This article will provide you with an overview of the history of the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles during the First World War and help you research those who served with the Regiment. I have also written a series of guides to help you research those who served in the Indian Army during the war. These guides can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
I offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
104th Wellesley’s Rifles in the First World War
Lineage: Raised in 1775 as the 5th Battalion of Bombay Sepoys and became the 9th Battalion of Bombay Sepoys in 1778. Then the 2nd Battalion 2nd Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1796 and the 4th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1824. Then the 4th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, or Rifle Corps in 1841, the 4th Regiment of Bombay Infantry, or Rifle Corps in 1885. ”Unauthorisedly styled” the 1st Battalion, Bombay Rifle Regiment in 1889 and ”title corrected” to the 4th Regiment, 1st Battalion, Rifle Regiment of Bombay Infantry during the same year. Then the 4th Bombay Rifles in 1901, the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles in 1903 and the 1st Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles in 1922.
Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Rajputana Jats, 2 Companies of Rajputana Rajputs and 2 Companies of Punjabi Musalmans. 1919: 2 Companies of Rajputana Jats, 1 Company of Rajputana Rajputs and 1 Company of Punjabi Musalmans.
Location in July 1914: The 104th Wellesley’s Rifles was stationed at Baroda (Vadodara, Gujarat, India) having arrived from Santa Cruz, Bombay (Mumbai, Maharashtra) on 19th December 1912.
On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles was at Baroda where the Regiment had been stationed since it arrived from Bombay in December 1914. The Regiment had been inspected on 26 February 1914 by Major-General Richard Lloyd Payne, Commanding 5th (Mhow) Division who reported:
Turn-out: Men well set up, good appearance but somewhat spoilt by uneven colour of tunics, which are badly dyed.
Efficiency in drill: Handling of arms very smart; drill well carried out.
Personnel: Ably and efficiently commanded, thoroughly well trained; British officers keen, Indian officers capable, intelligent and of good class; rank and file of good physique and intelligent.
General efficiency: Regiment has a high standard of efficiency; medical report of health fair and the malaria is decreasing, with change of station from Baroda to Bangalore the battalion should be in all respects “fit for service”.
Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914: IOR/L/MIL/7/17023
The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment. The Regiment received orders to mobilise on 14 August 1914 and spent the next six weeks preparing for active service. The 104th Wellesley’s Rifles entrained for Poona on 30 September and arrived the next day. The Regiment then proceeded to Bombay (Mumbai) where it embarked on the SS Berbera and SS Masunda on 11 November. The two ships sailed on 16 October 1914 with a convoy which carried Indian Expeditionary Force D to Mesopotamia. After stopping at Bahrain, the convoy arrived off Fao on the 6 November and the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles landed at Sanniya on 8 November 1914.
The 104th Wellesley’s Rifles served as part of the 16th Indian Infantry Brigade, 6th (Poona) Division. Between November 1914 and October 1915, the Regiment took part in the Allied advance towards Baghdad. There are two very good sources of information covering this period, the war diary which has been digitized and I have discussed below and the History of the 1st Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles by Lieutenant-Colonel F. H. James. The Regiment took part in a large number of engagements with Turkish forces with the main ones being the Battle of Shaiba (12-14 April 1915), Es Sinn (28 September 1915) and Ctesiphon (22-25 November 1915).
After the Battle of Ctesiphon, the 6th (Poona) Division withdrew to the town of Kut-al-Amara which had been captured after the Battle of Es Sinn the previous month. The 104th Wellesley’s Rifles was besieged in Kut, along with the majority of the 6th Division, between 7 December 1915 and 29 April 1916. After a series of failed relief attempts, the garrison surrendered and was marched off into captivity. Thousands of prisoners, including many from the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles, died in captivity from disease and neglect or were murdered by their guards. There is a list which recorded the names of Indian prisoners of war taken by the Turks up until mid-1917 which contains hundreds of soldiers from the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles.
However, many men of the men of the Regiment were not captured as Kut as they had been recuperating from wounds or sickness, were recent recruits or had been away on other tasks. This cadre as used to reform the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles in January 1917 in India, under the command of Major, later Lieutenant-Colonel, William Scott who had been severely wounded at Ctesiphon. The Regiment arrived back in Mesopotamia in July 1917 and joined the 56th Indian Infantry Brigade, 14th Indian Division for the remainder of the war. The 104th Wellesley’s Rifles returned to India on 28 March 1919 at Bombay and took part in the Third Afghan War (6 May – 8 August 1919). There is no war diary covering this period but it is dealt with in the regimental history. In 1922, the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles became the 1st Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles.
War Diary of the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles
There are four war diaries for the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles. All war diaries have been digitized and can be downloaded for a small fee by clicking on the blue links below.
- Date: 14 August 1914 – 30 October 1915
- 16th Indian Infantry Brigade, 6th (Poona) Division, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO95/5121/5
- Notes: An excellent war diary, full of detail concerning the activities of the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles. Contains a 6-page (A4) ”Report on the Action at Saihan, 15 November 1914”. A 9-page report (notebook size) on the Action at Kurna, 4 December 1914, including a map and citations for gallantry. Report on the action of Mezara, December 7 1914, including a map and citations for gallantry which is 4-pages. A 5-page (notebook size) ”Report on the action on the right bank of the Tigris at Kurna on 8 December 1914”, including map and citations for gallantry. A report on the Action at Shaiba, April 1915, including a map and a detailed account of the 104th Rifles involvement in the Battle of Es Sinn, 28 September 1915. There is also a detailed A3 map of the Battle of Es Sinn.
