33rd Punjabis

This article is about the 33rd Punjabis and will help you to research the Regiment and those who served with it during the First World War. I have written a separate article for the war-raised 2nd Battalion 33rd Punjabis and a series of articles to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view these articles click on the blue links below:

I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.

The 33rd Punjabis in the First World War

Lineage: Raised by Lieutenant E. H. Langmore at Allahabad in 1857 as the Allahabad Levy. In 1861 it first became the 37th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and then the 33rd Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry. Then in 1864, it became the 33rd (Allahabad) Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and the 33rd Regiment of Bengal Infantry in 1885. Then the 33rd (Punjabi Mahomedan) Regiment of Bengal Infantry in 1890. The 33rd Punjab Infantry in 1901 and 33rd Punjabis in 1903 and the 3rd Battalion 16th Punjab Regiment in 1922.

Class Composition of Battalion in 1914: 4 Companies of Punjabi Musalmans, 2 of Pathans and 2 of Sikhs.1919: 2 Companies of Punjabi Musalmans, 1 Company of Pathans and 1 Company of Sikhs.

Location in 1914: The 33rd Punjabis was stationed at Bannu, North West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) having arrived from Delhi (India) on 4th February 1914.

The 33rd Punjabis was stationed at Bannu on the North West Frontier when the First World War broke out in August 1914. The Regiment was inspected by Major-General C. A. Anderson, Commanding 7th (Meerut) Division for its final confidential report for 1913-14 who reported:

Instruction and training is satisfactory, drill and handling of arms fairly smart. Manoeuvre is good and quick in the field. Signalling satisfactory, while musketry shows much improvement on last year.

The men are a fine lot, well set up and workmanlike.

The interior economy of the battalion is satisfactory, and due economy is practised with regard to clothing deductions.

It is generally a good and well trained battalion, a good spirit of camaraderie existing between the British officers and Indian ranks. The Indian officers and non-commissioned officers seem to use their own initiative in the field and to exercise the command of the units under them themselves.

The battalion is fit for field service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914IOR/L/MIL/7/17023

The Regiment was mobilized shortly after the outbreak of war and proceeded to Egypt as part of the 32nd Imperial Service Infantry Brigade to help defend the Suez Canal. The Regiment disembarked at Suez on 19 November 1914. Below is an extract from the October 1914 Indian Army List recording British officers serving with the 33rd Punjabis. There’s a lot of military jargon in the lists so I’ve created a page to help you: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.

33rd Punjabis British OfficersThe 33rd Punjabis left Egypt in late August 1915 and proceeded to the Western Front where the Regiment landed at Marseilles on 3 September 1915. The Regiment’s service on the Western Front was brief with the 29th Bareilly Infantry Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Division though it suffered heavy casualties on the 25 September 1915 on the opening day of the Battle of Loos. The 33rd Punjabis moved back to Egypt in December 1915 before it proceeded to Aden in February 1916. I’m not sure how long the Regiment remained at Aden as the war diary ends on 30 June 1916 and the next war diary has the Regiment on board the Hired Transport Purnea in the Seychelles on 1 May 1917. The Regiment was proceeding to East Africa and arrived at Kisiwani on 7 May. The Regiment served in East Africa until early 1918 when the 33rd Punjabis was withdrawn to India. The 33rd Punjabis served as part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, 1st Indian Division, North West Frontier Force during the Third Anglo-Afghan War (May-August 1919) and in 1922 became the 3rd Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment.

War Diaries of the 33rd Punjabis

The seven war diaries for the 33rd Punjabis which are held at the National Archives, London. Of these, the war diaries covering the Regiment’s service on the Western Front and East Africa have been digitized. The war diaries for Egypt, Aden and the Third Anglo-Afghan War can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have transcribed some extracts at the bottom of the page.

  • Date: 30 October 1914 – 25 August 1915
  • 32nd Imperial Service Infantry Brigade, Canal Zone Defences, Egypt
  • Reference: WO95/4423
  • Notes: Overall a good war diary for this period, though after February 1915 entries become a lot shorter.
  • Date: 29 August – 30 November 1915
  • 29th Bareilly Infantry Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Division, France
  • Reference: WO95/3948/5
  • Notes: This war diary has been digitized and is available to download from the National Archives. When the 33rd Punjabis went into action on the opening day of the Battle of Loos on the 25 September 1915 and suffered nearly 300 casualties, the war diary entry is just over four lines. This is typical of the laconic nature of the Regiment’s war diary.
  • Date: 01 December 1915 – 30 June 1916
  • Aden Force
  • Reference: WO95/5438
  • Notes: From February- June there are only a few entries per month and I have transcribed an example below.
  • Date: 01 May – 30 June 1917
  • No.1 Column, Hanforce
  • Reference: WO95/5321/10
  • Notes: An average war diary. Patrols of the 33rd Punjabis were frequently engaged during these two month but they are only given very brief mention. This war diary has been digitized and is available to download from the National Archives’ website.
  • Date: August 1917
  • B Column, Hanforce
  • Reference: WO95/5322/11
  • Notes: A short war diary of 3 pages which is available to download from the National Archives’ website.
  • Date: 01 September – 1917 – 30 January 1918
  • Lines of Communication, East Africa
  • Reference: WO95/5369/15
  • Notes: Only 7 pages in length and very little happens. The war diary is available to download from the National Archives’ website
  • Date: 06 May – 31 December 1919
  • 6th Infantry Brigade, 1st Indian Division, North West Frontier Force
  • Reference: WO95/5409
  • Notes: May is the most detailed month of the diary, after which entries become a lot briefer and usually just note detachments.

Further Sources for the 33rd Punjabis

For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 33rd Punjabis, the Indian Army List should be consulted. The confidential reports for the Regiment are held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These also contain the annual reports of British officers who were serving with the 33rd Punjabis. However, when the Regiment was abroad only its Depot and the British officers who served with it are reported on.

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Extracts from War Diaries of the 33rd Punjabis (Crown Copyright: National Archives)

29 August – 30 November 1915, France, WO95/3948/5

25 September 1915 – Attack on German trenches – No 2 Company and 1/2 No.4 got into most advanced trench captured. Our flanks had made no progress. Our losses were heavy during the retirement viz 5 officers killed. One (Commanding Officer) wounded and some 275 men.

01 December 1915 – 30 June 1916, Aden Force, WO95/5438

21 February 1916 – The Right 1/2 Battalion and Headquarters landed at Maala Jetty at about 11 am and proceeded to Sheikh Othman in special trains at about 12 o’clock…

08 – 21 March 1916 – No 3 and 4 D Company were relieved by No 1 and 2 D Company on the outpost line on the 8 instant. The Left 1//2 Battalion on being relieved was frequently exercised in rifle exercises, route marches, night operations. The usual fatigues on the Dar ul Amir Road continued. The Regiment took part in the action on the 16 instant at No4 D.C and machine guns were with attacking column, remainder on General Reserve North of Helwan.

01 May – 30 June 1917, Hanforce, WO95/5321

29 May 1917 – Enemy near Beau Mont’s Post ambushed our patrol of 1 Non-commissioned officer and 6 men. Only Havildar escaped remaining men killed.

08 June 1917 – Machine gun firing and rifle firing was heard at 1.45pm in the direction of mile 24. Two N.C.O.s and 12 rifles sent to patrol the vicinity, but no trace of enemy.

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