Which British units were left in India before and at the time of Partition?

Discussion in 'British Indian Army' started by davidbfpo, Jan 5, 2019.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I am tempted to research an aspect of Partition (September 1947) only recently discovered. In summary: Who were the six British brigades in India at Partition?

    My discovery came from glancing at 'Partition: The story of Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947', published in Hardcover – 10 Aug 2017 and later in paperback. The author being a retired British Army General, Barney White-Spunner.
    Link to publisher's website: Partition

    The book has had many reviews. Here is a key passage from one: 'The warnings were there, but they were ignored. White-Spunner blames everyone. Militarily ignorant politicians like Nehru and Jinnah were simply out of their depth. Mountbatten was not as personally culpable as is often supposed and, suprisingly, the man he blames most is Claude Auchinleck, the Indian army’s much-loved commander-in-chief. “The Auk”, it seems, saw Partition as a threat to his army rather than to the Indian public. He starved the Punjab of troops and, even when the scale of the tragedy was apparent, declined to deploy British regiments on the grounds that their job was to protect British personnel, not Indians. In Barney White-Spunner’s highly readable account, this is probably the greatest surprise. Coming from the pen of another likeable general it carries conviction.'

    One Indian review cited the author: 'An effective military deployment, which was urged on the authorities in Delhi from as early as March 1947, would have prevented much of the violence. Why had this not happened? I also feel that although lots is written about Partition in India there is surprisingly little in the UK - just as there is surprisingly little about the events of World War Two in India and the Bengal famine.'
    Link: Partition through the eyes of an ex-British commander

    To be fair Barney White-Spunner provides an explanation why these troops did not respond to the mayhem.

    In my glance there was no detail on which units were present, though I do recall the brigades were mainly infantry and with armoured car regiments.

    Months ago I posted on the last two infantry battalions to leave India and Pakistan, a long time afterwards. The delay in leaving was attributed to a shortage of suitable sea transport.

    I have looked through the threads here on Partition and cannot spot anything relevant. So help and pointers would be welcome. Finally this is a work in progress due to start.
  2. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    The 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Wellington's Regiment was the last British unit to leave Delhi in August 1947.

    This was gleaned from Lieut. Gen Sir Francis Tuker's While Memory Serves (the author was GOC-in-C Eastern Command).
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  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Same Source:

    Screen Shot 2019-01-06 at 04.14.17.png
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  4. Maureene

    Maureene Well-Known Member

    A couple of British Regiments are mentioned in the links on the FIBIS Fibiwiki page Life in India
    Life in India - FIBIwiki
    Royal Norfolk Regiment
    2nd Battalion Black Watch
    1st Battalion the Somerset Light Infantry.

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  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Somerset Light Infantry - Wikipedia

    The 1st Battalion was the last British infantry battalion to leave India after its independence, departing on 28 February 1948. During the final ceremony, the battalion marched through Bombay (now Mumbai) and received a guard of honour from the newly formed Indian Army at the Gateway of India

  6. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Tricky Dicky,

    The last British Army unit to leave Pakistan was the 2nd Battalion Black Watch, on the 27th / 28th February 1948 (most accounts say it was the 27th) when they boarded a ship @ Karachi. They had been on internal security duties @ Peshawar till August, except for a small rear party - who witnessed the mayhem - and stayed at Malir barracks, near Karachi. They duties there were to protect the departure of colonial staff, including General Auchinleck; this was a families posting and they boarded the day before.

    See 'The Black Watch: Fighting in the Frontline 1899-2006' by Victoria Schofeld. For this episode I relied upon a Google excerpt: The Black Watch

    A short one minute newsreel clip:
  7. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Thats interesting - my partners father was 1st Bn SLI based in Peshwar 1946/1947/1948


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  8. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Thanks to a contact (now in self-isolation) I have uploaded what appear to photos of original, official British Army documents

    1. The units in India 30th May 1947
    2. Timetable of the Strength of the British Garrison 1945-8
    3. Major Units in India December 1945-February 1948 (note the abbreviation S/A is not clear)
    4. ditto
    5. ditto
    6. No. of Major Units (British) in India 1945-8
    7. ditto
    8. British Formations in India February 1946-February 1948
    9. Withdrawal from India 1947-8 Plan OTTER

    Most of the abbreviated unit names are identifiable and their destinations.

