53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force)

This article on the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) aims to help you research either the Regiment or a soldier who served with it during the First World War. I have written a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the First World War. The links below will take you to the guides:

I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.

53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) in the First World War

Lineage: Raised by Captain F. Winter at Ferozepore at 1846-47 as the 3rd Regiment of Infantry of the Frontier Brigade. In 1847 it became the 3rd Regiment of Sikh Local infantry. In 1857 its designation changed twice, first to the 3rd Regiment of Sikh Infantry and then to the 3rd Regiment of Sikh Infantry, Punjab Irregular Force. In 1865 it became the 3rd Regiment of Sikh Infantry, Punjab Frontier Force and then the 3rd Sikh Infantry in 1901. In 1903 it was designated the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) and became the 3rd Battalion 12th Frontier Force Regiment in 1922.

Class Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Sikhs, 1 Company of Dogras, 2 Companies of Khattaks and 1 Company of Punjabi Musalmans. 1919: 2 Companies of Sikhs, 1/2 a Company of Dogras, 1 Company of Khattaks and 1/2 a Company of Punjabi Musalmans.

Location in July 1914: The 53rd Sikhs was stationed at Kohat, North West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) having arrived from Jullundur (Jalandhar, Punjab, India) on 5th November 1913.

The 53rd Sikhs was stationed at Kohat, North West Frontier Province when the First World War began in August 1914. The Regiment was inspected by Major-General F. Campbell, Commanding Kohat Brigade for its confidential report for 1913-14 who reported:

Personnel excellent. Rank and file smart and well turned out. First rate officers. Interior economy is very satisfactory and due economy is practised in regard to deductions for clothing. Discipline satisfactory. Signalling excellent. Musketry satisfactory. Fire discipline good. The battalion works well in the filed and is fit for active service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914IOR/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 Indian Army List is a great resource to use when researching British and Indian officers and I have written a guide to help you with its jargon: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.

53rd Sikhs Frontier Force British officers 1914

The Regiment received orders to mobilize at Kohat on 11 October 1914 and left for Karachi on 14 November. The Regiment was split between the Hired Transports Coconada and Arankola which sailed on 20 November and arrived at Suez, Egypt on 2 December. The Regiment disembarked the next day and was tasked with improving the defences on the Suez Canal as part of the 28th Indian Infantry Brigade. The Regiment’s service in Egypt was uneventful and in July 1915 the 53rd Sikhs was moved to Aden, now part of Yemen. On the 20 July 1915, the Regiment took part in an attack on Sheikh Othman just outside Aden during which Lieutenants Mackinnon and Southern were killed. The Regiment saw further fighting in Aden before it returned to Egypt in September.

Lieutenant Vincent Walter Kenneth Mackinnon 53rd Sikhs

Lieutenant Vincent Walter Kenneth Mackinnon 53rd Sikhs was killed in action on 21 July 1915. Vincent was buried in Malla Cemetery in what is now Yemen. Vincent’s epitaph was taken from the hymn Now the laborer’s task is o’er by John Ellerton: Father, in Thy gracious keeping, Leave we now Thy servant sleeping.

In December, the Regiment moved to Mesopotamia (Iraq) where it served with the 28th Indian Infantry Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Indian Division. The situation in Mesopotamia had deteriorated when the 6th (Poona) Division had failed in its attempt to take Baghdad and had fallen back to Kut-al-Amara. Here it was besieged between December 1915 and April 1916 when the Division surrendered. The Regiment took part in the relief attempt in the Battles of Sheikh Saad (6-8 January 1916), Wadi (13 January 1916), Hanna (21 January 1916) and Dujaila (8 March 1916). There is a good war diary covering the Regiment’s service in Mesopotamia which can be downloaded for a small fee from the National Archives’ website (see below).

The 53rd Sikhs served in Mesopotamia until the 7th (Meerut) Division was moved to Egypt in January 1918. The most notable event during the Regiment’s service in Egypt was when it took part in the Battle of Megiddo (19 – 25 September 1918). The Regiment remained in the Middle East after the war and returned to India in August 1920. In 1922, the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) was redesignated as the 3rd Battalion 12th Frontier Force Regiment.

War Diaries of the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force)

There are four war diaries for the Regiment which are held at the National Archives. Only the second covering the Regiment’s service in Mesopotamia has been digitized and this can be downloaded for a small fee by clicking on the second blue link below. The other two war diaries can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have transcribed some entries from the war diaries at the bottom of the page.

  • Date: 01 October 1914 – 31 December 1915
  • 28th Indian Infantry Brigade, 10th Indian Division, Canal Zone
  • Reference: WO95/4421
  • Notes: A good war diary.
  • Date: 01 January 1916 – 31 December 1917
  • 28th Indian Infantry Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO95/5140/7
  • Notes: A very good war diary with plenty of information especially regarding the Kut relief attempts. There is a detailed description of the part played by 53rd Sikhs at the Battle of Dujaila, 08 March 1916. There are also reconnaissance reports on a portion of the Suwaikieh Marsh on 2 August 1916. British officers mentioned throughout the war diary. From January 1917 some Indian other ranks are mentioned by name with regimental numbers. There is a list of Indian promotions on 23 March and 17 April 1917.
  • Date: 01 January 1918 – 31 March 1920
  • 28th Indian Infantry Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Indian Division, Egyptian Expeditionary Force
  • Reference: WO95/4715
  • Notes: Another good war diary with most months containing nominal rolls of British officers present. Two and a half page appendix “report on Operations of 28/29 May 1918” and operational orders with sketch map of Signal Communications. Another appendix describes a raid carried out “on the Turkish Trenches South of Tabsor Hill”, 27 July 1918. Between March and September 1919 there are very few entries.
  • Date: 01 December 1921 – 31 January 1922
  • 2nd Indian Division, Kohat District
  • Reference: WO95/5410
  • Notes: A short war diary. There is a typed transcript after the handwritten diary.

