The 28th Light Cavalry
Major, Full Dress 1910
The history of this regiment began in 1784 when one of four cavalry regiments hired from the Nawab of Arcot by the East India Company mutinied for lack of pay. In the subsequent operation to quell the rebellion the 3rd Regiment assisted General Laing by protecting the British force from the mutineers. This regiment became the 1st Regiment of Madras Cavalry (later the 26th Light Cavalry) and from the disbanded remnants of the remaining three regiments, volunteers formed the nucleus of the 2nd Madras Cavalry which would eventually become the 28th. There was an almost immediate change of number and it was as the 3rd Madras Native Cavalry that the regiment first saw action. This was the Third Mysore War in 1790 against Tipoo Sultan, one of the few Nawabs with military genius. They had a disastrous engagement in which most of them were unhorsed and it was some time before the regiment was mounted again. They took part in the Fourth Mysore War of 1799 and fought with distinction at the battle of Seringapatam and at Maheidipore in the Pindari War in 1817, after which they became known as the 3rd Madras Light Cavalry. They were later awarded the battle honors “Mysore”, “Seringapatam” and “Mahidipore”.
Apart from minor operations against the southern Mahrattas from 1844 to 1855 and sending some detachments to join the Deccan force during the Mutiny of 1857, the regiment would not see action for a hundred years. In 1891 they were converted to lancers becoming the 3rd Regiment of Madras Lancers and when the Indian Army was reorganized in 1903, they received the title of 28th Light Cavalry. At the start of the Great War, they were stationed in Quetta (now in Pakistan) and in 1915 two squadrons, mounted on camels, were sent to Persia to interdict enemy agents from reaching Afghanistan. When they were finally joined by a third squadron, this time with horses, the entire force was remounted on their traditional steeds. It was at this time at Deh-Salem, that one of their patrols captured the German officer, Lieutenant Winkleman, who was attempting to reach the Amir of Afghanistan in order to engineer a rebellion, or Jihad, against the British in India. This did not end their war. Following the Russian Revolution the force was sent further east in 1917 to fill the vacuum of the departing Tsarist soldiery. They eventually found themselves in Russia itself and in one of the more bizarre episodes of the time, linked up with a contingent of White Russian troops. This combined force was soon in combat with the Bolsheviks and one patrol of the 28th was surrounded by 150 of their cavalry. The patrol immediately charged the enemy, cutting their way through but losing three of their number captured. Two of these men escaped and eventually found their way back to the regiment’s headquarters at Lucknow. The regiment received the battle honors “Merv” and “Persia 1915” for their services in the Great War.
In 1922 another reorganization saw the regiment renamed as The 7th Light Cavalry and a year later as the ‘Indianization’ of the Indian Army officer corps began, the squadron officers were replaced by those of Indian origin, known as Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs). The regiment was mechanized in 1942 and elements fought in the 5th and 7th Indian Divisions in Burma and at the decisive battles in the defence of India. Their battle honors for the period are “Imphal”, “Kyaukmaung Bridgehead”, “Meiktila”, “Mandalay”, “Rangoon Road” and “Burma 1942-45”. In 1947 the regiment passed to the independent nation of India.
In the beginning, the Madras cavalry regiments wore scarlet jackets, but by the mid 1820s cavalry gray, or French Gray became the basic jacket color for most of the regular cavalry in the three Presidencies. A hussar style was favored for all ranks in the Madras cavalry with the only differences between the native troopers and European officers being in the headdress, which was the shako for the former and a peakless cap with a bulbous top for the men. The 3rd Regiment wore this with buff facings. Following the mutiny, the hussar dress continued in the tunic style then being worn by British hussars but with a French style shako. By the 1880s the shako had been replaced by the universal white foreign service helmet with a colorful pugarree or scarf wrapped around the middle. When they converted
To Lancers in 1891, they adopted a uniform appropriate to that arm. By this time, the native troopers had been wearing the alkalak or native costume, for some years so only the British officers wore the Lancer dress.
