Norfolks and Indians in Mesopotamia

Our Mesopotamian researcher has found some intriguing links between the Norfolks and the subcontinent for this month’s post.

Norfolks and Indians in Mesopotamia

This cartoon by Leonard Raven-Hill was published in the September 9, 1914 issue of the satirical magazine, Punch. It reflects, with some relief, on India’s decision to support Britain’s war effort. Contrary to British fears of a revolt in India, the outbreak of the war saw an unprecedented outpouring of loyalty and good will towards Great Britain.

India for The King! Punch, September 9, 1914

India for The King!
Punch, September 9, 1914

On the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain had two imperatives in South Asia: to recruit as many Indian soldiers to the war effort as possible and to preserve the loyalty of Indian Muslims against Ottoman and German jihad propaganda. To advance both aims, George V, the British King-Emperor, issued a proclamation to the ‘Princes and People of India’ on 4 August. He explained Britain’s reasons for declaring war on Germany and called for India’s support for the imperial war effort. Much to the British government’s relief, the Indian ruling elite responded to the King’s appeal with effusive declarations of loyalty. (The Fall of the Ottomans; the Great War in the Middle East, Eugene Rogan, 2015)

Indian political leaders and other groups were eager to support the British since they believed that such support would further the cause of Indian Home Rule. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while both the central government and the princely states sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition.

If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need. Mohandas Gandhi

Although the decision to send an Indian brigade to Mesopotamia in 1914 was made in London and raised concerns from the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, Indian Expeditionary Force D was an operation of the Government of India.

When the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment were deployed to Mesopotamia (they had been at Belgaum in India since 1911) they were attached to the 6th (Poona) Division, led firstly by Major General Arthur Barrett and then by Major General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, joining the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade commanded by Major-General Charles .I. Fry.

The 6th (Poona) Division was created through the so-called ‘Kitchener Reforms’ of the Indian Army between 1903 and 1909, when Lord Kitchener was Commander-in-Chief, India.

After Kitchener’s reforms, the Indian Army could muster just over seven divisions for active service. But it was still short of trained staff officers, and levels of equipment were notoriously low. (The field army units were the only ones equipped with the current British service rifle, the short Lee-Enfield, and there was not enough clothing and boots even for all the seven divisions.) …This was not an army prepared for a war like that of 1914. [There was] …a fixed belief that Indian soldiers could only reach a ‘European’ level of effectiveness if commanded by British officers who knew and understood them. Such officers, who had to know several languages and spend a lot of time with their men, could not just be multiplied at will.

…British officers – thirteen for each battalion, alongside seventeen Indian Officers (IOs) – secured the reliability of their sepoys by winning their absolute loyalty and affection. (When God Made Hell, Charles Townshend, 2010)

The other contingents of the 18th Brigade were single-battalion regiments raised in India: the 2nd Norfolks were to share a number of actions with them up to the surrender at Kut al Amara in 1916:

  • 1st Bn. 110th Mahratta Light Infantry
  • 1st Bn. 120th Rajputana Infantry
  • 1st Bn. 7th (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Rajputs

(One British battalion was maintained in every infantry brigade of the Indian Army: a lingering memory of the traumatic events for the British of the Indian Mutiny – now sometimes referred to as the Indian Rebellion or the Sepoy Rebellion – of 1857.)

The Mahrattas (The 110th is second from the left) were raised from the former army of the Bombay Presidency (one of three presidencies, the others being Bengal and Madras) and could trace the ancestry of their regiment back to 1797.

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

The 120th Rajputana Infantry were also raised from the Bombay Presidency and could trace their ancestry back to 1817.

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Wikimedia Commons

A Sepoy and a Havildar of the 7th (DOC) Rajputs are shown below second and third from the left. The regiment, raised from the army of the former Bengal Presidency, could trace their ancestry to 1798. (A havildar was the equivalent rank to a British sergeant: the Indian equivalent to a British private was known in the infantry as a sepoy.) (Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, 3rd son of Queen Victoria, became colonel-in-chief of the 7th Rajputs in 1904.

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Public Domain

By Alfred Crowdy Lovett (1862-1919) : Public Domain

 All Indian units also brought along a vast contingent of ‘followers’… They performed the most menial tasks – looking after tents, latrines and waste disposal. They were non-combatants, but one of their most important functions, water-carrying, routinely brought many followers into the firing line. (When God Made Hell, Charles Townshend, 2010)

The officers and men of the Indian Army were awarded 18 Victoria Crosses: between 62,000 and 67,000 Indian soldiers were killed according to varying estimates: total Indian losses of up to 75,000 have been suggested  Hence, it was on a note of regret that The Times of India reported on August 15, 2014:

In the centenary year of the Great War, which saw over a million Indians fighting in battles as diverse as Ypres, Somme and Mesopotamia… memories of their bravery has dimmed considerably in India.


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