the Great War the 24th Punjabis was first deployed to Egypt and fought in defence of the Suez Canal. In
April 1915 the battalion landed at Basra in
Mesopotamia and campaigned up the River Tigris to Ctesiphon before withdrawing and becoming besieged
in Kut with the 6th Poona Division. General Charles Townsend surrendered Kut on 29
April 1916 and the entire battalion went into captivity in Turkey, where
159 of the sepoys died.
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September 1916 the 24th Punjabis was re-formed at the war-time depot
at Hyderabad Sind in India. In April 1917 the new battalion arrived in Mesopotamia. After
operations against Arab raiders the unit joined the 50th Brigade of
the 15th Division and on 26 March 1918 fought the Turks on the Euphrates River at Khan Baghdadi. Here the battalion lost Captain A. P. Algar
killed in action, and had 39 men wounded.
24th Punjabis was then selected to serve in another theatre and was
shipped to Salonika, Greece, landing there on 24 October
1918. The battalion did not see action
as the Bulgarian enemy accepted an Armistice, as did the other Central
Powers. In January 1919 the 24th
Punjabis joined the Allied Army of The Black Sea.
The Black Sea
Army of The Black Sea was tasked with ensuring that Turkey complied with the terms of
the Armistice. Important terms were the
Turkish evacuation of territories outside Anatolia such as the Caucasus region, and the demobilisation and disarming of
the Turkish Forces.
24th Punjabis was immediately deployed around Batum, an important
port on the east coast of the Black Sea and a main access point to the Caucasus. Detachments occupied posts in villages and on
the main routes to Kars and to Tiflis in Georgia. The most distant post was about 80 miles (128
kilometres) away from Batum. Due to an
outbreak of mumps and the prevalence of malaria many sepoys were ill and the
fit men in the battalion were almost constantly on duty. In September 1919 the 24th
Punjabis was re-deployed to Bostanjik in Anatolia, on the coast of the Sea of Marmora
south of Constantinople. There, on 19 December 1919, Brevet Colonel
H.A.V. Cummings DSO returned to command the battalion after returning from
leave granted after his release from captivity (he had been in command when the
original 24th Punjabis surrendered at Kut).
Above: A 1910 watercolour depicting the 24th Punjabis
Anatolia a Turkish National Movement was
developing under the strong and effective leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,
the successful Turkish front-line commander at Gallipoli. The Nationalists were extremely resentful of
the Armistice of Mudros, signed on 30th October 1918, that had
brought an end to the hostilities between Turkey and the Allies. It not only heralded the dismemberment of the
Ottoman Empire, but granted the Allies the right to occupy forts controlling
the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, and any
other Turkish territory in the event of an outbreak of disorder that threatened
the integrity of the armistice. Nationalist
supporters armed themselves and prepared to fight a war of independence. Attacks on Allied units began.
Punjabis arrived at Bostanjik to find that the most distant post occupied by
British troops was at Ismid, 60 miles (96 kilometres) away. Nationalist pressure had led to the
withdrawal of two more distant British posts.
The battalion moved to Derinje on 19 May 1920 to relieve the 25th
Punjabis. Derinje housed administrative
details for the 242nd Brigade that was based eight miles (13
kilometres) to the east at Ismid.
Brigadier General Montague Bates CG, CMG, DSO commanded the brigade.
24th Punjabis was now employed on posts securing the rail link to
Bostanjik. However on 11 June “C”
Company under Captain G.P. Troughton Dean was deployed two miles (three
kilometers) north of Ismid to relieve a company of the 10th Jats
that held a detached post known as Point 325.
