12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment)

This article is about the 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment) and will help you to research either the Regiment or a soldier who served with it. I have written a separate article for the war-raised 2nd Battalion 12th Pioneers and a series of guides to help you to research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during WW1.

The 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment) in the First World War

Lineage: Raised by Captain W. F. Beatson at Ludhiana in 1838 as the 3rd Regiment of Infantry, Shah Shujah’s Force. In 1842 became the Regiment of Kelat-i-Ghilzie and in 1861, first the 13th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and then the 12th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry. In 1864 the 12th (the Kelat-i-Ghilzie) Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and the 12th (the Kelat-i-Ghilzie) Regiment of Bengal Infantry in 1885. In 1903 the designation was changed to 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment) and in 1922 to the 2nd Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers.

Class Composition of Battalion in 1914: 4 Companies of Jats and 4 of Lobana Sikhs. 1919: 2 Companies of Jats and 2 of Lobana Sikhs.

Location in August 1914: The 12th Pioneers was stationed at Quetta (Balochistan, Pakistan) having arrived from Kirkee (Khadki, Maharashtra, India) on 13th April 1914. 

The 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment) was an Indian pioneer regiment which was stationed at Quetta (Balochistan, Pakistan) when war was declared in August 1914. The Regiment initially served with the 4th (Quetta) Division and stayed in India for the duration of the war. The Regiment sent drafts to other Regiments including a Sikh Company to the 34th Sikh Pioneers which was later used to reform the 48th Pioneers. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the 12th Pioneers.

12th Pioneers British Officers

The 12th Pioneers served on the North West Frontier during the war and moved from Quetta to Peshawar, North West Frontier Province in February 1916 where it became part of the Peshawar Flying Column. The Regiment took part in the Mohmand Blockade, under the command of Brigadier-General Lionel Charles Dunsterville, before it moved to Lahore in April 1917. The Regiment then took part in punitive operations in Waziristan later in the year before it returned to Lahore. The Regiment also took part in the Marris Field Force and arrived at Dera Ghazi Khan on 9 March 1918. During the 12th Pioneers’ service with the Marris Field Force, it was mainly involved in improving roads and tracks. After the Marris were defeated the 12th Pioneers moved to Nowshera, North West Frontier on 6th May 1918.

The 12th Pioneers was at Nowshera when the Third Anglo-Afghan war broke out and served as part of the 15th Indian Division, North West Frontier Force. The 12th Pioneers spent the majority of the war at Jamrud, Landi Khana and Dakka and there is a war diary covering the Regiment between May and September 1919. The 12th Pioneers served on the North West Frontier after the war and was mobilised for service in Mesopotamia (Iraq) while at Nowshera on 9 August 1920. The Regiment served with the 6th Indian Division during the 1920 Iraqi Revolt and arrived at Basra on 17 August. Its first task was to build a series of blockhouses from Kut-al-Amara to Baghdad, before it moved to Baquba and then to Baghdad in February 1921. The Regiment served in Mesopotamia throughout 1922 and worked on road construction and repair. In 1922 the 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment) became the 2nd Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers. The Regiment raised a second battalion at Lahore Cantonment on 6 June 1916 and I have written a separate article about the Battalion here: 2nd Battalion (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment).

The service of the Sikh company is Mesopotamia is briefly outlined in History of the Bombay Pioneers by Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. P. Tugwell:

With the 34th Sikh Pioneers there came to Mesopotamia a Sikh company of the 12th (Kelat-i-Ghilzie) Pioneers, which had been with them in France for over a year. As the 34th received large reinforcements from India at the Wadi camp, this company of the 12th Pioneers was detached from the 34th Sikh Pioneers and became an independent company under Major R. J. Cuming and was allotted to Corps Troops. It worked with the Sappers and Miners on the trenches and communications before Hanna.

This Sikh company was later used as a nucleus for the reformed 48th Pioneers which had been captured Kut-al-Amara in April 1916. There is a war diary covering this detachment between February and June 1916. The Regiment’s machine gun section served in Persia during the war and the Regimental history contains an appendix covering its service: The 12th Pioneers Machine Gun Section in Eastern Persia by Major E. P. Yeates.

War Diaries of the 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment)

There are three war diaries for the Regiment and the first and last 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.The war diary covering the Third Anglo-Afghan War 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 bottom of the page.

  • Date: 18 February 1916 – 30 June 1916
  • Detachment, 15th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5189/6
  • Notes: An average war diary where daily entries are divided into weather and work done. Most days have short entries but there are a number which are more detailed. There is a list of all British and Indian officers and service numbers of other ranks (128) who were part of this detachment.
  • Date: 8 May – 19 September 1919
  • 15th Indian Division, North West Frontier Force
  • Reference: WO 95/5405
  • Notes: An average war diary at best where the daily entries have been divided into two. One contains a brief entry concerning the 12th Pioneers’ activities while the other recorded additions and reductions to the regiment (typically the number of Indian ranks transferred to hospital).
  • Date: 13 October – 30 November 1920
  • 6th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5118/6
  • Notes: A good war diary for a pioneer unit. The war diary lists the names and service numbers of men (100+) who leave and join the 12th Pioneers along with their company.

Further Sources for the 12th Pioneers

A very good source of information about the Regiment is its confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual reports of the British officers who served with the Regiment. For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 12th Pioneers, the Indian Army List should be consulted. Due to the Regiment’s service in the 1920 Iraqi Revolt, it qualified for the General Service Medal with Iraq clasp. A number of the Regiment’s Medal index Cards have survived and can be viewed online either on Ancestry or the National Archives’ website. I would recommend viewing them on Ancestry. There is also a regimental history of The Bombay Pioneers by Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. P. Tugwell which contains a history of the 12th Pioneers (The Kelat-i-Ghilzie Regiment) which became the 2nd Battalion, The Bombay Pioneers in 1922. This book has been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press and is also available to view and download for free online by clicking the link below:

Read and Download The History Of the Bombay Pioneers Online for Free

If you’d like to learn more about the Iraqi Revolt I’d 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 12th Pioneers

18 February 1916 – 30 June 1916, Mesopotamia, WO 95/5189/6

18 February 1916 – Wadi Camp – Detachment of 12th Pioneers for 48th Pioneers left 34th Pioneers and crossed river Tigris to Wadi Camp at 11 am. Formed into separate unit attached Corps Troops and known as Detachment 12th Pioneers. Unit consists of the following (Total Strength: 4 British officers, 1 Indian officer, and 128 rank and file).

10 March 1916 – Wadi Camp – Weather: Fine. Work done: Building bund along left bank of River Tigris.

3 April 1916 – Camp Divl Camp – Weather: Uncertain. Work done: Rifle inspection and bayonet fighting parade at 11 am.

14 May 1916 – Camp Wadi left bank – Weather: Fine. Work done: Chitab’s fort destroyed. Detachment moved out at 5 am to destroy fort with covering party of 45th Sikhs. Two round towers of fort destroyed with gun cotton, remainder with picks and crowbars. In the evening Wadi Post completed.

3 June 1916 – Camp Falaiyeh Right Bank – Weather: Fine and much cooler in early morning and evening. Dust and wind as usual. Work done: Ordered by Chief Engineer to fill in old trench running parallel to river in Headquarters Camp. Commenced work about 3.15 am but almost immediately stopped by General Gorringe. Kept men on site of work until enquiries had been made. About 3 hours out.

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