The Indian Army
India in the early 1930’s moving from west to east, consisted of what is now Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Burma, which was a province of India until around 1937 (see map).
There have been armies in India for centuries before the British arrived, but the Indian Army that my father served in originated from Clive and the armed forces of the East India Company. A bit like a mercenary army it defended the company’s gains and was also at the disposal of the British Crown. In a recording made in 1974 my father talks of the beginnings of Empire and the Indian Army.
However, the distinct difference between the British Army in India and the Indian Army was that the officers in the Indian Army were British but the other ranks, or Sepoys, were Indian of all races and religions.
In his memoirs my father explains the attraction of the Indian Army:
“The Indian Army was very popular in my day, partly because of quicker promotion than the British Army. Promotion in the British Army was very slow as it went by 'vacancy' and there was a bad 'war-block' of officers of the same age and service, whereas in the Indian Army promotion went by length of service. It was also a popular choice because the Indian Army had a much smaller peace establishment of officers than the British Army. This meant that in the Indian Army you had more responsibilities thrust on you much earlier. But the Indian Army was also much admired because of the glamour and the prospects of seeing active service on the Northwest Frontier.”
New Indian Army officers had to do one year in a British battalion based in India. This was so they could acclimatise themselves to India and learn the language. My father applied to a British regiment stationed in the Khyber Pass which is in the Northwest frontier of India. After disembarking at Karachi on 1st November 1933 he made his way to the Khyber Pass by train (see map). He writes:
“The Khyber Pass is 28 miles long and is, or was in my time, a most exciting and dangerous place. I arrived at Landi-Kotal which is about 20 miles up the Pass. The Pass widens out here, and it is, or was, the main encampment in the Khyber. Here the railway stops."
At Landi Kotal station he is met by his friend Jai Majumdar, who was at Sandhurst with him, and is also joining the British regiment. The photograph below is a view of a camp on the Khyber Pass taken at sunset. John has written on the back of the photo:
“The British unit have a company here during the Summer. The frontier is only about half a mile forward. All the background is Afghanistan. The Kabul river is on the right. Loe Dacca, a town is on the right on the river, but you can’t see it. Jalalabad is in the left in the background 70 miles away and can be seen easily on a clear day. “