Between October 1915 and September 1918 the
Allies engaged Bulgarian, German and Turkish forces in an area of Macedonia
north of the Greek port of Salonika in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Allied effort was promoted by France and
the initial aim was to rescue the Serbian Army that was being driven southwards
by the Central Powers. The intervention
initially failed as after a brief campaign in severe winter conditions
Bulgarian troops drove the Anglo-French force back towards the Mediterranean
coast. Britain then advised withdrawing
from the theatre but France, Russia and Italy disagreed so Salonika was
prepared for defence and another inland advance was made in 1916.
Russian and Italian troops entered the
theatre, as did a reconstituted Serbian Army, and the town of Monastir fell to
Franco-Serbian troops in November 1916.
Despite aggressive action little else was gained by the Allies for the
next two years as the Bulgarians held the vital ground on the mountain tops
inland. In 1917 Greece joined the Allies
and Greek troops fought in Macedonia in 1918.
Finally an Allied offensive in September 1918 led to a Serbian
break-through west of the River Vardar; the enemy forces crumbled and Bulgaria
surrendered to the Allies on 30th September 1918.
Britain regarded Macedonia as an
unnecessary ‘Sideshow’ but at its height the British force in the theatre
comprised six divisions organised into two corps. Although you have to search hard in the
British Official History of the campaign to find the word ‘Indian’, transport
units from both the Indian Army and Indian Imperial State Forces were active in
the theatre from January 1916 to the conclusion of hostilities, and their
Left: Indian muleteers at a forage dump, Macedonia
(Cavalry Brigade) Mule Corps
The unit was mobilised as a draught
sub-division at Dalhousie, Punjab, on 20th October 1915. Captain G.H. Wilkinson, Supply and Transport
Corps, Indian Army, was appointed as the Officer Commanding the Corps. 22nd Mule Corps at Ambala transferred 100 mule carts, personnel
and animals into the unit. The unit
strength was 1 British officer; 1 Indian officer; 4 British senior ranks; 557
Indian ranks; 15 riding ponies; 864 mules; and 400 carts. The Corps concentrated at Lahore and departed
in late October on three trains for Karachi where it loaded men, animals,
carts, gear, tentage and stores on the transports Taroba and Umeta. The transports departed from Kiamari Docks
on 2nd November and arrived at Suez twelve days later where the
Corps disembarked and entrained for Ismailia.
After working for two weeks on station duties at Ismailia, Suez, Port
Said and Tel-el-Kebir the Corps received orders to embark for Salonika. The transports Haverford and Karoo
carried the Corps and departed from Alexandria on 27th December arriving
at Salonika Port on 1st January 1916. Disembarkation was completed the following
day and the Corps moved into a camp on Monastir Road; 200 carts were
immediately employed on duties and the camp came under an enemy air attack on 6th
January, fortunately the bombs landed 200 metres north of the camp. Hostilities had commenced for the 3rd
(Cavalry Brigade) Mule Corps and in early February the soldiers observed an
enemy Zeppelin air-ship that bombed Salonika.
On Mudros Island on 28th December 1915
Captain A.E.E. Sargent MC, Supply and Transport Corps, Indian Army, was
appointed Commandant of the 31st Mule Corps and ordered to form four
troops each containing 108 mules and 50 carts for service in Salonika. British troops had almost completed their
withdrawal from Gallipoli and several Indian mule units were on the island
which was a main base. To make up the
Corps to eight troops, Imperial Service units from the princely states of Bharatpur
and Indore were attached to the Corps for operations, however the Imperial
Service troops remained under the command of their respective commandants for
internal administration. Lieutenant G.B.
Roger, Indian Army Reserve of Officers, was posted as a junior officer in the
Corps. The enhanced Corps embarked at
Mudros on 8th January 1916 and disembarked at Salonika four days later, losing
two mules drowned during the disembarkation.
Operational deployments commenced on the 14th January.
Imperial Service Transport Corps
The unit had first served in France and
then at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, where it used pack mules to resupply the trenches
of the British 10th Division, losing 110 mules to enemy shell
fire. After evacuation to Mudros it was
reconstituted into two troops for service in Salonika. Lieutenant Colonel Kishen Singh was the
Commandant and Major J.H. Watson, 13th Duke of Connaught’s Lancers
(Watson’s Horse), was the Indian Army Special Service Officer (SSO) who was there
to offer advice when the Commandant requested it. The unit strength was 172 all ranks, 9 horses
and 216 mules. The Bharatpurs moved to
Salonika attached to 31st Mule Corps, disembarking from the
transport S.S. Haverford and moving
into Kalamaria Camp on 12th January 1916. Two weeks later pack mule deliveries
commenced from Kalamaria Camp to Hortachoi. In early February 100 carts were received and
cart transport operations commenced.
