This article on the 87th Punjabis has two main aims, to give you an overview of the Regiment’s activities during the First World War and to help you research a soldier who served with it. In addition to this article, you should look at my Guides to Researching Soldiers who served in the Indian Army for more information. I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service if you’re looking to research a soldier who served in the British or Indian Armies.
87th Punjabis in the First World War
Lineage: Raised by Major A. Lindsay at Trichinopoly in 1798 as the 1st extra Battalion of Madras Native Infantry and became the 1st Battalion, 14th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry during the same year. Then the 27th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry in 1824 and the 27th Regiment of Madras Infantry in 1885. In 1901 it became the 27th Madras Infantry then the 87th Punjabis in 1903 and finally the 5th Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment in 1922.
Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Punjabi Musalmans, 2 Companies of Sikhs and 2 Companies of Jats. 1919: 2 Companies of Punjabi Musalmans, 1 Company of Sikhs and 1 Company of Jats.
Location in July 1914: The 87th Punjabis was stationed at Jhelum (Punjab, Pakistan) having arrived from Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh, India) on 23rd November 1909.
The 87th Punjabis was an Indian infantry regiment which served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during the First World War. While the Regiment remained in India until 1917 it sent large drafts to other regiments and the majority of its dead during the war died serving with other units. When the First World War began in August 1914 the Regiment was stationed at Jhelum, a city in what is now the Punjab, Pakistan. The Regiment served with the Derajat Brigade before it was mobilized at Dera Ismail Khan, North West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan)on 18 December 1916. The Regiment arrived at Basra on 7 March 1917 and served on the Tigris Defences and Lines of Communications between March 1917 and August 1918. There is a war diary covering this period but it is very poor.
In September 1918, the 87th Punjabis began serving with the 55th Indian Infantry Brigade, 18th Indian Division and there is a war diary available between September 1918 and January 1921. Unfortunately, it is very poor. The 87th Punjabis took part in operations to quell the 1919 Kurdish Revolt and its soldiers qualified for the General Service Medal with Kurdistan clasp. These Medal Index Cards have survived and can be viewed online on Ancestry or the National Archives‘ website. I recommend viewing them on Ancestry as they are free and in colour.
After returning to India the Regiment was stationed at Multan (Punjab, Pakistan) with a detachment at Nowgong (Madhya Pradesh, India). In 1922 the 87th Punjabis became the 5th Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.
War Diaries of the 87th Punjabis
War diaries are very useful documents which record a unit’s daily activities and location. Unfortunately, the war diaries for the 87th Punjabis aren’t very detailed but they are still useful. Both war diaries have been digitized by the National Archives’ and can be downloaded for a small fee by clicking on the blue links below.
- Date: 28 December 1916 – 31 August 1918
- Tigris Defences and Communications, Aziziyeh, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO95/5020/6
- Notes: A poor war diary with little detail. Appendices include lists of British officers serving with the 87th Punjabis from October 1917, a variety of transcribed orders and the establishment of the regiment. A detailed sketch map of Dialah Railway Station Defences, July 1917, Scale 1” to 100 yards.
- Date: 01 September 1918 – 31 January 1921
- 18th Indian Division, 55th Indian Infantry Brigade, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO95/5230/4
- Notes: A poor war diary which has a few interesting appendices. There are lists of British officers serving with the 87th Punjabis for most months and also the Regiment’s strength. The appendices include Summary of events of detachment with D Column (1 1/2 pages), Attack on Bazyan Pass (1 page), Demonstration against Gurguder (1 page), Demonstration against Abu Obaidah (2 pages) with a sketch map. There are additional appendices covering operations in October 1920.
Further Sources of Information for the 87th Punjabis
A very good source of information for the 87th Punjabis and the British officers who served with it are the Regimental Confidential Reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the 87th Punjabis, the Indian Army List can be consulted. The Regiment’s Medal Index Cards for the General Service Medal with Kurdistan Clasp have survived and can be viewed online through Ancestry or the National Archives‘ website. I recommend viewing them for free on Ancestry’s website.
If you would like to learn more about the Mesopotamia Campaign I can recommend When God Made Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia and the Creation of Iraq 1914-1921 by Professor Charles Townshend.
Extracts from War Diaries of the 87th Punjabis (Crown Copyright: National Archives)
28 December 1916 – 31 August 1918, Mesopotamia, WO95/5020/6
7 March 1917 – Basrah – Arrived Basrah at 4 PM. Received orders to proceed to Zeur.
18 March 1917 – PS 22 – Arrived Azizie 3.30 PM. Received verbal ordered to garrison Zeur, Lajj and Bawi.
15 April 1917 – One company from Ctesiphon crossed over Tigris and took over Safiyiah post from 128th Pioneers.
23 May 1917 – 1 Indian officer and 56 Indian other ranks rejoined from 14th Sikhs.
19 July 1917 – Railway Bridge over Dialah completed, protection of bridge taken over.
6 September 1917 – Defence of road bridge over Dialah river taken over from the Malerkotla Imperial Service Sappers.
1 October 1917 – Orders received to bring strength of Cassells and Coningham Posts to 250 rifles. Detachment of 1 British officer, Indian officers 3, Indian other ranks 261 withdrawn from Ctesiphon, returned to HQ.
9 October 1917 – Escort of 1 Indian officer and 25 rifles proceeded with 269 Siege Battery to Baqubah, up left bank Dialah. Draft of 49 Indian other ranks wounded, leave men returned.
31 December 1917 – Orders received to take over Lajj and Bustan posts from 1/6th Gurkhas from 10th January, 90 rifles at Lajj and 125 at Bustan.
1 May 1918 – Special Kakezais Company (K Coy) absorbed into the Regiment with effect from today.
18 June 1918 – Major S. M. H Bailie transferred to 1st Battalion 153rd Infantry. Reinforcements of 2 Indian officers, 137 Indian other ranks arrived from India.