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19 - Indian Contingent passing saluting dias, Victory Parade, London.jpg


What about other units apart from infantry and cavalry?

Artillery, Engineers and Sappers & Miners have already been referred to previously.  The Indian Army, however, deployed vast numbers of support personnel, many of whom were classed as non-combatants though in effect they saw as much action as those of the ‘teeth’ arms.  A reference to just two of these will demonstrate their front line service as well as their essential rear echelon support roles.  

Without a doubt the largest element was provided by the Supply & Transport Corps which had been formed in 1901 as a result of a reorganisation of the three existing Presidency Commissariat departments.  During World War 1 virtually all supplies had to be moved by various forms of animal transport – Pony, Mule, Bullock or Camel – depending on the theatre of operations.  They served in all theatres and by the end of the war numbered eighty three Pack or Mule Corps, nine Camel Corps and several Bullock Corps.  Their duties often entailed taking food, water and ammunition from base supply depots right up to the front line and they faced as much danger as many of the fighting regiments.  In 1923 the Supply & Transport Corps was re-designated the Indian Army Service Corps and was granted the Royal title in 1935.  On the outbreak of World War 2 the RIASC numbered thirty-five Mule Companies and four Camel Companies.  By the end of the war these had increased to eighty Mule and six Camel companies plus Pony, Horse, Bullock and Buffalo companies as well as two Elephant companies for use in Burma.  Four Mule Companies were the only Indian troops deployed to France at the beginning of World War 2.  Three were successfully evacuated, though without their mules and equipment, while one was captured.  World War 2 also saw the introduction of mechanised transport into the Indian Army and so mechanical transport drivers and even air supply specialists were formed.  Associated with animal transport units were, of course, Veterinary officers to look after the welfare of the animals; associated with mechanical transport units were Electrical and Mechanical Engineers to service the vehicles.

Another very large contribution was in the field of medical support.  Until 1897 each of the three Presidencies supported their own Medical Services but in that year these were combined to form the Indian Medical Service.  It was an all-officer service comprised mainly of British medical officers trained in UK and sent to India where they spent their early years with an Army regiment or serving in Indian Military Hospitals where they treated Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers and Indian other ranks before being sent to civilian employment as administrative medical or health officers, or as teachers in medical training establishments.  There were suitably qualified Indian Medical Officers in the IMS and indeed the first awards of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) to Indian Officers went to two officers of the Indian Medical Service during World War 1 – Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Phirozshah Vyramji Barucha (1 January 1916) and Captain (later Major) Heerajee Jehangir Manockjee Cursetjee (26 May 1919). 

The Indian Medical Department comprised medically qualified Indians – Assistant Surgeons who trained for four years and then served in British Military Hospitals which treated British commissioned officers and British other ranks.  They spent at least 18 years working their way through the four grades of Assistant Surgeon and often retired with the honorary rank of Lieutenant or Captain.  Sub Assistant Surgeons, previously known as Hospital Assistants,  worked in Indian Military Hospitals.  

Until the end of World War 1 there were no military nurses in India and nursing services were provided by The Army Hospital Corps – locally recruited ward servants, cooks, water carriers and ward sweepers.

Finally, the Army Bearer Corps was composed of havildars and naiks drawn from army units to serve in various company offices where they supervised the actual men of the Army Bearer Corps – sirdars and mates, who were NCOs, and bearers who carried the dhoolies, four per dhooly in peace time and six on active service. Following the end of World War 1 the Army Hospital Corps and Army Bearer Corps were combined to form the Indian Hospital Corps on 1 June 1920.

On 3 April 1943 the Indian Army Medical Corps was created by combining the Indian Medical Service, the Indian Medical Department and the Indian Hospital Corps.  As with medical personnel in today’s armed forces, they were not only seen in main military hospitals but also on the front line in casualty clearing stations and field hospitals.

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