Front Page
Whats New
Search the Site!!
For Sale
Guest Book
The Kaisers Cross
Fake Documents.
Which Unit?
Uniforms + Militaria
The Raiders
In the Trenches
Mobile warfare
The Casualties
The Battles
Verdun
The German Army
Alpenkorps
The Weapons
Photo Corner
The Croix de Guerre
The Men
Letters
German DSWA
South Africa: WW1 in Africa
Harry's Africa
Harry's Sideshows...
Aden Hinterland 1901-04
The Nagas : 1832-1880
The Perak War 1875-76
Kachin Hills 1915
Ramadi 1917
Tochi Valley 1914-15
Aden, 1914-15
Macedonia 1916-18
Hatum, Aden 1916
Kuki Rising 1917-19
Kurdistan 1919
Hilla, Mesopotamia 1920
The 1st Chinese Regiment
Jordan Crossings, 1918
Anatolian Incident
MGC Mesopotamia 1920
Relieving Rumaithah 1920
The Iraq Levies
Mekran 1898-1902
Muscat Operations 1914-15
58th Vaughan's Rifles
Taking Salif, Yemen 1917
Tekrit 1917
Baluchistan 1918
Gurkhas at Tor
Two Mutinies
Macedonia 1915-19 a
Macedonia 1915-19 b
Sikhs at Tsingtao
Syria 1941
Sarawak 1941
Sarawak 1941 part 2
Burma 1942
Operation Character
Kohima 1944
Arakan Coast 1944
Operation "Ayo" Imphal 1944
Bush Warfare School Burma
Stars and Hearts
Freikorps Documents
French Colonial Awards
GSWA History 1914-15
The Boer war
British Groups
neu
Forum
Research Links
texts
Articles
Diary
Links
Assorted maps/Photos
Whats New to end mar
GMIC Newsletters
OOBs
Sigs
The EK1
 



Insurrection in north-eastern India and Burma



The Indian Labour Corps in the Great War and the Kuki tribe

To see related maps please click HERE

In 1916 Britain approached the government of India for the supply of a volunteer Labour Corps to serve in both France and Mesopotamia.  The Indian government delegated the responsibility to raise separate Corps of 2,000 men to United Provinces, Bihar & Orissa, Assam, North-West Frontier, Burma and Bengal.  No central administrative direction was given and each region decided its own terms and conditions.  As time passed more and more Labour Corps were needed, and this resulted in an Indian Jail Labour Corps being raised for service in Mesopotamia; the volunteer prisoners worked well and earned wages, but these were lower than the wages of the ‘free’ workers. 

British officers, assisted by senior non-commissioned officers acting as Supervisors, commanded companies of 500 men; they were supported by a number of chiefs or head-men recruited to act as junior officers.  When the British command personnel understood and spoke the dialects of their men and appreciated the prevailing culture there were few difficulties and the labourers were self-disciplined, often performing well in adverse or dangerous conditions.  

The rulers of the Princely States of India demonstrated their support for the Allied war effort in various ways, and the Hindu Ruler of Manipur in north-eastern India supplied his own labour corps of 2,000 men.  However the Ruler did not nominate his Hindu citizens for this service, but he recruited 1,200 Christian or animist Naga tribesmen and 800 similar Kuki tribesmen from the mountainous areas in his state.  The head-hunting hill tribesmen were not highly regarded by the Hindus and it is likely that tribal chiefs were just ordered to produce the required numbers of men whether they were volunteers or not.

Above: The hills south-east of Moirang

On the whole the Nagas presented no problems and were pleased to be wage earners, as were the neighbouring Lushai and the Garo and Khasi hill tribesmen from around Shillong in today’s Meghalaya stat (1).  Further recruitments from these hill tribes ran smoothly as some had experience of working for the British in labour capacities on public works or minor military operations.  However when certain of the more remote Kuki chiefs heard that further labour was needed an insurrection broke out that lasted for 18 months.  But it should be noted that initially the insurrection was not confined to the Kuki family of tribes, and also that many Kukis remained loyal to the State of Manipur and to the British, some of them assisting the British military effort against their disaffected tribal brethren.

The fighting that took place during the Kuki Rising, as the insurrection was named, was in the hills around the Imphal plain, and British forces were deployed both from the main base at Imphal and from bases in Burma along the Chindwin River.  Those readers familiar with the Second World War Battle of Imphal will recognise many place-names and hill features, as during the Rising the Kukis held ground that the British were to fight over 26 years later when Japanese invaders seized it.  A legacy of the Kuki Rising was that in 1944 during the Japanese invasion of Manipur many of the Kukis chose to side with the invaders, although others did not. 

