79th Carnatic Infantry

This article on the 79th Carnatic Infantry aims to give you an overview of the Regiment’s activities during the First World War and help you research those who served with the unit. This article can be used in conjunction with my guides to researching soldiers who served in the Indian Army to uncover even more information:

The 79th Carnatic Infantry in the First World War

Lineage: Formed at Trichinopoly, now Tiruchirappalli by Captain D. Muirhead in 1777 from drafts of the 1st, 3rd, 8th and 16th Carnatic Battalions and designated as the 20th Carnatic Battalion. It became the 20th Madras Battalion in 1784 and the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry in 1796. Then the 19th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry in 1824 and the 19th Regiment of Madras Infantry in 1885. Then the 19th Madras Infantry in 1901 and the 79th Carnatic Infantry in 1903. In 1922 the Regiment was redesignated as the 3rd Battalion 3rd Madras Regiment and was disbanded in 1923.

Composition in 1914: 4 Companies of Madrasi Muslims, 2 Companies of Tamils and 2 Companies of Paraiyans and Christians. 1919: 2 Companies of Madrasi Muslims, 1 Company of Tamils and 1 Company of Paraiyans and Christians.

Location in July 1914: The 79th Carnatic Infantry was stationed at Rangoon in Burma, now Yangon in Myanmar having arrived from Aurangabad, India on 14 March 1914.

The 79th Carnatic Infantry was an Indian infantry regiment which served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Persia (Iran) for nearly four years during and after the First World War. In August 1914, the Regiment was stationed at Rangoon in Burma, now Yangon, Myanmar where it was serving as part of the Burma Division. On 15 December 1913, Brigadier-General William Hugh Dobbie, Commanding the Ahmednagar Brigade wrote the following confidential report:

Turn-out: Well turned out.

Efficiency in drill: Quite satisfactory.

Manoeuvre: Quite satisfactory.

Musketry: Satisfactory.

Signalling: Very satisfactory.

Care of equipment: Well looked after.

Accoutrements: Well looked after.

Personnel: Small, but sturdy and look alright in the ranks.

Discipline: Good.

Conduct: Satisfactory.

Health: Good.

Recruits: A very poor lot of miserable-looking undeveloped boys.

Interior economy: Satisfactory.

General efficiency: Efficient. Certified that regards recruit’s outfit, due economy observed.

Fitness for service: Fit for service as far as training goes.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units, British officers, etc. for 1914-1915: IOR/L/MIL/7/17024.

Also included is a report by Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Arnold Barret who commanded the 6th (Poona) Division dated 1 March 1914:

Drill and turn-out quite satisfactory. The men are quick and active in the field and the Non-Commissioned Officers are capable and intelligent. Maneuvering was well done on the whole, but is capable of improvement. The double companies should be more systematically trained and exercised under their own Commanders. It is for consideration whether the two Companies of Paraiyans and Christians are worth retaining as there are no Indian Officers of either of these classes and no Non-Commissioned Officers fit for the commissioned ranks. Recruits are also difficult to obtain. Tamil and Mussalman recruits are young and undersized, but should turn out all right when fully trained and developed. There is plenty of esprit-de-corps and battalion is fit for active service.

In May 1915, the 79th Carnatic Infantry had six of its companies stationed at Rangoon and two at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. The Regiment was serving as part of the Rangoon Brigade of the Burma Division. By August 1916, the Regiment had grown in size to ten companies, with eight at Rangoon and two at Port Blair. It was still serving as part of the Rangoon Brigade of the Burma Division. On 20 September 1916, the Regiment received a mobilization order while still stationed at Rangoon. Five days later, a draft of one Indian officer and 99 other ranks joined from the 86th Carnatic Infantry. On 7 October, the Regiment’s detachment from Port Blair returned and two days later, the 79th Carnatic Infantry sailed for Mesopotamia on board the Hired Transport Ekma. The extract below was taken from the January 1915 Indian Army List and shows the British officers serving with the 79th Carnatic Infantry.

79th Carnatic Infantry British Officers 1915

The Ekma transported the Regiment to Alexandra Dock, Bombay where the unit disembarked on 17 October and moved to the Marine Line Camp. Two days later, the Regiment reembarked on board the Ekma which arrived at Basra, Mesopotamia on 25 October. The 79th Carnatic Regiment disembarked on 27 October and moved into a camp at Makina Masus. The Regiment spent the remainder of the war providing guards and picquets in the vicinity of Basra and guarding the lines of communication. In January 1919, the Regiment moved to the Persian lines of communication though it spent the first months of the year at Kut-al-Amara. While serving overseas the Regiment’s Depot was at Secunderabad. The 79th Carnatic Infantry served in the Middle East until 1921 when it returned to India and was stationed at Secunderabad in July 1921. The 79th Carnatic Infantry was redesignated as the 3rd Battalion 3rd Madras Regiment in 1922 and was disbanded the following year.

