This page on the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers aims to help you research either the Battalion or a soldier who served with it during the First World War. I have written a separate article for the 1st Battalion 81st Pioneers and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the First World War:
I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers in the First World War
Lineage: The 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers was formed at St. Thomas Mount (Madras/Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India) on 26 February 1918 and disbanded on 15 February 1921. For a history of the Regiment’s lineage see my page on the 1st Battalion 81st Pioneers.
Class Composition of Battalion in 1919: 2 Companies of Musallis and 2 Companies of Madrassis.
The 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers was a short-lived Indian infantry battalion formed at St. Thomas Mount (Madras/Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India) on 26 February 1918. The Battalion’s first commanding officer was Acting Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Mackie who was appointed from the 64th Pioneers on 16 February 1918. The Battalion was inspected on 27 February 1919 by Brigadier-General David Ramsey Sladen, Commanding Southern Brigade:
General Observations: Training, physique and general appearance of the battalion are most satisfactory particularly that of the Musallis. Practically all the men have completed their General Musketry course.
Composition should be 2 companies Musallis and 2 companies Madrassees; it is actually 2 1/2 companies Musallis and 1 1/2 companies Madrassees. Men are contented and well looked after, a good tone prevails. I consider the unit fit for service.
Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, depots, British officers, etc. for 1918-1919 held at the British Library (IOR/L/MIL/7/17030).
The 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers was stationed at St. Thomas Mount when the Third Anglo-Afghan War broke out on 6 May 1919. The Battalion served as part of the North West Frontier Force during the war and was stationed at Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) between 11 June and 24 September 1919. The Battalion then moved to Landi Kotal where it remained until at least July 1920. There is a war diary which covers both the Battalion’s involvement in the Third Anglo-Afghan War (May-August 1919) and service on the North West Frontier until July 1920. I have transcribed some entries below. The war diary stops at the end of July 1920 but it is possible that the Battalion continued to serve on the North West Frontier. While serving on the North West Frontier the Battalion’s Depot was at Bangalore. The 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers was disbanded on 15 February 1921.
The extract below is from the July 1919 Indian Army List and shows the British officers serving with the Battalion. You’ll notice that there are only two pre-war British officers recorded. For a Battalion which was raised so late in the war, it does have more officers commissioned in 1914 and 1915 than you usually find. The majority of the officers are either Indian Army officers on probation who have previously served with the British Army or from the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (I.A.R.O.). I have written a guide to help you use the Indian Army List to research either a British or Indian officer here: Guide to Using the Indian Army List.
One of the officers who served with the Battalion was William Stead Mills and had a typical path of an I.A.R.O. in the war. William was a commercial traveller from Leicester when war broke out and enlisted in a Territorial Force battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment in September 1914. William began to apply for a commission in the British Army shortly after he enlisted but it wasn’t until March 1915, after brief service on the Western Front, that he received a commission in the 10th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. This was a training battalion based in Britain and in July 1917 he decided to apply for a commission in the I.A.R.O. William was accepted and went out to India in December 1917 and was appointed to the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers on 7 March 1918. William survived his service in the Third Anglo-Afghan War and returned to Britain in late 1919.
War Diary of the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers
There is one war diary for the Battalion and I have transcribed some of the entries at the bottom of the page. As of July 2018, this war diary hasn’t been digitized and can only be viewed at the National Archives.
- Date: 05 June 1919 – 31 July 1920
- North West Frontier Force
- Reference: WO95/5390
- Notes: The war diary provides a good overview of the variety of work undertaken by the Battalion on the North West Frontier. British officers are mentioned throughout.
Further Sources of Information for the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers
For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers, the Indian Army List should be consulted. There are two confidential reports for the Battalion which also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers who served with them.
- Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, depots, British officers, etc. for 1918-1919 held at the British Library: IOR/L/MIL/7/17030
- Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, depots, British officers, etc. for 1919-1920: IOR/L/MIL/7/17031
Extracts from War Diaries of the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers (Crown Copyright: National Archives)
05 June 1919 – 31 July 1920, North-West Frontier Force, WO95/5390
11 June 1919 – Peshawar – 1st train arrived Peshawar Cantonment 14.30. 2nd train 17.00 hours. Two casualties occurred en route. British officers Captain W. S. Mills, Lieutenant F. G. Ralphs, taken to Nowshera British Stationary Hospital suffering from heat. Regiment encamped Sadar Bazaar Polo ground in E.P. Tents.
12 June 1919 – Peshawar – Regiment detailed for work under Military Works Peshawar Area.
20 June 1919 – Peshawar – Work in camps continued. Unloading platform completed. Work begun on sheep pens. Three sick transferred to 13th Indian General Hospital.
29 June 1919 – Peshawar – 6th Jats’ camp completed. Huts on Machine Gun Camp begun. 3 ranks transferred to No.13 Indian General Hospital.
01 July 1919 – Peshawar – Regiment employed under Military Works Peshawar Area as follows. A Company making dug outs for ordnance stores. B, C, D working in camps and sheep pens, water supply etc. Lieutenant A.C. Kempster transferred to hospital.
12 July 1919 – Peshawar – Work as usual… At 18 hours a report was received that the Hazar Khani Canal had breached near the Jhil Road. C Company went out to mend the breach which was repaired temporarily by 21.30 hours.
19 July 1919 – Peshawar – Holiday on account of peace celebrations.
01 August 1919 – Peshawar – Regiment employed under Military Works Peshawar Area as follows:- A Company on prisoners of war camp. B Company sheep pens ? race course and rifle ranges, hutting of Royal Artillery Camp with wash, houses latrines. C Company No. 13 Indian General Hospital floors etc. D Company butchery.
6 September 1919 – Peshawar – Lieutenant Colonel R. Mackie re-assumes command on rejoining from hospital. Garrison guard duties taken over from 3/5 Gurkhas on which to companies are employed (C and D).
11 October 1919 – Landi Kotal – Work as usual. 8 ranks rejoined from Jamrud Hospital and one from furlough. No. 1334 Sepoy Kali Muttu A Company committed suicide, shot himself, found temporarily insane.