128th Pioneers

This article is about the 128th Pioneers and will help you to research those who served with the Regiment during the First World War. I have also written an article on the war-raised 2nd Battalion 128th Pioneers and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view these guides click on the links below:

The 128th Pioneers in the First World War

Lineage: Raised by Lieutenant Colonel R. Taylor at Ahmednagar in 1846 as the 28th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, then the 28th Regiment of Bombay Infantry in 1885, the 28th (Pioneer) Regiment of Bombay Infantry in 1888, the 28th Bombay Pioneers in 1901, the 128th Pioneers in 1903 and the 3rd Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers in 1922.

Composition in 1914: 2 Companies of Yusufzais, 2 Companies of Rajputana Musalmans, 2 Companies of Sikhs and 2 Companies of Dekhani Mahrattas. 1919: 1 Company of Yusufzais, 1 Company of Rajputana Musalmans, 1 Company of Sikhs and 1 Company of Dekhani Mahrattas.

Location in July 1914: The 128th Pioneers was stationed temporarily at Sitapur (Uttar Pradesh, India), having arrived from Meerut (Uttar Pradesh, India) on 26th February 1914.

The 128th Pioneers was stationed at Sitapur when the First World War began in August 1914.  The Regiment was inspected by Major-General Charles Alexander Anderson, Commanding 7th (Meerut) Division, on 13 February 1914:

The battalion is well instructed and trained; manoeuvres well and steadily in the field; musketry satisfactory; pioneer work very good and thorough; trenching, road-making and bridging very satisfactory. The Director-General of Military Works informed me that he also was very pleased with the bridging, entrenching, platelaying and demolitions…

Generall a good battalion with a good record in which it takes a proper pride. Works well as infantry in addition to being good at all pioneer work. The Indian Officers seem to exercise their initiative and control their companies well in action. Thoroughly fit for service both as infantry and pioneers.

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

The 128th Infantry received orders to mobilize on 13 October 1914 and proceeded to Allahabad on 17 October and subsequently to Bombay where the Regiment arrived on 31 October 1914. There, the Regiment boarded the Hired Transport Monteagle which sailed from Bombay on 2 November 1914. Below is an extract from the October 1914 Indian Army List which recorded the British officers serving with the 128th Pioneers.British officers 128th PioneersThe 128th Pioneers arrived at Suez, Egypt on 18 November 1914 and moved into camp at the Serapeum Post between Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake. The Regiment remained there apart from a brief period at Moascar until in moved to Ismailia in March 1915. The Regiment helped to repel the Turkish attack on the Suez Canal on 2/3 February 1915 but apart from this its service in Egypt was uneventful.

In December 1915, the 128th Pioneers left Egypt for Mesopotamia (Iraq), where the 6th (Poona) Division was under siege in the town of Kut-al-Amara. The Regiment took part in the failed attempts to relieve the Kut garrison and after its surrender helped improve the trenches in the Sannaiyat position. Further information for these events can be found in the war diaries of the Regiment and the regimental history of the Bombay Pioneers. In June 1916, the Regiment joined the 7th Brigade, 3rd Division. The regimental history recorded (P278-279) how the 128th Pioneers spent the rest of 1916:

From June till December, the 128th Pioneers dug many wells in the Dujaila depression, worked on the Light Railway under construction from Shaikh Saad t Sinn, which subsequently was continued to Atab on the Hai, and built blockhouses to protect the railway from marauding Arabs. Frequent dust hurricanes and the heat which sometimes reached 120′ F. in the shade, made life none too comfortable.

History of the Bombay Pioneers 1777-1933 by Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. P. Tugwell.

The Regiment took part in General Maude’s offensive which commenced in December 1916 and the 128th Pioneers reached Hinaidi, near Baghdad on 13 March 1917. The Regiment then moved to Saifayfia near Ctesiphon where it constructed a bund to prevent flooding from Lake Akkaquf. The Regiment then worked on the Baghdad-Samarra railway before moving to Baquba in June to work on the town’s defences. The History of the Bombay Pioneers records the Regiment’s work at the beginning of 1918 when it moved to Persia:

It was decided to make the rough track from Khaniqin, through Qasr-i-Shirin, then over the Pai Taq pass to Kirind and Kermanshah and onwards fit for motor traffic, so early in 1918 the 128th Pioneers crossed the frontier into Persia for this work.

The Regiment spent the year working on the Pai Taq pass. In April 1919, just as the 128th Pioneers was about to return to India, fighting broke out in Kurdistan. The most notable engagement for the Regiment during this campaign was an attack at Suwara Camp on 14 August 1919 where the 128th Pioneers suffered 34 casualties. The Regiment returned to Baghdad in October 1919 and subsequently onto Nasiriya. Medal Index Cards do survive for some of the Regiment who served in Kurdistan and I have discussed these below in the further sources section. In 1922, the 128th Pioneers was redesignated as the 3rd Battalion 2nd Bombay Pioneers.

