This article looks at the 36th Sikhs and will help you to research the Regiment and those who served with it during the First World War. I have also written a series of guides which will help you to research those who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view the guides click on the blue link below:
The 36th Sikhs in the First World War
Lineage: Formed in May 1858 in consequence of the Indian Mutiny as the Bareilly Levy. In 1861 its designation changed twice, becoming first the 40th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and subsequently the 36th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry. In 1864 it became the 36th (Bareilly) Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry and it was disbanded in 1882. The Regiment was raised again by Lieutenant Colonel James Cook at Jullundur (Jalandhar) in 1887 as the 36th (Sikh) Regiment of Bengal Infantry. In 1901 it became the 36th Sikh Infantry and the 36th Sikhs in 1903 and the 4th Battalion 11th Sikh Regiment in 1922.
Class Composition 1914: 8 Companies of Sikhs. 1919: 3 Companies of Sikhs and 1 Company of Hindu Jats. 1922: 2 Companies of Sikhs and 2 Companies of Punjabi Muslims.
Location in July 1914: The 36th Sikhs was stationed at Tientsin, (Tianjin, China) having arrived from Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh, India) on 27th May 1914.
The 36th Sikhs was an elite regiment of the Indian Army which was stationed at Tientsin, (Tianjin, China) when the First World War began in August 1914. The Regiment had received glowing annual reports in the years before the war. For 1913-14, it was inspected by Major-General A. Wilson, Commanding Lucknow (Infantry) Brigade in its confidential report for 1913-14 who reported:
Efficiency in drill: Very satisfactory.
Manoeuvre: Very satisfactory.
Musketry: Very satisfactory.
Signalling: Very satisfactory.
Care of equipment: Satisfactory.
Personnel: Very satisfactory.
Discipline: Very satisfactory.
Recruits: Of prescribed classes.
Interior economy: Very good. Due economy is practised as regards clothing deductions.
Individuality and independence of action of all ranks is properly encouraged. A very well trained and disciplined battalion. In all respects fit for active service.
Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914: IOR/L/MIL/7/17023
The Regiment was given a “Very Satisfactory” report for 1913-14 as it had been for 1912-13 which was the highest grade. The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment. The Indian Army List is an important resource if you’re researching Indian regiments or officers and I have created a page to help you with its jargon: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.
The 36th Sikhs served in a variety of theatres in the First World War but unfortunately, there is no war diary for the Regiment before March 1916. Part of the Regiment saw action as the Siege of Tsingtao where it arrived along with the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers in late October 1914. The token Anglo-Indian force joined the Japanese in the siege of the German concession with land operations lasting between 31 October and 7 November 1914.
A small detachment of the Regiment was based in Singapore when the 5th Jat Light Infantry mutinied in February 1915. At some point between February and August 1915, the Regiment returned to India and proceeded to the North West Frontier. The 36th Sikhs took part in the Battle of Shabkadar, near Peshawar on 5 September 1915, against Mohmand tribesman. The Regiment saw further fighting later in the month before it left India for Mesopotamia (Iraq) in February 1916.
The Regiment’s war diary starts on 1 March 1916, with the 36th Sikhs at Basra, Mesopotamia. The Regiment initially served with the 37th Infantry Brigade, 14th Indian Division and took part in the Kut-al-Amara relief attempts. On the 12 April, the 37th Brigade attacked Turkish positions near Beit Isa, across waterlogged ground. The attack wasn’t a success, with the water reaching over two feet high in places. The 36th Sikhs suffered nearly 200 casualties and there’s not much to report for the rest of 1916.
The 36th Sikhs next battle was to be its last of the war when the 37th Brigade launched an attack on Turkish positions approximately 1.5 miles southwest of Kut as the crow flies on 1 February 1917. The 36th Sikhs and 45th Sikhs suffered one of the worst casualty rates of the Indian Army during the entire war. The official history recorded:
Out of a total of 17 British officers, 30 Indian officers and 1,280 other ranks actually engaged in the two battalions, 16 British officers, 28 Indian officers and 988 other ranks had become casualties. These casualties speak for themselves.
