Migration from India and Pakistan

Working for the British Army in India

Why did the British prefer to recruit soldiers from particular regions into the army?

In 1857 the ‘Indian Mutiny’ or ‘Great Rising’ began when troops stationed near Delhi rebelled against their British officers. As the revolt rapidly spread the rebels captured Delhi and other cities. The disturbances were sparked by new cartridges that were allegedly greased with pig or cow fat, offensive to both Muslims and Hindus. It was also a reaction to wide ranging and rapid changes engineered by the British.

It took two years of bloody fighting to isolate and suppress the uprising. Its legacy was one of distrust and ill-feeling between the British and Indians, particularly those groups who had rebelled. From then on the Indian army was recruited heavily from those groups who had remained loyal and which were considered the most ‘warlike’. These were groups from the Punjab and the North-West Frontier, whom the British defined as the ‘martial races’.

The recruiting stations along the Grand Trunk Road in the Punjab and North-West Frontier provided the majority of these troops. Joining the army was a great option, offering security, good pay and prestige. Traditions of service developed within families. Regiments were built around a network of personal loyalties and it was these respected units who saw active service overseas. Some fought in France during World War I and a few went on to live in Britain.


Download the Word document 'Working for the British Army in India' to read one man's memories of how men were recruited into the British Army from his region, and how they were treated both by the British and by their own families and neighbours.

The map below shows the route of the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta in India, to Kabul in Afghanistan.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Manningham Library  | 
Photos © Tim Smith www.timsmithphotos.com

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