21st Punjabis

This article is about the 21st Punjabis and will help you to research the Regiment and soldiers who served with it during the First World War. I’ve written a separate article for the 2nd Battalion 21st Punjabis and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the First World War. To view the guides click on the blue links below:

The 21st Punjabis in the First World War

Lineage: Formed at Kohat by Lieutenant N. E. Boileau in 1857 from 8 companies transferred from the 3rd and 6th Punjab Infantry and was designated the 9th Regiment of Punjab Infantry. In 1861 the Regiment’s designation changed twice, first to the 25th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and then the 21st Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry. Then the 21st (Punjab) Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry in 1864 and the 21st (Punjab) Regiment of Bengal Infantry 1885. The 21st Punjab Infantry in 1901 and the 21st Punjabis in 1903. Then in 1922 the 10th Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment (this was a training battalion).

Class Composition of Battalion in 1914 : 3 Companies of Pathans, 1 Company of Punjabi Musalmans, 3 Companies of Sikhs and 1 Company of Dogras. 1919: 1 1/2 Companies of Pathans, 1/2 a Company of Punjabi Musalmans, 1 1/2 Companies of Sikhs and 1/2 a Company of Dogras.

Location in August 1914: The 21st Punjabis was stationed at Peshawar, North West Frontier (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) having arrived from Bannu (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) on 30th November 1911.

The 21st Punjabis was an Indian infantry regiment which spent the majority of the First World War in India on internal security details. In 1915, the 21st Punjabis was part of the Khyber Movable Column and saw action against tribesman on the North West Frontier. During 1916, the 21st Punjabis served at Tank from 7 March and then took over the Gomal outpost between May and October. The Regiment supplied drafts to the 20th and 26th Punjabis in 1916. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers who were serving with the Regiment.

British Officers 21st PunjabisDuring 1917, the Regiment took part in the relief of Sarwakai which has been invested by Mahsud tribesmen and subsequently in operations against Barwand. The 21st Punjabis saw extensive service on the North West Frontier between March and June 1917 and the Regimental History provides a full account. The Regiment remained on the Frontier until late 1917 when it moved to Rawalpindi (Punjab, Pakistan) and was mobilised for service with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in 1918.

On the 5 March 1918, the Regiment embarked on board the Hired Transport Karadeniz at Karachi (Sindh, Pakistan) and set sail to join the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The 21st Punjabis disembarked at Suez, Egypt on 18 March 1918 after an uneventful journey. On arrival, the Regiment joined the 160th Infantry Brigade in the 53rd Welsh Division.

There is a good war diary covering the Regiment’s activities with the 160th Infantry Brigade between March 1918 and March 1919. The Regiment spent its first couple of months in Egypt at Tel el Kebir where it trained intensively before it moved to Ludd on 21 May 1918. The Regiment spent the next the next months in a variety of camps before it moved to Camp Killia on 26 August 1918. The Regiment took part in the Battle of Megiddo between 19 and 25 September 1918 and there is a good account of the battle as an appendix in the war diary. After the battle, the 21st Punjabis moved to Ramleh (near Tel Aviv, Israel), before being sent back to Egypt and arrived at Kantara (50km south of Port Said, Egypt) on 31 October 1918. The 21st Punjabis then moved to Camp Mustapha, Alexandria, where they remained until 2 January 1919 when it moved to Camp Gabbardy, Alexandria, and then to Camp Sidi Bishr, Alexandria on 15 February 1919.

In April 1919, the 21st Punjabis joined the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Lahore Division in which the Regiment served until February 1920. The 21st Punjabis moved to Damascus (Syria) in April 1919 where it remained until late November when it moved to Bir Salem. The Regiment remained at Bir Salem until January 1920 when it moved back to Egypt and arrived at Bilbeis on 20 January 1920.

On 16 March 1920, the 21st Punjabis embarked on board His Majesty’s Transport Answald to join the 242nd Brigade, 28th Division which was in Turkey. Unfortunately, the war diary ends on 31 March 1920 when the Regiment was at Ismid. The 21st Punjabis likely returned to India in the winter of 1920 and was stationed at Ferozepore (Firozpur, Punjab, India) in the July 1921 Indian Army List. In 1922 the 21st Punjabis became the 10th Battalion 14th Punjab Regiment which was the Regiment’s training battalion.

The Regiment raised a second battalion at Jubbulpore (Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India) on 16 October 1917 and I have written a separate article about the Battalion here: 2nd Battalion 21st Punjabis.

