This article looks at the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) and will help you to research the Regiment and those who served with it. I have written other guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army:
The 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) in the First World War
On the formation of the Regiment in 1803, James Skinner chose a distinctive yellow uniform which led to the regiment’s nickname of the ”yellow boys”. By the time of the First World War, the full yellow kurta (a long top, best illustrated in the standing figure) had been relegated to dress-uniform only. The National Army Museum has a photograph of an officer’s kurta in their collection which I recommend having a look at: Skinner’s Horse Kurta. This watercolour is one of a series painted by A. C. Lovett to illustrate The Armies of India by Lieutenant-General Sir George MacMunn. The other soldier is from the 3rd Skinner’s Horse.
Lineage: Raised by Captain James Skinner, in 1803 from a body of Perron’s Horse (in Sindhia’s service) who joined the British forces after the Battle of Delhi, and styled Captain Skinner’s Corps of Irregular Horse’. This title was abbreviated to Skinner’s Horse. In 1823 became the 1st Regiment of Local Horse, then the 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry in 1840, the 1st Regiment of Bengal Cavalry in 1861 and the 1st Regiment of Bengal Lancers in 1896. In 1899 the 1st (the Duke of York’s Own) Regiment of Bengal Lancers, the 1st (Duke of York’s Own) Bengal Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) in 1901 and the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) in 1903. In 1921 the Regiment was amalgamated with the 3rd Skinner’s Horse to form the 1st/3rd Skinner’s Horse which became the 1st Duke of York’s Own Skinner’s Horse in 1922.
Composition in 1914: 4 Squadrons of Hindustani Musalmans.
Location in July 1914: The 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) was stationed at Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) having arrived from Dera Ismail Khan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) on 28 March 1912.
The 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) was stationed at Peshawar on the North West Frontier when war was declared in August 1914. The Regiment stayed in India, much to the chagrin of its officers and men, for the duration of the First World War. Despite this, the Regiment sent a large number of drafts to other regiments. The 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) was inspected by Lieutenant-Colonel P. Holland Pryor on 3 December 1914:
Training good and drill particularly good, and quiet. Fire control good, but range practices not very satisfactory. The regiment is well mounted and the horses are very fit. The regiment is particularly well trained, especially the Indian officers.
Interior economy satisfactory. Due economy is practised as regards clothing deductions, and there were no unauthorised stoppages. The school is very well managed, the regimental books are in good order, and the happy men are contented and happy.
Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, British officers, etc. for 1914-1915: IOR/L/MIL/7/17024
While there are no war diaries for this period, the Regiment does have detailed confidential reports which can be consulted at the British Library. While serving on the North West Frontier the Regiment saw service against the Mohmands and carried out numerous patrols on the frontier. The following quote is taken from the Regimental History:
In closing this account of the work of the 1st Lancers in the Great War, it is only fair to the Regiment to call attention to the manner in which, in spite of its disappointment at not being privileges, owing to its position in the 1st (Frontier) Cavalry Brigade in India, to proceed overseas as a unit, and also in spite of the very heavy and continuous drain on its strength of British and Indian officers, trained soldiers and horses, it maintained its reputation as a trained Cavalry Regiment in India. It proceeded three times on field service to the Mohmand Border and its annual inspection reports were always excellent, the last report in 1918 being to effect that it had maintained its pre-war standard.
The Regiment served in the Third Anglo-Afghan War and there is a war diary covering the period between May and September 1919. After the war, the Regiment moved to Lucknow arriving on 5 February 1920. The Regiment served briefly in Persia between December 1920 and January 1921 before returning to Lucknow. In 1921 the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) was amalgamated with the 3rd Skinner’s Horse to form the 1st/3rd Skinner’s Horse which became the 1st Duke of York’s Own Skinner’s Horse in 1922.
Researching a Soldier who Served in the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse) during the First World War
Researching a soldier who served in the 1st Lancers during WW1 is a difficult task compared to other Indian cavalry regiments. This is because the regiment remained in India during the war and left no war diaries and the regimental history (discussed below) is poor. I would suggest first looking at my guides to Researching the Indian Army in WW1 which will explain Indian ranks, medals etc. Clicking on the blue links will take you to a new page. There is a war diary for the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919) which should be looked at as many soldiers were still serving in 1919.
British Officers: First check for a service record at the British Library and then the National Archives. If an officer was commissioned into the Indian Army Reserve of Officers check for an application. As the regiment remained in India for the duration of the war, its British officers were subjected to annual reports which are contained within the regimental confidential reports. If no service record is available you must check these reports as they contain valuable information.
Indian Officers: Difficult to research due to the lack of war diaries. The Indian Army List should be looked at and in particular the war service statements in January editions. Try to get the latest war service statement you can as they aren’t very detailed in the first years after WW1. The Indian Army List will record the officer’s enlistment and promotion dates, etc. and whether he was attached to another cavalry regiment. If he was you’ll want to look at the war diaries of the regiment. The regimental history records Indian officers who were awarded land grants.
Indian Rank and File: A difficult regiment due to the lack of war diaries. If you know the soldier’s service number then an approximate enlistment date can be worked out. The regimental history records Indian soldiers who were awarded land grants.
War Diary of the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (Skinner’s Horse)
There is only one war diary for the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers which hasn’t been digitized and can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have transcribed some entries below.
- Date: 06 May – 10 September 1919
- North West Frontier Force, 1st Cavalry Brigade
- Reference: WO 95/5391
- Notes: A very detailed war diary for the month of May after which entries become a lot briefer. There are a number of orders as appendices.
Further Sources for the 1st Skinner’s Horse
The best source of information concerning the 1st Lancers is its confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers who were serving with the regiment. The Indian Army List will provide information regarding the Regiment’s stations prior to the outbreak of war.
Regimental History: The History of the Skinner’s Horse by Major A. M. Daniels. This short book covers the history of the Regiment (as well as that of the 3rd Skinner’s Horse) from its founding to 1922 with 14 pages devoted to is service in the First World War. The History of Skinner’s Horse has been reprinted and can be bought online.
Extracts from War Diary of the 1st Skinner’s Lancers
06 May – 10 September 1919, North West Frontier Force, WO 95/5391
13 June 1919 – Robat Camp – 2 cases of cholera occurred in the Regiment and ended fatally. One other case going on all right.
25 July 1919 – Party of tribesmen raided camel camp south east of perimeter during night and took 16 camels. Shouts were heard but situation was not known and they got away by Garhi Ghakmi pass unmolested.
8 August 1919- Information received at 15.00 hours that peace had been signed at Rawalpindi at 11.00 hours.
13 August 1919- Reconnaissances cancelled till further notice.