Indian Military Historical Society Book Review

 Tony McClenaghan of the Indian Military Historical Society reviews the book in the Winter 2011 journal – Volume 28, No. 4:

“The First World War campaign in East Africa has received little coverage compared to Europe, though The History of the Great War – Military Operations East Africa (London, HMSO) provided an early account and there have been some more recent and extremely valuable works. Similarly, the efforts of the Imperial Service Troops (later Indian State Forces) have received patchy coverage, though the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir has fared better than others with two exceptionally good books – Major K Brahma Singh’s History of Jammu & Kashmir Rifles (1820-1956) (Lancer International, Delhi 1990) and Major General Monty Palit’s Jammu and Kashmir Arms, History of the J & K Rifles (Palit & Dutt, Dehra Dun 1972). Through these books and my own research, the name of Captain Alexander Kerr, who won a Military Cross in East Africa while serving with 2nd Rifles (Body Guard Regiment) of the Jammu & Kashmir army, and those of other British and Kashmiri officers who served with the regiment, have been known to me for several years. Now we have a detailed account of the Kashmir troops in East Africa thanks to research by the grandson of Captain Kerr. Based on a variety of sources, including diaries kept by Alec Kerr and other officers, the book brings to life some of the otherwise dry statistics of official records, and helps to identify the hardships and strains of the East African campaign. The title is taken from a comment written by Alec Kerr.

At the outset of the war, Kashmir was asked to produce half of the three battalion complement of Imperial Service Troops required for East Africa, or one-and-a-half battalion (the remainder of the complement had been provided by a combination of Rampur, Kapurthala and Jind troops). The complete battalion of 2nd Kashmir Rifles and half of the 3rd Rifles were mobilised in August 1914 and proceeded to East Africa under the command of Lieutenant-Colonels Raghbir Singh and Durga Singh respectively, with Majors R.A. Lyall and E.F.D. Money as Special Service Officers (Alec Kerr joined later). Thirty months later, after actions at Tanga, the Umbra Valley, Jasin, Lukigura and elsewhere they were returned to India. My researches had indicated that 2nd Rifles lost a total of two officers (including Lieutenant-Colonel Raghbir Singh) and thirty-eight ORs killed in action and two British officers, one Indian officer and forty-six ORs wounded. This book suggests the attrition rate was much higher at about seventy killed in action and many more wounded or incapacitated through sickness and malaria, with only about twenty-five men being declared fit at the end of the campaign out of a total of 1,315 who had passed through the ranks during the deployment – a ninety-eight per cent casualty rate. Nevertheless, the Kashmir troops withstood the rigours of the campaign far better than than other Indian, South African or British troops. Some sections of the book are fuller than others, but that tends to reflect the amount of information recorded in the War Diaries – and anyone who has studied such documents will know how patchy they can be.

A significant joy of the book is the number of excellent and previously unseen photographs, putting faces to names (and not only the officers). The launch of the book was geared towards the 11th Regimental Reunion of the J&K Rifles but a very late withdrawal by an intended publisher led to hasty requirements to find a replacement. As a result there are a number of typographical errors, but they should not detract from an excellent and welcome addition to the annals of this theatre, and of the role of the State Forces, especially one focused at a battalion and company level of reporting.”

Tony McClenaghan

About Andrew Kerr

active conservationist and military author
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