31 Jan 2019

Terriers in India: British Territorials 1914-19

Terriers in India: British Territorials 1914-19

Some 50,000 British Territorials served in India during the Great War. Astonishingly, it has taken a century for a book on them to be written.

The Territorials – citizen soldiers, members of a force formed before the war for home defence – never expected to serve abroad, but volunteered for ‘Imperial Service’ at Lord Kitchener’s request. Instead of going to France, in 1914 they went to India, to release Regulars for the front. The Territorials – ‘Terriers’ – became responsible at first for garrison duty, not trusted to fight in Mesopotamia or on the North-West Frontier.

Gradually, they gained the skill to be sent to war, and most of the 41 Territorial battalions sent to India saw active service, in Mesopotamia, in Frontier campaigns, in Aden and in the Third Anglo-Afghan war of 1919. (Territorials were retained in India for up to a year after the Armistice, unhappily.) Terriers in India, based on the abundant but almost untouched holdings of county archives and regimental museums mainly in southern English counties, tells their story for the first time.

It shows how novice citizen soldiers learned to act as sahibs, how they responded to India and its people (often sensitively) and took part in the most dramatic upheaval in British India since the 1857 Mutiny. Terriers in India is a rich mix of social and military history, ranging from cantonment bungalows, bazaars and brothels to sangers on the Frontier and tragic actions on the Tigris; battles in which the Terriers played a full part.

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