War Diaries of the 79th Carnatic Infantry

There are two war diaries for the 79th Carnatic Infantry which cover the period between September 1916 and April 1920. A war diary was written by an officer of a unit and recorded its location and activities. Both war diaries have been digitized and can be downloaded from the National Archives’ website for a small fee by clicking on the blue links below.

  • Date: 20 September 1916 – 31 December 1918
  • Lines of Communication, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5247/7
  • Notes: A poor war diary with few entries. From January 1918, there are monthly lists of British officers serving with the 79th Carnatic Infantry. The only appendix is a page of instructions the 79th Carnatic Infantry received on disembarkation at Basra on 27 October 1917.
  • Date: 01 January 1919 – 30 April 1920
  • Lines of Communication, Mesopotamia
  • Reference: WO 95/5287/11
  • Notes: A poor war diary with very brief entries where each month is written on a single page. There is a list of British officers serving with the 79th Carnatic Infantry each month.

Further Sources for the 79th Carnatic Infantry

A very important source of information for the 79th Carnatic Infantry is its confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers who served with the 79th Carnatic Infantry. However, when the Regiment was abroad only its Depot and the British officers serving with it were reported on. For information regarding British and Indian officers who served with the Regiment, the Indian Army List can be consulted. The 79th Carnatic Infantry qualified for the General Service Medal with clasps North West Persia and Iraq and their Medal Index Cards have survived. These can be viewed either on Ancestry or the National Archives’ website. I would recommend viewing them on Ancestry as they are in colour and are currently free to view.

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 79th Carnatic Infantry

20 September 1916 – 31 December 1918, Mesopotamia, WO 95/5247/7

20 September 1916 – Rangoon – Mobilisation order received, to mobilise 79th Carnatic Infantry on scale for [Indian Expeditionary] Force D.

23 September 1916 – Rangoon – All Indian ranks returned from Furlough (were returning in ordinary course).

25 September 1916 – Rangoon – Draft of 1 Indian officer, 99 Indian other ranks, of 86th Carnatic Infantry arrived 8:30 am from Bhamo.

29 September 1916 – Rangoon – All ranks on recruiting duty rejoin.

7 October 1916 – Rangoon – Port Blair detachment, strength 1 British officer, 2 Indian officers, 95 Indian other ranks, 11 followers, return to Regimental Headquarters by SS Ekma.

9 October 1916 – Rangoon – Embarked at 12 noon in SS Ekma strength:- 11 British officers, 17 Indian officers, 1 sub-assistant surgeon, 610 Indian other ranks, 28 public followers, 18 private followers. The SS Ekma sailed at 2 pm.

17 October 1916 – Bombay – Arrived and disembarked, above strength, at Alexandra Dock, and marched to Marine Line Camp.

18 October 1916 – Bombay – Medically inspected – 27 Indian other ranks, 1 private follower admitted to hospital medically unfit.

19 October 1916 – Bombay – Re-embarked on Hired Transport Ekma, following strength: 11 British officers, 17 Indian officers, 1 sub-assistant Surgeon, 583 Indian other ranks, 28 public followers, 17 private followers.

25 October 1916 – Basra – Arrived in the river, and anchored opposite Ashar with orders to disembark the next morning.

26 October 1916 – Basra – In river, did not disembark.

27 October 1916 – Basra – Disembarkation commenced at 6 am with other units (total 1500 on board) regiment began 9 am: Disembarkation complete and regiment with all stores arrived by 6 pm in camp at Makina Masus. Received instructions from Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General Base to provide garrison guards and orderlies at the base.

30 October – Makina – The garrison guards etc. ordered, marched off from camp at 8 am and the regiment settle down to garrison duty.

28 December 1916 – Makina – A draft of 56 Indian other ranks arrived from No.3 Indian Base Depot under Second Lieutenant F. Kingdon-Ward, Indian Army Reserve [of Officers].

20 February 1917 – Owing to large numbers of Turkish prisoners of war arriving at the Base, instructions were received to increase by 100 Indian other ranks under an Indian officer the guard furnished by the regiment at the Prisoners of War Camp.

01 August 1917 – Basra- Strength of the unit on 1 August 1917 is 5 British officers, 1 medical officer, 14 Indian officers, 1 sub-assistant surgeon, 785 Indian other ranks, 40 public followers and 11 private followers.

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