The war diary recorded that the 36th Sikhs went into the attack with 10 British officers, 15 Indian officers and 618 other ranks. After the battle, “the Regiment now totalled 3 British officers, one of whom was wounded, one Indian officer and 85 men”. The Regiment was withdrawn from the front, left the 37th Brigade and was used on the lines of communication at Amara for the rest of the year. The Regiment spent many months at Baqubah in 1918 before it moved to Hamadan, Persia (Iran) 200 miles southwest of Tehran in September, arriving on 6 October. The 36th Sikhs served as part of the 36th Indian Infantry Brigade, North Persia Force during this period. The Regiment moved back to Kut-al-Amara in May 1919 where it remained until it left Mesopotamia for India in October 1919. Once back in India, the Regiment moved to Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh, India) where its Depot was located. In 1922, the 36th Sikhs became the 4th Battalion 11th Sikh Regiment.
If you’d like to learn more about the Mesopotamia Campaign I can recommend When God Made Hell by Charles Townshend.
War Diaries of the 36th Sikhs
There are six war diaries for the Regiment and the first five 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 last war diary hasn’t been digitized and can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have copies of all war diaries and have transcribed some of the entries below.
- Date: 01 March 1916 – 28 February 1917
- 37th Indian Infantry Brigade, 14th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO 95/5181/1
- Notes: Overall a good war diary. There is a sketch of the position of the 14th Division on 30 January 1917 (Scale 6” to 1 mile) and a number of typed copies of messages sent to the 36th Sikhs, the most interesting being a copy of an address by Army Commander to all ranks of 36th and 45th Sikhs, on 21 February 1917. Also, a two-page “account of the Occupation of Gunning Trenc h and the Attack on the 1 February 1917”, 2 typed A4 pages.
- Date: 01 March 1917 – 31 January 1918
- Tigris Defences and Communications, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO 95/5018/6
- Notes: A poor war diary with few entries. There is a nominal roll of British officers serving with the Regiment in December 1917.
- Date: 01 February – 31 August 1918
- Tigris Defences and Communications, Mesopotamia
- Reference: WO 95/5035/8
- Notes: Very little occurred as the 36th Sikhs are on Lines of Communication Defences. In February and June, there are nominal rolls of British officers.
- Date: 01 September 1918 – 31 May 1919
- 36th Indian Infantry Brigade, North Persia Force
- Reference: WO 95/5047/6
- Notes: Very little happened and a large number of the entries consist of “Nil”. There are nominal rolls of British officers serving with the 36th Sikhs between September 1918 and January 1919 and May 1919.
- Date: 01 July – September 1919
- Tigris Defences and Communications
- Reference: WO 95/5024/7
- Notes: A very poor war diary where the majority of daily entries consist of “Nil”. There is a list of British officers serving with the Regiment on 30 September 1919.
- Date: 09 February – 31 March 1921
- 8th Indian Infantry Brigade, Waziristan Force
- Reference: WO 95/5399
- Notes: Only 4 pages in length and very little happened during this period with the majority of the entries for March are “Nothing to Report”.
Further Sources for the 36th Sikhs
If you are researching a British or Indian officer who served with the Regiment then the Indian Army List can be consulted. A good source for the 36th Sikhs is its confidential reports held at the British Library in London: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual reports of the British officers serving with the Regiment. Though when the 36th Sikhs was abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it were reported on.
There is a regimental history Saragarhi Battalion: Ashes to Glory by Kanwaljit Singh and H. S. Ahluwalia written by two officers who served with the unit. Only a handful of its 300+ pages are devoted to the Regiment’s First World War service, though these contain information which is difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere. This is a very difficult book to find and I looked at a copy at the British Library.
Extracts from War Diaries of the 36th Sikhs
01 February – 31 August 1918, Mesopotamia, WO95/5018/6
25 February 1918 – Baqubah – General Officer Commanding on inspection of duty, proceeded to Abu Jisra. Lieutenant W. J. E. Proctor, 35th Sikhs, arrived as reinforcement. Orders received to transfer one company Jats as a nucleus to the 47th Sikhs and to receive in exchange a draft of Sikhs which had proceeded to them as a reinforcement from the Depot 36th Sikhs. Composition of both Regiments now definitely settles as a temporary measure during the War as 3 Companies Sikhs, 1 Company Jats.
09 February – 31 March 1921, Waziristan Force, WO95/5399
09 February – 16.00 hours – Regiment entrained for Waziristan. Strength British Officers: 9, Indian Officers 12, Indian Other Ranks 586.
15 February – Regiment marched to Laidgi. Distance 14 miles to relieve the 2/154 Indian Infantry in the Laidgi Section being part of the Lines of Communication, Tochi Line, 8th Indian Infantry Brigade. C Company relieved No. 3 tower on the way.