50th Kumaon Rifles

This article will look at the 50th Kumaon Rifles and will help you to research the Regiment and those who served with it during the First World War. I have written a separate article for the 2nd Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the First World War. To view these guides click on the links below:

The 50th Kumaon Rifles in the First World War

Lineage: The 50th Kumaon Rifles was formed at Ranikhet, a hill station in the present-day Indian state of Uttarakhand, as the 4th Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles on 23 October 1917. It was redesignated as the 4th Battalion 39th Kumaon Rifles on 15 November 1917, then the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles on 30 April 1918 and became the 1st Battalion Kumaon Rifles 9th Jat Regiment in 1922. The next year, the unit became the 1st Kumaon Rifles and joined the 19th Hyderabad Regiment.

Composition in 1919: Four companies of Kumaonis. The Kumauni are from the Kumaon region of the present day Indian state of Uttarakhand.

The 50th Kumaon Rifles was a war-raised Indian infantry regiment formed at Ranikhet, a hill station 223 miles northeast of Delhi in November 1917. A second battalion was formed at Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, on 6 June 1918 and consisted of two companies of Kumaonis and two companies of Brahmans and was disbanded in 1922. In the early months of 1918, the unit received its first annual confidential report from Brigadier-General Francis Glanville who commanded the Bareilly Brigade:

The battalion now consists of nearly 2,000 men of whom over 1,200 are recruits, the balance being from numerous other units and more or less trained. Physique good generally. The training of this unit is proceeding satisfactorily on sound lines. Discipline very satisfactory.

Lieutenant-General Sir Henry D’Urban Keary who commanded the 7th (Meerut) Division made the following observations:

The 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles are a fine lot of men with the makings of a first class battalion. Very good progress has been made in the organisation and training of the unit and I was much struck by its steadiness and appearance. Training in all branches is proceeding very satisfactorily and I am very well satisfied with all that has been accomplished in a very short time.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, depots, British officers, etc. for 1917-1918: IOR/L/MIL/7/17029.

On 6 June 1918, a second battalion was raised, though to have been in existence for some months prior to its official raising date. The extract below was taken from the July 1918 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers serving with the Battalion. It’s commanding officer, acting Lieutenant-Colonel Ewen Montgomery Lang had been brought back from retirement in 1917 to command the Regiment, having previously served in the Gurkha Rifles. There were three pre-war officers from the Gurkha Rifles which is unusual for a later war-raised Indian infantry unit, as by this stage of the war, they were in short supply. Then there is a mix of the usual officers from the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, those on probation, and others holding temporary commissions.1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles July 1918 Indian Army List

There are few resources to consult for the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles while it was India but when it moved abroad, there are two war diaries covering the period between May 1918 and March 1920. These are held at the National Archives in London and are discussed below. The Battalion embarked at Bombay, now Mumbai on 22 May 1918 on board the Hired Transport Shuja with a strength of six British officers, ten Indian officers, one Sub-assistant Surgeon, 1057 Indian other ranks, twenty-four public followers, eight private followers and a horse. On 6 June, the Battalion landed at Port Tewfik, now Port Suez, Egypt and moved to Tel-el-Kebir where it remained for the rest of the month “training and drawing equipment”.

The Battalion joined the 180th Infantry Brigade of the 60th (London) Division in July and served in Palestine, including taking part in the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918. The 1st Battalion continued to serve in the Middle East after the war and was one of the few war-raised infantry battalions not disbanded. In 1922, following the reorganisation of the Indian Army, the Regiment joined the 19th Hyderabad Regiment, it had briefly been assigned to the Jat Regiment, and 180th renamed the 1st Kumaon Rifles.

War Diaries of the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles

War diaries were unit records written by an officer and there are two for the 1st Battalion which are held at the National Archives in London. Neither diary has been digitized and they can only be viewed by visiting the National Archives. I have transcribed some of the entries from the diaries at the bottom of the page.

  • Date: 22 May 1918 – 30 April 1919
  • 180th Infantry Brigade, 60th (London) Division
  • Reference: WO 95/4670
  • Notes: The daily war diary entries tend to be quite brief during the war and there is very little detail from November 1918 and April 1919. However, there are a wide variety of appendices which add a lot more information. There are also nominal rolls of the British Officers who served with the Battalion each month with a column noting how they were employed, transport officer, B Company Commander etc. There is a five-page account of the role played by the unit in the Battle of Megiddo.
  • Date: 01 May 1919 – 31 March 1920
  • 31st Infantry Brigade, 10th (Irish) Division
  • Reference: WO 95/4586
  • Notes: There is very little of interest in this war diary which contains brief daily entries. As in the previous war diary, there are nominal rolls of British Officers each month, and a large number of appendices, operation/battalion orders etc.