The reorganization of 1903 gave them a new title, the 28th Cavalry, but little change in dress, the most obvious being the adoption of the Wolseley Helmet in 1905 when they lost the pugarree. Our illustration shows a major of the regiment in dismounted full dress in about 1913 and conforming to the regulations issued in that year.
The tunic was French Gray with buff collar, pointed cuffs and plastron. The rear seams of the tunic, the front and edge of the skirts along with the three pointed flaps on the rear were piped buff. The collar and pointed cuffs were edged in half-inch silver lace. He wears a gold lace lancer girdle with two crimson stripes in the center. W.Y. Carmen states that at one point, the girdle was silver with buff stripes, but there is no evidence of this by 1913. The overalls were described as Sky Blue, although most interpretations depict a somewhat darker shade. The double stripes down the sides were buff. Wellington boots were worn with steel swan-necked spurs. In mounted full dress, officers wore black patent leather butcher boots with sky blue pantaloons. The sword was the 1885 officer’s light cavalry pattern and the sword slings, attached to a belt under the tunic, were silver lace with a buff central stripe.
The officer shown has a few features that go beyond the regulations. The cap lines attached to the rear of the helmet go round the upper tunic twice before looping across the chest and attaching to a hook on the left blow the shoulder. Photographs of the period show officers wearing plain aguillette ends and others with old fashioned flounders and tassels. We show the latter. His pouchbelt was leather covered in silver lace with a central buff stripe. The three scrolls bear the battle honors “Mysore”, “Seringapatam” and “Mahidipore”. The black patent leather pouch had a silver flap which bore the Royal and Imperial cypher reversed and intertwined surmounted by a Tudor crown all in gilt.
It should be noted that at this time, Indian Army cavalry officers generally were instructed to wear native dress when parading with the men. Naturally this dress had been modified somewhat for the European officer and in many cases native officers wore kurtas or alkalaks that were more elaborate than those of the British officers. The 1913 regulations stated that British style full dress was purely optional except in the regiments of the old Madras presidency, which included the 28th.
In undress, officers had a variety of options. The forage cap was French gray with buff band, welt and lancer quarterings. The drooping peak was black leather. The regimental badge of crossed swords with the number “28” in the lower angle surmounted by Tudor crown in the upper , all in silver, was mounted on the front of the band above the peak. A plain French gray frock with shoulder chains and pleated patch pockets was worn which had a buff collar and piping on the rear seams of the coat and back of sleeves. This was worn with the sky blue pantaloons or overalls. In hot weather an all white frock and overalls were worn, the former piped in French gray at the base of the collar and on the rear seams. It was often worn with a white cover. Photographs show both plain un-piped and piped frocks being worn. When mounted the white frock was worn with sky blue pantaloons. Finally, khaki uniforms, which in 1913 were worn most of the time, were of the standard cut and style. The khaki Wolseley helmet and pugarree was worn without decoration and brown butcher boots or ankle boots with Stohwasser gaiters were popular.
By the time of the Great War, Indian cavalry regiments whether from Madras, Bombay or Bengal, were stationed in all areas of the subcontinent. The 28th at this time were stationed in Quetta (now Pakistan), but their true home was in southern Madras and we show the old Rock Fort at Trichinopoly in the background of our illustration.
1784 – 2nd Regiment of Madras Native Cavalry
1786 – 1st Regiment of Madras Native Cavalry
1788 – 3rd Regiment of Madras Native Cavalry
1819 – 3rd Regiment of Madras Light Cavalry
1891 – 3rd Regiment of Madras Lancers
1903 – 28th Light Cavalry
1922 – 7th Light Cavalry
1947 - 7th Regiment of Light Cavalry, Army of India.
CLASS COMPOSITION 1914
1 Squadron of Madras and Dekhani Mussulmans (Muslims)
1 Squadron of Punjabi Mussulmans
1 Squadron of Rajputana Rajputs
1 Squadron of Jats
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING
Bowling A.H. Indian Cavalry Regiments 1880-1914 Almark Publishing 1971
Carmen W.Y Indian Cavalry Uniforms Leonard Hill 1961
Mollo B. The Indian Army Blandford Press 1981
Tradition Magazine No. 73.