Category Archives: India

Indian Made Signals Satchel

As well as the standard 37 pattern webbing, India also produced a number of associated items of webbing equipment. Amongst these was a signals satchel that was largely a copy of the British made example (here). The satchel is made of the distinctive, slightly striped, webbing that other pieces of Indian webbing are made from:

The satchel is marked as such on the lid, and like much Indian webbing these markings now have a slightly washed out and faded look to them:

This is quite common on webbing and seems to be down to the dyes used in the original printing process. The buckle is made of brass, but has a slight greenish tinge. This green is repeated on the other fittings, such as these on the shoulder strap:

These are not covered in verdigris, the green seeming instead to be some sort of lacquer. This is most likely to deter corrosion in the heat and humidity of south east Asia, but I confess it is not something I have seen on Indian webbing before. Interestingly, the brass fittings are dated as well, in this case 1942:

Unlike the British signals’ satchel, the Indian pattern has stiffening on both the front and back and the sides and bottom of the main bag. The inside is also lined with cotton drill to help protect the contents:

This is stamped with BHFH and the date 1943:

I haven’t been able to identify this manufacturer and it’s not an Indian manufacturer I am familiar with, but the design is certainly Indian in origin and if anyone can offer more information then please get in touch. These sort of Indian made associated pieces are far rarer to find than standard webbing items and it’s a nice new avenue to start collecting going forward…

Indian Army Camo Hat

Over the years I have covered a lot of Indian items on the blog, but up until now they have all been items produced in British India. India of course left the Empire and was granted independence in 1948 and there has been another seventy years of military history and indeed production since then. Despite this, Indian Army items are rarely seen in the UK and so it was fantastic to finally add my first piece of post partition Indian militaria to my collection the form of this camouflage hat:imageThe camouflage is the Indian Disruptive Pattern, not to be confused with the British DPM fabric. Camopedia describes this pattern as:

It is an overlapping pattern of green and brown palm leaf shapes on a khaki background, although there is a tremendous variability from very light to very dark. All manner of uniform styles have been produced in this pattern, as well as some pieces of field equipment. The pattern is often called “palm frond” or “Indian leaf” pattern.

The hat has a pair of metal ventilation grommets in the crown:imageNote also the fabric loops to thread foliage through and he metal hook and corresponding thread loop. These allow the sides of the hat’s brim to be drawn up:imageA tape two piece chin strap is sewn into the hat, with Velcro to attach it together and prevent the hat for blowing off:imageTwo labels are sewn into the hat, one in Hindi:imageAnd the other in English:imageThis shows that the hat is the 1998 pattern, whilst the date stamp in the top right corner dates actual manufacture to 2000.

It is interesting to note that the stores number is marked ‘NIV’ which is presumably the same as British stores nomenclature and stands for ‘not in vocab’.

Here the hat can be seen being worn by an Indian Air Force Commando:imageThe caption accompanying this photograph explains:

The Indian Air Force raised its commando force in 2004 for tasks such as rapid response to a terror strike on air bases. 

The Garuds not only protect IAF bases from attacks like the one in Srinagar in 2001, but are also trained to operate behind enemy lines in the event of a war. 

They wear black berets, unlike the brown ones sported by army’s Special Forces. They also can be spotted wearing a boonie hat. The Garuds are now a part of IAF’s exercises like Iron Fist and Live Wire; they carry Israeli Tavor assault rifles.

Staff College, Quetta Postcard

In the opening years of the twentieth century it was recognised that there was a need for a staff college in India to instruct officers in the duties and requirements necessary to effectively command at a high level within the Indian army. In 1905 a staff college was founded in Deolali and in 1907 this moved to Quetta in Baluchistan. A series of buildings were constructed in which to instruct the officers and it is a postcard of these that is the subject of this week’s post:

These buildings survived a major earthquake in 1935, but following this it was decided to replace them with more robust structures. The main range of buildings in this view were therefore demolished over the years with the exception of the central tower:

This still exists today, albeit with the addition of an extra floor, however it is now isolated and stands alone as the college’s Memorial Tower:

Many famous soldiers passed through the college at Quetta, one was Claude Auchinleck and in his biography of the man, the author Phillip Warner describes the future Field Marshall’s time at the college:

In 1919 Auchinleck was given a vacancy at the Staff College, Quetta. He was thirty-five, a lieutenant-colonel, and considerably more experienced than many of his instructors. Attendance on a course of any type can often be a strain on the temper of experienced officer. Much of the time he feels is being spent on outmoded doctrine, and the sheer tedium of being instructed day after day tempts the pupil to be a little cynical, if nothing more. There is a tendency for classes to behave like naughty schoolboys. Quetta, founded by Kitchener along the lines of Camberley Staff College, was a thoroughly efficient college, but there as a feeling that the course at Camberley must be nearer to the heart of things and probably more progressive.