    Attached Files:

  9. Rothy

    Rothy Well-Known Member

    davidbfpo: Thanks for this great information.

    "S/A" is "suspended animation" - a term that I don't quite fully understand - it seems to be "disbandment" in all but name but possibly with the retention of the unit title in the lists such that the unit might, one day, be reconstituted. Anyone else with the correct definition, please?
  10. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Not sure there would be a correct definition but yours I understand, its been placed in hibernation, but not totally eradicated, something has been made dormant, gone to sleep but with the capacity to be re awakened

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  11. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    David, excellent material.
    Thank you for uploading these papers.
  12. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    The original title was: Who were the six British brigades in India at Partition? I have just changed it to reflect better on the content.

    The imagery added in the nine JPG documents cannot be searched, so to aid others I have listed all the units shown. Where I am not certain a ? has been added

    JPG1: 23 Brigade Group 23 Field Regiment, 1 Wiltshire, 1 Inniskilling, 2 Norfolk ; 16 Brigade Group 72 Field Regiment, 1 Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire, 2 DWR (Duke of Wellington Regiment ?), 1 South Staffordshire; 29 Brigade Group 1 Somerset Light Infantry, 1 Gloucestershire, 2 Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry; 72 Brigade Group 68 Field Regiment, 1 Essex, 2 Manchester, 2 Leicestershire; 73 Brigade Group 91 Field Regiment, 2 East Lancashire, 2 Green Howards; 235 Brigade Group 2 Kings Own (?) and 1 Lancashire Fusiliers. Other Units: 23 Dragoons, 7 Royal Tank Regiment, 2/43 Royal Tank Regiment, 14 Field Regiment, 659 Air Operations Squadron (AOP), 1 Royal Scots, 2 Black Watch (Para) ?

    JPG2: 55 Heavy Regiment, 68 Field Regiment, 72 Field Regiment, 85 Medium Regiment, 91 Field Regiment, 99 Field Regiment, 100 Anti-Tank Regiment

    JPG3: 12 Anti-Tank Regiment, 123 Field Regiment, 130 Field Regiment, 158 Field Regiment, 159 Parachute Light Regiment, 160 Field Regiment, 208 Self-Propelled Regiment, 1008 Field Regiment, 12 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, 506 Field Company (Royal Engineers?), 2 Queens, 2 Kings Own, 7 Kings Own, 1 Royal Warwickshire, 1 Kings, 2 Norfolk, 2 Suffolk, 1 Somerset Light Infantry, 1 Bedfordshire, 2 Leicestershire, 2 Green Howards, 1 Lancashire Fusiliers, 108 LF (?), 1 RSF Royal Scots Fusiliers (?), 2 Kings Own Scottish Borderers,

    JPG4: 1 Inniskilling Fusiliers, 1 Gloucestershire, 107 Worcestershire, 2 East Lancashire Fusiliers, 2 East Lancashire Fusiliers, 2 Duke of Wellington's Regiment, 2 Border Regiment, 1 East Staffordshire, 2 Dorsetshire, 2 Black Watch , 1 Essex, 2 Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1 Wiltshire, 2 Manchester (Machine Gun), 1 North Staffordshire, 2 Yorkshire & Lancaster (?), 15 Parachute Regiment, 16 Parachute Regiment, 1/2 Gurkha, 2/6 Gurkha, 2/7 Gurkha, 2/106 Gurkha, 7 Royal Tank Regiment, 14 Field Regiment, 28 Field Regiment, 158 Parachute Field Regiment

    I have not listed the brigade level formations in the last two images.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2020
  13. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Just found this reference:
    The quote is within a review of 'The Indian Army and the End of the Raj' by Daniel Marston: H-Net Reviews
  14. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Here's a fun little find (I would purchase it, but it's rather expensive).

    (Second image: Dec 1948 is pretty late in the day).

    s-l1600-14.jpg s-l1600-15.jpg s-l1600-16.jpg
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  15. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    I have seen mentions of Deolali Camp, sometimes referred to as Deolali Transit Camp and it is 100 miles north-east of Mumbai. There is a slim Wiki entry: Deolali transit camp - Wikipedia and a map via: Deolali - Wikipedia

    Colonel Alexander Charles Clayton (Army No. 20161) appears to have retired after India. Little else about him found.

    Looking through the documents at the post 19/3/2020 no British formed units were left in India after March 1948.