The fight at Ismid
Point 325 “C” Company was accompanied by Lieutenant C.D. Mattox of the Royal Field
Artillery who was an Intelligence Officer, a Greek interpreter and a
Sub-Assistant Surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. “C” Company contained a number of new soldiers
recently arrived on drafts from India. Initially Subedar Suba Ram was the only
Indian Officer present but on 13 June Subadar Kehr Singh joined the Company
with a convoy from Derinje.
this time the Turkish Nationalist Army was advancing towards Ismid to confront
its rival, the Constantinople or
Anti-Nationalist Army. This latter force
skirmished with the Nationalists near Point 325 and then lost heart and
withdrew to Ismid from where the British speedily evacuated it to Constantinople, although the Punjabis observed that many
anti-Nationalists deserted and stayed behind to join the Nationalists.
14 June at 1300 hours the Nationalist force advanced on Point 325 in regular
extended lines and a mounted officer, whilst proclaiming friendship towards the
British, requested that his men be allowed to pass through the Point 325
defences. He was advised that the
British General Officer Commanding (GOC) would not permit this but that the
Nationalist troops could pass at a distance of 600 yards (550 metres) from the
perimeter. This information was received
with surprise and annoyance by the Turkish officer, but he consented to the
a couple of hours the Turks moved in small parties on either side of Point 325
towards Ismid. However by 1600 hours the
British telephone line had been cut and a strong Turkish picquet established
200 yards (183 metres) from the British perimeter in a dominating position
above the road to Ismid. The Turkish
troops became openly hostile and abusive towards the Sepoys. Lieutenant Mattox went out to ascertain the
Turkish intentions but he was threatened and temporarily detained. Again a Turkish officer approached the post
and demanded a British evacuation to avoid bloodshed, stating that his men were
fanatical and could not be controlled.
He advised that a message be sent to the British GOC stating that the
post would be attacked during the night if it was not evacuated. When this advice was rejected the officer
departed stating that no one would now be allowed to leave the post.
Above: The Officers of the 14th Punjabis in 1914
British orders for Point 325 were that fire was not to be opened unless the
Turks actually fired into or advanced upon the post. Neither of those actions happened during the
night and the Sepoys improved their trenches whilst Lance-Naik Devi Singh
established satisfactory lamp communications with Ismid. At 0400 heavy gunfire was heard from Ismid where
the Nationalists were unsuccessfully fighting with the British garrison, and
Nationalist casualty evacuation parties passed by the perimeter. At dawn on 15 June two Turkish heavy guns
were observed on a hill about half a mile (800 metres) from the post and the
GOC was informed. A British aeroplane
dropped a message into the post at 1345 hours ordering that Point 325 was to be
evacuated at 1700 hours that day, and that “C” Company was to retire on Ismid.
were struck and dumped in a hollow along with kits, stores, rations and bombs
and kerosene oil was poured on. At 1645
hours the perimeter was evacuated and the dump fired to prevent looting. “C” Company moved off in three parties. The advance guard was a Sikh platoon
commanded by Havildar Harnam Singh.
Company Headquarters followed.
Then came the main body of two Dogra platoons and the transport,
commanded by Subedar Suba Ram. The
remaining Sikh platoon under Subadar Kehr Singh initially stayed on Point 325
with its Lewis Guns ready to provide covering fire.
Right: Turkish Nationalist Militia 1919
the advance guard arrived below the Turkish picquet the Turks ordered the Sikhs
back to the post. Havildar Harman Singh
responded by doubling his men forward down the road to Ismid. A Turkish whistle was now blown as a signal and
the Nationalists opened fire at close range, supported by several machine guns
deployed in various locations along the road.
The transport mules stampeded back to the post. The enemy then swarmed down onto the road and
engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the main body. Subadar Kehr Singh’s Lewis gunners could not
give effective support because of the confusion between friend and foe. Lieutenant Mattox and Company Havildar-Major
Kesar Singh were both shot down at point-blank range, as was the Greek interpreter,
the Sub-Assistant Surgeon and several Sepoys.
Further casualties were only avoided by Subedar Suba Ram deploying his
men into a deep watercourse.
Dean ordered the withdrawal to continue.
