In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

Brief History
Brief History As one of the old Madras units, the 72nd dates back well into the 18th century. The early units were independent companies, poorly armed and ill disciplined, but when Fort St George was threatened by the French in 1758 it was decided to form the sepoys into regular battalions under British officers. There were 5 battalions at first, each consisting of 10 companies. Each battalion was commanded by a captain with 5 lieutenants, 5 ensigns and an Indian Commandant (the latter changed to subadar-major in 1819). Each company composed of a subadar, 2 jemadars, 6 havildars, 6 naiks and 100 sepoys.

The battalions were called Coast Sepoys at first but in 1769 were divided into Carnatic and Circar battalions, the Carnatic covering the south of the Madras Presidency and the Circar covering the north. The Carnatic battalions numbered 1-13, the Circar 1-6. The 72nd Punjabis started life as the 16th battalion, Coast Sepoys in 1767 and were the 13th Carnatic Battalion from 1769. These battalions were at first, not required to serve outside their areas.

From 1786 to 1928 the men were called privates instead of sepoys, a peculiarity of the Madras regiments. This practice started when the Court of Directors refered to them as privates in an order to issue fidelity medals.

Sholinghur 1781
Their first battle honour was earned at Sholinghur on 27th September 1781. They served under Sir Eyre Coote and were up against Hyder Ali and his army of 150,000 and 70 guns. The British force consisted of 11,500 of whom 1500 were European. This success was reversed a year later when the regiment was defeated at the siege of Cuddalore against the French. Many of them suffered 2 years imprisonment following this.
1st Burma War 1824-26
The Burmese had been aggitating since 1821, so by 1824 the Governor-General prepared for war. The Bengal troopps were reluctant to serve outside India so 5 Madras battalions were sent by sea reaching Rangoon on the 11th May 1824. They were under the command of Lord Amherst who ignored advice to take bullocks for transport. This prevented any progress until the end of the rainy season. The Burmese defended themselves in bamboo stockades which were difficult to get into. Our regiment was the 12th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry at this time. They are mentioned in the history of the war as having repulsed an attack at Dallah. At Ava the British position was based around the Shwe Dagon Pagoda when it came under attack by the main Burmese force under it's commander, Bandoola. On the 7th December 1825 the British took the offensive and completely defeated the Burmese. They did not give up, however, and men of the 12th were part of the force of 450 Madrasis and 70 Europeans that fought the last battle of this war at Sittang in January 1826. An earlier detachment had failed to dislodge the Burmese from their stackade, most ending up hanging by their heels, naked and mutilated for the new force to find at the edge of the river. The sight spurred the men on. They had to wade through water up to their necks, advance over open ground exposed to enemy fire and scale a steep slope and stockade wall with ladders, one of which broke under the weight of men. When they finally got inside, they slew 500 of the 1500 enemy having lost 86 of their own including 7 officers.
3rd Burma War 1885-89
The 12th were unaffected by the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as they were in Hong Kong and Singapore. But they played a prominent part in the 3rd Burma War. This time the Burmese, ruled by King Theebaw since 1878 were spoiling for a fight with the British. Theebaw was a bloodthirsty ruler who massacred 80 of his own relatives early in his reign. The British were preoccupied with Zululand and Afghanistan at the time but they were incensed when Theebaw signed a treaty with France and sent an army under Major-General Prendergast to occupy Mandalay and dethrone King Theebaw. The army was mostly comprised of Madras regiments. The 12th had the hardest job of besieging Minhla. They lost 4 officers and 26 men in a hard fought action. Mandalay was taken and Theebaw deposed but the army had to stay in Burma to deal with the dispersed Burmese army that subsequently formed themselves into dacoit gangs employing geurilla tactics. The 12th spent 3 years in the jungle being involved in many arduous marches and fights. Their casualties were high, more from malaria than battle.
Manipur 1890
The 12th were posted permanently to Burma after the war and became the 2nd Burma Battalion in 1891. From then on they recruited Punjabis instead of Madrasis. When some British officers were murdered at Manipur in 1890, a small force under Lieutenant C J W Grant consisting of the regiment and some Gurkhas, was sent to punish the Manipuris. They fought their way to the fort at Thobal which they captured and held for 13 days against repeated attacks. Grant won the VC and his 80 men the Order of Merit.
World War 1
Having been numbered the 72nd in the 1903 reorganisations, the regiment was now a fully fledged Punjabi unit. The first part of the War was spent on the North-West Frontier but they were later sent to Egypt and Palestine.
Kila Hari 1935
The night defence of Kila Hari post in the Loe-Agra operations of the Nowshera Brigade in April 1935 by a party of the 72nd Punjabis is an epic. A small detachment was attacked by an unexpectedly well-led tribal lashkar of 1000 Shamozais. They were almost overwhelmed in the hand-to-hand fighting which involved revolvers, bayonets, stones and knives and lasted an incredible ten hours. It was one of the most ferocious and sustained attacks that was ever inflicted by tribesmen in the history of the North-West Frontier.
Post Mutiny
Principal Campaigns and Battles
1885 - 87 Burma
Predecessor Units
16th Battalion Coast Sepoys
(1759 - 1769)
13th Carnatic Battalion
(1769 - 1770)
12th Carnatic Battalion
(1770 - 1784)
12th Madras Battalion
(1784 - 1796)
2nd Battalion, 8th Madras Native Infantry
(1796 - 1824)
12th Madras Native Infantry
(1824 - 1890)
2nd Burma Infantry
(1890 - 1891)
12th Regiment (2nd Burma Battalion) Madras Infantry
(1891 - 1901)
12th Burma Infantry
(1901 - 1903)
Successor Units
3rd/2nd Punjab Regiment
(1922 - 1947)
Post-Independence Fate
To India
Suggested Reading
A Matter of Honour
by Philip Mason

India's Army
by Donovan Jackson

Regiments and Corps of the British Army: A Critical Bibliography
by Roger Perkins

Sons of John Company
by John Gaylor

Armies of India
Painted by Lovett, Text by Macmunn

The Indian Army
by Boris Mollo

Forces of the British Empire
by E. Nevins and B. Chandler

Indian Army Uniforms - Infantry
by W. Y. Carman

Sergeant Pearman's Memoirs
by Anglesey, the Marquess of

Soldier Sahibs
by Charles Allen

The Bengal Native Infantry
by Dr Amiya Barat,

An Account of the War in India Between the English and French on the Coast of Coromandel, From the Year 1750 to the Year 1761
by Richard Owen Cambridge

Sketch of the Services of the Bengal Native Army
by Lt Cardew

The Indian Army: The Garrison of British Imperial India
by Heathcote

Britain's Army in India from its Origins to the Conquest of Bengal
by James Lawford

The Battle Honours of the British and Indian Armies
by Leslie

Sikh Soldier; Battle Honours and Sikh Soldier; Gallantry Awards by Narindar Singh Dhesi

A Matter of Honour: An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men
by P Mason

A History of Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan from the Year 1745
by R Orme

From Sepoy to Subedar
by Sita Ram

Forty-one Years in India
by Earl Roberts

Wellington in India
by Weller

The Bengal Native Infantry
by Captain Williams

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