    The Holding Camp was also used by British civilians, see: Noel Deane-Spread : Immigration Place There is an indication that the Union Jack was lowered on the 14th November 1948, in the Secretary's Notes in the RUSI Journal, Volume 94, late 1949 (not available via Internet).

    During WW2 it was also called British Base Reinforcment Camp (BBRC) - holding unit for men recently arrived in a theatre of war. From: Help deciphering War records please (World War Two) Page 1 RootsChat.Com It was also the setting for the BBC series ‘It aint half hot mum” and origin of the phrase ‘go doolally’; from: https://www.morganfourman.com/articles/donald-morgan-in-india-1946/

    There are numerous threads with Deolali and this appears to be the largest thread: Base Reinforcement Camp, Deolali.

    Merrill's Marauders arrived there and complained about the conditions they endured for three weeks before moving.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2020
  16. BJRel

    BJRel Member

    I can confirm the 1st Battalion of Royal Scots Fusiliers were stationed there from January 1947 to early 1948 - my father was out there with them having been drafted at the tail end of WW2. The RSF arrived in Karachi from Singapore and Malaya and stayed until the end of 1948, I think.
    I'm trying to find, with no success at all, any records of hospital admissions to BMH Meerat and BMH Delhi as my father was taken ill out there and hospitalised, but seemed to have recovered by the end of 1 month journey home by sea to Southampton. I have his service records but not much else to go on.
    Be grateful for any clues.
    Thank you
  17. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    You will see in Post 8, Image 1 shows that 1 RSF were independently posted to Delhi on 30th May 1947. Image 4 shows they left India on 28/12/1947. I think it is possible they were one of the two battalions called back to Delhi in September 1947 (See Post 13). I have not looked more closely at any of the units in India and my general impression is that little was written up afterwards.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2021
  18. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Because of my interest in the period I have had a hour long look around, hence the number of links; none refer to the BMHs though! Your father might well have seen the amazing formal ceremonies and the violence during Partition.

    This fresh look found:
    From: British Army units from 1945 on - Royal Scots Fusiliers
    Note the same ship embarked the last British troops in India 28/2/1948.

    There are two photos No.14 & 19 the caption states:
    Link: Extraordinary photos: The birth and partition of India

    I cannot tell if the headgear etc is the RSF or East Lancashire.

    There is a personal anecdote about one RSF soldiers time in India, so only partly cited:
    From: British Units 1946-48 | India | Britain's Small Wars

    The part of 1 RSF in Operation Reunion has a little more detail, e.g.Lt.Col. J.D.O. Delano Osborne, C.O. and Major A.J. Du Sautoy, Adjt. and return to LIverpool by ship: Exercise Reunion | India | Britain's Small Wars

    A photo caption (cited in part):
    Link: Kashmir India Evacuation Europeans New Delhi By Editorial Stock Photo - Stock Image | Shutterstock

    A 1 RSF Private awarded the George Medal after:
    Link: ROBERTS, Richard | ͏

    The RSF's part at Independence:
    From pg. 129 https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1762&context=graddis

    It might be worth looking at newsreel of the ceremony for additional imagery. I did find one clip of the ceremony, B&W and colour, with imagery of 1 RSF (from 29:45) on: THE CHANGING EAST - INDIA (PART 2) [Main Title]

    It appears that 1 RSF's role in protecting refugees was not always easy. In the text on pg. 151:
    The footnote refers to:
    On Auchinleck's departure from India (on pg. 166. Either end of November or on 1/12/1947):
    All from: https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1762&context=graddis
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  19. BJRel

    BJRel Member

    Wow, thank you! I will have a good read of your findings! Sadly my father missed Earl Mountbatten's inspection, having been shipped off on the Arundel Castle a couple of weeks earlier, after his spell in a couple of the hospitals (BMH Meerat and BMH Delhi). RSF were presented to the Princess Royal the following year (in Scotland), where she thanked them for their services, but he missed out on that as well, being invalided out he ended up detached from the RSF.
    Thanks again for your research!
  20. BJRel

    BJRel Member

    From my father's small collection of photos. Delhi Victory Parade hopefully because he was there to see it, not sure about "Barrow Tour" (Lancs) because he wasn't drafted until 1945 so must have acquired that as a souvenir from a pal. On the reverse of the tank parade it states "3rd Carabiniers".

    Attached Files:

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