Above: Mule Corps gymnastic display Salonika
Imperial Service Transport Corps
The Indore Corps had served alongside the
Bharatpurs in France and at Suvla Bay, and it was also reconstituted on Mudros
Island in late December 1915. Major Lutf
Ali Khan was Commandant and the SSO was Major Nawab Mohamed Akbar Khan. On strength were 5 Indian officers, 132
Indian ranks, 12 artificers, 23 followers, 14 riding ponies and 216 mules. During the embarkation from Mudros Driver
Onkar argued with Daffadar Sirdar Ali Khan and wounded him; Onkar later
received a sentence of five years rigorous imprisonment and was returned to
India. After moving to Salonika with 31st
Mule Corps the Indore Corps spent ten days in Kalamaria Camp and then marched
as a pack mule unit to Hortachoi. On 22nd
January the Corps moved to Aivasil and commenced supporting the 27th
Division. In February the Indore Corps
also received 100 carts and began cart transport duties.
duties of the Mule Corps units
The Mule Corps units were designated as
Army Troops and were deployed by the British Salonika Force headquarters both
in the British sector and sometimes in support of Allied troops in other
sectors. The transport duties were
carried out in rear areas but attacks by enemy aircraft and Zeppelin air ships
were a major risk. The carts were in
constant use moving rations, forage, baggage, ammunition, coal and other
supplies forward to divisional locations.
Occasionally road stone was the cargo as engineers constructed more
all-weather roads running inland. A lighter load sometimes was charcoal.
Right: Mule Corps mule-back wrestling Salonika
The British members of 3rd
(Cavalry Brigade) Mule Corps were often used to run courses on pack-mule
handling for divisional personnel who then used their own pack-mules within
their divisional areas. After battles
with the Bulgarians the return loads of many of the carts were wounded Allied
soldiers. Often a Mule Corps would have
camps in two or three different locations, dependant on the taskings received
for the Corps; unit quartermasters, veterinary assistants, farriers, carpenters,
artificers, saddlers, shoeing smiths, medical dressers, tailors, cooks, barbers
and sweepers manned the camps. Hutted
camps were erected in base areas but in forward locations the camps were
When a mule was sick or wounded and could
not be satisfactorily treated by the Veterinary Officer or Assistant in the
unit it was sent to a Veterinary hospital for treatment and convalescence. When Corps needed fresh mules to replace
casualties these were drawn from Remount units; however war diaries show that
the number of remounts needed was low because of the excellent care and
grooming that the Indian mule units practised. Because of forage shortages, off-duty mules
were allowed to graze freely in safe areas. Unit artificers and saddlers maintained and
repaired the carts and equipment.
As the campaign progressed the British set
up agricultural units in Macedonia to grow produce for food supplies, and mule
teams were employed on ploughing with both Punjabi ploughs made within the
Corps and Greek iron ploughs bought locally.
The Mule Corps ran its own vegetable gardens and produced substantial
amounts of crops.
men and their recreation
Whilst the Indian State Forces units were usually
reinforced with drafts from their princely states, the Indian Army Mule
Companies received drafts that included many different castes. The 31st Mule Corps war diary for
25th June 1917 records the following castes or types as being on
strength: Christian, Parsi, Pathan, Punjabi Musulman, Madrasi Musulman, Tamil, Telegu,
Sikh, Mahratta, Gurkha, Brahman, Rajput, Hindustani Musulman and Sweeper. Hardly any instances of serious disciplinary
action are recorded in the war diaries, and two weeks imprisonment in a local
military jail is the severest sentence recorded.
Hardly any home leave was granted because
there were never enough men on the ground to keep all the carts running, which
was the military priority. That led to
the men becoming exhausted as the work was strenuous, and this contributed to
higher sickness rates. By late 1918 the
3rd (Cavalry Brigade) Mule Corps war diary is noting that: “The
question of leave for both British and Indians during the three years and three
months during which the unit has been on Active Service has been very
unsatisfactory, one British officer and one serjeant and less than 100 Indian
other ranks only have as yet proceeded on leave, and this entirely owing to
reinforcements not being available to make up the requisite number of men to
work the 400 carts of this unit.”
