Review: For the Honour of My House – Tony McClenaghan

So much of what we hear or know of the EA campaign is that 75% manpower was lost with the majority being due to disease, 10% war related. Tony McClenaghan provides figures for the Jind Imperial Service Infantry which challenge these figures. On 5 December 1917 when the regiment returned to India after three and a half years:

“A total of 15 officers, 2 Sub Assistant Surgeons, 281 rank and file and 30 followers embarked for India.” An original draft, arriving September 1914, of 380 combatants and 52 followers had been sent with thirteen additional drafts totaling 678 combatants and 34 non-combatants, resulting in 1,144 men sent overseas.

The casualties were (p150):

23 killed in action (2 British officers, 2 Indian officers and 19 other ranks)
47 other ranks died of wounds
47 other ranks died of disease
81 wounded in action. 

This is the level of detail Tony McClenaghan gives in For the Honour of My House. It is a detailed account of Indian Imperial Service troops contribution to the First World War using sources from London and India – footnoted rather than end-noted (a huge plus in my books and appreciated by other researchers I’ve spoken with too). What is also refreshing is that Tony explains where he has not been able to verify information in official sources such as Watson’s mention of camels being sent to the African theatre of war (pp154-5) or how his information differs to that of others (he has 40 extra names compared with the CWGC listing – Appendix II; since Tony published his book, the CWGC report on Inequality in Commemoration has been published which sets out some reasons for these omissions and plans to address them.)

Although the reporting of military action as Tony has done is not my favourite style, this is a very welcome contribution to the history of the war in Africa. Tony’s attention to detail means that we now have access to where and when Indian Imperial Service troops were during the EA campaign, placing other units in context. He also very helpfully points out when Indian Imperial Service troops were not used which too is helpful. Until van Deventer took command of the EA theatre, it does not appear that Indian Imperial Service troops served in the Brigades commanded by South Africans. It doesn’t appear that Tony addresses this but the 1915 report that South Africans would not be comfortable serving with Indians seems to have played a part here. It is a book I will be revisiting for the detail.

What drew my attention to the book initially was an online appendix to the book – a role of honour (appendix II). There are two appendices online (Appendix II – awards) with others in the book. Scroll down on the Helion link to get the appendices. The officer lists can also be found at the British Library.

While I’ve focused on the Indian Imperial Service troops involvement in Africa for this review, the book considers with the same level of detail their involvement in all theatres they served, including an overview of how they came to be raised, the honours they received and how they are remembered.

For anyone wondering why I didn’t just refer to Imperial Service Troops, the South African forces were also Imperial Service troops, in their case the British government effectively paid for their service to overcome internal politics within the Union. The Indian Imperial Service Troops were raised and paid for by the Independent Indian Princes/Rajahas etc and served at Britain’s request alongside the Indian Army.

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