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Tracing South Asian Roots
Perspectives on UK Records
Military Service Records
Records in Other Countries
Pulling It All Together
Many thousands of South Asians have served in all branches of the services, both within the general British forces and within special South Asian and East Asian regiments. Records of service, though not complete, are often the most comprehensive sources of information available to the family historian. Therefore tracking down the details of where and when someone served will prove a huge boost to your research.
For an overview of the records of the British services, see the service records section of the Tracing Your Roots introduction.
The British Army Before 1913
For Asian soldiers who were born in Britain and served in the British Army regiments before 1913, the service records of other ranks are held in record series (PRO)WO 97. Asians were not permitted to serve as officers.
The British Army After 1913
According to the Army Council Instruction No. 1771 of 191 Indian students in Great Britain, natives of India of unmixed Asiatic descent, and men whose fathers were natives of India of unmixed Asiatic descent, were not to be called up for service under the provisions of the Military Service Acts, 1916. [From the National Archives records (PRO)NATS 1/998]. Therefore, they were free from liability to military service.
There were, however, Asian soldiers and officers who were born in Britain and fought in the First World War under the command of the British Army; some were given medals for their bravery and loyalty.
Read more about Records for Early Recruits to the British Army.
14,514 Indian soldiers and officers were sick and wounded in the field in France during the First World War and they were brought to England for treatment and care. Hospital ships were used at Southampton and two summer hotels in Brockenhurst, Hampshire. The Lady Hardinge Hospital at Brockenhurst, the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, Hampshire, and the Pavilion Hospital, the Kitchener Hospital and York Place Hospital in Brighton were also used.
Soon after the outbreak of war, some 281 Indian students in Great Britain came forward and were formed into the Indian Volunteer Ambulance Corps to work in these hospitals. They were medical students and men who were studying law, engineering and commerce. [Details are in the National Archives record (PRO)WO 32/5110].
The Indian Army
If your ancestor served in the Indian Army, consult the Indian Army List, available at the National Archives. It lists all the names of the following:
Another excellent source is The India and Burma Office list, which includes an alphabetical honours list that gives the names of all persons appointed to the Orders of the Star of India and Indian Empire and to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India.
It also includes a record of services of officers of the following:
A list of all the South Asian regiments can be found at www.regiments.org.
Asiatic Colonial Units
Records of Indian soldiers who served outside India in the Asiatic Colonial Units, such as the Bengal Fusiliers, China Gun Lascars, Ceylon Rifles and Gun Lascars, include service records, muster books and pay lists and some pension records.
Link here for more information about these units and their records, Asiatic Colonial Unit Information.
The Hong Kong Regiment
By the Royal Warrant of 27 November 1891 a battalion of native infantry in India, 'The Hong Kong Regiment', were the first corps ever raised in India for general service under the War Office: a class regiment of Mussulmans (Muslims) specially raised for service beyond the seas.
Link here for more information about The Hong Kong Regiment.
The Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery
The Hong Kong Singapore Royal Artillery (HKSRA) and Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) had four companies. Out of the four, two were made up of Mohammedans (Muslims) from Northern India, one of Sikhs, and one of mixed castes, Portuguese and Chinamen. Link here to read about the Service Records of the Soldiers and Native Officers who served in HKSRA and HKSRGA.
Royal Indian Navy
Until 1928, all the officers of the Royal Indian Navy service were Europeans; since that date an increasing number of Indian officers have been recruited. In 1939 the ratings numbered 1,475 and expanded to 21,831 in October 1943. Until 1939, the ratings were almost all Muslims, mostly drawn from Ratnagiri (south of Bombay) and were chiefly Konkanis. Read more about the Royal Indian Navy.
Under the King's Regulation and AI Articles 356 and 365, entry to the Navy was barred to any person except the sons of British-born subjects, a measure introduced during the First World War (Admiralty, 18 September 1915).
This decision, however, was not strictly adhered to because of the necessity to enter Goans and Chinese men as officers' stewards and cooks on the East Indies and China Stations. [Details are given in the National Archives reference (PRO)ADM 1/8643/158]. .
The regulations were amended to permit entry of British subjects irrespective of their parents' nationality on the Africa, East Indies and China stations. Read more about Goans in the Royal Navy.
Some Indian army and Indian army reserve officers were attached to the RAF, and subsequently transferred their service on 1 April 1918. They were mainly serving in the East in India, Aden or Mesopotamia [National Archives reference (PRO)AIR 10/136], or perhaps under Indian administration. Follow the link for more details of the Service Records of South Asian RAF Officers and Airmen.
Before the Second World War there was an acknowledged ban of the entry of non-Europeans into all three services. This was lifted in the first month of the war, and non-Europeans were admitted not only as other ranks but also as temporary commissioned officers.
South Asian servicemen were awarded their fair share of medals for bravery and loyalty in various campaigns. Read more on the details of Service Medal Records.
Creators: Abi Husainy
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