Above: Kuki prisoners

In both wars the Kukis were the eventual losers, but during the Rising they were able to embarrass the British by a continued resistance, as the military resources available to the British were finite due to overseas wartime commitments.  The British were reliant on those military units already in Assam and Burma, the principal units being the Assam Rifles and the Burma Military Police; both of these regiments recruited from Nepal and the Punjab as well as locally.  This had an effect on India’s contribution to the Allied war effort as the overseas posting of drafts of trained men from Assam and Burma to Gurkha and other regiments was suspended during the Rising. 

The Kuki Rising was eventually put down by a combination of British military ruthlessness supported by modern weapons of war, assisted by Kuki pragmatism in submitting when morale was low and further resistance was seen to be futile.  The Kuki Rising was not the most glorious of Britain’s colonial actions and it was deliberately under-publicised at the time.  However the exertions and courage of the British sepoys in fighting serious and savage banditry over very hostile terrain deserve recognition.

Above: Burning Longyin Village

The start of the Kuki Rising

In 1917 the local Political Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel H.W.G. Cole CSI, advised the Kukis that the Labour Corps needed more men to go to France.  The Kuki Chiefs refused this request, and then refused a second similar one.  Colonel Cole then went to France with the Lushai Labour Corps and another officiating Political Officer was appointed.  This man arranged for a Durbar to be held and invited all the Chiefs to listen to his explanations of why the men were wanted, the nature of the work and the terms and conditions.  The leading recalcitrant Chiefs, Ngulkhup of Mombi and Ngulbul of Longya, replied in an insolent manner rejecting the invitation and stating that if force was used against them then they would retaliate with force.  The British authorities were suspicious that these Chiefs may have been incited by Bengal seditionists in Sylhet and Cachar who wished to impede the Allied war effort, but proof of this was never found.

As the two Chiefs had defied British authority they had to be dealt with, and in September the officiating Political Officer marched a force of 100 rifles from the Imphal-based 4th (Darrang) Battalion, Assam Rifles, under Captain M.C. Coote (2) to Mombi where after a skirmish the village was burned down.  This force then marched on Longya to repeat the process but an instruction from Shillong, the administrative capital of Assam, arrived ordering that no further action should be taken against the Kukis.  The punitive operation was cancelled and the troops withdrew, leaving the Kukis to believe that the British did not have the resources or the stomach for a real fight.

Both Chiefs then closed their territories to the British and in December started raiding the Hindu villages on the extremities of the Imphal plain; little mercy was offered to the Hindu subsistence farmers and their families.  At that time and due to the fact that both the Assam Rifles and the Burma Military Police had sent thousands of their best men overseas in drafts, leaving the units composed of either very young or very old soldiers, the British were not responding strongly to all the challenges to their authority.

At this point a very brave effort was made by a British lady to keep the peace with the Kukis.  Colonel Cole’s wife lived in Imphal and she knew Chief Ngulkhup personally.  She sent him a message asking for a meeting at Shuganoo, and went there with just an interpreter; the journey took four days marching from Imphal.  Ngulkhup and a few of his leading men met Mrs. Cole courteously and listened to her pleas for reconciliation.  However Ngulkhup had his own agenda and declined the suggestions made by Mrs. Cole, who returned to Imphal having attempted to do more than any British official had done to keep the peace.

Above: Coote's & Hibbert's columns at Imphal before moving out

The Southern Chin Hills

Meanwhile in Burma a similar resistance to further recruiting for the Labour Corps was being organised in the Southern Chin Hills.  This resistance was aggravated by British attempts to suppress slavery, which was a popular custom amongst the southern Chins.  This rising took the British authorities in Burma by surprise and Haka was besieged by Chin rebels, so assistance was requested from the Assam Rifles.  The Deputy Inspector General of the Assam Rifles, Colonel L.W. Shakespear, obtained authority and despatched Captain H.L.F. Falkland (3), Commandant of 1st (Lushai) Battalion, Assam Rifles, with 150 rifles from Aijal to Haka, 16 days’ marching away.  A few days later another message arrived from Burma reporting that Falam was also surrounded by rebels.  Shakespear now ordered Captain E.C.  Montefiore (4) at Kohima with the 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion, Assam Rifles, to take 150 rifles to Burma.  Montefiore’s journey involved marching to Manipur Road Station, Dimapur, taking trains to Chittagong, then a river steamer to Rangamatti followed by country boats to Demagiri and finally two weeks’ hard marching to Haka.  British strength in Manipur was being dispersed even before campaigning against the Manipur Kukis began.  

