This article is about the 48th Pioneers and will help you research both the Regiment and those who served with it during the First World War. I have written a separate article for the war-raised 2nd Battalion 48th Pioneers 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:
I also offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
48th Pioneers in the First World War
Lineage: Raised at Lucknow in 1901 by Major C. LeG. Justice as the 48th Regiment of Bengal Infantry (Pioneers) and in the same year it became the 48th Bengal Pioneers. In 1903 it was designated the 48th Pioneers and in 1922 as the 4th Battalion Bombay Pioneers.
Class Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Jats and 4 of Labana Sikhs. 1919: 2 Companies of Jats and 2 Companies of Labana Sikhs.
Location in July 1914: The 48th Pioneers was stationed at Kirkee (Khadki, Maharashtra, India) having arrived from Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh, India) on 8th March 1914.
The 48th Pioneers was stationed at Kirkee, now Khadki when the First World War began in August 1914. The Regiment received orders to mobilize on 13 August 1914 and embarked on board the Hired Transport Aronda at Bombay on 6 November. The ship sailed the next day and the Regiment disembarked at Sanniyah, Mesopotamia (Iraq) on 15 November. The 48th Pioneers served as divisional troops to the 6th (Poona) Division. The Regiment’s first engagement with Turkish forces was at Zahil on 16 November 1914 where the 48th Pioneers suffered 90 casualties and there is a detailed entry in the war diary (see below). The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers serving with the Regiment.
The Regiment was then split between Kurna and Basra where it spent its time making defences and repairing roads. The Regiment was reunited in April 1915 at Shaiba and fought at the Battle of Shaiba (12-14 April 1915). After Shaiba, one company of the Regiment proceeded with General Gorringe’s force to clear hostile Arabas from the vicinity of Ahwaz and Amara while the rest of the Regiment remained at Shaiba. For further information regarding the activities of the regiment, it is best to turn to its war diary and the History of the Bombay Pioneers.
The 6th (Poona) Division attempted to capture Baghdad later in the year but was stopped at the Battle of Ctesiphon (22-25 November 1915). Of the members of the Regiment who were present at Ctesiphon, 277 became casualties, a 57% casualty rate. The 6th (Poona) Division then fell back to Kut-al-Amara where it was besieged between December 1915 and April 1916 when the Division surrendered. Over 300 officers and men went into captivity when the town fell but only 90 men returned to India after the war due to the inhumane treatment they received after capture.
A 2nd Battalion 48th Pioneers was formed shortly after the Regiment’s capture but this quickly reverted to its former title of the 48th Pioneers. A second battalion also was raised by the Regiment in 1918 but this should not be confused with the 2nd Battalion formed from soldiers who were not with the Regiment at Kut in 1916. The reformed 48th Pioneers continued to serve in Mesopotamia for the remainder of the war and the History of the Bombay Pioneers is the best source of information for this period. The Regiment served in Kurdistan in 1919 before returning to India in January 1920. In 1922, the 48th Pioneers became the 4th Battalion Bombay Pioneers.
War Diaries of the 48th Pioneers
There are four war diaries for the 48th Pioneers and the first two have been digitized by the National Archives. To download these war diaries for a small fee click on the blue links which will take you to the National Archives website. The last war diary covering the Waziristan Campaign has not been digitized and can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have transcribed some of the war diary entries below.
- Date: 13 August 1914 – 31 October 1915
- 6th (Poona) Division
- Reference: WO 95/5118/2
- Notes: A good war diary with very detailed entries when the Regiment is in action.
- Date: 01 April 1917 – 30 April 1919
- 18th Indian Division
- Reference: WO 95/5189/8
- Notes: A good detailed war diary with lots of information. There are nominal rolls of British officers serving with the Regiment at the end of each month from December 1917.
- Date: 01 May – 31 October 1919
- 18th Indian Division
- Reference: WO 95/5222/7
- Notes: Most war diary entries concern the tasks carried out by the 48th Pioneer. Very little happens during these months. June 1919 missing.
- Date: January 1921 – February 1922
- Waziristan Force
- Reference: WO 95/5398
Further Sources for the 48th Pioneers
For information concerning the British and Indian officers who served with the 48th Pioneers, the Indian Army List can be consulted. A good source of information for the Regiment is its annual confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. The reports also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers who served with the Regiment. However, when the 48th Pioneers was abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it were reported on.
The Medal Index Cards for the Regiment for the General Service Medal with Kurdistan Clasp can be viewed for free on Ancestry. You can also download them for a fee from the National Archives’ website. However, I would use Ancestry as they are in colour and you can view them for free. There is a list Indian officers and other ranks captured by the Turks at the British Library.
The 48th Pioneers activities during the First World War is covered in The History of the Bombay Pioneers by Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. P. Tugwell which has been reprinted by the Naval and Military Press.
If you’d like to learn more about the Mesopotamia Campaign I can recommend When God Made Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia and the Creation of Iraq, 1914-1921 by Charles Townshend.
Extracts from War Diaries of the 48th Pioneers
01 May – 31 October 1919, 18th Indian Division, WO 95/5222/7
21 – 31 July 1919- The Battalion marched to Bridge Camp some six miles further on a good camping ground with water plentiful. Work now to be done ? three miles west of camp and two and two and a half east to Bazyau Pass…
Most excellent progress was made on the work which consists chiefly in widening out the road which necessitates a great deal of blasting. Five small bridges were put in and five more remain to be done. The work should be finished about 10 August. The health of the regiment has been good but a number of cases of malaria occurred these of old subjects. Heat was very great during the middle of the month.
30 September 1919 – The temperature during the month has been high for the time of year averaging 107 Fahrenheit. The health of the regiment has been good. No event of importance occurred during the month.