The links to Camberley College were strong throughout the interwar years, indeed both Quetta and Camberley shared the same entrance exams throughout this period. When Pakistan was formed after partition, the nascent nation kept Quetta as its staff college and many of its alumni would serve in senior positions in the armed forces of the new nation, a role the college has maintained to the current day.

IACC Sergeant’s Metal Trunk

Tonight special thanks go to Michael Whittaker who helped me secure a large and visually impressive metal soldier’s trunk a few weeks back:These metal trunks were used to carry uniforms, personal items, books and other effects on long sea journeys. The large box would have held items that were not needed on the voyage and would have been placed in the ship’s hold. This example was used by a W Mallinson:Of the Indian Army Corps of Clerks, as indicated by the letters IACC on the sides of the trunk next to his name:The Indian Army Corps of Clerks was founded in 123 under the authority of Army Instruction (India) 352 of 1923. An article in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research explains:

The corps was established to provide clerical support for the General Headquarters of the Army, and also at Command, divisional and brigade level, with military officers and Indian civilian clerks. The officers were initially transferred from the India Miscellaneous List, with British Warrant Officers also supplied from the IML and ranked as Conductors (Warrant Officer Class I) or Sub-Conductors (warrant Officer Class II). The officers filled posts in the grade of Commissaries in headquarters, while the Conductors and Sub-conductors filled posts such as Headquarter Branch Superintendent Clerks and other administrative clerical positions.

The IACC was partially a civilian service until 1933 when it became entirely military in character and junior grade civil servants were replaced with military personnel, such as the sergeant whose name appears on the trunk above. These large trunks fell from favour once the Second World War broke out so this probably dates the trunk to that small window between 1933 and 1939.

The soldier’s name and unit are repeated on the opposite side of the trunk:Across the top are instructions of the trunk’s final destination, here an address in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, via Bombay:A handle is attached to each end of the trunk to make it easier to carry, what the lettering above this means is unclear:A third handle is attached to the front and centre of the box, beneath the clasp:Security was obviously important with a steamer trunk often having valuable contents, the lock is therefore proudly declared to have 19 levers. The interior of the box shows reinforcing ribs to help prevent the trunk form being squashed (the dents in it eighty years later show that this cannot always have been entirely successful):Note how the interior is painted blue, the same colour was used on the metal pith helmet tin we covered earlier this year and was perhaps a standard colour for the interior of these sorts of items of luggage.

Frances Ingall joined the Bengal Lancers as an officer and he decided a wooden trunk was more suitable:

When I had done the rounds of the tailors and outfitters I went out and bought a substantial wooden trunk, lined with tin, to store my clothing in when I reached India, particularly the woollens and serges. India is full of bugs of varying voracity: termites, moths and the insidious ‘woolly bear’, a minute furry insect that can ruin an unprotected drawerful of woollies in a single night. Cotton and drill garments, I was to find, were generally safe from predatory insects- but not from the dhobi, the Indian washerman.

Military Prison Trimulgherry Postcard

This week’s postcard is of the military prison at Trimgherry:SKM_C30819051607450 - CopyThis prison was constructed in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny in Secunderabad. The following, highly detailed description of the gaol draws heavily on an article published by the ‘Hans India’:

The Military Reformatory Trimulgherry Gaol was built in 1858 spread over 5 acres at a cost of Rs 4,71,202. The building has a central watchtower:SKM_C30819051607450 - Copy - CopyThe entire building structure and its four wings were covered in 360 degrees–facing 0 and 360 degrees is Lal Bazaar, 90 degrees is Moulali, 180 degrees is West Marredpally and 270 degrees is Bowenapally.
Lightening absorbers were laid on the top of the building and to all the wings to prevent shock and damage to the building. On the third floor of the tower is the gallows room where the prisoners were hanged. The prisoners who were sentenced by hanging were offered a choice of last lunch and were made to pray in a hall according to their faith and to ascend the 36 narrow wooden steps leading the gallows. The dead bodies were later buried in the cemetery within the prison premises. There is a separate cemetery for the British officers and soldiers who died in normal circumstances by diseases and aging. Records also reveal that nearly 500 prisoners were executed at the prison.

From the central tower, four wings branch out in four different directions and house a total of 75 cells– 40 on the ground floor and 35 on the first floor. The verandas of the building are adorned with Gothic arches whilst the rooms are approached through a flight of steps from the central tower.SKM_C30819051607450 - Copy - Copy (2)Each wing has two rows of cells with each cell facing the rear of the other, so that the prisoners in no way could see or communicate with each other. Each has a solitary ventilator at a great height above the ground, each cell has three strong iron door and the cells have an arrangement in which particularly difficult prisoners could be chained to the walls. Each cell has a small window type hole which would allow the prisoner to see only what is directly in front of him. However, if one were to peep inside the cell from outside, one would get a full view of entire cell to enable the authorities to observe the prisoner. The construction and the design of the gaol was made in such a way that any time in the day, from dawn to dusk, the sunlight never falls on any cell, which ensures dim lighting.