War Diaries of the 21st Punjabis

There are three war diaries for the Regiment and they can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have copies of all the war diaries and have transcribed some entries below.

  • Date: 01 March 1918 – 31 March 1919
  • 160th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Welsh Division, Egyptian Expeditionary Force
  • Reference: WO 95/4632
  • Notes: A good war diary where the writer doesn’t hold back when it comes to expressing his opinion. There are a few appendices including Operation Order No.6. dated 18 September 1918 and extracts from the Regimental History. A few Indian casualties are mentioned in the war diary with their regimental number also recorded.
  • Date: 01 April 1919 – 28 February 1920
  • 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Lahore Division, Egyptian Expeditionary Force
  • Reference: WO 95/4703
  • Notes: While slightly more detailed than most war diaries of this period, a lot of the entries are short and contain a daily comment on the weather. The hour of various parades and training exercises are recorded.
  • Date: March 1920
  • 242nd Infantry Brigade, 28th Division
  • Reference: WO 95/4925
  • Notes: Despite only being a month in length this war diary is 9 pages with an appendix listing drafts and battle casualties. The war diary contains plenty of information regarding the 21st Punjabis’ move from Belbeis, Egypt to Ismid, Turkey.

Further Sources for the 21st Punjabis

A very good source of information for the Regiment is its confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers of the Regiment. However, when the Regiment was abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it are reported on. For information regarding the British and Indian officers who served with the 21st Punjabis, the Indian Army List should be consulted. 

There is also a regimental history: Records of the I/XXI Punjabis by Major P. Murray. A short book which can be used to supplement information found in the regimental war diaries. Its real value is in the descriptions of the Regiment’s activities in India before it joined the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately, this book is difficult to find as it has not been reprinted. I looked at a copy at the British Library.

Extracts from War Diaries of the 21st Punjabis

01 March 1918 – 31 March 1919, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, 01 March 1918 – 31 March 1919 WO 95/4632

04 July 1918 – 10 pm Patrol under Jemadar Shah Muhammad proceeded towards KH Amuriek (L.5B) but discovered nothing except the corpse of a British soldier.

05 July 1919 – 10 pm – stretcher party, sent out with evening patrol, returned with body of No. 5149 [51489] Private J Nicholls 2/10th Middlesex Regiment, vide entry of 4th. [Nicholls was killed in action on the 12 March 1918 and was from Nazeing, Essex].

12 July 1918 – Map C5 Bivouac L.27G – Full details received today regarding the turn over [?] from the Depot of ranks for the Depot 3rd Battalion 152nd Infantry. The total, especially of N.C.Os practically amounts to another Company, and apparently the higher authorities still consider that an Indian N.C.O. can be produced to their written order…

01 April 1919 – 28 February 1920, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, WO 95/4703

02 April 1919 – Alexandria – 08.45 – Commenced embarkation. Owing to ”non possumus” [we cannot] attitude of railway staff, all baggage tipped on to quay 100 yards from loading derrick and eventually had to be manhandled this distance, involving crossing the line of movements of the 2nd Battalion Guides Infantry whose baggage was unloaded 50 yards the wrong side of their derrick.

13 April 1919 -Damascus – Sikh festival of Baisakhi entailing a holiday for religious observation.

03 May 1919 – Damascus – The battalion provided a Guard of Honour of two Indian officers and 50 ranks for H.H. the Emir Faisal’s arrival. The ”Instructional Platoon” was utilised for the purpose and was the subject of a certain amount of complimentary remarks as to appearance and handling of arms. H.H. the Emir Faisal though ranking as an Army Commander did not inspect the Guard of Honour.

30 June 1919 – Damascus, Camp El Mezze – The conclusion of the Muhammadan ‘Fast of Ramzan’ coinciding with the date of signing the Peace Treaty by the Germans, should provide good propaganda uses.

14 July 1919 – Damascus, Camp El Mezze – 17.00 – Sikhs, Hindus, Muhammadans held thanksgiving services, in their respective religious tabernacles, for peace.

05 September 1919 – Damascus, Camp El Mezze -New range allotted to A Company today. C Company carried on with intensive training programme. On the range today No. 2920 Sepoy Mala Singh ran amok and shot and slightly wounded 2nd Lieutenant C.A. Pollard and Jemadar Baram Singh. He then shot himself.

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