- Date: 04 July 1917 – 28 February 1918
- Euphrates Defence and Communications, Nasiriyah
- Reference: WO95/5031/12
- Notes: A poor war diary with brief entries. There are lists of British officers serving with the Regiment in December 1917, on the 3 February and the 1 March 1918.
- Date: 01 March – 30 September 1918
- 56th Indian Infantry Brigade, 14th Indian Division
- Reference: WO95/5199/6
- Notes: A poor war diary with few entries. There is a nominal roll of British officers serving with the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles each month.
- Date: 01 October – 31 December 1918
- 56th Indian Infantry Brigade, 14th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO95/5181/12
- Notes: A poor diary where few days have entries and those which do are very short. There is a nominal roll of officers serving with the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles on 30 November 1918. This war diary is only three pages in length with an appendix.
Further Sources for the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles
For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles, the Indian Army List should be consulted. A good resource is the Regiment’s annual confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers serving with the Regiment. Though when the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles was abroad only the Depot and the officers serving with it were reported on.
There is also a regimental history I can recommend if you’d like to learn more about the Regiment: History of the 1st Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles (Wellesley’s) by F. H. James.
There are three collections of private papers to officers of the Regiment in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
The Private Papers of Brigadier Charles Molyneux Sandys Manners Documents.670. This is a photocopied war diary kept by Manners which is the main source of information for the Regiment’s activities between November 1915 and April 1916. A very useful document which records the Indian soldiers serving with the Regiment during the siege, along with their regimental numbers and company.
The Private Papers of Lieutenant-Colonel Leslie Seymour Bell-Syer Documents.7469. This collection contains a variety of items with the most important being an 82-page transcription titled “Recollections and Experiences of Lieut. L. Bell-Syer attached 104th Wellesley’s Rifles at Kut-al-Amarah. During the siege. Dec. 3rd 1915 to April 29th 1915. Written whilst a prisoner of war in Kastamuni, Asia Minor. July 18th. 1916”. An excellent document which records the activities of the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles during the siege, it starts off with a transcription of a long letter never sent by Bell-Syer to his mother. The manuscript is divided into two parts, the first contains the letter and recounts the Siege of Kut and the second is the “Diary of Journey from Kut to Kastamuni Asia Minor”.
The collection also contains a photograph album with some fantastic images of Indian soldiers in the early stage of the Mesopotamia Campaign. There are a mixture of photographs after Mesopotamia, including a jirga at Waziristan, a small collection of photographs taken at Kut in 1943, at a hotel near Tehran and a variety of photographs taken on the North West Frontier (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) at various dates
The Private Papers of Arthur Cuthbert Lock Documents.3048. These contain a 23 page typed account of his service on a motorboat with the Supply and Transport Corps and as a Second-Lieutenant in the 104th Rifles. There are good descriptions of the Siege of Kut. There is also the diary from which the manuscript was transcribed. There are eighteen typed pages containing letters written by Lock when he served with the Supply and Transport Corps.
There is a two-page letter from Charles Manners dated 4 December 1916 to Lock’s father. In the letter, Manners writes of Lock’s service with the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles and describes his death on 1 August 1916. There is a 3-page typed letter from Godfred Eltom describing his journey since being captured and conditions at Kastamuni. The papers also contain a short letter from Lock written on 31 May 1916, his Mentioned in Despatches certificate and an in memoriam card.
Extracts from War Diaries of the 104th Wellesley’s Rifles (Crown Copyright: National Archives)
01 August 1914 – 30 October 1915, Mesopotamia, WO95/5121/5
02 November 1914 – At Sea – Convoy sailed from Bahrein Harbour at 6.30am. Received the following information from General Officer Commanding Force ”Inform troops as follows – state of war now exists between England and Turkey- although since beginning of war with Germany, England has made strenuous efforts to maintain peace and preserve ancient friendship with Turkey, nevertheless latter power urged on by German intrigue has conducted numerous acts of aggression which have forced this war upon England. Our force is now proceeding to the Persian Gulf to protect British interests and friendly shaikhs against Turkish attacks”.
Started putting ship in state of defence. Tested penetration of rations on board ship at 8 yards with following results
1 bale bussah, 1 sack atta, 1 sack gram, 1 sack bran – not proof. 2 bales bussah, 2 sacks atta, 2 sacks gram, 2 sacks bran – proof.
03 November 1914 – Continued putting ship in state of defence. 2 guns mountain battery mounted on Boat Deck: 1 Machine Gun on each well deck fore and aft. Received message that enemy possessed one aeroplane- this was described and explained to Indian ranks.
07 November 1914 – At 1 am received message that Fao fort was in our hands. Turkish earthwork reported on right bank of river 10 miles above Fao this was subsequently found to be unoccupied.
09 November 1914 – Saniyeh Camp – Regiment ordered to march downstream for 5 miles by the bank as secretly as possible and then to spread out and beat the palm groves on the way back for enemy and drive them towards the main camp. The march downstream was very tedious owing to the number of streams which has to be crossed In one place all accoutrements had to be taken off as the water was chest deep. At village Bunian papers, ammunition and some stores were found in houses which had been occupied by Turks. The telegraph office had been dismantled and the instruments carried away. On the way back one prisoner was caught.