Military Railways in India
Part One - Railways on the North Western Frontier 1880 to 1917
Little has been written about the use of railway equipment by the Indian Army in India during the zenith of the British
power. This article is an attempt to correcting this by the use of contemporary documents that are now part of the India
Office Collection at the British Library in London.
From the time that the East India Company established Britain's interest in India as the main power broker in the mid 17th
century, the defence of its borders became of paramount importance. The huge land border of India was a problem to defend.
Before the European colonists arrived in South Asia, the land was a vast area ruled by a vast array of local princes,
maharajahs, and viziers. By the early 19th century, the East India Company's sphere of control extended in the north west
as far as the border with Afghanistan (through a treaty with the Prince of the Punjab).
Afghanistan was viewed as a strategic buffer between the British and Russian empires. Although Britain and Russia were
nominally allies, there was a great deal of mistrust between the two. Russia's southern borders were expanding south all of
the time. Even though warfare was a world away from modern warfare, it was reckoned that an army would be able to move over
the Russia's southern frontier across into Afghanistan and through the passes of the Khyber and Bolan into India's northern
borders. For the whole of the nineteenth century, Britain and Russia vied for supremacy in the area.
Britain fought its First Afghan war in 1838-42. It was a disastrous campaign. An army 15,000 British and Indian troops, and
a caravan of nearly 30,000 bearers, cooks, wives, children, farriers, and servants had marched into Kabul to put the British
choice of ruler on the throne, Shah Shujah. The British/Indian army remained to ensure the lasting of the Shah's rule, as
he was not the universal choice as a new man in charge. The inevitable uprising took place in 1841 and the remaining garrison
of 16,000 people was forced to leave Kabul. In arguable the most inept piece of military leadership in British colonial
history, nearly the entire ensemble was massacred between Kabul and the Bolan pass, only around a dozen reaching the town of
Jalalabad, in what is today Pakistan, just after the new year in 1842.
By the time the British had reason to send forces into Afghanistan, things had moved on in warfare in the intervening years.
In the 1880's, the logistics of war had changed. Railways were now seen as means as moving troops and weapons over large
distances far quicker than horses could. In theory, soldiers could be hundreds of miles from the front and fighting there
within a week. The Russians had built a standard gauge railway line to within 70(?) miles of Heart, 400 miles to the west
of Kabul. With it, they could move troops from Moscow south, across the Caspian Sea and onward again by rail to within 50
miles of Afghanistan's western border.
This worried the British. With the Russians so close to Kabul, the British needed a quick way to move the amount of troops
that would be needed to fight a war with perceived to fight the coming war with the Russians. The second Afghan war was
fought between 1878 to 1880. Concerning this, the British army decided to first use a strategic railway. They decided to
build a metre gauge line through the Bolan Pass to aid the movement through this precipitous pass into Afghanistan. Today
this area is the North Western Frontier Provinces of Pakistan. The first use made the British military of railways in India
was in 1879 when the military authorities ordered 25 Double Fairlie type locos from the Avonside Engine Co Ltd of Bristol.
They were to be used on a metre gauge line planned to go up through the Bolan Pass.
By the time the first loco was delivered, the war was over and the machines were no longer needed. So the authorities tried
to cancel the order. Unfortunately for them 17 of the 25 locos had already been built This locos had to now go somewhere so
they ended up on as property of the Indian State Railways.
Only 15 of the locos actually ended up working as Indian State Railway (ISR) locos. One was unfortunately lost at sea and
one was immediately sold to "contractor in Bombay". ISR numbered them 361 to 377. An unknown number of them were supplied
without side tanks, which reduced their axle weight to 8 tons. Two of the locos were erected for trials on the Rajpatuna
Malwa Railway and the Holkar State Railway. The trials proved unsuccessful and the locos wee returned to store along with
the other 13 locos.
Between 1885 and 1886, all the locos were belated sent to the Bolan Pass but had again been put into storage by 1887. In 1896,
ten locos were sent for use on Burma Railways. They were Avonside works numbers 1247 - 54, 1257 - 62, 1265 - 1266 and
1273 - 76. Burma Railways numbered them 141 to 150 and classified them as D class. They were used acquired for use on the
branch from Mandalay eastwards to Lashio, which include 11 miles of 1 in 25 gradient. The Farlie's were not well suited for
the task and were in poor condition and were subsequently withdrawn from 1904. Not all were cut up and some carried in
service being used for ferry shunting duties for some years after this date.