Abovre: Montefiore's Column at a river in the Southern Chin Hills

The Rising spreads

As no punitive action was taken against the Kuki raids on isolated Hindu villages, more Kukis from Hinglep and Ukah, south of the Imphal Plain, joined in the fun.  Two serious raids, one against the police post near Shuganoo and the second near Moirang, led to two detachments of the 4th (Darrang) Battalion, Assam Rifles, being sent out from Imphal; each detachment was 80 rifles strong.  The Political Agent with Lieutenant Halliday marched on Mombi and Captain Coote with Lieutenant E.J. Hooper (5) marched on Hinglep.  Coote’s column entered the hills below Moirang and was immediately attacked but fought back fiercely, punishing the Ukah tribesmen with little loss to itself.  But after going through Shuganoo Halliday encountered strong stockades at the Chokpi River crossing where he lost three men killed and several wounded; this caused his retirement and Kuki morale soared.  Many more villages joined the Rising, closing the Palel-Tamu road to Burma by destroying the rest houses, killing the caretakers and bringing down the telegraph line.

On the Burma side of the border Kukis began attacking posts in the Chindwin Valley and in the northern Chin Hills; Shakespear moved to Imphal to control events.  As porters were needed to transport supplies for columns, 800 Nagas were recruited at Kohima and marched to Imphal, escorted by a platoon from the 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion, Assam Rifles.  The 4th (Darrang Battalion), Assam Rifles, was put through a three-week intensive jungle training course, whilst 100 rifles from the 2nd (Sadiya) Battalion, Assam Rifles, were ordered to march from Sadiya through Silchar to Imphal, under Major H.D. Cloete MC (6).  Well-stocked bases were established at Palel and Shuganoo, and two columns each of 120 rifles were formed, with trained Naga porters carrying a 7-pounder mountain gun and ammunition for each column. 


Above: An Assam Rifles post in the Manipur Hills

Captain Hebbert, with the Political Agent, commanded a column marching from Palel to Tamu to reopen the Burma Road and punish rebel villages in the vicinity.  Captain Coote, with Mr. J.C. Higgins, Indian Civil Service and Political Agent Imphal, marched from Shuganoo for Mombi planning to join up with a Burma column under Captain Steadman that was marching north from Tiddim to deal with Longya.

 Shakespear accompanied Coote’s column and later wrote an account of its actions.  The column marched to its base at Shuganoo destroying Aihang village on the way; then Longyin village was destroyed as a punishment for the attack on the nearby Itoll police post.  An attack was prepared on the Chokpi River crossing stockades but scouts found them deserted; however nearby were found the bodies of the men killed in Halliday’s previous attack.  These corpses were without heads, hands or feet.  As Coote knew that the direct route to Mombi was strongly stockaded his column marched up a ridge to the east of the Tuyang River.  But now the column began to take casualties from snipers hidden in the thick jungle who could not be seen.  When Mombi could be observed from the ridgeline the 7-pounder gun came into action at 800 metres range, hitting the village and dispersing the armed tribesmen inside it.  The next day Coote’s men descended to Mombi but found it deserted. 

Whilst the Nagas built strongly-defended villages on hill tops the Kukis were more nomadic, building temporary villages until they moved on to the next one.  However they often defended the approaches to their villages with thorn or ‘punji’ stick (7) spiked hedges protecting stout stockades.  Log breastworks, loopholed for musket firers, covered likely approach routes.  Sometimes leather cannon rolled from buffalo hide were mounted on trees to fire stones or metal fragments at attackers, but these weapons usually burst when fired.  The civil authorities were taken by surprise by the number of firearms that the Kukis possessed, and although these were generally old flint-locks and muzzle-loaders they were effective in close-quarter sniping and fighting.  However the Kukis rarely stood and fought from a defensive position, preferring to cause some attrition to their attackers and then to quickly withdraw.


Above: Coote and Higgins inside the Mombi stockade

Coote rested at Mombi whilst his wounded were carried back to Shuganoo and rations were brought forward.  Smoke had been seen rising from the direction of Longya, and heliograph contact with the Lenakot post in the north Chin Hills ascertained that Steadman had burned Longya without opposition.  Steadman had then marched towards Khailet, the rendezvous point for him and Coote, but on meeting a long stockade barring his path he had charged it.  The result was a serious reverse for Steadman who lost 11 men killed and many wounded including himself, wounded three times.  Many of his porters had bolted and Steadman withdrew to Lenakot, much to the joy of the Kukis. 

