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Indian Army Uniforms in WWI

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I'm looking for some good references that show Indian Army uniforms in WWI. I've got a handful of Osprey publications, mostly on the Northwest Frontier or other colonial conflicts, that have some information but they haven't proven of much use. I've also been using the amazing picture section on britishempire.co.uk which I suspect is the most extensive of its kind on the web.

I'm also looking for suggestions on any good reference books on Indian Army uniforms. It would be best if anyone can suggest any in-print books to me, but I'm not any less interested in names of out-of-print works.

Besides just photo references and names of any reference books I'm also trying to sort out a few questions which I hope for some help with.

Most Indian Army uniforms follow a basic pattern, that pattern, for infantry and least (what I'm interested in) being the kurta. There are three features that seem to (roughly) identify period and rank.

1) Buttons. Early on, I'm not sure of what these are made of. But I know that by c.1910 the Indian Army often used composition or horn buttons on uniforms. Does anyone know when these were actually adopted? And what buttons were used before this?

2) Epaulettes. I suspect these may have varied by unit but I'm looking for confirmation. Also, were epaulettes at one point adopted on all field service uniforms?

3) This is the most important to me. Pockets. I've got a rough idea of what pockets on Indian Army uniforms should look like. But when were they adopted, at least on the Frontier? I've seen images dated as early as 1897 showing pockets, and images as late as 1920 showing none. All on khaki infantry kurtas. When were pockets adopted, and for what uniforms?

4) Finally, are there two versions of khaki kurtas for each regiment? One for garrison use and one for field use? And if so, when did the system of two patterns begin in use?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


~TS Allen

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I'll have to dig out my sources for this one, but off the top of my head, here's a bit on Question 2:

2) Epaulettes. I suspect these may have varied by unit but I'm looking for confirmation. Also, were epaulettes at one point adopted on all field service uniforms?

Regiments wore brass shoulder titles on their epaulettes during WWI. Most were simple numbers or letters: '30L' for the 30th Lancers, "CIH" for the Central India Horse, 'Punjabis' in a half moon shape with the regiments number on top and so on. A few units used actual devices from their badges 0- I'll dig some out when I can.

BTW, I assume you know that, even as late as 1914, regiments, especially in the cavalry, bought their own uniforms and badges, so that the Dress Regs. for the IA were compiled by having each unit send in a list/description of what they wore, rather than being told what to wear. This meant a wide range of usefullness in the detail provided, everything from 'in the regimental pattern' to actual measurements of the stripe width on the lungis [turbans].

I don't recall when/if the regiments went to two patterns of dress for ORs, though a British officer in a mounted unit could have up to 10-12 orders of dress: mounted & kurta, truban etc, dismounted and khurta, dismounted and Br style dress, etc etc. Orders of dress tended to depend on what was worn over the kurta rather than which kurta worn, but again I'll have to check for details.

Anyway, more to follow.


Edited by peter monahan
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A really good question, and, like Peter, I'll need to look.

A great deal of information is available on what natives (of the British Isles) wore, but very little information on Indians' uniforms. I know the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research in New Delhi has assembled a complete (almost complete) set of dress regulations and many (not all) of the general orders that fine-tuned these vague regulations. They also have a good photo archive. But I'm not there. I know they'd love to find someone willing to undertake the thankless project of working on a serious book on Indian uniforms.

The greatest problem, especially early in the Great War, is that of improvization. Troops arrived in Europe dressed for Indian summers and remained in cotton khaki shorts until well into that first European winter.

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You may be aware of Dress Regulations (India) 1931. While this is a bit after your area of interest, I suspect it may codify much of what evolved during WW I. Recently republished by Ray Westlake - Military Books ISBN 0 9508530 8 9 by Antony Rowe Ltd. Chippenham, Wiltshire. I bought my copy through A. A. Johnston, Somerset.

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