Of the remaining five locos, four also found later found further use. They were transferred to the South Indian Railway in
1907 for use on the Niligiri Railway. This line with its 1 in 121/2 gradient ran from Mettapuliyam to Ootacumund, or more
colloquially Ooty. The locos were classified I class and numbered 1 to 4. The line opened in its extension from Coonor to
Ooty in 1908 and these were the only adhesion locos to have worked on this line. It is assumed they were obtained in
connection with this extension as it was unlike the original 1897 section, which was worked by the Abt rack system. It is
unknown when they were withdrawn.
After the Second Afghan campaign, the British military authorities did some serious thinking about their use of railways.
The next locos to find a military use were two locos delivered in between 1883 and 1884. There were both 500mm gauge and
experimental. W G Bagnall Ltd of Stafford built one and the other was collaboration between Decauville and Couillet. It
appears that both of them were designed to taken apart and transported overland. The British military were obviously trying
out a new form of rapid advance through hostile and fairly impassable terrain by using all that the new industrial world
could aid them with. If they wanted to go through, say into Afghanistan again a railway would offer them swiftness of
movement from the rear echelons to the font line. It is known what the outcome of the experiment was - one can conclude
unsuccessful ads it doesn't seem to have been taken up widely in the future. (There is apparently a contemporary piece
about this in the London Times. I have been unable to locate it. If anyone can assist I would be grateful).
At the same time a committee was set up to look at the strategic values and uses for light railways in frontier areas. The
authors looked at various narrow gauge railways around India and compared their strengths and weaknesses. One of the
conclusions drawn was that the gauge to be used for military railways was to be 2'6" gauge. This was mainly due to the fact
that there were more 2'6" gauge railways already in India that material and equipment could be borrowed from than there were
2'0" gauge lines. One of the effects of this was the first two locos that had been ordered for the Kalka Simla Railway had
to be re-gauged to 2'6" as it had been planned to be a 2'0" line.
In 1885, a memo was sent outlining the strength of a proposed 8th (Railway) Company of the Royal Engineers. As a fighting
military unit it left much to be desired - its only soldiers were two captains, two lieutenants and a company sergeant
major. Its main duties were to be the running of small railways as the rest of it was composed of six engine drivers, six
firemen, nine guards, nine station masters, six assistant station masters and telegraphists, nine pointsmen and signal men,
one running shed foreman, three fitters, one boiler maker, nine smiths, fourteen hammer men, two cleaners, two carriage
greasers, nine carpenters, two foremen platelayers, nine leading hands and eighteen platelayers. Completing the company were
one pay corporal, two tailors, one bootmaker, one company cook and two buglers. Sadly, the documents that I have found say
nothing about where this company were to be deployed or on what duties.
On 29th March 1900, a formal indent was placed by the Financial Department of the Army for the purchasing of 50 miles of
light railway materials. This included "Engines, tank, capable of hauling 40 tons up gradients of 1 in 50, excluding their
own weight. 10 locomotives" at a total cost of £16, 000. They were also to have 300 gallon side tanks. These locos were
ordered from W G Bagnall Ltd of Stafford, works numbers 1629 to 1630, built in 1900 and 1901.
Rolling stock was to consist of 150 four wheeled trucks, at a cost of £6, 0000. Permanent way was to consist of enough 21lb
track, steel sleepers, fish plates and spikes for 50 miles of track, including 40 sets of points and crossings. The total
cost of the track was £30, 202.
Along with the railway equipment, the indent was also use to purchase traction engines with winding drums to the value of
£8000 (it does not say how many). They were to be "Uganda pattern, supplied by John Fowler & Co with head cranes, 124" jib
and side winding drum. Water and fuel tenders and wagons to take 6 tons each". To be used on the drums, just over 9 cwt of
6" galvanised steel cable, just over 1 cwt of 2" steel rope and 10 travellers were purchased at £2440 for the lot.
