52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force)

This article will give you an overview of the service of the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) during the First World War and will help you to research those who served with it. I have also created a series of guides to help you research those who served in the Indian Army during the First World War:

The 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) in the First World War

Lineage: Raised at Kangra by Captain J. W. V. Stephen in 1846-47 as the 2nd Regiment of Infantry of the Frontier Brigade. In 1847 it became the 2nd (or Hill) Regiment of Sikh Local Infantry and the 2nd (or Hill) Regiment of Sikh Infantry in 1857. In 1857 its designation changed again to the 2nd (or Hill) Regiment of Sikh Infantry, Punjab Irregular Force. Then to the 2nd (or Hill) Regiment of Sikh Infantry, Punjab Frontier Force in 1865 and the 2nd (or Hill) Sikh Infantry in 1901. In 1903 it became the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) and in 1922 the 2nd Battalion 12th Frontier Force Regiment.

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

Location in July 1914: The 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) was stationed at Bannu (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) having arrived from Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) on 6th March 1913.

The 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) was stationed at Bannu when the First World War began in August 1914. The 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) served as part of the Bannu Brigade on the North West Frontier before it moved to Mesopotamia (Iraq) in the winter of 1917. The 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) was considered one of the elite Indian infantry regiments and the following quote is taken from its confidential report for 1913-14:

General condition: The general condition and training is very satisfactory. The battalion was out with the Bannu Moveable Column up the Tochi last April and worked and marched splendidly. Thoroughly fit for service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914IOR/L/MIL/7/17023

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 a great resource to use to research both regiments and officers (British and Indian) of the Indian Army. It’s full of military jargon and I have a guide to help you: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.

52nd Sikhs Frontier Force British Officers 1914Unfortunately, there is no war diary covering the 52nd Sikhs’ service in India during the war. However, information can be gleaned from the Regiment’s confidential reports. The 52nd Sikhs was inspected by Brigadier-General Vere Bonamy Fane, Commanding Bannu Brigade on 6 December 1915 and 4 January 1916 who reported:

The 52nd Sikhs have done a lot of time in the Tochi. I think they are vastly improved since last year, better spirit, men much fitter, a better tone in the regiment. They had had a baddish time in the Tochi and were not fit, but are now quite different and fully up to the high standard the regiment has always maintained. They have done well in recruiting and their recruits are very well trained, and the drafts they have sent were all excellent ones. I consider the regiment in every way fitted for active service.

The regiment did very well in the Tochi and worked particularly hard at building the post. Their rest down here has done them all good, though during it they have been constantly called out for raids and they are now furnishing a lot of detachments. They all work well and willingly and cheerfully and their turn our is always very good. As I said before, I think they are in every way fitted for active service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, depôts, British officers, etc. for 1915-1916: IOR/L/MIL/7/17026

The 52nd Sikhs remained in Bannu and the Tochi until it was mobilized in the winter of 1917. There is a war diary for the 52nd Sikhs covering the period between the 11 December 1917 and 31 March 1920 and I would recommend downloading a copy from the National Archives’ website. When the war diary commences on 11 December 1917, the 52nd Sikhs was at Peshawar where it boarded two trains for Karachi and arrived on 14 December. The 52nd Sikhs then embarked on board a Hired Transport and sailed for Mesopotamia (Iraq). The 52nd Sikhs arrived at Basra, Mesopotamia on 21 December 1917 and was moved by barges to an encampment at Nahrumar. The Regiment served with the 54th Indian Infantry Brigade, 18th Indian Division once it arrived in Mesopotamia.

During 1918 the 52nd Sikhs was constantly on the move and it is best to turn to the war diary for their exact location. The 52nd Sikhs moved to Mosul on 5 November 1918 where they remained until late July 1919 when they marched to Suwara in central Kurdistan. The Regiment took part in fighting against Kurdish tribes and suffered heavy casualties on 8 August 1919 when B Company was ambushed at Mazurka Gorge. In the ambush Captain A. M. Lewis was killed along with Jemadar Abdulla and 28 other ranks and Subadar Sansar Chand IDSM and 42 other ranks wounded. The 52nd Sikhs remained in Kurdistan until December 1919 when they began to move towards Mosul where they arrived on 1 January 1920. The Regiment was still at Mosul in March 1920 when the war diary ends and served in Mesopotamia during the Iraqi Revolt of 1920.

Due to the Regiment’s service in Kurdistan and during the Iraqi Revolt its soldiers qualified for the General Service Medal with a combination of Iraq and Kurdistan Clasps. Some of the Medal Index Cards for this medal have survived and can be viewed online through Ancestry or the National Archives‘ website. I would recommend looking at them on Ancestry as they are free to view and download.

The 52nd Sikhs returned to India either in late 1920 or early 1921 and was stationed at Parachinar (Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan) in the July 1921 Indian Army List. In 1922 the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) became the 2nd Battalion 12th Frontier Force Regiment.

