Asia, England

Troop Train Across The Sind Desert 1916

In 1916, William sailed for India. He was to take up garrison duties in Multan, India (now Pakistan) so as to release regular troops to fight in the War.

William Clegg lived in Liverpool during the early 1900s. He was married to Louisa, and together they had eight children; one child stillborn, one child who died at aged two and another at six years of age, leaving five living children.

At that time and for many years afterwards life in Liverpool was hard. Living conditions were crowded, poor and unhealthy. There was not much work, and only the few could hope for a fulfilling life. William earned his living as a paint grinder a dirty, noisy and unhealthy job.

In April 1914, one of the children named Evelyn aged six died. This must have been a very hard year for the family. When WW1 was declared on August 1, 1914, William joined the Territorial Army. He probably wanted get away from the death and poor living conditions and maybe hoping to get a better level of pay to support his family. He was 32 years of age, and he left Louisa eight months pregnant!

The Territorial Army is an army of volunteers which supports the British Army. Volunteer units have existed for centuries, but in 1908 they were merged to form the Territorial Force. Members of the Territorial Force were mobilised in the First World War and served alongside the regular army. [1]

One of the units was The Fifth Battalion King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, which had its HQ at 65 St Anne Street Liverpool.

William was supposed to be part of the Home Guard and serve in England but at some point he agreed to transfer to the Rifle Brigade. He was immediately sent to the Curragh in Ireland, and then to Douglas on the Isle of Man for training.

By 1916, he and other troops were on their way to India as part of the “The Indian Trooping Season.”

Normally, troop ships left England in September and returned on another ship, with the last ships leaving India in March. This pattern was probably established once troop ships no longer sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and started using the “Overland Route’ and then the Suez Canal after its opening in 1869.[2]

Travel was restricted to the cooler months so that acclimatised troops from Britain were not traveling from the ports of Bombay or Karachi to their cantonments during the heat of an Indian summer.

William travelled on the troop ship “Ballarat,” which was mistakenly diverted to Karachi by senior officers.

It was against regulations cross the Sind Desert from Karachi to Multan because of abnormally hot temperatures, but William and the other troops with him did so anyway.  They were exposed to terrible conditions. More than 200 men suffered from heat stroke and 20 of them died.

During an inquiry, three senior officers were blamed for not looking after the men. Questions were raised in India and England.

The governments of India sent the following telegram to the British House of Commons:

We can now give a considered opinion, having received a report of committee. The responsibility for diverting the ship from Bombay to Karachi rests with Brigadier-General Roe who was acting as Quartermaster-General at the time. He knew acclimatised troops had never before been sent in large number by rail in the middle of Summer through the Sind Desert. He knew, or should have known that the Commander -in-Chief in December 1915, had decided that Karachi should not be used as a port at which wounded and sick British troops should be landed and distributed to other stations, on account of danger of sending in the hot season through Sind.

It follows, that before (the ship) Ballarat was diverted to Karachi, Acting Quarter-Master-General should have consulted Commander-in-Chief but did not do this. Having taken on himself responsibility, he should certainly have warned Karachi military authorities to take special precautions for safety of troops during journey by rail. He did not do this.

We, therefore, must hold him responsible, and propose to remove him from his appointment as Deputy Quarter-master-general. It is clear from evidence, that the mischief began before disembarkation, many men having been seen on deck bareheaded in the sun, a thing no officer with Indian experience would have allowed. All the officers on board were quite inexperienced, and we cannot hold them blameworthy.” [3]

The lengthy telegram went on to add that the troop train left Karachi with 13 officers and 1013 men and was insufficiently equipped, overcrowded and without experienced officers.

The three British officers named in the inquiry were “cashiered,” which means they were dismissed from their positions for a breach of discipline.

William Clegg and 19 others died in the Multan Military Hospital, which is now in Pakistan. He left behind his wife and 5 children.

He was originally buried in Multan but the commonwealth War Graves Commission has found it impossible to maintain War Graves in Pakistan so his name also appears on the large British War Graves Cenotaph in Karachi.

William was the grandfather of my husband John Clegg.

[1] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/army-auxiliary-1769-1945

[2] https://wiki.fibis.org/index.php/Trooping_season

[3] http://papersPast.natlib.govt.nz/dominion

4 thoughts on “Troop Train Across The Sind Desert 1916”

  1. Hi Kieth,
    That is interesting about your William. I hope one day, you can visit the site and a lovely thought that the men are with their comrades. I expect you already know this website link below?

    https://www.cwgc.org/

    Which is where I found the info on my husbands Grandad. There is a list of Gravesites below, that cannot be maintained any more, which is very sad. Just FYI, I found the info below about my William on the above link.

    Historical Information

    Karachi, formerly the capital of the Republic of Pakistan, is the country’s only sea port and the main gateway for its trade. It is also the maritime terminus of the Pakistan Railway and its airport, situated on one of the trunk air routes of the world, gives it considerable additional importance. The city lies at the extreme western end of the delta of the Indus, on a backwater protected by a high rocky headland. To the north is dry, hilly country, while to the south creeks and mangrove swamps stretch to the sea. The War Cemetery is about 8 kilometres from the centre of Karachi on Stadium Road and is easily reached by taxi. It was created by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to receive the graves from a number of civil and cantonment cemeteries scattered through the north of Pakistan and the tribal areas, where their permanent maintenance was not possible. The imposing entrance of honey-coloured stone, quarried at Jungshai, near Hyderabad, is one part of a dual memorial the other part being in Delhi, to 25,000 men of the army and air forces of undivided India who died during the 1939-1945 War while on service in non-operational zones.

    The cemeteries in which they lie buried, and which have since been found impossible to maintain adequately, are as follows :

    ABBOTTABAD CEMETERY
    ATTOCK NEW CEMETERY
    CAMPBELLPORE CEMETERY
    GHARIAL CEMETERY
    GHORA DAKKA NEW CEMETERY
    HYDERABAD NEW CEMETERY (SIND)
    JHELUM CEMETERY
    KALABAGH CEMETERY
    KULDANA NEW CEMETERY
    LAHORE CANTONMENT CEMETERY
    LAHORE (TAXALI GATE) CEMETERY
    LYALLPUR EUROPEAN CEMETERY
    MARI-INDUS RAILWAY CEMETERY
    MIANWALI CEMETERY
    MULTAN CANTONMENT CEMETERY
    MURREE NEW CEMETERY
    MURREE OLD CEMETERY
    RAWALPINDI (WEST RIDGE) CEMETERY
    RISALPUR CEMETERY
    SIALKOT EAST CEMETERY
    SIALKOT WEST CEMETERY
    SRINAGAR (SHEIKH BAGH) CEMETERY
    UPPER BHARIAN CEMETERY
    UPPER TOPA NEW CEMETERY

  2. Private William Arthur Lawton of the East Surrey Regiment, was the husband of my great-Aunt, and he too died on that troop train. Aunt Ada was pregnant at that time, and young Arthur, having been born prematurely died the following October at 22 days. Ada’s youngest brother died in the Battle of Messines barely a year after the train deaths, and he was aged only 16.

    1. Hello Keith, thanks for reading my story. You too, have a story to tell! What a farce that trip was and an injustice to the men on it. Such a sad tale for all concerned.

      1. Thank you for your reply: William seems to be buried in Sukkur, but “travel advisories” suggest that only essential visits should be made; however, as his name is commemorated on the Delhi War Memorial, that is a place now added to my bucket list. At least your relative and mine seem to be with their comrades, which must be a relief to all concerned

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