Further Sources for the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force)

If you are researching British or Indian officers who served with the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) then the Indian Army List can be consulted. A good resource for the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) is its confidential reports which are held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etcThese reports also contain the annual reports for the British officers serving with the Regiment. However, when the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) was serving abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with the Regiment are reported on. 

Historical Records of the 3rd Sikhs 1847 – 1930 by Claude Innes Shepherd. A useful book but not one of the best histories which needs to be used in conjunction with the war diaries which I have described above. A difficult book to get hold of as it hasn’t been reprinted, I looked at a copy at the British Library.

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Extracts from War Diaries of the 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force) (Crown Copyright: National Archives)

01 October 1914 – 31 December 1915, Canal Zone, WO95/4421

21 July 1915 – Marched from the bivouac by the main road to Sheikh Othman as far as Chowki No.4 from here moved by road via Chowki No.5 through salt pans to a point on the road 300 yards north of the salt pans.

4.15 am Commenced deployment to the let. 4.40 am Deployment finished. 5 am. Commenced advancing to open out the lines. 5.10 am Enemy opened fire from Dr. Young’s House.

5.20am Party of enemy issuing (?) from sunken ground tried to turn our left flank but were beaten off by a small left flank guard. 6.15 am. Sheikh Othman taken enemy retiring in direction of Dar Amir.

Regiment reformed and advance was continued to Bir Muhammad where the front lines came under shrapnel fire from direction of Nobat.

21 July 1915 – 1.15 pm – Retirement from Bir Muhammad commenced regiment joining part of the rearguard. Regiment were allocated the perimeter of Sheikh Othman from the North-West corner of the village via the South West Corner and Dr Young’s house to the South-West Corner of the Residency Garden. Two companies outposts. Two companies general reserve. Whole regiment in billets. The casualties of the regiment in the attack on Sheikh Othman were. Killed 2 British Officers, 2 NCOs and men, 1 Transport follower, 1 horse and 4 mules. Wounded: 21 NCOs and men. Missing: 1 man.

22 July 1915 – 7 am – Aden – Funeral of Lieutenant V.W.K. MacKinnon and Lieutenant G .C. Southern both killed in action on July 21 1915.

01 January 1916 – 31 December 1917, Mesopotamia, WO95/5140/7

10 February 1916 – Sandbag Trench – Message received from 21 Brigade “Enemy formed bodies in our front” 5.30 am heavy rifle and gun fire on both sides which went on till 6.40am. No casualties – Night 9 – 10 heavy rain fell and morning 10 was very misty.

19 February 1916 – Manchester Trench – Received orders to detail 2 working parties of 1 British Officer and 25 men to dig two communication trenches from Front Line 75 yards forward. Work started 7m and finished 4 am 20th. 1 man killed in digging parties and 2 wounded… From 8.40pm to 9.10pm Turks poured in heavy fire on working parties. There was perpetual sniping all night.

22 February 1916 – Manchester Trenches 6 am – Stood to arms at 6.00 am according to orders. Men had a days cooked rations, Our artillery bombarded enemy trenches for about half an hour. Hostile aeroplane seen but out of range for rifle fire. A fatigue of 50 men worked on and finished B trench. 7 pm party sent out to bring dead in front of B trench. No other work during night. Very quiet night.

09 January 1917 – The 2 Leicestershire Regiment, 53 Sikhs and 56 Punjabi Rifles each sent out a raiding party of 2 British officers and from 30-38 men to attack and raid three independent objectives in the enemy’s first line. All three raids were boldly and successfully carried out under an artillery barrage and most of the (?) parties returned at 5.15am with useful information [list of casualties follow, name and service number].

2nd Lieutenant Arbuthnot was shot through the head and fell into the Turkish trenches. From observations made yesterday, there is little doubt that the body of 2/Lieutenant Webb was lying on the enemy’s trenches, together with two other men, probably Lance Naiks Baz Khan and Fazl Dad.

The body of Teja Singh appears to be lying in No man’s land near his bad of bombs. The body of a fourth man – Abdul Rakhim, is believed to have been inside the Turkish trenches. It is regretted that it was impossible to ? the bodies of these gallant officers and men. During the retirement under heavy hostile machine gun, rifle and artillery fire, it is very credible and noteworthy that ? wounded men arrived back into our trenches, some by means of assistance, where they were speedily attended to by a medical officer – Captain Stones RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps], who was lent for the occasion and did good work.

1 January 1918 – 31 March 1920, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, WO95/4715

01 and 02 May -… Our patrols still leave much to be desired. They are clumsy and make far too much noise. Men cough and stumble and are nervous. There is however a big improvement, especially among the scouts, since we first started patrolling.

01 December 1921 – 31 January 1922, Kohat District, WO95/5410

28 December 1921 – Mohd Khel – Party militia deserters still reported. No convoy. Circular road built round camp for operations of armoured cars at night. Heavy rain during night. Animal enclosure broken into and two camels stolen. Picquets of 2/69 Punjabis opened fire with rifles and Lewis gun. No apparent result.

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