Although purchased to be the stock to form a reserve stock, when the equipment was delivered it was sent straight to the
Khushwas Kohat Thal Railway (KKTR) from a junction Khushwas on the road gauge line of the North Western Railway to Kohat;
the line opened in 1902. For the first year of operation an ariel ropeway bridged the gap across the River Indus at Khushwas
but this was closed after an accident. In 1903, the line was extended from Kohat to Thal, approximately 20 miles from the
India/Afghan border. In 1908 the section from Khushwas to Kohat was converted to broad gauge, including a bridge across the
In 1901, a year before the KKTR opened, the military had opened their first narrow gauge railway. It ran from a junction at
Nowshera on the broad gauge line of the North Western Railway to Degari, some 40 miles or so north. Like Thal, Degari lay
close to the India/Afghan border. It was known as the Nowshera Degari Railway (NDR).
Four interesting locos were used in the construction of the NDR and KKTR. The first two were two of the original locos built
for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway(DHR). They were built in 1880 and obtained by the North Western Railway in 1885 as part
of a batch of four ex DHR locos they acquired for use on the Ferzopore Steam Tramway. This was a 6 3/4 mile long line that
ran across a temporary boat bridge on the River Sutlej. It opened in 1885 and closed in 1888 when the permanent bridge was
opened. The locos then disappeared for five years as nothing is known about their whereabouts. In 1893, two of the four were
sent to work at the NWR colliery at Dandot. The other two were re-gauged to 2'6" and obtained by the NWR Gradient Division.
They were used by the Gradient Division as construction locos in conjunction with both the building of the NDR and KKTR.
The other two locos used in the construction were very interesting and lead very chequered careers. They were both built as
metre gauge locos for the Indian State Railway and used on the Punjab Northern State Railway, numbered 419 and 420. In 1894,
they were re-gauged to 2'6" and transferred to work at Bhaganwalla Colliery, another colliery operated by the NWR. After
five years working here, they were transferred again this time to the Cooch Behar State Railway and numbered 4 and 5. After
a short sojourn here they returned to the NWR in 1901 to be used as construction locos on the NDR and KKTR projects.
Number 4 was renumbered at an unknown date to 99. In 1914 it was sold to a company in Calcutta called Seth Apcar and Co. It
was sold on again in 1936 to the Kaligaht Falita Railway in Calcutta were it became their number 12. Number 5 was later used
on the construction of the Quetta to Nushki broad gauge line in 1908. It was later used on the New Delhi construction project
The traffic locos used on the NDR were mainly of a single type. There were nine 0-6-2 tender locomotives. The first six were
built in 1900, three by Kitson & Co Ltd, Leeds and three by Manning, Wardle & Co Ltd, Leeds. They were numbered 1 to 6.
They were joined in 1902 by another 3 built by Kitson and numbered 7 to 9. Along with these a second hand 0-8-4T loco was
acquired from the Barsi Light Railway (of the same design used on the Leek and Manifold Railway in Staffordshire). Built by
Kitson, it was ex BLR number 4 becoming number 21 on the NDR.
Back in the Military Department however, reports were being written. On 6th July 1901, a report was presented to the
Committee on Material and Organisation of Light Railways. One of the things discussed in it how a Military Railway Reserve
was to be maintained. It stated that 27 locomotives were to be maintained. Up to this date 23 locomotives of a similar design
had been ordered from Bagnalls. The initial 10 delivered straight to the KKTR, along with a second batch in 1902. These
differed slightly from the initial order in that they were to be supplied with 400 gallon water tanks and a four wheeled 400
gallon tenders. Ten of these locos were to be delivered to the reserve with the balance of three going to the KKTR Numbered
71 to 73 on the KKTR). It is assumed that the balance of four locomotives is made up of the two ex DHR and the two ex metre
Along with the locos, the reserve was now had 230 3 ton wagons and had acquired 30 brake vans. Its mileage of track has
risen to 140 miles (but there is no mention made of how many points and crossings were no possessed). In addition to the
totals of material, the report also discussed where the material was to be stored.
Its authors stated "We consider for instructional purposes, 15 miles of railway track with accessories, one engine, eight
wagons and one brake van should be handed over to the Bengal Miners and Sappers at Rurki". They also recommended that
"....the same amount of material and rolling stock should be given to the other corps of Miners and Sappers". For the
defensive position around Quetta, 15 of the 140 miles of track would be required although no mention is made of any locos or
rolling stock being required although it is assumed that they would be used.
