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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

40th Pathans


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Cheers everyone; this is my first post in a very long time to the Forum - took a bit of a hiatus from collecting/researching, but now back in the game. Looking for a bit of an assist on this one.

Picked up a British WWI Victory Medal recently to a Sepoy of the 40th Pathans.

Internet search, including this Forum, only brings a basic history of the regiment: origins in the Great Mutiny; service in Tibet; in Hong Kong at the beginning of WWI; joined Lahore Division in France in April 1915; battle credit for East Africa (apparently arriving there in early 1916).

Anyone have information on this regiment or can recommend some detailed sources, particularly regarding the East Africa campaign?

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Obtain a copy of "High Noon of Empire - the diary of Lt Col Henry Tyndall 1895-1915" and you will have what you want.

I posted a short article on them in the Forum in my 2nd Loyal North Lancashires in East Africa thread, here it is:


The 40th Pathans was a single-battalion regiment with its depot in the northwest Punjab at Sialkot, the former winter capital of the state of Kashmir. The regiment was composed of 1 company of Orakzais, a half company of Afridis and a half-company of Yusufzais, 1 company of Punjabi Musulmans and 1 company of Dogras. The regiment was linked with the 33rd and 46th Punjabis.

The dress uniform was drab coloured with emerald green facings. This was a lively regiment attracting attention wherever it went and being nicknamed the “Forty Thieves” (Major “Ali Baba” Graves of the 42nd Gurkhas had raised the unit at Peshin, Quetta as the only all-Pathan regiment in the Indian Army, but the 1901 linked-battalion system destroyed that unique identity). The stirring regimental march : “Zakhmi Dill”, played on srinai (reed pipes) and dhols (drums), was a favourite on band nights along the North-West Frontier, especially when the verses were sung.

In August 1914 the 40th Pathans was in Hong Kong, but after Lord Kitchener remarked that there was a job to be done by such a fine body of men on the Western Front the regiment was ordered to France. Embarking in Kowloon on 26th February 1915 on SS Basilan the regiment disembarked at Marseille on 1st April and marched through the town with its Pukhtan band-musicians playing the Marseillaise.

After inspections by the Indian Corps Commander Sir James Willcocks and by Sir John French the regiment experienced gas attacks and spotter aircraft for the first time during the 2nd Battle of Ypres. After the battle half the regiment was gone, (Killed in Action 24 including the CO, Died of Wounds 10, Missing in Action 11, Wounded in Action 295).

During August and September the regiment was in the trenches near Neuve Chappelle, taking more casualties, but was not committed during the Battle of Loos. In the December 1915 withdrawal of the Indian Infantry Divisions from France the regiment embarked on the 14th at Marseille on HMT Arcadian for an “unknown destination”.

The destination was Kilindini where the regiment disembarked on 9th January 1916. On that day Wavell’s Arab Rifles were ambushed at Mwele Mdogo, just southwest of Mombasa, losing 30 men killed including Wavell. The 40th Pathans sent two companies immediately to Mwele Mdogo, retaining the two other companies in the defence plan for Mombasa. However the Mwele Mdogo ambush was the last threatening action that the Schutztruppe made on the British East Africa coast and the 40th Pathans was then employed on Line of Communication duties before being placed in the 2nd East African Brigade of 1st Division and allocated to Centre Column.

The 40th Pathans would soon be operating alongside the 2nd Bn the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment during the capture of Dar Es Salaam.

The 40th Pathans would leave behind over 100 dead in East Africa.


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For F&F try Gordon Corrigan's book "Sepoys in the Trenches" or the reprint of the Official History of the Indian Corp. I'll check them tomorrow when I get home if you wish.

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