Distribution Lists of the Indian Army 1908-1920

This page looks at an important collection of documents held at the British Library in London which recorded the location of Indian Army units and also the station of British Army units serving in India and Burma, now Myanmar. This is one of a series of articles I’ve written to help you research those who served in the Indian and British Armies during the First World War:

Distribution of the Army in India

The British Library in London holds a large collection of documents which record the location of Indian Army units and British units serving in India and Burma, now Myanmar. They are some of the most important documents available for those researching the Indian Army during the First World War. A lot of the information they contain, regarding where a unit was stationed, along with its detachments can’t be found elsewhere, and when it can, it’s often a painstaking process to track it down. The collection runs from November 1908 until 1947 in one form or another. This article looks at the documents between November 1908 and December 1920 when it was known by the following titles:

  • Stations of the several corps of the Army in India, corrected in accordance with reports received up to and for 20 November 1908
  • Distribution of the Army in India, dated the 1 June 1915
  • Distribution of the Army and Royal Air Force in India, dated the 1 March 1920

The documents in the series have a variety of start dates. The first issue on 20 November 1908 was followed by another on 18 December 1908, then the third on 1 January 1909 and the fourth on 1 February 1909. Each month has at least one list, with most being published on either 1st or 15th. From 1 June 1917 onwards, there is only one list per month.

Where can I view the Distribution Lists?

The lists can only be viewed at the British Library in London as none of the series has been digitized. They can be ordered to the Asia and Africa Reading Room on the third floor of the library. To view the documents, you will need a reader’s ticket. The catalogue numbers run between IOR/L/MIL/17/5/771 for the first list issued on 20 November 1908 to IOR/L/MIL/17/5/937 for 1 December 1920. If you click on the two links, then click “Browse this Collection” it will show which volumes are available. The distribution lists do not appear in the main British Library’s catalogue but in the archives and manuscripts catalogue. When I have ordered the documents, they have come bound into large volumes containing multiple lists. As they are so large, it’s best to use one of the book supports which can be found in the reading room.

What Information do the Distribution Lists Contain?

The information contained in the distribution lists varies very slightly depending on the year it was published. I have used the Distribution of the Army in India Dated 1st August 1916: IOR/L/MIL/17/5/883 as an example. The list starts off with a distribution list, recording how many copies were sent out and to where. Over 150 copies were sent out, with the Secretary of the War Office receiving four, the Chief of the General Staff twenty-six and the Recruiting Officer at Delhi one. Royal Flying Corps units in India are then listed which at the time was only the No.31 Squadron based at Risalpur. It was serving as part of the 1st (Peshawar) Division at the time. No further information was recorded but there are columns for detachments. British cavalry regiments are then listed, though most were serving abroad at the time. The 7th (Queen’s Own) Hussars was stationed at Meerut with a detachment at Kailana. Information regarding detachments is very important as they aren’t usually recorded elsewhere. The 7th Hussars is shown as serving with the 4th Cavalry Brigade. When a unit was on active service abroad, only the expeditionary force it was with is recorded e.g. the 1st (King’s) Dragoon Guards was shown as serving with Indian Expeditionary Force A which hade been sent to France in 1914.

After British cavalry came the Royal Horse Artillery, followed by Royal Field Artillery, Ammunition Columns and the Royal Garrison Artillery. There are so few records to consult for British units serving in India during the war that without the distribution lists, it is often impossible to find where they were stationed. After the artillery comes the Royal Engineers, Machine Gun Corps, Armoured Car Units and British infantry. Units of the Indian Army then follow. Pre-1914, a lot of this information could be found in Indian Army Lists which were usually published quarterly. However, the October 1914 edition was the last of the war to publish the stations of Indian units. Also, as it was only published quarterly, the Indian Army List often didn’t record short-term detachments. A large number of Indian Army units remained in India for the duration of the war, so the lists are invaluable in working out where they were stationed. Also, for those sent abroad, the location of the unit’s depot was recorded. Indian cavalry regiments were recorded first, then Indian artillery, the Sappers and Miners, divisional signal companies, Indian infantry including the Nepalese Contingent, followed by medical units and transport units. The latter includes the companies of the Mule Corps, Silladar Camel Corps and Grantee Camel Corps. These companies are some of the hardest units to research of the Indian Army. The mechanical transport companies then appear, followed by educational and training establishments.

Then there is a new section showing the “Distribution by Stations on the 1st August 1916”. If you want to know which units were at a particular location, this is the section of the document to consult. It is divided by formation, with the 1st (Peshawar) Division the first recorded. It lists the stations alphabetically, followed by a column for troops and then a remarks column. Serving at Malakand on 1 August 1916 were the 38th Dogras, two companies of the 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry and a detachment of the Frontier Garrison Artillery. In the remarks column, it was recorded that the 38th Dogras had two companies at Chakdara, the 1st Battalion’s Headquarters was at Nowshera and the Headquarters of the Frontier Garrison Artillery was at Kohat. Meanwhile, at Gyantse in Tibet, there was a detachment of the 113th Infantry. The final part of the document is a “Summary of the Distribution of the Army in India on the 1st July 1916”. This recorded how many battalions, cavalry regiments, Royal Field Artillery batteries etc. were serving in each divisional area or brigade. It also recorded the numbers of British officers, Indian officers, Warrant Officers, rank and file etc. serving at the time, including the numbers in the Volunteer Force.