(Click to enlarge)
1st Queen’s arrived at Allahabad from Quetta in the last week of October 1936. It was the second time the Regiment had been stationed there, the 2nd Queen’s having been there from 1924 to 1926. Quetta had been a traumatic experience and all the great majority of the battalion had seen of India so far was the Sind Desert during the long train journey from Karachi and the stony wastes of Baluchistan. Consequently the endless vistas of wheat, cotton fields, trees and tropical vegetation of the plains, a product of the irrigation schemes culminating in the Sukkur barrage completed in 1932, which had harnessed the Indus and its tributaries, made a welcome change.
Allahabad lies at the junction of the Rivers Ganges and Jumna. Its inhabitants included an unusually large number of westernised Kashmiri families, among them the Nehrus. (Jawarharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964 was born there on 14th November 1889). By the time 1st Queen’s had arrived the Government of the United Provinces had moved to Lucknow and the British civil population was much reduced, but the law courts still remained and the occasional visit of the Governor invigorated the social scene. The cantonment was extensive, with excellent games facilities. The battalion shared the garrison with 12th Field Battery RA, a squadron of Indian cavalry, and an Indian battalion, the 1/18th Royal Garwhal Rifles. One company was detached to the Allahabad Fort, a mediaeval fortress some five miles away overlooking the Jumna, which contained the arsenal. The troops’ accommodation was also mediaeval, but apparently they enjoyed their three months tour there.
The Fort was completed in 1575 during the reign of the Moghul Emperor, Akbar, and remained in Moghul hands, despite the plundering of the city of Allahabad by the Maharattas in 1739 and 1742, until it and the city were acquired by the East India Company in 1767. It was extensively rebuilt thereafter and became the base for further company expansion. Despite its Moslem origins, a famous Hindu temple survived alongside it, and Allahabad continued to be a holy place of annual pilgrimage for many Hindus. The officers’ mess verandah overlooking the River Jumna was an excellent observation point on such occasions. It was a favourite spot for breakfast in the hot weather, followed by a bathing party in the swimming bath. There was also ample scope for improving snapshooting as turtles abounded in the river and crocodiles were not uncommon.
2nd Queen’s, who were stationed at Allahabad in 1926, had the excitement of seeing the arrival of Sir Alan Cobham both on his outward and homeward journeys by air to Australia. He landed on each occasion on the River Jumna under the walls of the Fort and spent the night as the guest of the Commanding Officer. D Company provided a guard for the aircraft and young Domoney, who had won an essay competition as his prize, was taken for a trip by Cobham before he resumed his journey. By 1936 Allahabad possessed a busy airport and the 1st Battalion frequently entertained RAF flights passing through to and from the Far East, although seaplanes still used the Jumna. In 1937 the Sergeants Mess entertained a party of French aviators who landed en route to Indo-China.
In the hot weather, between April and September, outdoor training was much restricted and usually had to finish by 8.30a.m. because of the intense heat. In the cold weather battalion training usually took place in the hill country south of Mirzapore sixty miles from Allahabad in terrain much like the less rugged parts of the North West Frontier. It was reached by four days route march mainly along the Grand Trunk Road, pleasantly shaded but monotonous in the extreme. The scene was reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s famous ballad “Route Marches”, which begins:
The primary role of both 1st and 2nd Queen’s was internal security. In the 1930s the 1st Battalion had occasionally had to lodge a company in the city at Allahabad, and some times at Benares, in support of the Indian Police. The May 1938 Regimental Journal recorded with remarkable current topicality:
“This is the ‘Mohurrain’ (Muslim) and also ‘Holi’ (Hindu) holiday season. As the former wish to mourn and the latter to feast, communal riots are popular, and we are asked to keep the peace. Those who served with the battalion in Londonderry and stood between Bridge Street on the one side and Fountain Street on the other will understand our feelings in the matter.”
An earlier Journal reported of 2nd Queen’s that:
“It was interesting to watch a patrol go out. During the bad times in the city no man trusted his neighbour, and no man dared move from one place to another by himself. On the other hand, all had perfect confidence in the British soldier. Crowds waited outside the Kotwali all day, and every patrol of one non-commissioned and six men that went out was followed by a number of Indians, both Hindu and Mussulman, who wanted to reach the part of the city through which the patrol was to move, and who were perfectly confident in the ability of seven British soldiers to afford them all the necessary protection.
For five days we found a company in the city, and at the end of that time it was considered that the police could deal with the situation, and the troops were withdrawn. From first to last no man fired a shot or caused injury to any Indian, although once or twice the situation was critical.”