Above: Mule Corps sports meeting, Salonika 1916
A telling entry in the same war diary after
the Armistice comments: “The type of reinforcement being received from India is
very unsatisfactory, physique poor, weak and not up to the hard work and
climatic conditions of Macedonia. In
many cases, on the line of march, they were too weak to be able to saddle up
their animals, which work had to be done for them by the older hands. They are received from India absolutely
Civilian charitable organisations such as
the Young Men’s Christian Association organised secular recreational facilities
such as film shows and units established canteens or relaxation areas in base
areas. The Imperial War Museum has
archived some interesting photographs of the Mule Corps men at sports meetings
showing athletic events and displays plus mule-back wrestling and tug-of-war
matches. However a popular off-duty
activity for the sepoys must have been to wander the ancient streets of
Salonika, observing the cultures and customs of the polyglot community that
Above: A British Artillery position in Macedonia
medical situation on the Macedonian Front
Macedonia was not a healthy theatre for
British soldiers. Winters that could be
brutally cold were followed by summers that were very hot and
debilitating. The low plains occupied by
many British soldiers contained several malarial swamps. Troops that moved from Gallipoli to Macedonia
were already weakened by the insanitary field conditions that they had endured
on the peninsula, and many of those soldiers soon suffered from dysentery and
other enteric diseases in Macedonia. If
mosquito nets were not used to sleep under then malaria could strike quickly,
and sometimes also Sand Fly Fever; over 160,000 cases of malaria were recorded. Poor sanitation discipline could lead to
Black Water Fever. However once the
scale of the problem was realised the British went to great lengths to ensure
that Hygiene and Sanitation standards were maintained, nevertheless the British
force suffered over half a million non-combat casualties during the
campaign. In 1918 the world-wide
influenza epidemic struck Macedonia and caused casualties.
No. 137 Indian Field Ambulance was deployed
to Salonika along with the Mule Corps, and unit Sub-Assistant Surgeons would
refer casualties that could not be treated in the units to that Field Ambulance. If the casualty needed hospitalisation he was
sent to a British Army hospital in Salonika from where serious cases would be
shipped to Egypt or India.
Above: Looking south west across the Doiran battlefield from the main Bulgarian position
Road Indian Cemetery and Indian Memorial, Salonika, Greece
From 1916 deaths of Indian soldiers
occurred in Macedonia, mainly from disease or other medical reasons. An Indian cemetery was located on Monastir
Road, Salonika, the southern plot was used for burials and the northern plot
for the over 200 cremations that took place.
A Memorial in the northern half commemorates the deaths of those with no
known graves. A total of 358 Indian
soldiers are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in a
well-maintained little cemetery.
Of the listed casualties 58 are Mule Corps,
10 are Bharatpur Imperial Service Transport Corps and 7 are Indore Imperial
Service Transport Corps.
One hundred and ten men are from the Royal
Horse and Field Artillery, Indian Army, as from 1918 that regiment provided
drivers for the ammunition columns of the British horse-drawn artillery in
Macedonia. The remaining commemorations
are mainly for sepoys whose units were employed after the Armistice in the British
Army of the Black Sea.
Indian in the Bulgarian Flying Corps
The war diary for 3rd (Cavalry
Brigade) Mule Corps records an interesting event. No. 622 Driver Santa Singh had been reported
missing on 16th August 1917 and he reported back for duty on 10th
November of the same year. Santa Singh
had followed a mule that he believed belonged to his unit but he was captured
by Bulgarian troops and kept in a prisoner of war camp near Fort Rupel for
about five weeks. Then he was employed
as a cook and orderly for Captain Kishen Singh of the Bulgarian Flying Corps,
and Kishen Singh related his story to his new orderly. Kishen Singh was born in Calcutta and had two
brothers working on the railways in Lahore.
Kishen became a tramway driver in Bombay but then took work afloat as a
lascar and later as a cleaner in the engine rooms of ships. In 1912 he sailed for Europe in a French
vessel and landed at Salonika where he married a Macedonian lady and settled
down in Rupel Pass. When Bulgaria
entered the war Kishen Singh joined the Bulgarian Army. After five weeks working as an orderly Santa
Singh found an opportunity to escape and made his way across country to the
British lines. Nothing more was heard of
Above: Monastir Road Indian Cemetery and Memorial, Salonika
In 1919, when shipping space was secured,
the Indian State Forces units returned to India, both Corps serving in the
Third Afghan War. Unfortunately Major
Lutf Ali Khan, Commandant of the Indore Transport Corps, was killed in an air crash
near Salonika in April 1919 just before his unit embarked. Major Gopal Puri took over as Commandant. The Indian Army units, although tired out and
receiving untrained reinforcements of poor quality, were redeployed into the
Army of the Black Sea, 3rd (Cavalry Brigade) Mule Corps being
shipped to the Georgian port of Batum in the south-east of the Black Sea.