War Diary of the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force)

There is only one war diary for the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) which has been digitized by the National Archives. To download the war diary for a small fee click on the blue link below which will take you to the National Archives’ website.

  • Date: 11 December 1917 – 31 March 1920
  • 54th Indian Infantry Brigade, 18th Indian Division, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5228/1
  • Notes: A good war diary which contains a number of useful appendices. Between August and September 1918 and November 1918 – June 1919 each month only contains a short paragraph. There is a nominal roll of British and Indian officers who left Peshawar on 11 December 1917. Also, a map of the position of the 52nd Sikhs at Mohd al Hassan, May 9 1918. Appendices include a list of officers and non-commissioned officers killed and wounded on 8 August 1919; list of British officers who ” marched out from Mosul with 52nd Sikhs on 26 July [1919]”; a list of British officers who moved out of 21 November 1919 as a unit of Wyncol.

Further Sources of Information for the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force)

A very good source of information for the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) and the British officers who served with it are the Regimental Confidential Reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual reports of the British officers serving with the Regiment, though when it was abroad only its Depot and the officers serving with it were reported on.

For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) the Indian Army List can be consulted. There is a regimental history but this hasn’t been reprinted and is hard to obtain: History of the 2nd Sikhs, 12th Frontier Force Regiment 1846-1933 by Captain C. W. May.

The Regiment’s Medal Index Cards for the General Service Medal with a combination of Iraq and Kurdistan Clasps have survived and can be viewed online through Ancestry or the National Archives‘ website. If you click on the banner below you’ll be taken to Ancestry’s website which usually has a free trial period. 

Extracts from War Diaries of the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force) 

11 December 1917 – 31 March 1920, Mesopotamia, WO 95/5228/1

22 December 1917 – Nahrumar – After an uneventful voyage the regiment arrived at Basra at 7 am on the morning of the 21. It was here transferred onto barges and towed some 17 miles up the Shatt al-Arab river to Nahrumar.

10 January 1918 – Hinaidi – On 10 January 1918 the Regiment disembarked at Hinaidi and moved onto the rest camps at that place. An epidemic of mumps had broken out in the regiment on board the P-boats coming up stream and about 40 men and 1 British officer (Lieutenant W.Lyon) were evacuated at Hinaidi suffering from this complaint.

10 March 1918 – Mushaibie – The second march was from Kadhimain to Mushaidie 19 miles; this was a hard march and though only two men actually fell out many men’s feet were blistered and rubbed in such a way as to render it impossible for them to march on the following day. The cause of this was probably partly due to the fact that their feet were not as yet properly hardened but to a great extent was due to a shortage of socks which were at the time unobtainable, so that many men were marching either in torn socks or in none at all.

15 May 1918 – On the 15 the column moved back to Daur the regiment acting as rearguard arriving at Daur at 8 am on the 16. On the evening of the 16 the column marched at 6 pm. On the march on outbreak of cholera was reported in the regiment which was segregated. Further diagnosis showed the case to be gastroenteritis and the regiment was allowed out of segregation and arrived at Samarra at 8 am.

September 1918 – Samarra – During the entire month the regiment remained at Samarra. It was at this time attacked by Bombay fever at one time as many as 400 men being incapacitated but the fever died down after about a fortnight.

19 October 1918 – Subedar Sansar Chand proceeding with a platoon as escort to a party of No.8 Company Sappers and Miner who were exploiting wells on far side of the Jabal Hamrin had a brush with a party of Arab horsemen. One man of the regiment was wounded and one Sapper and Miner NCO was killed. The Arabs were driven off. On the same day the camp was shelled, one man being killed and 5 mules killed and 6 wounded, some of which had to be destroyed.

08 August 1919 – B Company under Captain Lewis [killed in action] was detailed with reconnaissance under Major Sheppard M.C. [Military Cross ]R.E. [Royal Engineers]. The party was ambushed in the gorge by Kurds and suffered casualties (See appendix II [30 killed and 43 wounded). D Company was dispatched to extricate the party and was reinforced y one section 34 Mountain Battery and 1 Sub Section 238 Machine Gun Corps, the whole under the command of Lieutenant Colonel C.P. Wynter. Later a ? Coys 1/7 Gurkhas under Major Anderson reinforced relief party. By 19.45 hours the gorge was clear of all but a few wounded who could not be brought back owing to heavy fire from snipers posted on hills. D Company remained in observation the night 8/9 August.

09 August 1919 – At 11.00 hours 2 Platoons D Company entered gorge which was then clear of enemy. By evening all wounded and 24 Indian Other Ranks wounded and unwounded, who had been captured and released by the Kurds were brought in. The force retired to camp.

07 – 14 September 1919 – The regiment was engaged in operations against the Kishoris.

10 September 1919 – The villages of Alarnum and Geramus were visited. No opposition was met with. The regiment put out picquets covering the villages. On commencement of withdrawal the picquets were fired on somewhat heavily from the hills at close range. Casualties vide appendix No.1 (a). The withdrawal was carried out without further incident, the enemy following up the retirement.

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