saving it from being dishonoured. In return for this, Gurai's son, Govind Singh, bestowed upon them the title of "Mazhbis Rangreeta" ("Chosen Brave"), and invited them into the fold of Sikhism. Therefore the name Mazhbis belongs properly to the descendants of these particular Chuhras' families. Inspired as they are by the glorious history and traditions of Khalsa, these men make excellent soldiers.
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