This article is about the 23rd Sikh Pioneers and will help you to research the Regiment and the soldiers who served with it during the First World War. I’ve written separate articles for the war-raised 2nd and 3rd Battalions and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army. To view the guides click on the blue links below:
- 2nd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers
- 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers
- Researching Soldiers who served in the Indian Army
The 23rd Sikh Pioneers in the First World War
Lineage: Raised by Lieutenant R. H. Shebbeare at Lahore in 1857 as the 15th (Pioneer) Regiment of Punjab Infantry. Then in 1861, it became the 27th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and in the same year the 23rd Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry. Then in 1864, it became the 23rd (Punjab) Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry (Pioneers) and the 23rd (Punjab) Regiment of Bengal Infantry (Pioneers) in 1885. Then the 23rd Punjab Pioneers in 1901 and the 23rd Sikh Pioneers in 1903 and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Sikh Pioneers in 1922.
Class Composition of Battalion in 1914: 8 Companies of Mazbi and Ramdasia Sikhs. 1919: 4 Companies of Mazbi and Ramdasia Sikhs.
Location in July 1914: The 23rd Sikh Pioneers was stationed at the Lahore Cantonment (Punjab, Pakistan) having arrived from Ambala on 12th November 1913.
The 23rd Sikh Pioneers was stationed at Lahore Cantonment when the First World War began in August 1914. The Regiment received orders to mobilize on 10 October 1914 and its first action of the war was helping to destroy a Turkish fort on the Island of Perim, now in Yemen. The Regiment then moved to Aden on 12 November 1914 where the 23rd Sikh Pioneers was primarily involved in road building. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List and records the Indian officers serving with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers. The first column recorded when an officer enlisted into the Indian Army, though not necessarily the 23rd Sikh Pioneers and the numbers refer to courses passed.
In January 1916, the Regiment moved to Egypt where it landed at Suez on 25 January. The Regiment initially served as Divisional Troops for the 10th Indian Division and worked on the Suez Canal Defences. The 23rd Sikh Pioneers served as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force for the remainder of the war. After the war, the Regiment was moved to Turkey where they arrived at Constantinople (Istanbul) on 20 March 1919 and proceeded to the Black Sea. In 1922, the 23rd Sikh Pioneers became the 1st Battalion, 3rd Sikh Pioneers.
War Diaries of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers
There are five war diaries for the 23rd Sikh Pioneers and none have been digitized by the National Archives. The war diaries can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have copies of some of the war diaries and have transcribed some entries below.
- Date: 01 November 1914 – 31 December 1915
- Aden Force
- Reference: WO 95/5438
- Date: 01 January – 30 November 1916
- Suez Canal Defences
- Reference: WO 95/4432
- Date: 01 December 1916 – 30 June 1917
- 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, Suez Canal Defences, Egyptian Expeditionary Force
- Reference: WO 95/4436
- Notes: A poor war diary with either very brief entries, usually noting the number of soldiers transferred sick, or simply ”Nil”. The only appendix is a short two-page account on notepaper of a ”Report on the Reconnaissance in Search of the aeroplane. Little Bitter Lake” in March 1917.
- Date: 01 July 1917 – 28 February 1919
- General Headquarters Troops, Egyptian Expeditionary Force
- Reference: WO 95/4410
- Notes: An average war diary at best. The majority of the entries are short and usually consist of ”work as usual” or the number of Indian soldiers transferred to a Field Ambulance.
- Date: 01 March – 30 November 1919
- 27th Division, Black Sea Troops
- Reference: WO 95/4885
- Notes: A good war diary considering the period it covers. Provides a good account of the conditions faced by the Regiment with some long entries.
Further Sources for the 23rd Sikh Pioneers
A good source of information for the Regiment 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 serving with the Regiment. However, when the Regiment abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it were reported on. For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers, the Indian Army List should be consulted.
There is also a regimental history The History of The Sikh Pioneers by Lieut-General Sir George MacMunn which can be viewed for free online by clicking on the blue link below:
Extracts from War Diaries of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers
01 December 1916 – 30 June 1917, Suez Canal Defences, WO 95/4436
25th December 1916 – Point 1622 – Marched at 0500 to point 1622, arriving at 1000 camped. Christmas day – Cheery message dropped from an aeroplane. Imperial Camel Corps soldiers came round at dusk and sang carols. Rained a little.
8th March 1917 – Kilo 199 – Moved here and camped just clear of the Magruntine position held by the Turks at the affair of Raffa. An unsavoury spot found much stuff, 2 machine gun shields promptly made into hoes for Z Coy and much brass and copper, also a German Machine Gun mounting – very interesting, but by general consent not as good as ours.
6th June 1917 – Railway work restarted on the Shellal line. The portion allotted to the Regiment was taking the railway from the lip of the wadi down to approximately Bridge Rail Head. This involved 2 big cuts and 3 big fills with the misfortune that the completed work did not show the amount of work put in. The fills had concrete pipes in the bottoms. These pipes were not at once available which caused considerable delay to the work.
01 March – 30 November 1919, Black Sea Troops, WO 95/4885
01 March 1919 – At Sea – Entered the Dardanelles between Cape Helles and Kum Kale. Everyone very interested in Gallipoli… Proceeded up Narrows and past Gallipoli and entered Sea of Marmara about 13.00. Weather fine and cold.
05 March 1919 – Constantinople – Parties go ashore. Received orders to sail on 6 March 1919/ Everyone very pleased at having such an excellent opportunity to see the famous mosques and bazaars [?]as ships do not usually stay many hours here.
09 March 1919 – Batum – Arrived Batumi at 07.00 in pouring rain and mist. Snow on hills all round and first impressions rather gloomy…
06 April 1919 – Train to Tiflis – Still moving very slowly in the direction of Tiflis. Scenery very fine. Railway a marvellous piece of engineering work but system of working by Georgian authorities beyond description. Time no object.