3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers

This article is about the war-raised 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers and will help you to research the Battalion and the soldiers who served with it during the First World War. I’ve written separate articles for the 1st and 2nd Battalions and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view the guides click on the blue links below:

The 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers in the First World War

Lineage: The 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers was formed at Jullundur (Jalandhar, Punjab, India) on 20 January 1918 and disbanded on 30 April 1922. For a history of the Regiment’s lineage see my page on the 1st Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers.

Class Composition of Battalion in April 1919: 4 Companies of Mazbi and Ramdasia Sikhs.

The 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers was a short-lived Indian pioneer battalion formed at Jullundur (Jalandhar, Punjab, India) on 20 January 1918. The Battalion’s first commanding officer was Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Eustace George Talbot who was appointed from the 14th Sikhs on 21 January 1918. The majority of its British officers were initially Indian Army officers on probation or drawn from the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (I.A.R.O.). The Battalion was inspected on 7 February 1919 by Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, Commanding 45th Infantry Brigade:

General remarks: This unit has only lately been raised and is, I consider, fit for service. Their drill, musketry, fire discipline, etc., is well attended to. More practice is required in tactical exercises.

The officers both British and Indian deserve credit for the good work they have done in training the battalion. There is undoubtedly room for improvement which will come as training progresses.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, depots, British officers, etc. for 1918-1919: IOR/L/MIL/7/17030

In the January 1920 Indian Army List, the 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers was stationed at Rawalpindi (Punjab, Pakistan). The Battalion was mobilised while still stationed at Rawalpindi on 20 July 1920 for service in Mesopotamia (Iraq). While serving overseas the 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers’ Depot was at Campbellpore (Attock, Punjab, Pakistan). The Battalion served with the 76th Indian Brigade, 6th Indian Division and arrived at Basra, Mesopotamia on 18 August 1920. The Battalion served in a variety of places in Mesopotamia including Nasiriyah and Samawah. There is a war diary covering the period between July and December 1920 and I have transcribed some entries below. The war diary ends on the 31 December 1920 when the Battalion was at Rumaitha. The extract below was taken from the July 1918 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers serving with the Battalion. There are three pre-war British Indian Army officers and 4 who were commissioned in 1914-15 which is a lot more than is usually found for an Indian Battalion raised in 1918.

3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers British Officers

There is another war diary for January 1921 when the Battalion was part of the 34th Infantry Brigade, 6th Indian Division and was still serving at Rumaitha. The Battalion served in Mesopotamia into 1921 before returning to India and was disbanded on 30 April 1921. The Battalion qualified for the General Service Medal with Iraq clasp and some of their Medal Index Cards have survived. These can be viewed on the National Archives‘ website or on Ancestry. I would recommend viewing them on Ancestry.

War Diaries of the 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers

There are two war diaries for the Battalion and both 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.

  • Date: 01 July – 31 December 1920
  • 76th Indian Infantry Brigade, 6th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5126/5
  • Notes: An excellent war diary with a lot of detail, especially for October and November 1920. There are the names of British and Indian officers throughout along with Indian other rank causalities listed by name and regimental number. The war diary contains a small map of Nasiriyah with locations of posts and barbed wire shown. There are nominal rolls of British officers with the regiment on 30 September, 31 October, 30 November and 31 December 1920. Also, an appendix from the Officer Commanding Budairi Column (3rd Battalion 23rd Sikhs) detailing the destruction of Arab villages and a 4-page narration of the action at Imam Abdullah Bridge on 11 November 1920, with a list of casualties with name, regimental number and company.
  • Date: January 1921
  • 6th Indian Division, 34th Indian Infantry Brigade, Rumaitha
  • Reference: WO 95/5125/8
  • Notes: A 3-page war diary with good information on days when the entry doesn’t just consist of “Quiet”. There is a nominal roll of British Officers serving with the Battalion and two gallantry citations which I have transcribed below.

Further Sources for the 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers

For information concerning the British and Indian officers who served with the 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers, the Indian Army List can be consulted. There are 2 confidential reports for the Battalion which are held at the British Library for 1918-19 and 1919-20: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the confidential reports of the British officers serving with the Battalion. The Medal Index Cards can be viewed on the National Archives‘ website or on Ancestry.

Extracts from the War Diaries of the 3rd Battalion 23rd Sikh Pioneers

01 July – 31 December 1920, Mesopotamia, WO 95/5126/5

20 July 1920 – Received A.G’s wire… to mobilise at once for Field Service in Mesopotamia. Commences usual mobilisation measures at once.

9 August 1920 – Captain C. W. Lay, Jemadar Jaswant Singh and 2 I.O.R. [Indian Other Ranks] proceeded to Karachi as advanced party. Difficulty experienced in making up the train ration (Shakarpare). Langaries cannot make it up and Halwais have to be paid extra. Also allowance of gur insufficient.

13 August 1920 – Kiamari – Arrived alongside R.I.M.S. [Royal Indian Marine Ship] Northbrook. Met by Lieutenant Lay with well though out embarkation instructions but all system or order frustrated by the hurried embarkation due to late arrival and the fact that the R.I.M. authorities do not allow kit bags to accompany men on troop decks. This had not been made known to he unit beforehand and men’s kits were therefore not with them in the carriages. The fact that the kit bags were not clearly marked added to the delay and confusion. Charges and Mules and 21 I.O.R.s were left to come on by another Transport. Sailed about 19.00. Rough.

19 August 1920 – Shaiba – Left Shaiba at 05.00 hours and arrived at Nasirieh about 13.00 without incident though warned by wire to look out for Arab raiding partied near Tal-al-Lahm and Marajib which had been sniped the previous night.

07 September 1920 – Dust storm. Took over 3 Arab shaikh prisoners of the Asachirah (S.E. of Nasirieh) who were responsible for the sniping on 3 September 1920. Work as usual.

02 October 1920 – Ur – Column marched to Tel Sukhairi (10 miles). Battalion (less 2 Section Bat-Hah)… country quiet…

13.00. Bivouacked in wide spread perimeter camp round trains intermittently held by a chain of posts 300 yards out and about 200 yards from each other. Battalion’s portion was astride Railway at North-West end. Water arrangements very bad. Water allowance 2 gallons per man and 5 gallons per animal per diem. Animals are only able to water once in 24 hours. The Battalion has only 4 pakhals per company (instead of 12 as allowance by Mesopotamia scale) and no chaguls. These have been applied for repeatedly but are not available. This means insufficient storage capacity within the Regiment and renders it very difficult to remove water allowance sufficiently quickly.

January 1921, Rumaitha, WO95/5125/8

Major R. N. B. Campbell O.B.E. – For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an attack and when his men were becoming disheartened owing to the shortage of ammunition. They were in an unfavourable position and being heavily counter attacked at very close quarters; but regardless of danger Major Campbell sprang out from cover and, shouting the Sikhs’ war cry, led a successful bayonet charge with the most beneficial results. The success of this operation was mainly due to his fine example.

Lieutenant Henry Desmond Corser – For conspicuous gallantry, determination and good handling of a company in an attack on a village. In face of heavy fire from the enemy entrenched in a series of water-cuts, he steadily pushed forward in spite of considerable losses and it was mainly due to his coolness and example that the company finally established itself in the southern portion of the village. In the subsequent attack, though wounded he returned to command his company, thereby showing a splendid example of devotion to duty.

Guides to Researching Soldiers who Served with the Indian Army

Guides to Researching Soldiers who Served with the British Army