Coote set about his own task of punishing insurgents in the Mombi area.  His column marched through thick jungle for five days, incessantly climbing up or descending down steep-sided hills.  When halting for the night the jungle had to be cleared and a barbed wire fence run around the perimeter to deter sudden attacks.  On 7th February 1918, having destroyed Nungoinu and other nearby villages, Coote was advancing along a densely-wooded ridge when he was ambushed.  Reconnaissance showed that a barrier of rocks ran across the ridge, the narrow track was heavily stockaded and the space before the rocks was covered in felled trees 40 metres deep.  Both Shakespear and Higgins led flanking parties but the steep terrain defied their efforts to get behind the stockade and rocks. Meanwhile Coote was losing men killed and wounded from around 70 firearms being discharged through small apertures in the rock barricade.

After 45 minutes of heavy firing from an almost invisible enemy, accompanied by loud drumming and war-chanting, the mountain gun was brought forward and came into action.  But after the third round had been fired the gun Havildar and three others of the gun crew were hit, putting the gun out of action.  Coote then decided to rush the position with Jemadar Kharga Sing’s platoon advancing on the left, accompanied by Shakespear, whilst Coote provided supporting fire on the right from his soldiers’ old single-shot Martini Henry rifles.  Because of the tree obstacles on the ground a rush was not possible but Kharga Sing methodically walked his men forward across the trees and up the rocks.  Both Coote and the enemy ceased firing and Kharga Sing crossed the rocks to find that the Kukis had not chosen to stand and fight but had withdrawn; bloodstains and trails confirmed several Kuki casualties and examination of the excellent defensive position showed that up to 300 tribesmen could have been holding it.

Coote occupied the adjacent Khengoi Village for the night, burning it the next morning after his signallers had heliographed Tamu to arrange for rations to be ready for him at Withok, across the Burma border in the Kale Kabaw valley.  At Withok a camp had been prepared for the column and carts came up from Tamu, 35 kilometres away, to evacuate the wounded and sick.  Captain Grantham of the Burma Police and Lieutenant C.G. Kay-Mouatt, 1-70th Burma Rifles, rode in with the carts to advise that the Kuki Rising was spreading swiftly.  A Burma Column was forming at Tamu to operate against the Chassadh Kukis occupying the hills east of Imphal who were raiding Kangal Thana and Homalin in the Chindwin Valley.  Further north and to the west of Imphal the Silchar Road had been closed, rest houses destroyed and anyone seized by the Kukis was being cut up.  Major Cloete was in Silchar preparing to reopen the road to Imphal.

Above: The Imphal-Silchar Road runs over the far ridgeline

Coote marched his column back towards Palel, burning Changpol, Gnarjal and Pantha Villages on the way.  The column’s final action was on Rekchu Hill where a strong line of breastworks and shelter pits commanded the track upwards.  However the Kukis opened fire too soon, and the column’s two flanking parties got abreast of the position before the defenders noticed them, causing an immediate Kuki withdrawal.  After five weeks of strenuous campaigning Cootes’ men, in ragged clothing and worn-out boots, but now fit and experienced, reached Imphal.  Here the column found that 100 rifles from the 2/2nd Ghurkas under Major J.E. Cruickshank had been sent to garrison the town, and another 100 were in Kohima under Lieutenant Duff, thus releasing more of the Assam Rifles for operations (8).

Hebbert’s column had returned a few days previously having had a less arduous time punishing villages near the Imphal-Tamu road, with only one skirmish being fought near Suampo.  Several other columns were now deployed in the hills surrounding the Imphal plain, and Major Cloete’s column was on the Silchar Road and had fought a sharp action at Laibol.  There was still much work to be done both along the Chindwin and around the Imphal plain. 


Right: Loopholed breastwork on jungle track


The Spring and Summer of 1918


In March Shakespear marched to Tamu escorted by 50 rifles from the 4th (Darrang) Battalion, Assam Rifles, under Jemadar Babu Lal.   There he met with his Burma counterpart, Lieutenant-Colonel J.J.W. ffrench-Mullen CIE, and a co-operative strategy was devised.  Two Chindwin columns starting from Homalin (Major T.D.H. Hackett (9)) and Kangal Thana (Captain Patrick) would work together with Captain Coote’s Imphal column against the Chassadh Kukis whilst a fourth column from Kohima (Lieutenants H.C. Prior (10) and Sanderson) operated towards the un-administered Somra Tracts.  Meanwhile 100 rifles from 1st (Lushai) Battalion, Assam Rifles, under Subadar Bhowan Singh were to be stationed at Bangmual in south-west Manipur to cooperate with any troops that pursued insurgents into that area.  Bhowan Singh was later mentioned in despatches for his leadership on operations in the Bangmual area.