The remainder of the locos, rolling stock and track were to be put into store. The locos and rolling stock were to be put
into store in Rawlpindi along with 20 miles of track to accommodate it on. The remaining 80 miles of the track were to be
stored at Chaman. These arrangements for storage were "....in accordance with the advice of the manager of the NWR....".It
was suggested in the report that "The Officer in charge of the Railway Company of Sappers and Miners might be instructed to
make frequent inspections of this stock"! At Rawlpindi, sheds had been built to accommodate the locos at a cost of Rs18, 500.
It was noted that the trucks and other plant could be stored in the open.
On 13th March 1902, a dispatch was sent discussing "...a rough scheme for a company of Bengal Miners and Sappers". It was
stated that this company were "....to be regularly employed during peace time on the construction and maintenance of the
Kohat to Thal Railway and other suitable railway lines". The company strength was to be a Company Commander, who would be a
Major or Captain in the Royal Engineers, a Company Officer, who would be a subaltern in the Royal Engineers and two Royal
Engineers NCOs - these would all be British. The "native" troop would consist of three Officers - one Subadar and two
Janadars - six Havildars, ten Naicks, thirteen Artisans, 130 Sappers and two Buglers.
As regards the running of the unit they would "....be under military discipline, in all other respects it will be under the
Public Works Department as is the case of Officers and soldiers under civil employ".
In 1902 the Military Reserve obtained its final batch of locos from Bagnalls. They were 13 locos of the second design with
400 gallon tanks and the four wheeled tender. Three were delivered to the KKTR (becoming KKTR numbers 74 to 76) and the
balance became part of the Military Reserve.
The next piece of administrative paperwork dates from 26th December 1907 and is a dispatch from the Military Supply
(Financial) Department. It is a despatch seeking authorisation for expenditure for the 2nd Military Railway at Quetta. In it
we learn that the 2nd Railway Company was sanctioned "....as part of the proposals of His Excellency the Commander in Chief
for preparation of the Army in India for War". When the company was raised in 1905 the works expenditure had been estimated
at RS 12, 000. It also adds that the company had been employed building the Quetta to Nushki broad gauge line (where one of
the converted metre gauge locos had gone, further reinforcing the idea that these locos were considered to part of the
The initial intention had been to accommodate the company in "....existing buildings owned by the railway company at various
points along the (Quetta - Nushki) line". However "....experience has shown it has been necessary to keep a Headquarters
detachment under continuos training at Quetta". It had therefore been decided to ask for Rs 33, 362 to be spent on building
the 2nd Railway Company a barracks in Quetta. It was to consist of quarters for the British Commandant, quarters for Native
Officers and a Havildar, barracks for 32 "...rank and file single men". In addition to this a small workshop and store for
clothing and military equipment were to be provided, including an arms rack. It is interesting to compare the building costs
for accommodation of a single British Officer were Rs 11, 794 yet for two native officers the costs of accommodation were
only Rs 1, 122!
The next document that I have been able to find concerning the two lines is another document written by the Financial
Department of the Army. However this one is not an indent or other bill or account. It is more of a strategic philosophy for
why the two lines are a waste of money. Sent on 21st November 1908 and written by one O M Creagh, it starts by explaining
that the "Lol Shilman and Kohat Kuram lines were sanctioned to strengthen the strategic position against Russia". They were
considered as such as "....the centre of gravity in the Afghan theatre of war in its defence against Russia by us in the
Creagh suggests that any force operating in the Kuran - Khyber direction would be comparatively small and "....for which
railways would not be necessary if assisting a friendly Afghanistan". He goes on to say that if an attack came from a
Russo-Afghan attack it would be impossible, with current troop strengths to act in an offensive manner and that the lines
were therefore useless to the defence of the areas and could therefore be thought of as "unnecessary".
All of this good military sense was now however negated after the 1905 Japan-Russian War. Since the defeat of Russia in this
war and the subsequent "....conclusion of the Anglo-Russian agreement...", the threat posed by a Russian invasion of British
India through Afghanistan had receded. In the light of this, Creagh insisted that "....no more money be spent on these
railways". He went on to add that "....against Afghanistan or the tribes they are a luxury not a necessity".
