121st Pioneers

This article looks at the activities of the 121st Pioneers during the First World War and will help you research those who served with the Regiment. I have also written a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view the guides click on the link below:

The  121st Pioneers in the First World War

Lineage: Raised as the Marine Battalion at Bombay (Mumbai) in 1777, it became the 1st (or Marine) Battalion, 11th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry in 1818 and the 21st or Marine Battalion in 1824 and the same year The Marine Battalion. Then the 21st Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry (The Marine Battalion) in 1861, the 21st Regiment of Bombay Infantry (the Marine Battalion) in 1885, the 21st Bombay Infantry (the Marine Battalion) in 1901, the 21st Bombay Pioneers in 1903, the 121st Pioneers in 1903 and the 10th Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers in 1922. This was the Regiment’s training battalion.

Composition in 1914: 2 Companies of Dekhani Mahrattas, 2 of Rajputana Musalmans, 2 of Western Rajputana Jats and 2 of Pathans. 1919: 1 Company of Dekhani Mahrattas, 1 Company of Rajputana Musalmans, 1 of Western Rajputana Jats and 1 Company of Pathans.

Location in July 1914: The 121st Pioneers was stationed at Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh, India) having arrived from Quetta (Balochistan, Pakistan) on 2nd March 1914.

The 121st Pioneers was stationed at Jhansi in August 1914 and had been inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir M. H. S. Grover, Commanding 4th (Quetta) Division earlier in the year who reported:

The Brigade Commander’s report brings to notice several defects in the efficiency of the Battalion, of which the most serious are deterioration in musketry standard, slackness in turn-out and on guard duty, as shown by crime statistics, noise when working and inferior training in pioneer work. The two last points were commented on last year and should have been corrected.

The fact that the Battalion had a wing at Kacha line building for several months may explain some of these shortcomings, but should not be accepted by the Commanding Officer as an excuse for a moment.

When working in the field with the rest of the Division, as a weak battalion during the last training season, I found that physically the men are much better than they appear at first sight, and were quite fit for work at the end of any long day. The points noticed must, however, be taken in hand in earnest by all ranks and not excused if the Battalion is to be in line with others.

I consider the Battalion is, subject to these remarks, fit for service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914IOR/L/MIL/7/17023.

The 121st Pioneers remained in India for the first two years of the war before being ordered to Mesopotamia (Iraq) to replace the 107th Pioneers. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.120th Rajputana Infantry British Officers 1914The Regiment was stationed at Tank when it received orders to mobilise on 1 September 1916 with orders for its Trans-Frontier Pathans to be left in India to join the 107th Pioneers. The Regiment left India at Kiamari, Karachi on board Hired Transport Purnea on 23 September 1916 and disembarked at Margil, near Basra, Mesopotamia on 30 September 1916. Between September 1916 and December 1917, the 121st Pioneers served with the 7th Meerut Division and there is a war diary available for this period.

The 121st Pioneers moved to Egypt in January 1918 and arrived at Suez on 15 January 1918. The Regiment was still serving as part of the 7th Meerut Division which was now part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. There is a war diary covering the period between January 1918 and December 1919. The 121st Pioneers returned to India early next year and in the April 1920 Indian Army List was stationed at Kirkee (Khadki, Maharashtra, India). The Regiment served as part of Waziristan Force from October 1920 and there is another war diary covering the period between October 1920 and January 1922. In 1922, the 121st Pioneers became the 10th Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers. This was the 2nd Bombay Pioneers’ Training Battalion.

War Diaries of the 121st Pioneers

There are three war diaries for the 121st Pioneers but as of January 2018, only the war diary covering the Mesopotamia Campaign has been digitized. This document can be downloaded for a small fee by clicking on the first blue link below. The other two war diaries can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have copies of all the war diaries and have transcribed some of the entries at the end of the page.

  • Date: 01 September 1916 – 31 December 1917
  • 7th (Meerut) Division
  • Reference: WO 95/5134/8
  • Notes: A good war diary for a pioneer regiment which has been digitized and is available to download from the National Archives’ website. There is a nominal roll of British officers serving with the 121st Pioneers on 1 December 1916 and sketches throughout.
  • Date: 01 January 1918 – 31 December 1919
  • 7th (Meerut) Division, Egyptian Expeditionary Force
  • Reference: WO 95/4709
  • Notes: An average war diary. Most entries are brief and relate to work undertaken by the companies of the 121st Pioneers. There is a map of the Roman- Road from Jerusalem to Jericho dated 20 July 1918.
  • Date: 01 October 1920 -31 January 1922
  • Waziristan Force
  • Reference: WO95/5398
  • Notes: The war diary contains daily entries which consist of a short sentence detailing work undertaken by the Regiment. I have transcribed some entries below.

Further Sources for the 121st Pioneers

For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the 121st Pioneers, the Indian Army List should be consulted. A good source of information for the Regiment is the 121st Pioneers’ confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etcThese also contain the annual reports of the British officers who served with the Regiment. However, when the Regiment was abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it were reported on.

There is a very short regimental history: Brief History of the 121st Pioneers 1915-1922 by W. B. P. Tugwell. This is a 34-page narrative history of the Regiment’s service during the First World War and in the years before it was redesignated as 10th Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers. There is a list of British officers who served with the 121st Pioneers in the First World War. Unfortunately, there’s little new information to be found in the book which can’t be gleaned from the Regiment’s war diaries. This is a difficult book to find and I looked at a copy at the British Library.

A better alternative to the regimental history is the History of the Bombay Pioneers 1777-1933 by Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. P. Tugwell. This is a very good book which also covers the history of the 12th, 48th, 107th and 128th Pioneers and has been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press. The book can be read and downloaded for free online here: History of the Bombay Pioneers.


Extracts from War Diaries of the 121st Pioneers

01 January 1918 – 31 December 1919, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, WO 95/4709

4 January 1918 – 1 sepoy reported missing from hospital, suffering from fever. Presumption and court of enquiry is he has been drowned.

The question of keeping the Pathans of Swabi tribe and ditto of Mardan in separate rep 1/2 companies can no longer be adhered to as it causes injustice among good men as regards promotion owing to exigencies of service. After the promotions authorised under D.A.G. G.H.Q. No. 12642 of May 18 the classes were mixed up and promotions can now be made in the company and not in half companied as ?. This distinction which appears to me to have been unsatisfactory, as unhealthy rivalries and jealousies have resulted there from, and there is a tendency to intrigue.

01 October 1920 -31 January 1922, Waziristan Force, WO 95/5398

01 October 1920 – Kirkee – Battalion entrained Kirkee for Tonk. Strength British Officers 9 Indian Officers 13. Indian Other Ranks 448, Followers 62.

01 November 1920 – Ladha – 1 Indian Officer and 40 Indian other ranks brick making. 4 Indian officers 60 Indian other ranks repairing road camp to nullah.

04 May 1921 – Ladha – A Company constructed Piaza Camp C piquet. B Company marched to Piaza Raghza Camp. Working on temporary defences of Piaza Camp.

Guides to Researching Soldiers who Served in the Indian Army

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