When Coote set off with his column, accompanied by Lieutenant N.E. Parry (11) and Mr. Higgins, the Naga porters suddenly went on strike and refused to carry loads.  To quote directly from Shakespear: ‘The wholesome spectacle of the 11 ringleaders being publicly flogged soon induced all to think differently and they quietly resumed work’.  Coote marched on, punishing those villages that did not submit, and near Kangal Thana he met up with Patrick and they marched together to attack Kamjong, Chief Pachei’s principal village.  During the fighting around here the columns suffered several casualties but Pachei escaped and moved into the unexplored Somra Tracts.  Indecisive skirmishes continued into the summer and the Kukis remained active, recruiting more tribesmen to join the Rising.  At Bamakshan village an unexpected and well-planned Kuki night attack killed two men in a column led by Captain Goodall, and the telegraph lines were chopped down again on the Burma road despite previous punitive actions against local villages.  Goodall had to move into this area to support a column under Captain Francis Tuker, 2nd Gurkha Rifles, an officer destined for senior appointments in World War II.


Above: The Palel-Tamu road at its highest point

In April prompt military support had been provided by the territorial Indian Defence Force unit the Surma Valley Light Horse.  A group of 70 or 80 Kukis raided the North Cachar Hills and both the Europeans and the local labour on the tea estates near Haflong lived in fear of losing their heads.  Twenty four members of ‘B’ Troop, Surma Valley Light Horse, forsook their civilian occupations and turned out from Silchar for up to a fortnight to provide a military presence until relieved by 100 rifles of the 2nd (Sadiya) Battalion, Assam Rifles, under Captain J.H. Copeland (12).

By July both Falkland’s and Montefiore’s columns had returned from successful operations against the southern Chins in Burma, the latter column returning via Rangoon, Calcutta and Kohima.  During his deployment Montefiore had entered Manipur from the south to restore the unfortunate situation that Steadman’s withdrawal had created, destroying big stockades at Haika and killing many Kuki including Gnulbul, the Chief of Longya, who was attempting to escape with his little son in his arms.  Falkland’s column had sustained many casualties in the hard fighting against the Chins, and it marched back to Aijal; both columns had experienced a tough seven months of campaigning, and their main source of replacement clothing had been the Ladies’ War Society in Rangoon.  The southern Chin rebels were now reduced to a small number of activists, and Montefiore was to be awarded an honour for his military prowess in Burma.

As the mid-year hot-weather season commenced both sides felt exhausted and needed to rest.  It was now apparent to the British that the Rising could not be put down in the traditional way by dispersed and loosely coordinated columns of troops using antiquated weapons.  Additional handicaps were an inadequate transport arrangement and a supply system that prevaricated on grounds of cost whenever worn-out boots and clothing needed replacing.  The Chief Commissioner of Assam took Shakespear to Simla for discussions with the Commander in Chief, India.


The arrival of Lieutenant General Sir Henry D’Urban Keary KCB KCIE DSO


Simla wanted to be rid of the embarrassing Kuki Rising and some decisive measures were taken.  The old single-shot Martini Henry rifles used by the Assam Rifles and Burma Military Police were replaced with new .303-inch long Lee-Enfield magazine rifles.  Lewis guns (13) and rifle grenades (14) were issued and four Stokes trench mortars were supplied to the Burma Military Police; this last weapon was to be a decisive factor in breaking Kuki resistance.  New issues of clothing, boots and kit were made to the sepoys, free of charge.  More officers from the Indian Army Reserve of Officers were posted into the theatre.  The only Political Officer who had been into the Somra Tracts, Mr. W. Street of the Burma Commission, was recalled from his duties with the Chin Labour Corps in France.

  Lieutenant General Sir Henry D’Urban Keary KCB KCIE DSO was due to take command of the Burma Division and he was tasked with ending the Kuki Rising.  Keary was to command from Burma whilst Colonel C.E.E.F.K. Macquoid DSO commanded in Manipur but reported to Keary; ffrench-Mullen was to be Keary’s principal staff officer.  General Keary had served in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885 and he later raised a battalion of Burma Military Police; whilst operating in the mounted infantry role he had been awarded the DSO for gallantry at Wuntho in 1891.  He had then commanded a battalion in the operations to suppress insurrection in the Northern Chin Hills in 1892-93.  He was a soldier with definite views regarding the efficassy of strong punitive measures against recalcitrant tribes.  After making his appreciation of the situation he declared his plan of action to be: ‘. . . to put an end to the Kuki revolt by force of arms, break the Kuki spirit, disarm the Kukis, exact reparation and pave the way for an effective administration of their country’. 