As far as the Lol Shilman line was concerned, Creagh pointed out that "...considering our relation with Afghanistan it
cannot now be continued and it is extremely doubtful if it will ever be advisable to do so in the future". Creagh also
considered that it was "....useless from a military point of view to extend the existing lines for Parachinar or to alter
the NG from Kohat to Thull (SD note - considering that the first section of this line from Kohat to Khushnar was converted
to BG in the year that this letter was written). However, he conceded that from an operational point of view, the break of
gauge would interfere very little with working the line.
He concludes his letter by recommending that "....no further expense be incurred on the Kohat Thull line.....", whilst also
agreeing with Sir Richard Ritchies recommendation regarding the Lol Shilman line (whatever this may have been - one can
only guess that no expenditure for it either). Next he gives a good political reason why the lines are more money and effort
that they are worth - they stir up local dissent. He states that "....active work on these lines gives the mullahs a line on
which to preach and has a disturbing effect on the tribes".
His next criticism is aimed at the railway Board of the North Western Railway. He berates them for not dealing with
strategic lines as separate business and financial units. He complains that they have a bad habit of "....including
strategic proposals among those to ordinary railway business". This he argues means that the Military have no visibility of
the financial outgoings of the strategic railways.
He carries on to lament that "The great experience of the Government of India have in railway construction in all conditions
should enable them to frame estimates very approximately" - in other words they have been doing this for years now, they
should know that initial estimates are very rarely near the true costs. He obviously felt that the financial affairs of
Military strategic railways had gotten out of control. So bad indeed that Creagh goes as far as suggesting that "....an
example should be made...." of the officer involved in estimating the costs for the KKTR. Apparently his name had been
requested the previous year and this had had no effect!
No more money may have been spent but the next year more arrangements were made for the staffing of the Military lines.
On 18th November 1909, a confidential note was sent from the Indian Army HQQ at Fort William in Calcutta concerning the
formation of a new Railway Corps. They were to be known as Railway Corps of Miners and Sappers. The Company was to be of
reservists who would cover the duties of the 1st and 2nd Railway Companies who were currently "....on mobilisation....". The
reservists were required to "....perform the duties of Engine drivers, station masters, traffic inspectors and guards". The
men, totalling fifty, would be "European or Eurasia (also known as Anglo India)".
The fifty men were needed in the following numbers
Engine drivers 35
Station masters 3
Traffic inspector 1
For their trouble they would receive an extra 12 annas per diem. The total wage bill to the Army would be Rs 27, 400 - this
would provide enough men to cover both 1st and 2nd Railway Companies.
The only definite use of the equipment in the Military Reserve between 1902 and 1916 is that it spent most of its time in
store. It was used twice but hardly for an short notice tactical reason. On both occasions it was used in conjunction with
the Delhi Durbars. These events, in 1902 and 1911, were official celebrations of the coronation of new Emperor's of India -
Edward VI and Edward VII. In 1902 12 locos were used and in 1911, 23 were used. There is an article describing the 1902
Durbar railway in a collection of short articles about narrow gauge railways in 1910. It gives many interesting details
about the railway.
The line was laid from the Kashmir Gate to the polo ground. It was laid as a double line and had a loop at each end giving a
continuos loop. This was divided into 13 sections. Trains followed each other around this loop - the maximum number of
trains running at one time was ten. Trains ran every 8 minutes. The double track was built on 8' centres, being 5' from
fixed structures (which was not allowed on civilian 2'6" gauge lines. There was a maximum width on the roadbed of 16' on a
bank, 20' in cuttings. The maximum gradient was 1 in 80, the sharpest curve was 120' radius.
The first works on the line - preliminary earthworks, culverts and spreading of permanent way materials was done by a
unknown contractor. Work was taken over by two companies of the Bengal Miners and Sappers, who commenced tracklaying upon
their arrival. A cutting was blasted through the Delhi ridge, a 21' high rock escarpment. 16000 ft3 of rock was excavated
in the cutting. This was achieved by the Sappers using dynamite in 24 days.
There was a bridge over the Najagarh Canal. This consisted on three spans each 10' centre to centre of the piers. There were
also a six foot arched culvert in the Ridge cutting and a 3' arch near the Mori Gate station. All other openings were all
1'6" or 2" wide flat topped culverts formed by using unserviceable sleepers as the covering.