The whole building is fortified by a towering perimeter wall with medieval gateways, and the entire gaol was protected by a wide and deep canal filled with water with large number of crocodiles moving around:SKM_C30819051607450 - Copy - Copy (3)Any prisoner who succeeded in escaping the gaol walls had to pass through the canal and would have fallen prey to the crocodiles. The prisoners were so secluded from any contact with the outside world that if they had to be medically treated at the adjoining Military Hospital, they were transported, treated and brought back through an underground tunnel. A warden office would monitor the gaol administration. A work shed was erected in 1881 to cater to the needs of infrastructure.

After Independence, the gaol was handed over to the Indian Army. However no records about prisoners were handed over by the British. Post-Independence, Indian Military prisoners were lodged in it under the supervision of Corps of Military Police. After operation ‘Blue Star’, Sikh army men who had mutinied at Ramgarh Regimental Centre were also lodged at the Military Reformatory. They seem to have been the last of the Army men to undergo punishment at this place. According to the local people, the prison was very active during the Second World War when captured prisoners were lodged there. The prison was disbanded in 1984 and it now houses the Territorial Army.DVCnGKUU0AAxabB

Deccan British War Hospital Postcard

In the First World War it became clear that for troops injured seriously in the fighting against the Ottomans in places such as Mesopotamia, the journey back to England was too great. The authorities decided that India was a better place to evacuate soldiers to and a number of hospitals were set up on the subcontinent. Tonight’s postcard depicts one of these, the Deccan Military Hospital:The rear of the card captions the image and dates this picture to 1918:Pushkin Sohoni, writing in the Pune Mirror, describes the history of this building:

On Ganeshkhind Road (University Road), at the intersection of Ferguson College Road is the College of Agriculture, which was founded in 1907. The main building is set about half a kilometre inside from the main gate. While it continues to serve the function for which it was built, few know that between 1916 and 1919, it was transformed into a hospital serving convalescing soldiers from the theatre of war in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) during World War I. The patients came from the front by ship and were treated in multiple hospitals across British India, including the 34th Welsh Hospital at Deolali and the Deccan British War Hospital in Pune. The latter was the main building of the College of Agriculture, which was expanded to have over a thousand beds serving soldiers and prisoners of war. The doctors and the orderlies were English, but interestingly, the nurses came the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS)…

Sherwood Foresters Miniature Silver Trophy

Miniature trophies were often given out as prizes to those who won regimental sports matches, although there would be a big trophy that would be engraved with the winning soldier or team’s name, smaller trophies were given to individuals that were there’s to keep. Examples of these small trophies can occasionally be seen next to bigger trophies in photographs of winning teams such as this one here.

Tonight we are taking a look at a small silver trophy produced in India and presented to a member of the Sherwood Foresters:imageThe trophy is made of ‘935’ silver and this is stamped into the metal:imageMost UK silver is 925 silver which means it is 92.5% silver with the rest usually copper to provide strength. This is the minimum silver content to be legally declared silver in Great Britain and in the early twentieth century many foreign manufacturers deliberately made a slightly purer silver alloy (93.5% silver) so that they could be sure of passing the UK minimum requirement, even if their alloys were slightly less pure on testing than they expected at manufacture.

This trophy is in the form of a miniature two handled loving cup and is engraved on the front with the regimental crest of The Sherwood Foresters:imageThe trophy is mounted on a mahogany base and the base has a round manufacturer’s disc showing that it was made by J Manikrai and Sons of Karachi:imageMy thanks to Mike Garrett who offers this information about this manufacturer:

Presumably this firm is the continuation of the silversmith Manik Rai. Manik Rai was a silversmith who fled the Kutch area following the ‘Chhapaniyo Dukal’, the great famine that struck the Kutch area in 1899-1900, and then settled in Karachi. He was noted as an exhibitor in the Lahore Exhibition of 1909.

Unfortunately we don’t know for what sport this cup was issued, nor the exact date. To give a flavour of some of the sport undertaken by the Regiment in India, this account of boxing from 1934 is perhaps a good representation of the esteem sports were held in:

Following upon the Blake Cup Novices meeting came the inter company and individual championships. These took place at the end of February, and it was decided to hire the Western India Football Association Stadium for the occasion. Furthermore to attract the Bombay public, five special contests were arranged between leading Presidency amateur boxers and well-known boxers from surrounding stations. These proved to be first class contests.

The very excellent lighting arrangements in the Stadium were erected by the Royal Engineers, and two stands were put up by a local contractor. The result was a very large and impressive boxing arena, excellently lit at night, and capable of seating twelve hundred people at a session.

The companies experienced a certain amount of difficulty in training some of their men up to the necessary company standard. This was due to the fact that a very great number of old company and battalion boxers had gone home during the last year.

However the improvement shown by some of those who had fought in the Blake Cup only a fortnight before was remarkable, and we saw three good nights of boxing.