83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry

This article on the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry provides an overview of its service during the First World War and will help you research those who served with the Regiment. This is just one of a series of articles I’ve written on the Indian Army during the First World War:

The 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry in the First World War

Lineage: Raised by Captain E. Tolfrey at Madras in 1794 as the 33rd Battalion of Madras Native Infantry. It became the 1st Battalion 12th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry in 1797 and the 1st Battalion 12th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry, or Wallajahbad Light Infantry in 1812. Then in 1824 the 23rd Regiment of Madras Native Infantry or Wallajahbad Light Infantry and the 23rd (Wallajahbad) Regiment of Madras (Light) Infantry in 1885. Then the 23rd (Wallajahbad) Madras Light Infantry in 1901 and the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry in 1903. In 1922, the unit was redesignated as the 4th Battalion 3rd Madras Regiment and was disbanded in 1923.

Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Madrasi Muslims, 2 Companies of Tamils and 2 Companies of Paraiyans and Christians. 1919: 2 Companies of Madrasi Muslims, 1 Company of Tamils and 1 Company of Paraiyans and Christians.

Location in July 1914: The 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry was stationed at Secunderabad in the present-day Indian state of Telangana, having arrived from St Thomas Mount, Madras, now Chennai in Tamil Nadu on 23 October 1911.

The 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry was an Indian infantry regiment which spent most of the First World War at Secunderabad, where the unit was stationed on the outbreak of war. While stationed in the city, the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry served as part of the 9th (Secunderabad) Division. The Regiment was never highly thought of and spent the early years of the war training and incorporating Punjabi Christians into its ranks. While the bulk of the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry remained in India, the Regiment did provide a large draft to its linked regiment the 63rd Palamcottah Infantry shortly after the outbreak of war. This draft suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Tanga, in German East Africa on 4 November 1914. The Regiment also lost its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Ralph Nethersole, on 30 December 1915 when the SS Persia was sunk in the Mediterranean. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.

83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry

By February 1917, the Regiment was stationed at Mandalay in Burma, now Myanmar with detachments at Rangoon and Thayetmyo. Half of the Regiment stationed somewhere in the Persian Gulf. The unit was serving with the Burma Division at the time but wasn’t part of a brigade. On 13 July 1917, the Regiment received orders “to mobilize and proceed on field service” while stationed back at Secunderabad. There is a war diary covering the unit’s service from the date of its mobilization until December 1918. Unfortunately, it’s very poor. Leaving Secunderabad on 14 July, the unit travelled to Bombay where it arrived two days later. Embarking on board the Hired Transport Shuja on 16 July, the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry disembarked at Magil, near Basra in southern Mesopotamia, now Iraq on 26 July.

After the Regiment arrived in Mesopotamia it served on the lines of communication and had an uneventful war. From April 1919, the Regiment served with the 36th Indian Brigade and took part in the suppression of the 1920 Iraqi Revolt. The soldiers serving with the Regiment qualified for the General Service Medal with Iraq clasp and their medal index cards have survived. These can be viewed for free on Ancestry. The Regiment either returned to India in late 1920 or early 1921 and in the July 1921 Indian Army List was stationed at Cannanore, now Kannur. In 1922 the 83rd Wallajahbad Infantry was redesignated as the 4th Battalion 3rd Madras Regiment and was disbanded the following year.

War Diaries of the 83rd Wallajahbad Infantry

There are two war diaries for the 83rd Wallajahbad Infantry neither of which are particularly detailed. The war diaries were written by British officers of the Regiment and recorded its location and activities. Both diaries have been digitized and can be downloaded for a small fee from the National Archives’ website by clicking on the blue links. I have also transcribed some entries from the war diaries below.

  • Date: 10 July 1917- 31 December 1918
  • Lines of Communication, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5247/9
  • Notes: A poor war diary where the majority of months contain only a short paragraph listing the Regiment’s activities. There are monthly nominal rolls of British officers serving with the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry in December 1917 and between March and May 1918.
  • Date: 01 April 1919 – 30 April 1920
  • 36th Indian Brigade, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5051/1
  • Notes: Another poor war diary. Between April and August 1919 each month consists of a summary of the Regiment’s activities with subheadings including duties, detachments, leave, training and effective strength. Between September 1919 and April 1920, each month is written on a single page and the vast majority of dates have no entry. From September 1919 each month contains a list of British officers serving with the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry.

Further Sources of Information for the 83rd Wallajahbad Infantry

An important source of information for the 83rd Wallajahbad Light Infantry are its 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 who served with the Regiment. These reports were also found in officers’ service records but very few have survived from this period. For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the Regiment, the Indian Army List can be consulted. The medal index cards for the General Service Medal can be viewed either on Ancestry or the National Archives’ website. I’d recommend viewing them on Ancestry as they are free and in colour.

Extracts from War Diaries of the 83rd Wallajahbad Infantry

01 April 1919 – 30 April 1920, Mesopotamia, WO 95/5051/1

05 May 1919 – Hamadan, Persia – The Regiment was commanded by Lt Colonel R. W. C. Keays. Duties. At Baghdad from 1 to 10 April consisted of about 200 Indian other ranks daily. Relieved on 10 April by 62nd Punjabis.

July 1919 – Duties. Daily guards totalling about 80 Indian other ranks…. Training. Individual training continued, Nos. 1 and 2 platoons completed musketry course. Lewis gun sections of B Company also completed Lewis gun course. Nos. 3 and 4 platoons and Lewis gun sections of C Company are firing and Nos. 5 and 6 platoons are doing preliminary musketry at present… Effective Strength. British officers 9, Indian officers 11 and Indian other ranks 564.

September 1919 – Duties. Daily station guards totalling about 60 Indian other ranks… Training. A Company completed annual musketry course. 3 platoons C Company Lewis Gun sections and D Company completed Lewis gun range practices, B Company doing preliminary musketry and firing annual course. A Company Lewis gun sections doing preliminary training…

February 1920 – Hamadan North Persia – Practically all outdoor training had to be suspended during this month on account of snow and ice.

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