55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force)

This article on the 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) aims to help you research either the Regiment or a soldier who served with it during the First World War. I have written a separate article for the war-raised 2nd Battalion 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) and a series of guides to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the First World War. The links below will take you to the guides:

55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) in the First World War

Lineage: Raised at Peshawar by Captain John Coke in 1849 as the 1st Regiment of Punjab Infantry. In 1851 it became the 1st Regiment of Punjab Infantry, Punjab Irregular Force and the 1st Regiment of Punjab Infantry, Punjab Frontier Force in 1865. In 1901 it became the 1st Punjab Infantry Punjab Frontier Force, then in 1903 the 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) and became the 7th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Regiment in 1922.

Class Composition of Battalion in 1914: 2 Companies of Afridis, 1 Company of Yusufzais, 1 Company of Khattacks, 1 Company of Punjabi Muslims, 2 Companies of Sikhs and 1 Company of Dogras. 1919: 1/2 a Company of Yusufzais, 1/2 a Company of Khattaks, 1 Company of Punjabi Muslims, 1 Company of Sikhs and 1 Company of Dogras.

Location in July 1914: The 55th Coke’s Rifles was stationed at Bannu (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) having arrived from Dargai (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) on 19th November 1911.

The 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) was stationed at Bannu on the North West Frontier when the First World War began in August 1914. The Regiment had been inspected earlier in the year by Major-General H. O’Donnell, Commanding Bannu Brigade who reported:

Training: Good and sound except in matter of “fire direction.” System of instruction of British officers has been put on new footing and should give satisfactory results.

Drill: Very smart and steady.

Manoeuvre: Very good and quick in the field and strong on the hill side.

Fire discipline: Good but the whistle has been incorrectly employed.

Fire direction: Still a weak point and it is difficult to understand why, since in all else the regiment is so specially good and smart.

Machine guns: Well trained and serviceable.

Turn out: Smart and soldierly.

Bugles: Indifferent buglers. Though noted last year no improvement has been made.

Interior economy: Good and well cared for in all departments.

General efficiency: A very fine set of officers and men and a very fine tone runs through the regiment; 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 an important source of information for British and Indian officers and I have written a guide to help you with its jargon: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.

55th Coke's Rifles Frontier Force British Officers 1914The 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) remained in India and served on the North West Frontier until 1917 when the Regiment was sent to East Africa. While it remained in India, the Regiment sent large drafts to other regiments including the 56th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force) and 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force). During the first year of the war, the Regiment sent over 350 Indian officers and men to the 57th Wilde’s Rifles of whom 128 had become casualties. One of the Indian officers sent was Jemadar Mir Dast who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry at Ypres in 1915.

The Regiment was taking part in the Mohmand Blockade when it received orders to mobilize for service in East Africa in March 1917. However, while the Regiment proceeded to Bombay in May it was sent back to the North West Frontier to serve with the 45th Jullundur Brigade. The Brigade was serving as the reserve to the Waziristan Field Force when the Regiment joined it. The 55th Coke’s Rifles moved to Marden after taking part in punitive operations against tribesmen where it arrived on 4 August 1917.

The 55th Coke’s Rifles left for Bombay (Mumbai) on the 12 August and arrived on 16 August. The Regiment embarked on board the Hired Transport Coronia the same day and arrived at Dar es Salaam on 28 August 1917. The Coronia then sailed for Kilwas Kisswani where the Regiment disembarked on 30 August.

There is only one very short war diary for the Regiment covering the period between August and November 1917 when the 55th Coke’s Rifles was part of Hanforce. The Regiment served in East Africa until 13 February 1918 when it embarked on board the Royal George and disembarked at Karachi on 22 February 1918. For information regarding the Regiment’s service in East Africa, the regimental history should be consulted. After arriving back in India, the Regiment moved to Multan and took part in a punitive expedition against the Marris in March and April 1918.

