Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bhavnagar Imperial Service Lancers - WWI

Recently, I attended a numismatic exhibition in Bangalore. Though, it was coins exhibition but that didn't mean there was nothing for philatelists. Naturally, you can't expect qualitative philatelic materials in numismatic exhibition. Hence, I could hardly find something of my taste. One could still find normal materials offered by dealers but getting some items related to WWI and WWII seemed impossible for me. Still, I made couple of rounds of all the dealer booths hoping to find something :-)

Probably, I reached the venue in the wee hours of the day thus most of the dealers were still arranging their booth. There were very less visitors at that moment. So, I spent quality time admiring the exhibitions of individuals. I thought, let me allow dealers to get settled in and then I would make the round again to see if I could spot something. I really hate to return from any exhibition empty handed. There was still hope because there were so many dealers. I made another close round of booths and bingo! I found something. It didn't appear to be the WWI or WWII stuff but had some potential. It was set of postcards issued by Bhavnagar State sometime in early 1900s (may be before WWI or during WWI).

I picked up the set hoping to find something related to WWI/II or any military stuff relating to any of great wars. Well, there was indeed something waiting for me. While flipping the cards, I suddenly spotted an issue on Bhavnagar Imperial Lancers Troops. My heart started beating fast :-) I quickly took that aside hoping to find some more. There was no more cards on those topics. I then went through all the sets dealers had on Bhavnagar only to find another similar card. Naturally, I bought both of my prize :-)

The gentleman had come all the way from Bombay (now Mumbai) to attend exhibition in Bangalore. I had some chat with him trying to see if he has any more princely state items related to WWI or WWII. To my bad luck, he had none. He told there was a time when war related items used to be available in plenty but it no more shows up. Not sure if there is lack of interest in today's generation of collectors or those items are now only in collectors hand thus nothing is floating in market. I got a bit disappointed. I was not sure what else to speak or may be his comment made me speechless so I almost started towards exit of exhibition.

When I reached the lift to take me down to ground floor then suddenly it struck to my mind to check with him if he had some items in his Mumbai shop. I returned to his booth and inquired if he had such items in his Mumbai shop. I tried telling him that I did visit Mumbai now and then as part of my official meetings so I could buy it there. Perhaps feeling pity about my situation of not able to find any war related items, he gave me a lead to contact someone in Mumbai which may have some items of my interest. Well, that was another big ticket for me. This is what I was looking for. I always knew Mumbai, Gujarat and Rajasthan are only places which now have most of such materials. They have been part of WWI and WWII history with center of lots of princely states action. Well, I hope to contact the person this week to see if I can get something.

Coming back to the post, you would have by now easily guessed the topic of the day. Yes, it is all about "Bhavnagar Imperial Service Lancers" and its role in WWI. Today, we will go through a bit of history lane on them while I show all my readers both the postcards I bought. I think the collection has one more such postcard issued by Bhavnagar state which was missing in the dealers set. Anyway, we will cover what all I have in today's post.

History Lane at 21.76°N 72.15°E

Shown below is map of Bhavnagar state. Bhavnagar was 13 gun salute princely state. It was first princely state to accede to Indian Union in 1948. I think I have covered a bit of Bhavnagar state history in my previous post on other set of postcards issued by Bhavnagar state thus I won't repeat them here.

Let's directly jump on Imperial Service Troops. The Imperial Service Troops scheme was created in 1888 from amongst the armies of the Independent Indian States in British India. Under the scheme troops from the participating States were trained under British supervision and were then used both on the North West Frontier of India and in places as far apart as China, during the Boxer Rebellion, and Somaliland. By the turn of the Twentieth Century the force numbered about 19,000 men.

Bhavnagar state joined the Imperial Service Troops scheme in 1891, creating Bhavnagar Imperial Service Lancers cavalry unit. The above postcard or card was part of 20 or so such "Bhavnagar State View Series". Front side of card shows the Imperial Service Lancers while reverse carries the state emblem.

The first Indian officers, recruited into the Indian Army under the British in 1905, came from aristocratic families. They were Zorawar Singh of Bhavnagar Princely State and from other princely states. Although enjoying internal autonomy, the princely states were not completely disconnected from the changes occurring in British India. Their military forces in particular mirrored the organization of the Indian Army.

The cavalry unit shown above, the Bhavnagar Imperial Service Lancers, depict the modern, lightly armed, and compact cavalry formations introduced by the East India Company (EIC). Most of the princely states could not afford to maintain such cavalry units, and fewer still had artillery units, but all of them had some form of infantry.

The card I have is black and white one where there is nothing on back side of it. I learnt later that there was a colored version of same, released as part of "Bhavnagar State View Series" shown below:

Well, it is now on my want list :-)

Bhavnagar Imperial Service Lancers participated in WWI where they were stationed in Suez Canal, Sinai, Palestine and Syria. Bhavnagar Lancers were posted under Mysore Lancers in Suez Canal and hence they were mostly recognised as Mysore Lancers Troops during WWI. Nevertheless, this policy was not totally successful as rulers were not always happy to see their troops under the control of another ruler. At a more complex level the definition of “composite” would encompass higher-level formations and several brigades were raised from IST; an example was the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade. I am not sure what was the extent of contribution Bhavnagar Lancers had in it since most of the historical data mentions Mysore Lancers.

The Brigade was raised in mid-October 1914 at Deolali, India, as the Imperial Service(IS) Cavalry Brigade, preparatory to embarkation for service overseas. It moved to Egypt in November 1914 as an independent brigade, the principal units being 1st Hyderabad IS Lancers, Mysore IS Lancers and the Patiala IS Lancers. The Bikaner IS Camel Corps was already in the country and was attached to the Brigade for administrative purposes. Redesignated as 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade on 22 July 1918, the Brigade formed part of 2nd Mounted Division when that Division was formed on 24 April 1918 (it was re-numbered as 5th Cavalry Division on 22 July 1918).

On arrival in Egypt, the Brigade was engaged in defending the Suez Canal against Turkish raids and carried out reconnaissance duties. This work continued until early 1916 when it was given the responsibility for railway and the Sweet Water canal protection duties. In May 1916, the Patiala IS Lancers were transferred to the Mesopotamian front and the Brigade then operated as a two regiment formation until the Jodhpur IS Lancers joined in the Spring of 1918. In February of that year, the Brigade began to move into the Palestine area of operations and was engaged in the fighting there. It was involved with the capture of Haifa on 23 September 1918 when the Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers attacked the town and captured it in the face of strong opposition. On 26 October 1918, the Mysore Lancers and two squadrons of the Jodhpur Lancers charged the enemy at Aleppo, assisting in the capture of it. The regiments of the Brigade were involved in a number of such mounted charges during the campaign.

The War saw the Indian Army enter into a period of massive expansion, both to plug the gaps arising from catastrophic British Army losses in France, and to fulfill its roles in East Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine and later Salonica.

Thanks to Col. M. S. Jodha for sharing link of Haifa Hero Historic Memorial Ceremony. One can read more on the ceremony organised on the 92nd anniversary of great day here:


fraudbuster said...

I am originally from Bhavnagar and had familial ties to the erstwhile state. Check out to see some of the items from my collections. I also have a large number of philatelic items related to Kathiawar, and am constantly looking for more.

Hmmm!!! Let's see..... said...

Hi Vijay,
Thanks for your comment. I see you really have very good collection. I could easily make out from whatever you have shared on your website.

Wish if you could show philatelic items also on your website then it could act as great reference material for everyone.

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