The British Empire Library

Terriers in India: British Territorials 1914-19

by Peter Stanley

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
At the end of his book, Peter Stanley quotes Nigel Woodyatt, author of a 1922 memoir Under Ten Viceroys, in which he had devoted a chapter to the Territorials in India, advising that if readers found the subject ‘dull....I hope they will skip the chapter altogether’. I have not read Woodyatt, but I would be astounded if anyone found Peter Stanley’s account of the Territorials in India to be ‘dull’. Those familiar with the author’s style and the depth of his research will not be disappointed and it is, as the publisher’s distributors point out, astonishing that it has taken a century for a book to be written about them. This is not because of a lack of resource material. Territorial units in India, drawn largely from the southern counties of England and those on the English/Welsh border, were not required to maintain war diaries since they were not at war, though they did become embroiled in internal security duties; those who were subsequently sent to Aden, Mesopotamia, Persia, Siberia and, later, the Third Afghan War, did maintain war diaries for the duration of their deployments, but the author uses these sparingly in his brief description of those campaigns.

Much of his source material, and therefore the joy of the detail in this book, comes from the many letters home that Territorials wrote to their families and friends (in the case of one soldier, a teacher by profession, to his former pupils) or from the regimental newsletters they compiled, copied to their home Depots where they were preserved. They also wrote to their local newspapers, many of which published their contributions. In addition, many turned to photography and their albums, combined with ‘scrap’ albums that they kept, are now held by regimental museums and county archives. It is here that the author has dug deep to get inside the minds and attitudes of those citizen soldiers who, in 1914, volunteered for ‘Imperial Service’ at the request of Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. Kitchener’s distrust of the Territorial Army, and his determination to recruit a separate ‘New Army’ to fight on the Western Front, meant that a comparatively small proportion of Terriers were to see active service.

Against the will of the high command in India (the Commander-in- Chief described them as ‘immature’; the Viceroy dismissed them as having ‘very small military value’). Kitchener wanted Territorial battalions sent there in order to release Regulars for service in more active theatres. ‘Kitchener’s Promise’, that after six months in India they would be replaced by other troops and would then go on to serve on the Western Front, was widely reported in diaries and letters. But it was a promise never to be fulfilled, despite the units and men rising to the many training challenges of what became known as ‘Kitchener’s Test’. Many units served there throughout the war and, indeed, were retained in India for up to a year after the Armistice. Given the composition of the Territorial units, drawing on tradesmen and craftsmen as well as those with an education, it is, perhaps, not surprising that units were ‘raided’ on arrival in India for soldiers with specialist skills to fill gaps in the Indian Army. It is this same combination of education, skills and experiences that give the documents and letters produced by them such a variety of depth and colour and from which the author draws his inspiration.

Some 50,000 British Territorials served in India during the war, initially on garrison duties but later, as their military training and skills improved, as front-line troops in other theatres of war - ten Territorial battalions posted to India eventually served in Mesopotamia, including thousands of reinforcements, where a number were lost at the siege of Kut, or in the subsequent attempt to relieve the garrison. Others were sent beyond India to serve in Burma (guarding Ottoman prisoners of war), Singapore (following the mutiny of the 5th Light Infantry), Hong Kong, the Andaman Islands (a precaution against a possible German invasion to release prisoners) and even Australia (escorting German internees). The main theme throughout the book, however, is based on a Territorial soldier’s life in India and is repeated in successive chapters for 1915, 1916 (when the introduction of the Military Service Act changed the terms of their service), 1917 and finally 1918-1919. We see them adjusting to life in cantonment barracks and bungalows spread all over the sub-continent with their attendant followers, servants and vendors; the development of their attitudes towards and relationships with India, its people and cultures - sometimes, though not always, showing more sensitivity and understanding than the Regulars they had replaced; and over succeeding years their introduction to and embrace of sport, in many cases games or activities that were new to them or generally unavailable to their ‘class’ at home. It was not until 1916 that Territorial units began to train for operations on the North West Frontier and by 1917 they had taken their place alongside British and Indian Regulars as active defenders of the frontier, allowing them to feel that, even if they were ‘missing out’ on active service elsewhere, they were still ‘doing their bit’. Less comforting is the description of the role of some in support of General Dyer at Amritsar, whereas elsewhere in India they handled disturbances much more sympathetically. With eventual demobilisation and return to UK many of the units were given a civic reception on arrival at their home town, but knowledge of the role they had played in India soon faded and no-one wrote of their endeavours - until now. This book fills that gap and will provide an enjoyable read to anyone with an interest in military history in India. Highly recommended.

British Empire Book
Peter Stanley
First Published
Helion & Co.
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2019 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


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