Soldiers on India’s Canals Postcard

Despite the coming of the railways, inland waterways remained an important method of transporting heavy goods well into the twentieth century, not only in Britain but across the Empire. They were a cheap, if slow, way of moving bulky goods and the British military made use of them to transport men and equipment. The Royal Engineers developed an inland waterways division in Mesopotamia during the Great War and they were used extensively in India throughout the first half of the century. India has over 9000 miles of navigable waterways including 2,500 miles of man-made canals. Tonight’s postcard is uncaptioned, but looking at the dress of the natives in the photograph I suspect it was taken in India and shows a group of British soldiers supervising the movement of a barge through a lock:

The barge is sitting in the lock with a heavy cargo and a single bargeman helping guide it through the lock:

Quite what cargo the barge is carrying isn’t clear, it appears to be sacks of some sort and might be grain, fodder or even something like coal. The lock gates can be seen to the left. These are substantial iron structures, with winch gear on the bank to control the sluices necessary to make the lock work:

These structures were built to last and often survive to this day in working condition, an oil and paint being all that is required to keep them running almost indefinitely. The rear gate can be seen behind the barge, with a stream of water cascading over the gates: 

A British soldier can be seen on the left bank, watching on:

While more of his comrades watch on from the opposite side:

They all wear typical military dress for India at this time, khaki drill shirts and shorts and Wolseley helmets.

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