Work commenced on 1st August 1902. The line was inspected and passed for traffic use at 12 mph on 29th November the same
year. It was opened to public traffic on 1st December 1902. The line ran from the Kashmir Gate to various Durbar camps on
its route. Its main use was to reduce road traffic fort the visitors and soldiers taking part. It consisted of 4 miles of
double track mainline and two single track branches - one of around a mile and a quarter to the Amphitheatre and the other
of just under a mile and a half to the Review branch. They closed on 18th January 1903. The cost of it all was
Rs 125, 856-1-9 for construction and operation. In its six week of operation the railway earned Rs 66,222-10-0.
It was operated by 12 locomotives all belonging to the Military Reserve. Six had been working on the KKTR. The other six
were all delivered direct from England. 120 carriages were used, all of the "Military Service" type - at least some of these
were supplied to the Military Department from Orienstein and Koppell.
The next significant event for military railways on the North Western Frontier was the opening of the KBR Railway, which
was also known as the Trans Indus Railway. This opened in 1913 and ran from Kalabagh, where a wagon ferry crossed the Indus,
to Bannu, a distance of 89 miles. A branch was opened in 1916 from Lake Marwat to Tank. This included a ghat section with
gradients of 1 in 45. A further line from Tank to Kaur and Khorgi was commenced during the Warizistan unrest of 1919. This
was opened in 1921.
The traffic locos on this line consisted of two different types of locomotive. Six were 4-6-2 locos supplied the North
British Locomotive Co Ltd, Glasgow, four delivered in 1911 and two in 1918. These were numbered 1 to 5. The other type of
locos were 2-8-2 locos. Between 1911 and 1919, North British delivered nine of these locos. They were numbered as follows:
11 and 12 built 1911, 13 to 17 built 1915 and 20 and 21 built 1919.
These locos were identical to a similar type that North British had been supplying to the Bengal and Nagpur Railway for use
on their Satpura Lines network. A number of these were obtained from the BNR in 1917 and 1918 - further details of
individual locos can be found in the accompanying table.
On the KKTR and NDR, it is assumed that things remained the same as from new. On the NDR the nine 0-6-2 North British and
one 0-8-4T Kitson operated on the line. On the KKTR, of the 16 Bagnall built locos were now down to 12. One of the original
batch of ten locos (with 300 gallon tanks) had been sold to an unknown company in Bombay in 1913 and another to the Tata
Power Company on an unknown date. Of the second and third batches (with 400 gallon tanks and four wheeled tender) one from
each batch had been sent to a railway line construction project near Baroda, the Ambaji - Taranga Light Railway, in 1915.
In 1916, this period of relative calm for these railways changed. Britain had been fighting in country side of France and
Belgium for two years as well as parts of the Balkans and in Turkey. By 1916, as is well documented elsewhere, the British
started to used light railways in the field on a large scale (and somewhat against Mr Creagh of the Indian Army Financial
Department's advice). One of the places that Britain needed light railways to assisting in the fighting of the war was
Mesopotamia, where they were fighting against the Ottoman Empire.
The equipment for this was to acquired from India. This is in line with the report on railways as a strategic values and
uses for light railways in frontier areas delivered in 1885. In this, it was envisaged that mainline Indian railways would
be able to supply much of the equipment required for military campaigns, both in India and abroad. There were good reasons
for this rationale - the stock was built and readily available, the shipping costs were less, the distances to move the
equipment shorter. A number of metre gauge lines supplied locos and rolling stock for military uses in Mesopotamia.
Additionally a number of 2'6" gauge items were supplied.
From the seventeen locomotives that were in store as the Military Reserve, fourteen were mobilised and sent to Mesopotamia
in 1916. In addition to these eight locos that were working on the KKTR were sent to Mesopotamia. As far as can be
ascertained, they were not replaced by locos from elsewhere. Two years later, in 1918, a further loco from the KKTR was
procured for overseas use - this time on the Bushire Light Railway in Persia. Along with the entire (locos, rolling stock,
track, and all fixtures and fittings) Powayn Steam Tramway, in Bengal was also sent for used on the Bushire Light Railway.
This left two 2-4-2ST on the KKTR by the end of 1918.