Further up the road the advance guard had become scattered and of eight
men who had taken up position on the road with a Lewis gun, four had been hit
and the gun had jammed after firing two short bursts. Annihilation of the British detachment was
avoided by both the poor shooting of the Turks and the surrounding broken
ground, which allowed “C” Company to disperse into cover and to move to Ismid
in small parties. Meanwhile another
British unit that had been ordered to support “C” Company’s withdrawal arrived
late and did not participate in the battle.
the company concentrated again at Ismid the casualty figures were found to be:
Killed in Action: Lieutenant Maddox, Royal Engineers, the
Greek interpreter, the Sub-Assistant Surgeon and 18 Sepoys. ·
Wounded in Action: 16 Sepoys.
Turks had not spared any of the wounded that they over-ran. The British casualty total represented 25% of
the strength of the detachment at Point 325.
The Turkish casualty figures were not known.
Re-deployment to the coast and then
29 June 1920 the British evacuated Derinje and the 24th Punjabis
moved to Beikos on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus. Here on 5 June a battalion working party was
sniped at, due to Italian armed police who defended the town allowing
Nationalist troops to enter. Jemadar Zafar
Hussein, a direct commissioned officer recently arrived from India, and one
Sepoy were killed whilst five other Sepoys were wounded. Two days later another Sepoy was
Nationalists were murdering local Christian villagers at Arnaut Keui and the battalion
operated with the Greek Archipelago Regiment in an attempt to surprise and
capture Nationalists. Then the Punjabis
moved to Shileh on the Black Sea coast. From there patrols reconnoitered villages in
the interior. At the end of September
orders were received for the 24th Punjabis to return to India and the battalion disembarked at Karachi on 21 October
1920. After being transported to the old
Depot at Montgomery
all Indian ranks were granted two months’ leave.
Gallantry awards made for the Ismid
action and Meritorious Service awards made for service with the Army of the Black Sea: Military Cross
Captain Geoffrey Percival
Troughton-Dean, 24th Punjabis, Indian Army For gallantry and skilful leadership near Ismid, on the 15th
June, 1920. It was entirely due to his boldness and coolness under heavy fire at short range that his company succeeded in
Indian Order of Merit – 2nd
Naik Bhag Singh For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty on 15th June 1920.
Although severely wounded, he continued to lead his section and direct
his Lewis guns under heavy machine gun fire.
He set a splendid example to his men. 699
Lance Naik Kehr Singh For conspicuous gallantry and
devotion to duty on 15th June 1920.
Although severely wounded he continued to fire his Lewis gun under heavy
machine gun fire from three directions.
He was afterwards carried back, but retained his Lewis gun which he
brought into action in another position.
Indian Distinguished Service Medal
Indian Meritorious Service Medal
Company Quartermaster-Havildar Udham 1034
Havildar Bostan Khan 345
Havildar Janta Singh
Charles Douglas Mattox, Royal Field Artillery, is interred in Haidar Pasha Cemetery, Turkey.
Zafar Husain, Havildar-Major Kesar Singh and nineteen sepoys, all of the 24th
Punjabis, are commemorated on the Tehran Memorial, Iran.
identities of the Indian Army Sub-Assistant Surgeon and the Greek interpreter have
yet to be established.
War Records of the 24th
Punjabis (4th Battalion 14th Punjab
Regiment) 1914 – 1920. o
Despatch from General Sir
G.F. Milne, GCMG, KCB, DSO, Commanding in Chief the Army of The Black Sea;
dated 11 August 1920; published in the London Gazette Supplement dated 7 January
Honours and Awards Indian
Army 1914 – 1921 produced by J.B. Hayward & Son. o
Reward of Valour. The
Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918 by Peter Duckers. o
The Indian Distinguished
Service Medal by Rana Chhina. o
India’s Army by Major Donovan Jackson.
edited version of this article appeared in a recent issue of Durbar, the journal of the Indian
Military Historical Society.)