This article on the 81st Pioneers aims to help you research either the Regiment or a soldier who served with it during the First World War. I have also written a separate article for the short-lived 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers and have created 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:
- Guide to the 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers
- Guides to Researching Soldiers who Served in the Indian Army
I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
The 81st Pioneers in the First World War
Lineage: Formed at Chicacole (Srikakulam) by Captain G. Roberts in 1786 from the Ganjam Sebundy Corps, and drafts from the 11th and 18th Madras Battalions, and was designated the 28th Madras Battalion. In 1796 the Regiment became the 1st Battalion, 11th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry and the 21st Regiment of Madras Native Infantry in 1824. The 21st Regiment of Madras Infantry in 1885 and the 21st Regiment of Madras Infantry (Pioneers) in 1891. Then the 21st Madras Pioneers in 1901 and the 81st Pioneers in 1903. Then the 10th Battalion 1st Madras Pioneers in 1922. This was the Regiment’s training battalion.
Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Tamils, 2 Companies of Madrasi Musalmans and 2 Companies of Paraiyans and Christians. 1919: 2 Companies of Tamils, 1 Company of Madrasi Musalmans and 1 Company of Paraiyans and Christians.
Location in July 1914: The 81st Pioneers was stationed at Belgaum (Belagavi, Karnataka, India) having arrived from Bangalore (Bengaluru, Karnataka, India) on 16th March 1912.
The 81st Pioneers was stationed at Belgaum, India when the First World War broke out as part of the Belgaum Brigade, 6th (Poona) Division. However, the Regiment would be moved to the Nowshera Brigade, 1st (Peshawar) Division which remained in India for the duration of the war. The 81st Pioneers was inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Arnold Barrett, Commanding 6th (Poona) Division in 1914 who wrote:
This is a very efficient and well trained Battalion. I saw them at contract work this year and was much pleased with the keenness shown by all ranks to do well, under the capable control of the officers. The men are in excellent condition, and up to any amount of hard work. They have done no field training this winter, but judging from the high standard attained when I saw them last season, they should be quite fit to take their place in brigade. There is plenty of esprit-de-corps, and the Battalion is quite fit for active 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 and recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.
The Regiment remained in India until 1918 and it is very difficult to trace the movements of the 81st Pioneers as there are few records to consult. The 81st Pioneers served on the North West Frontier during the war and took part in the Mohmand Blockade in 1916. The Regiment moved to Persia (Iran) in the spring of 1918 and served there until early 1919. Unfortunately, no war diaries have survived for the Regiment which raised a second battalion in 1918: 2nd Battalion 81st Pioneers.
Once back in India, the 81st Pioneers was stationed at Dhond (Daund, Maharashtra, India). The Regiment was mobilized during the Third Anglo-Afghan War and served with the North West Frontier Force at Jamrud from the 26 May 1919. In the July 1921 Indian Army List, the 81st Pioneers was stationed at Secunderabad. The Regiment was redesignated as the 10th Battalion 1st Madras Pioneers, the regiment’s training battalion, in 1922.
War Diaries for the 81st Pioneers
There are no war diaries for the 81st Pioneers.
Further Sources for the 81st Pioneers
A very important source of information for the 81st Pioneers is its regimental confidential reports which are held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual confidential reports of British officers who served with the Regiment and are a great resource. For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the 81st Pioneers, the Indian Army List can be consulted. Photographs of the Mohmand Blockade, including a rare photograph of the 81st Pioneers, can be viewed here: Mohmand Blockade.