Most historians bemoan the fact that there are almost no accounts written by Indian soldiers of their experience in battle, particularly in the period before independence. The few brief reminiscences that exist are there. So, rendered all the more unique and valuable by virtue of their rarity. The following account of the Jodhpur Sardar Risala in the Great War was originally written in Hindi by Captain Ranbanka Beer Singhji and has been passed down through the generations to his grand-nephew, Major Sukhdev Rathore, 61 Cavalry. Captain Ranbanka Beer Singhji belonged to Gunawati near Makrana in the erstwhile Jodhpur State. His father, Jemadar Hanuman Singhji had also served in the Jodhpur Lancers and was present with the regiment in China. Captain Beer Singh first entered service on 1 September 1914, being appointed Jemadar on 1 June 1917 (qualified signaller mid-musketry course). He was first commissioned as a Lieutenant on 16 December 1925 and seconded as Brigade Signals Officer from that date.
“A major attack that we participated in was at Saint Quentin in France. Here Brigadier General Gage remarked that the Jawans of the Jodhpur Lancers while attacking through a hail of shells and bullets, behaved as calmly as if they were on a parade ground instead of the battle field. (The attack referred to was the Allied push at Cambrai in 19l7. Cambrai saw tanks being used in action for the first time and was the last battle for the Indian cavalry in France before: they were withdrawn to Palestine in March 1918.
Letter written in Hindi from France on 14 September 1917 by Balwant Singh (Rajput) of the Jodhpur Lancers to Doti Singh, Jaipur State, Rajputana“I am very happy here, and am doing my master’s work continually with heart and soul just as my ancestors have always done. We hope that our Government will be victorious, and for this we are praying. Besides, it is the special duty of a Kshatria to give his life for his King on the battlefield, just as his forefathers did.”
The Indians were billeted in the area between St. Quentin and Peronne in the summer of 1917, before the advance to the Hindenburg line in November of that year. – Ed ) “The second attack took place in Palestine near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley against the Turks in which a hand-to-hand fight took place. In this, Major-General MacAndrew (Major- General H.J. MacAndrew, CB, DSO, GOC 5th Cavalry Division – Ed.) with his own hands took the lances smeared with the enemy’s blood from, the hands of our Jawans and inspected them. Here, Jemadar Assu Singh and Jemadar Khangar Singh, along with their respective troops; embraced death upon the field of battle.
Upon this Major General MacAndrew remarked that the Jawans of the Jodhpur Lancers were so full of the spirit of valour that they fell upon the enemy in the same manner as a hungry lion falls upon his prey. ”World famous victory of well fortified Haifa! In this campaign, after breaking the entrenched line of the enemy near Jaffa, our mounted troops advanced. At this time I have seen Maharaja Dhiraj Sir Pertap Singhji offering wounded enemy soldiers water to drink from his own water kettle. Then, when and why he was sent with his staff to Cairo. I cannot rightly say. But perhaps shrapnel from an enemy shell wounded him. Be as it may, he was not present with the regiment during the Haifa attack. Hence the telegram informing him of the world-famous Haifa victory was sent to him at Cairo”.
”The attack on Haifa took place at high noon. The town’s situation was such that on one side was the Carmel Mountain upon which the enemy artillery was located and on the otherside lay the sea. A single road running along the side of Mount Carmel led into Haifa. Along the road and up to the sea ran a canal full of water that the horses could not cross. Approximately 20 machine-guns were sited along the approaches to the town. Ships from the sea also fired upon us with rifles and machine guns and bullets rained down upon us from the houses as well. I moved up along the left side of the road with the Vickers gun to give fire support. Senior Special Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Holden gave the order to charge on Haifa.
The horses could not cross the canal and Lieutenant-Colonel Thakur Dalpat Singh Ji and his orderly Mool Singh here fell to machine gun fire at the head of the Jodhpur Lancers. Lieutenant- Colonel Holden ordered us to ‘retire’, so we retired. I cannot say if it was an Aakash vani (Astral voice; lit. ‘voice from the sky’) or the inner voice of the warrior spirit; “Arre bhagar kathey javo? Kalo mundho ho jyahi!” (“Where do you flee to? Thy faces shall ever be blackened”). Upon hearing this, the brave jawans reined in their mounts and turning the horses’ heads towards the road to Haifa, charged into the city. The orders to attack, to retire, followed by the charge and entry into Haifa; all happened so swiftly that I was not even able to bring my machine guns into action.
Seeing our comrades gallop into Haifa we machine-gunners drew our revolvers and swords, and mounted, joined up with them. Then amidst a hail of bullets, we sliced through Haifa drawing rein only when we reached the other side. There, in an open maidan (field) we planted the Jodhpur Lancers’ saffron standard emblazoned with the cheel (eagle) of Marwar. After a while, what do we see, but large numbers of enemy prisoners were being brought and concentrated at that ground. The maidan was soon packed with 1200 prisoners”.
“The following day we performed the last rites of Lieutenant-Colonel Thakur Dalpat Singh Ji and his orderly. I was one of the four men who acted as pallbearers for Dalpat Singh Ji’s bier. We took them to Mount Carmel where they were buried in the earth”. “The attack on Aleppo. Not finding a proper field of fire on top of the mountain, we fixed our machine guns on the slope and opened fire. Brigadier- General Harbord was watching. I heard him telling the commander of our Brigade machine, guns, Captain Falconer, that all such as time as they do not see the enemy, these troops appear very different, but as the enemy appears before them the spirit of valour consumes them”. The author Sqn Ldr Rana T.S. Chhina (Retd) is the Secretary of the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research at the United Services Institution