Left: Kamjong stockade entrance with swinging timbers

In Burma the troops that Keary used were the 1/70th and the 85th Burma Rifles, the 62nd Company Burma Sappers & Miners, the 202-man strong Chin Friendly Corps, and detachments of the Military Police battalions from Chin Hills, Bhamo Hills, Monywa Hills, Mandalay Hills, Myitkyina Hills, Taunggyi Hills, Shwebo Hills, Pyabwe Hills, Rangoon Hills and Toungoo Hills.  With his headquarters and Supply and Transport personnel his Burma force totalled 3,011 men.  In Assam Macquoid commanded the four Assam Rifles battalions already mentioned, one section of 35 signallers from 43rd Signal Company and a company of 150 Friendly Kuki Scouts; this was a total of 3,223 combatants.  In the non-combatant role were 310 officers and men comprising a Section of the Gauhati Labour Corps, an officer and 35 men forming a survey detachment and 4,600 local porters. 

The signallers from 43rd Signal Company were to make a big impact on future operations on the Manipur side, allowing Keary and his subordinates to closely coordinate column movements.  On the Burma side 150 Burma Military Police signallers under Subadar Atta Muhammad provided the requirement and Atta Muhammad was later mentioned in despatches.  Carrier pigeons were introduced to carry messages, but the birds were not given enough time to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings. On the Manipur side transport had to be large gangs of porters as no pack-transport roads existed apart from the cart road from Dimapur via Kohima to Imphal.  It took a cart one month to bring a load from Dimapur to Imphal.  On the Burma side mules could be used and 1,500 of them were purchased across the Chinese border.  Unfortunately surra disease (15) affected these mules on their journey into Burma, and Burman porters had to be hired until the mules recovered.  These porters lived along the Burma rivers and were not hill-men, but they were all that could be raised as friendly Kukis who had previously offered to do the work were intimidated against performing it by their rebel brethren.  The operations mounted from Burma were well supported by steamers plying the Chindwin River.


Keary’s tactics

Keary adopted a plan initiated by Major A. Vickers (16), 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion, Assam Rifles.  Seven Areas of Operation were demarcated in which lines of posts were to be established; the posts were to be rationed for three months and manned generously so that small columns could be formed from within them.  The Areas were: North East (Somra and North Chassadh); East (Chassadh); South-East (Mombi and Longya); South (Manhlung); South-West (Hinglep and Ukha); North-West (Silchar Road and Jampi).  In each Area a base position was nominated to which supplies would be brought and dumped, these dumps would then support both the posts and any columns operating in the area.

Mobile columns in each area were to drive the Kuki onto the lines of posts where they were to be harried until the tribesmen submitted.  As some villages in the Kuki heartlands were ostensibly ‘friendly’ care had to be taken to not attack them.  To a degree this problem was solved by the construction of ‘concentration camps’ on the Manipur plain where the ‘friendly’ Kukis could reside during operations.  Those ‘friendlies’ that did not come down to the camps had to take the rough with the smooth, and few British tears were shed for them as undoubtedly those villagers would be coerced into helping the rebels in various ways during operations.

Whilst the plans were being made and the new weapons introduced to the troops minor operations continued. Subadar Hanspal Limbu of the 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion, Assam Rifles, who commanded a post at Niemi received information from ‘friendlies’ that a large group of Chassadh Kukis was approaching.  The Subadar took a party of his men out to meet the rebels and in a sharp fight 30 Kukis were killed; Hanspal Limbu was subsequently awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  Encountering the new British Lewis guns and magazine rifles must have been a distressing experience for many Kukis. 

With hostilities ceasing in France in late 1918 a number of experienced officers were returned to India to join Keary’s force.  Prominent amongst them was Major H. Douglas of the Surma Valley Light Horse who was to command a column and receive an honour for the way he operated.  But the world-wide Spanish influenza epidemic struck some of the Assam Rifles, and an outbreak of cerebral meningitis affected others. Nevertheless in early November 1918 all Keary’s columns were on the move and the Kukis were experiencing coordinated pressure from several directions.

