This article will provide you with an overview of the history of the 108th Infantry during the First World War and help you research those who served with the Regiment. I have written a series of guides to help you research those who served in the Indian Army during the First World War. These guides can be viewed by clicking on the links below:
108th Infantry in the First World War
Lineage: Raised at Bombay in 1768 as the 1st Battalion of Bombay Sepoys, it became the 7th Battalion of Bombay Sepoys in 1788 and the 2nd Battalion, 4th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1796. The 8th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1824, the 8th Regiment of Bombay Infantry in 1885 and the 8th Bombay Infantry in 1901. It was designated the 108th Infantry in 1903 and became the 3rd Battalion 4th Bombay Grenadiers in 1922.
Composition in 1914: 2 Companies of Dekhani Mahrattas, 2 Companies of Konkani Mahrattas, 2 Companies of Punjabi Musalmans and 2 Companies of Rajputana Musalmans. 1919: 1 Company of Dekhani Mahrattas, 1 Company of Konkani Mahrattas, 1 Company of Punjabi Musalmans and 1 Company of Rajputana Musalmans.
Location in July 1914: The 108th Infantry was stationed at Bangalore (Bengaluru, Karnataka, India) having arrived from Aden (Yemen) on 24th January 1912.
The 108th Infantry was stationed at Bangalore when the First World broke out in August 1914. The Regiment had been inspected by Brigadier-General Wapshare, Commanding Bangalore Brigade on 1 March 1914 who reported:
Turn-out: Very satisfactory.
Efficiency in drill: Satisfactory.
Manoeuvre: Much improved.
General efficiency: Very satisfactory. The regiment has much improved since last reported on. Clothing complete and no unauthorised stoppages.
Fitness for active service: Fit.
Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914: IOR/L/MIL/7/17023
The 108th Infantry had an undistinguished war, with the Regiment dispersed apart from brief periods. For the first year of the war, the 108th Infantry was split up on internal security details, mostly around Bombay. Half of the Regiment was sent to Aden in the summer of 1915, but there is no surviving war diary of its service. The 108th Infantry in Aden would garrison Perim Island but I am unsure of the Regiment’s exact movements. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.
In 1917, the 108th Infantry was sent to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and there is a war diary covering the period between June 1917 and December 1918. During this period, the Regiment was serving on the Euphrates Defences and Communications (Lines of Communication). The war diary is poor, but the Regiment was reported to have been at Muscat (Oman) before it arrived at Basra on 2 June 1917. The following comment is written in the war diary of the 108th Infantry on 16 November 1918:
During the whole of the Great War I [?] to again point out the difficulties which the 108th Infantry have to had to content against. The 108th Infantry have not had a chance of distinguishing itself once during the whole 4 years of the Great War except for a small party in a small engagement at [?] in Persia. All ranks feel greatly the neglect. The 108th infantry has been in all the bad stationed from a health and training point of view ie Bombay, Perim [Island in the Red Sea], Kameran [another Island in the Red Sea] and Muskat [Muscat, Oman] and there all the most distasteful work of the army.
The 108th Infantry is one of the oldest regiments in the army. It links the 101st and 109th [who] have both had appointment likewise [in] new formations but the 108th Infantry not once. Since November 1914, the 108th Infantry has been split up into detachments all over the place and only been together as a Regiment for one month ie October 1918 during the whole 4 years and it is again split up.
In January 1919, the 108th Infantry joined the 34th Infantry Brigade, 17th Indian Division and there is a war diary covering the period between January 1919 and November 1920. The Regiment took part in the suppression of the 1920 Iraqi Revolt and qualified for the General Service Medal with Iraq Clasp. The Medal Index Cards for the General Service Medal with can be viewed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives’ website. I recommend viewing them for free on Ancestry.
In December 1920, the 108th Infantry joined the 77th Infantry Brigade, 17th Indian Division and there is a war diary covering the period between December 1920 and January 1921. The 108th Infantry returned to India in 1921 and in the July 1921 Indian Army List was stationed at Aurangabad. In 1922, the 108th Infantry became the 3rd Battalion 4th Bombay Grenadiers.
War Diaries of the 108th Infantry
There are three war diaries for the 108th Infantry and all have been digitized by the National Archives. To download the war diaries for a small fee click on the blue links below which will take you to the National Archives’ website.
- Date: 01 June 1917 – 31 December 1918
- Euphrates Defence and Communications, Headquarters and Communications
- Reference: WO 95/5029/2
- Notes: A poor war diary with limited entries which mostly concern the number of men evacuated sick. The only appendices are two nominal rolls of British officers serving with the 108th Infantry in March and May 1918.
- Date: 01 January 1919 – 30 November 1920
- 34th Indian Infantry Brigade, 17th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO 95/5209/4
- Notes: A poor war diary for the majority of the 23 months with brief entries, though some months contain detailed summaries of the 108th Infantry’s activities. The only interesting entry for the first year is on 1 February 1919, where there is a 2 page comment on educating the Indian soldier. However, October 1920 contains longer entries. The only appendices are an “Advance Guard Operation Order” dated 16 October 1920 and an “Operation Order No.2” dated 21 October 1920.
- Date: 01 December 1920 – 31 January 1921
- 75th Indian Infantry Brigade, 17th Indian Division
- Reference: WO 95/5214/8
- Notes: A short war diary which provides an overview of the Regiment’s activities prior to their departure to India. General Haldane’s farewell speech to the 108th Infantry is transcribed below.
Further Sources for the 108th Infantry
A good source of information for the 108th Infantry are its confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These confidential reports also contain the annual reports of the British officers who served with the 108th Infantry. However, when the Regiment was abroad only its Depot and the officers who served with it are reported on. For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 108th Infantry, the Indian Army List should be consulted. The Medal Index Cards for the General Service Medal with can be viewed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives’ website. I’d recommend viewing them on Ancestry where they are free to view.
If you’d 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 Charles Townshend.
Extracts from War Diaries of the 108th Infantry
01 January 1919 – 30 November 1920, WO 95/5209/4
07 December 1920 – 108th Infantry formed part of the left of road column and marched along fair road via Mufraz Post to camp. Bellumns with tents and great coats did not arrive till 22.00 hours, so we all slept in the open. Very cold night. West Yorks and 1/10 Gurkhas joined us.
12 December 1920 – Khan Nugtah – Long march today ? hours and did not arrive till 16.00 hours. Tents and great coats on train which did not arrive, so men had to sleep in open and without great coats. Heavy dew at night and cold.
05 January 1921 – Baghdad – The 108th Infantry was paraded for inspection and presentation of medals… The following speech was also delivered by him [General Haldane] to the Regiment:
As the 108th Infantry is about to return to India, I take this opportunity of expressing to them personally my appreciation of their gallantry in defending Kufa against all efforts of the Arabs to capture it. When the relief column was sent to assist the garrison, I ordered that part of the Regiment, which were not in the siege, should take part in the operation. This they did with success and I congratulate them on being so fortunate as to have helped to rescue their comrades. I wish you all success on your departure for India and in future.