Although in Macedonia the British built
roads for motor transport and railways for the movement of large numbers of men
and stores, the mule-cart units were in great demand from January 1916 to the
Armistice and beyond. The Mule Corps
were flexible and reliable assets for the logisticians, needing no petrol or
coal to power them. The sepoys were used
to living in basic conditions in hostile climates and their administrative
requirements were minimal. The mules did
not need spare parts nor skilled mechanics to repair them. The artificers and saddlers in the mule-cart
units were adept at keeping the carts and equipment in excellent working order,
and the veterinary staff, shoe-smiths and drivers understood their mules and
took great care of them. It is
unfortunate that the contribution of the Indian Mule Corps to the Macedonian
Campaign is not more widely recognised.
It is appropriate to end by quoting Major
Wilkinson’s closing comment in the war diary of the 3rd (Cavalry
Brigade) Mule Corps as it prepared to embark for Batum:
spite of these adverse conditions and the fact that nearly all the original
transport drivers left in the unit have had no leave whatever since embarking
at Karachi on 2nd November 1915, they are and have all along been
behaving like ‘TRUMPS’, there is no other word to describe their work.“
Above: Mule Carts
made to members of Indian Mule Corps and Supply and Transport units serving in
of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) Majors A.E.E. Sargent MC and G.H.
Wilkinson, both Supply and Transport Corps, Indian Army.
of the Indian Empire (CIE) Lieutenant Colonel (Sirdar) Kishen Singh,
Bharatpur Imperial Service Transport Corps.
Order of British India (OBI) Major Lutf Ali Khan (Bahadur); Captain
Santuji Bapuji; Lieutenant Colonel Gopal Puri, all of the Indore Imperial
Service Transport Corps.
Distinguished Service Medal Jemadar Muhammad Ismail and No. 216
Daffadar Fazal Elahi, both Supply and Transport Corps, Indian Army.
Service Medal Sergeant F. Rowell, Supply and Transport
Corps, Indian Army.
Meritorious Service Medal MULE CORPS awards: No. 438 Saddler Allah
Ditta; 3rd Grade Veterinary Assistants No. 1604 Hari Singh and No.
1246 Mir Zaman; Kot Dafadars No. 288 Nazir Ahmad, No. 508 Ali Murid and No.
1170 Muhammad Kasim; No. 501 Quartermaster Daffadar Roshan Khan; Lance Naiks
No. 861 Saif Ali, No. 980 Ghulam Muhammad, No. 1205 Muhammad Qasim and No. 1338
Abdul Jaheel; Drivers No. 1383 Mohmin Shah and No. 1234 Phinoo.
BHARATPUR IMPERIAL SERVICE TRANSPORT CORPS
awards: No. 907 Kot Daffadar Bashir Ahmed; No. 855 Lance Daffadar Sukkha; No.
671 Driver Chand Khan.
INDORE IMPERIAL SERVICE TRANSPORT CORPS
awards: Kot Daffadars No. 18 Alladin, No. 18 Aladin Khan, and No. 9 Bane Singh;
No. 14 Farrier Major Nabi Baksh.
de Guerre (French) Lieutenant Colonel (Commandant) Sardar Kishen
Singh, Sirdar Bahadur, CIE, Bharatpur Imperial Service Transport Corps.
BHARATPUR IMPERIAL SERVICE TRANSPORT CORPS:
No. 688 Daffadar Ganpat Singh; No. 671 Driver Chand Khan; No. 855 Lance
INDORE IMPERIAL SERVICE TRANSPORT CORPS: Risalder
Wali Mahomed Khan; Veterinary Surgeon Moladad Khan; No. 20 Quartermaster Daffadar Abdul Latif; No. 9 Kot
Daffadar Bane Singh; No. 14 Farrier Major Nabi Baksh.
SUPPLY AND TRANSPORT CORPS: Staff Serjeant
(Local Sub-Conductor) H. Cooper; No. 508 Kot Daffadar Ali Marid; No. 474 Driver
Fazal Khan; No. 1408 Kot Daffadar Khul Ahmed.
Falls, Cyril (compiler): History of the Great War.Military Operations Macedonia. Two
Volumes. (Battery Press reprint 1996).
Head, Richard and McClenaghan, Tony: The Maharajas’ Paltans. A History of the
Indian State Forces 1888-1948, Part 1. (Manohar, India 2013).
J.B. Hayward & Son (publisher): Honours and Awards Indian Army August 1914 -
Army List 1919. (Naval & Military Press
Gazette Supplement dated 28th November
1917, page 12490.
Nicholls, Brian. The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army. An Anthology.
(D.P. & G. Military Publishers, Doncaster 2006).
Wakefield, Alan and Moody, Simon. Under the Devil’s Eye. The British Military
Experience in Macedonia 1915-1918. (Pen & Sword Military 2011).
War Diaries: 3rd (Cavalry
Brigade) Mule Corps; 31 Mule Cart Corps Bharatpur Imperial Transport Corps;
Indore Imperial Transport Corps. (All WO 95/4813).