Above: The March 1918 conference at Tamu


The final months of the Kuki Rising

As the British columns advanced they accepted submissions from those villagers who had had enough of war, but the villages that resisted were destroyed along with any cultivated areas that they possessed.  As a village submitted it had to surrender its firearms and pay a fine of livestock, and accept the guidance of a Political Officer; if insufficient firearms were surrendered then the cultivation of that village was destroyed.  Chiefs considered dangerous were arrested after submission or capture and some were held in detention outside Manipur.  Villagers or tribal units attempting to move away from advancing columns were forced back by posts or other columns so that they could not escape retribution for their rebellious acts.  Wherever the Kukis went they could see the winking flashes of British heliographs reporting their movements.  As the British columns advanced they made bridle paths through the jungle and over the hills, opening up the Kuki territory for the British administrators who followed.  The surveyors took their readings in the field and used them to produce the first maps of unexplored areas such as the Somra Tracts. 

The main rebel leaders were always on the move attempting to enter new areas to find refuge, but their followers rapidly became dispirited and demoralised by the new firepower of the British columns and posts.  In the North West Area Subadar Hari Ram, 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion, Assam Rifles, commanded the Channachin post and he made a surprise attack on Layang village killing 28 rebels and capturing the entire livestock; Hari Ram was later awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  When the nearby garrison of the Dulin post attacked the rebel village of Sompuram with similar results nearly all organised resistance in the Jampi region ceased, most chiefs submitted, surrendering weapons and paying tribute without further argument.  This pattern of the successful use of superior British firepower was repeated in all seven Areas,

With the Burma Military Police columns on the Chindwin side denying the Kukis freedom of movement across the border, Keary had achieved his aim of putting an end to the Kuki revolt by force of arms, breaking the Kuki spirit, disarming the Kukis, exacting reparation and paving the way for an effective administration of their country.  His success was undeniable.  After four months of operating from the Somra Tracts Chief Pachei found that he was even being pursued and hounded there, and in April he appeared in Imphal and surrendered.  By 20th May 1919 nearly all resistance had ceased and operations were terminated.  To help the country settle down strong posts were maintained by the Assam Rifles at Ukruhl, Kamjong, Nantiram, Tamenglao, Chura Chandpur, Mombi, Poshing, Chanakin and Kerami.

Totalling the results of military operations between December 1917 and May 1919, 140 rebel villages were destroyed, 112 rebel villages submitted and 15 villages were found deserted.  In Manipur 970 muskets were confiscated whilst in the south Chin Hills over 600 were handed in.  Large amounts of grain and cattle were also confiscated.  The estimated number of Kukis killed was 126 men, but doubtless others died of wounds away from the scenes of action, especially when the new British weapons came into use.  The British lost 59 all-ranks killed, 135 wounded and 97 dead from other causes, principally disease.

The whole affair had been an embarrassment to the government of India and the campaign was denied publicity.  Participation in the campaign did not qualify for a clasp to the Indian General Service Medal; however troops who served in the field for any period from the start of the Kuki rising until 31st October 1918 qualified for the award of the British Victory Medal.  Two Distinguished Service Orders were awarded but the citations were not published.

The last word must go to the Kukis.  They led the British on a merry dance for 18 months armed only with ancient muskets, they carried no packs and had no supply trains or medical support but they knew their own country well and how to live off it and fight effectively from it.  They were a tough and fierce adversary who commanded the respect of all who went up against them.  Shahbash (Well Done!) the Kukis!



Awards made for service during the Kuki Rising


Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI).

Lieutenant-Colonel John Lawrence William ffrench-Mullen CIE, Indian Army.

Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE).

Colonel Leslie Waterfield Shakespear CB and Colonel Charles Edward Every Francis Kirwan Macqoid DSO, both of the Indian Army; Captain Edward Joseph Calveley Hordern, Royal Indian Marine; John Comyn Higgins, John Henry Hutton and John Brown Marshall, all of the Indian Civil Service.

Commander of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Bulmer Tait Abbey and Major Lindsay Elliott Lumley Burne, both of Indian Army.

Officers of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Captain Claud Emanuel Montefiore, Indian Army, Assam Military Police (17); Captain William Niven Greer MB, Royal Army Medical Corps; Lieutenant Charles George Kay-Mouat, 1/70th Burma Rifles, Indian Army; Major Hannath Douglas Marshall, 2nd Surma Valley Light Horse, Indian Defence Force; Temporary Captain David Vincent O’Malley MB, Royal Army Medical Corps; Captain George Edward Scott, Indian Defence Force; Major (Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) William Blomfield White, 39th Central Indian Horse, Indian Army.