Further Sources for the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles

Unfortunately, there was no regimental history written and very few sources concerning the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles. For British and Indian officers who served with the unit, the Indian Army List can be consulted. A good source of information for the Battalion is its confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These also contain the annual confidential reports for the British officers who served with the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles. Though when the Regiment was abroad only the Depot and officers serving with it are reported on. There is also a war diary of the Headquarters of the 180th Infantry Brigade at the National Archives which probably contains additional information for the Battalion. Its catalogue reference is WO 95/4669 and it ends in May 1919.

I would also recommend having a look at Handbooks for the Indian Army Kumaonis 1933. This small book gives an overview of the history and customs of the Kumaonis. You can buy a reprint very cheaply from Abebooks.

Extracts from War Diaries of the 1st Battalion 50th Kumaon Rifles

22 May 1918- 30 April 1919, 60th (London) Division, WO 95/4670

22 May 1918: The Battalion left Bombay. Establishment: 6 British Officers, 10 Indian Officers, 1 Sub-Assistant-Surgeon,1057 Indian Other Ranks, 24 Public Followers and 8 Private Followers. 1 Charger.

23 – 31 May 1918: On high seas.

6 June 1918: 11:00: Disembarked – same composition and numbers and entrained for Tel-el-Kebir less 6 Indian other ranks to hospital. 19:00: Detrained Tel-el-Kebir. British officers 6, Indian officers 10, Sub-assistant Surgeon 1, Indian other ranks 1051, public followers 24, private followers 8, charger 1.

7 June: Equipped partially and trained.

8 June: General training.

9 June: Remaining 7 British officers joined less Captain M. H. H. Smith to hospital at Suez.

10 – 30 June: General training and drawing of equipment.

1 – 14 July: General training.

15 July: Entrained [at Tel-el-Kebir]. British officers 12, British Warrant Officer attached 1, Indian other ranks 1001, Indian other ranks attached 31, Public Followers 33, Private Followers 8. Total all ranks 1096. Animals 117. 10:30: Detrained same strength and marches to Kantara East and entrained in two trains for Ludd. 13:00 and 16:00: Proceeded.

16 July: 06:30: Arrived detrained and marched to Surafend. 11:30: Arrived, camped, drew further equipment and proceeded with further general training.

17 – 18 July: General Training

19 July: 15:00: Proceeded by route to Latron. Arrived 21:30 hours.

20 July: 18:00: Marched to Harith.

21 July: Remained at Harith. Devoted time to cleaning up and general training.

22 July: 19:00: Marched to Plateau Camp near Bir es Zeit.

23 July: 19:00: March to camp in Wadi K.28.c. central. Brigadier-General Charles Frederic Watson C.M.G. D.S.O. commanding the Brigade (180th) saw the Battalion moved in.

24 July: General training.

25 July: Inspected by Major-General John Stuart Mackenzie C.B. C.M.G. D.S.O. commanding 60th Division.

26 – 30 July: General training. British and Indian officers and non-commissioned officers reconnoitred the line.

31 July: Commenced relief of 2/19th London Regiment in line. C Company relieved centre sector of Londons.

1 August: D Company relieved company of 2/19th London Regiment in Right Sector.

2 August: A Company relieved company of 2/19th London Regiment in Left Sector. B Company relieved company of 2/19th London Regiment in support. Two platoons at K.5.C.14. [The map referenced is Telfit 1:40,000.] Two platoons at K.5.C.9.8. Headquarters at k.5.d. Relief completed 23:00 hours.

3 August: Enemy shelled J.31.a. and c. No damage. Training continued in line, four hours daily under company arrangements, steadying drill, musketry [and] Lewis gunnery.

4 – 8 August: Enemy very quiet, nothing of interest to report.

9 August: Our artillery shelled enemy works and did considerable damage. Inter company relief carried out B Company and A Company relieving one another in left sector and supports respectively.

10 August: Enemy put 8 shells on our front line defences. No damage.

11 August: Enemy very quiet. Nothing to report. Lieutenant A. E. J. McLean officer reinforcement reported arrival.

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