The Regiment moved to Persia in November 1918, landing at Bushire where it remained until being withdrawn back to India in April 1919. The 55th Coke’s Rifles Frontier Force served in the Third Afghan War and in 1922 became the 7th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Regiment.

War Diary of 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force)

There is only a single war diary for the 55th Coke’s Rifles 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: 04 August – 30 November 1917
  • Hanforce, East Africa
  • Reference: WO 95/5320/6
  • Notes: A very good war diary available to download from the National Archives which unfortunately is the only one available for the 55th Coke’s Rifles. British and Indian officers and Indian other ranks (with service number) are mentioned throughout. Nominal roll of British and Indian officers accompanying the 55th Coke’s Rifles to East Africa. An appendix of the action fought on the march towards Bakari on 17 November 1917 (transcribed below). Another appendix which is 5 A4 pages long and contains a complete casualty list “Action near Lutshemi North-East of Mwiti Mission” on 14 November 1917.

Further Sources for the 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force)

If you are researching a British or Indian officer then the Indian Army List can be consulted. A very good resource for the 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) is its confidential reports which are held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etcThese reports also contain the annual reports of the British officers serving with the Regiment. However, when the 55th Coke’s Rifles (Frontier Force) was serving abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it were reported on. There is a regimental history but this has not been reprinted and there are few copies available:

There is a regimental history but this has not been reprinted and there are few copies available: The History of Coke’s Rifles by Harold Carmichael Wylly. While this book is difficult to get hold of it is the most important source available for the Regiment’s activities during the war and is packed full of useful information.

Extracts from War Diaries of the 55th Coke’s Rifles 

01 August – 30 November 1917, East Africa, WO 95/5320/6

04 August 1917 – Mardan – Arrived from Waziristan under orders to mobilise for East Africa.

20 September 1917 – Column marched at 6am and proceeded about 4 miles, in direction of Ndessa Kati. D Company found advanced guard and came in contact with enemy patrol about 2 miles from Ndessa Kati. Small patrol, under Lance Naik Mir Akbar, A Company entered Ndessa Kati and found it unoccupied. Strong contact patrol under Subadar Isa Khan advanced to enemy’s position which was found to be occupied again. Patrol engaged enemy and then tried according to orders. Column entrenched for the night.

Appendix A

At 5.15hours 17/10/17 the column, as per margin, marched towards Bakari from Ruangwa. C Company, under Lieutenant French and Lieutenant Jackson and D Company under Lieutenant Edwards and Lieutenant Perrott, had spent the night about two miles from Ruangwa. These two companies joined up en route…

11.50 hours After going about 8 miles small enemy parties were found in position across the path. These were driven back by C Company without much difficulty until position was reached about one mile from the waterhole.

13.10 hours – Here the enemy were reported to be about 100 strong with two machine guns. C Company was reinforced by D Compay and enemy retired to a ridge beyond the waterhole. In this advance 2087 Naik Shama C Coy, was shot through the abdomen and died shortly afterwards, 3414 Sepoy Lal Khan, D Coy was wounded in the thigh.

The two companies made good the waterhole and advanced onto the further ridge, when heavy fire was opened by the enemy, in position 400 yards beyond the ridge. Here 4576 Sepoy Jai Singh and 4687 Sepoy Sundar both C Coy, were wounded in the leg.

Enemy’s machine gun fire was very heavy, but shooting was mostly high. C Coy maxim engaged an enemy machine gun, which ceased firing. Battery fire was accurate and caused other gun to cease fire. Enemy tried to work round our flanks, so two platoons A Company (15 hours) under Lieutenant Millwood, were sent forward and came into action on the left flank. Shortly (16 hours) after their arrival enemy retired and the rest of the regiment moved forward and entrenched by the water, followed by the rest of the column at dusk.

Next day patrols found one dead Askari, belonging to 11 Company, and many marks of blood in low lying ground behind enemy position. Havildar Sunaki in command of C Company maxim gun did exceptionally well under heavy fire.

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