Members of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Val Ardern Hulme, Indian Army Reserve of Officers; Captain John Hugh Copeland, Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to 8th Gurkha Rifles; Lieutenant George David Walker, 2/8th Gurkha Rifles; Lieutenant Eric John Wilkinson, Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to Supply & Transport Corps and Headquarters Staff, Burma Force.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Captain William George King Broome, 89th Punjabis and Major Thomas Dalby Hutchison Hackett, both of the Indian Army.

Indian Distinguished Service Medal

Assam Rifles recipients: Subadars Bhawan Sing, 1st Bn, Hiraup Sahi, 1st Bn, Hari Ram, 3rd Bn, Nain Singh Mull, 3rd Bn, Birman Thapa, 4th Bn; Jemadars Hanspal Limbu, 3rd Bn and Satal Singh Cachari, 4th Bn; Havildar 1886 Jangbir Gurung, 2nd Bn; Rifleman 2729 Bhabajit Rhai, 2nd Bn.

Burma Military Police recipients: Subadars Mir Fazal, Mandalay Bn; Arjan Singh, Reserve Bn. and Hpaulula attached 85th Burma Rifles.   Jemadars Fateh Muhammad, Mandalay Bn; Mota Suba, Chin Hills Bn; Kulman Lapcha, Bhamo Bn and Tek Bahadur, Myitkyina Bn.  Havildars 40 Umardin, Bhamo Bn;  5094 Nirbakht Rai, Myitkyina Bn and 1551 Harkabahadur Chettri, attached 85th Burma Rifles.  Sepoy 3677 Jasbahadur Ghalle, SSS Bn.

King’s Police Medal

Subadar Pokul Thapa, Assam Rifles.

Mentioned in Despatches

90 officers and men (18).    

SOURCES: (the most economical publications are listed)

Kearey, Lieutenant-General Sir H. D.U.: ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library, London

Lisam, Khomdon Singh: Encyclopedia of Manipur. (Kalpaz Punblications, Delhi 2011. The relevant chapter can be found on-line.). 

Parratt, John: Wounded Land. Politics and Identity in Modern Manipur. (Mittal Publications, Delhi 2005.  The relevant chapter can be found on-line.). 

Shakespear, L.W. Colonel: History of the Assam Rifles. (Naval & Military Press re-print).

Shakespear, L.W. Colonel: History of the 2nd King Edward’s Own Goorkhas (The Sirmoor Rifle Regiment), Volume II 1911-1921. (Naval & Military Press).

Shakespear, L.W.: The Lushei Kuki Clans. (Macmillan & Co Ltd, London 1912 and on-line: https://archive.org/details/lusheikukiclans00shak ).

Starling John & Lee Ivor: No Labour, No Battle. Military Labour During the First World War. (Spellmount, UK 2009).

Wood, Reverend W.H.S.: Through Fifty Years. A History of the Surma Valley Light Horse. (Naval & Military Press reprint).




1- The ‘Tower of France’, a memorial to the Khasis who did not return from France, can be seen today in central Shillong.
2- Captain Coote was attached from the 107th Pioneers.
3- Captain Falkland was attached from the 13th Rajputs (The Shekawati Regiment).
4- Captain E.C. Montifiori was attached from the 110th Mahratta Light Infantry.
5- Lieutenant Hooper was attached from the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (IARO). 6- Major Cloete was attached from the 90th Punjabis.  His Military Cross had been awarded in Mesopotamia.  He was murdered at Sadiya in 1920.
7- A simple spike, made out of wood or bamboo, generally placed upright or at an angle in the ground. Punji sticks are usually deployed in substantial numbers
8- The 2/2nd Gurkha detachment remained in Imphal and Kohima for four months before returning to its Battalion location at Tank on the North-West Frontier.  The Gurkhas did not deploy for operations against the Kukis.
9- Major Hackett was an Indian Army officer serving on the Burma Commission.
10- Lieutenant Prior was attached from the IARO.
11- Lieutenant Parry was attached from THE IARO.
12- Captain Copeland was attached from the IARO.
13- Light machine guns.
14- Fragmentation grenades that are discharged from a rifle muzzle.
15- Surra is a disease inflicted by the horse-fly that can be fatal if not treated promptly.
16- Major Vickers was attached from the 48th Pioneers.
17- The Assam Rifles had previously held titles as Military Police Battalions.
18- The names can be seen on Page 7761 of a Supplement to the London Gazette dated 23 July 1920 under the heading KUKI PUNITIVE OPERATIONS.

 
Top