(The use of these railways and their later fate will be examined in the next part of this article)
One valuable archive that I have been able to find are the papers of a soldier who served on the North Western Frontier
during WWI. They are letters, magazines and other documents that were either written or collected by a Lance Corporal
Howgego who served in India with the 1/25st Battalion, The London Regiment between 1916 and 1919. From the documents this
Battalion was a Bicycle Battalion - any further information anyone may have about this Battalion would be gratefully
In the collection (which was donated to the British Library by Howgego on his death in the late 1970s) is a letter that
was written from Howgego to his mother whilst he was on rest and recuperation in Muree Hills, dated 11th September 1917.
It is a very long letter where he was
"At last I am able to give you a fairly full account of what I have been through during the last 3 months.....I
wrote from Tank twice......Well we had a fortnight in Tank Railway Fort sleeping in native huts and I can you it was
not a pleasant time".
He goes on to give a detailed account of actions that they had encountered whilst on manoeuvres around Tank. It is worth
quoting the next part of his letter verbatim
" We camped that night outside Zam Fort in a perimeter and moved off on the last 6 miles to Tank. As soon as we arrived at
the station we unloaded the luggage etc on the platform and the pack animals were sent to the depot, and I can tell you we
were glad to see the back of them. All baggage was packed onto the first train which was to leave at 7 o'clock that evening.
We then went into a rest camp out side the station for the rest of the day. A and D companies were to leave by the first
train and they got aboard at 6 o'clock. Just before it was time to leave they had a message to say the line had been breached
midway between Tank and Kalabagh, so of course we could not travel. Well we kipped in for the night in the tents and A and D
companies were kept on the train.
About 3 o'clock in the morning I woke up and felt that I was lying water, so of course I shouted out to the rest of the
fellows and started to pack up, but the next moment a great wave of water about 18" high swept right over everything and the
only things I saved dry were my toppee and a pair of putties. Everything else was of course soaked through. We had the order
to grab our rifles and equipment and to make our way to the empty train. It was some job too, raining like the ----, black as
ink, about a 2 feet of water to wade through, barefooted and tons of mud. We eventually got into the train and at day break
we started salvaging.
We got what kit we could of our own and laid it out to dry on the platform and then got all the unclaimed stuff and made a
dump of it. You can imagine what it looked like and smelt like. A hot sun and a battalion kit wet through with mud. We lay
at Tank station 4 days while they were repairing the line.
We left Tank alright at night and arrived at Kalahbagh the next morning. We loaded the baggage on the ferry and went across
the Maru Indus. We had the day at the rest camp at Indus and left there at about 6 o'clock the same evening, and arrived at
Jullunder about 3 o'clock the next afternoon. They had a good spread ready for us in the mess and it was good too, after
bully beef and biscuits for 3 months."
From other documents that Howgego donated it is possible to date the above event. There is a copy of volume two of the
Londoner which was the Regimental magazine of the London Regiment. In it is a set of photographs of the event which are
stated to have been taken at Tank on 14th August 1917. There are five photographs, one of which shows good views of coaches
in the station platform.
There are a couple of references in the papers, which give small glimpses of the railways on the North Western Frontier.
There is an official document entitled Punjab Disturbances (2nd Edition). This was published in April 1919 by the Lahore
Civil & Military Gazette Press. On page 42 is a note about the effects of rioters had had on the railway at Warizabad. On
14th August 1919 rioters burned sleepers, fencing and telegraph communications. One or two signals pulled up. A party from
the Railway Miners and Sappers at Silakot was sent to repair the damage to the railway.
However, the most interesting things donated by Howgego are his photographs. There are two albums and a number of loose
photos, which were taken whilst on leave and on duty in India. There are some good photos taken on the Kalka Simla Railway
and some others taken on railways in the south of India. However Howgego also took a photographs whilst on manoeuvres around
Tank. One of these shows one of the KBR railway, depicting one of their North British 2-8-2 locos, number 13 taken at Pezu
in Waziristan in 1917. Two other photos that were taken whilst on manoeuvres on the KKTR, sadly undated. They show two of
the 2-4-2T Bagnalls on KKTR. One of them is captioned on the rear stating "KTR making tea at a way side station going up
the line. B Company to Afghanistan. Hot water from engine."