Also included in the new regiment were the militia forming the 3rd and 4th battalions. The Derbyshire Militia (Chatsworth Rifles) formed the 3rd, and the Nottinghamshire or Royal Sherwood Foresters formed the 4th. The HQ was in Derby. The volunteer battalions were: 1st Derby, 2nd Chesterfield, 3rd Nottingham, and 4th Newark.
The second battalion first went to Gibraltar in 1881 and then on to Egypt to take part in the 1882 campaign. After that they went to India and fought in the Tirah.
The British force sent into the Tirah was under the command of Sir William Lockhart. The force was very large, containing 12 British battalions and 24 Indian/Gurkha battalions. The 2nd battalion Derbyshires were part of the 1st Division and were commanded by Colonel Dowse. The Dorset and the Northampton battalions suffered from cholera during the journey to the north-west and were confined to camp for 10 days. The Derbyshires fared better, avoiding the outbreak, but they did suffer from sore feet.
Lockhart made it clear to the Orakzai and Afridi tribesmen that he was advancing through their territory and they were not to impede him. He planned an advance over the Chagru Kotal on the 20th October. Sappers tried to improve the road but were harassed by Afridis firing from the Dargai Heights. They could not be dislodged with artillery so the 2nd division was sent up to clear them on the 18th. This first assault was achieved quickly and the Heights were captured but there was not enough water up there and the position had to be abandoned.
Many questioned the decision to withdraw and were proved right because the tribesmen regained possession of the defences soon afterwards. It was decided to scale the Heights again on the 20th, this time the Derbys were brought in from the 1st Division to help. The Gurkhas were to lead the attack with the Dorsets in support and the Derbys in reserve. The Gurkhas bravely rushed at the defences but, having suffered 71 casualties, were pinned down. Next, the Dorsets tried to cover the open ground but were cut down. Three companies of the Derbys then made the attempt but they were having to go through a narrow space which was easy for the Afridi marksmen to aim at. During this attack, Lt Pennell won his VC.
A mass of men from all three regiments was hiding behind a ledge and unable to go forward or back. The commander of this action, Major-General Yeatman Biggs ordered a further attempt led by the Gordon Highlanders and the 3rd Sikhs. The rest of the Derbyshire battalion, with Gurkhas, was to be in support, and the Dorsets in reserve. The attack was to be preceded by an artillery barrage. When this ceased the determined Gordons swept forward taking many casualties but causing great concern amongst the tribesmen. The Derbys and Dorsets, at first, gave covering fire but were so inspired that they joined the attack.
The men from the first attack who had been pinned down for hours could hardly believe their luck that their ordeal was soon to end. The final yards were almost easy as the tribesmen had started to run away. The commander of the Gordons survived the advance and seeing that the Heights were won, ordered Sergeant Cursley of the Derbys to use his signal flag to inform the Divisional commanders that Dargai was cleared. The regiment had lost one officer and 3 men killed, 8 wounded.