War Diaries of the 128th Pioneers

There are six war diaries for the 128th Pioneers and the five war diaries covering Mesopotamia and Persia have been digitized by the National Archives. To download these war diaries for a small fee click on the blue links below. The first war diary covering Egypt has not been digitized and can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have copies of all the war diaries.

  • Date: 13 October 1914 – 30 November 1915
  • Canal Zone Defences, Egypt
  • Reference: WO 95/4422
  • Notes: A good war which is more detailed than is usual for a unit guarding the Suez Canal in 1914-15. Though there are still a large number of days with no entry.
  • Date: December 1915 – June 1916
  • 3rd (Lahore) Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5102/2
  • Notes:
  • Date: July 1916 – December 1917
  • 14th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5171/1
  • Notes:
  • Date: 01 January – 30 September 1918
  • 14th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5171/2
  • Notes: A very detailed war diary with lists of British officers serving with the Regiment at the end of each month.
  • Date: October 1918 – February 1919
  • 14th Indian Division
  • Reference: WO 95/5171/3
  • Notes:
  • Date: 01 March 1919 – 31 January 1920
  • 18 Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5222/10
  • Notes: Apart from a major attack on Suwara Camp on 14 August 1919, very little occured. The war diary records the strength of the Battalion daily. At the end of each month there are handwritten appendices, listing British officers serving with the 1st Battalion 128 Pioneers, work done, weather report etc. There are two sketches included “Rough Sketch Map of Suwara Camp” and “Rough Sketch of work at Zawith October 1919”. There is a list of Indian Officers with the 128th Pioneers when it arrived at Bombay on 24 January 1920 (of the 11 Indian Officers, 7 held gallantry medals).

Further Sources for the 128th Pioneers

If you are researching a British or Indian officer who served with the 128th Pioneers then the Indian Army List can be consulted. A good source of information concerning the 128th Pioneers is the regimental confidential held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etcThese reports also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers who served with the 128th Pioneers though only the Depot and its officers are reported on when the Regiment is overseas.

I’d recommend looking at a History of the Bombay Pioneers 1777-1933 by Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. P. Tugwell. This is a very good book which covers the history of the 128th Pioneers along with the 12th, 48th and 121st Pioneers. This book has been reprinted by the Naval & Military Press.

Medal Index Cards have survived for some of the Indian officers and men who qualified for the Indian General Service Medal with Kurdistan Clasp. These can be viewed on Ancestry or downloaded from the National Archives’ website for a small fee. I’d recommend viewing the cards on Ancestry as they are free to view, in colour and also include the reverse. If you click on the banner below you’ll be taken to Ancestry.

Extracts from War Diaries of the 128th Pioneers

13 October 1914 – 30 November 1915, Canal Zone Defences, WO 95/4422

13 October 1914 – Sitapur – Regiment employed on preparing aerodrome for Indian Central Flying School. Telegraphic orders to mobilize as for Force “A” received. Officer Command Reserve centres ordered to call out reservists.

20 October 1914 – Allahabad – Depot detailed and recruits to be taken on service selected.

26 October 1914 – Allahabad – 60 reservists of 100 who had rejoined detailed (on being passed fit) for field service. Issue of clothing and equipment received complete.

28 October 1914 – Telegraphed to 121st Pioneers Jhansi for 2 Non-commissioned officers and 53 men to complete to Field Service establishment.

26 November 1914 – Serapeum – One Double Company (4th) crossed Suez Canal and took over the Bridge-head post on the East bank from the 2nd Rajputs. Two double-companies began preparing an entrenched defensive position in the vicinity of this post.

22 December 1914 – 1 platoon from Deversoir and 1 platoon from Serapeum East bank posts moved out 10 miles East to try to recapture three deserters (Pathans) who had left Deversoir post during the night.

23 December 1914 – Serapeum – 1 Company each from Deversoir and Serapeum and 50 camel sowars Bikanir Camel Corps moved out East t try to recapture deserters. Captain Tobin with camel sowars followed them for about 35 miles, where their tracks, about 8 hours old, fell in with those of a party of Bedouin Arabs. The infantry camped in high sand hills about 10 miles East of canal.

24 December 1914 – Serapeum – The above parties returned to their posts.

03 February 1915 – Toussum – 3.30 am – Enemy attempted to cross Suez Canal by boats south of Toussum. Platoon under Lieutenant Fitz-Gibbon and Jemadar Indar Singh has hand to hand fight with paty of the enemy which succeeded in landing. Casualties Lieutenant Fitz-Gibbon dangerously wounded (did next day) 3 killed, 4 wounded. 2 prisoners taken, and enemy fled to East bank of canal in boats. Platoon continued firing from West bank until 7.30 am when relieved by a party of 2nd Rajputs.

09 May 1915 – 7 1/4 miles North East of Kantara – 7.20 am – Two Arab traders were stopped close to our bivouac and questioned. They had left Katia the previous morning and were going to Kantara market. One had come via Romani and the other via Bir el Nuss. They stated that they saw or heard nothing of the Turks at Kati or Bir el Nuss

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