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The Famous Anglo Indian Regiments of India by Noel Dias


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The mighty Indian army is one of the world’s oldest, well distinguished in battlefields all over the world. In its long and illustrious history, it has seen action almost everywhere. From the frozen trenches in Germany to the blistering sands of the North African Desert, from the reptile-infested Malayan jungles to the microscopic Maldivian islands, Wherever it was required it went, no “ifs” and no “buts’.

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Indian army in action in Italy during WWII

The army did not return empty-handed, it returned victorious, glorified & decorated with battle honors notably in France and the Battle of Flanders where the regiment distinguished itself and having accomplished its missions with distinction.Now, many may wonder what has all this got to do with the peace-loving and fun-filled Anglo Indian community in India.

Two of the most Elite Indian regiments were conceived by Anglo Indians

Unfortunately, just a few in the community and fewer still in our country are aware that two of the most “ELITE” cavalry regiments of the Indian army were raised by Anglo Indians.





The Skinners Horse and Gardener’s Horse are these two regiments and they are the pride of the modern Indian army even six decades after the end of the Raj. These regiments’ have fought in battlefields all over the world, striking terror and dread in the hearts of the enemy, charging fearlessly into battle & returning victorious. Their feats of valor in the face of the gravest of dangers have won them almost all major gallantry awards including the coveted Victoria Cross, won by the Gardener’s Horse during World War I. 


A grateful nation has in turn issued postage stamps in their honor.

Skinners Horse started by Colonel James Skinner 

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The Skinners Horse was raised in 1803 by James Skinner (Sikander Sahib) who was of British and Indian descent. Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), his father was Lieutenant Hercules Skinner, an officer in the East India Company while his Mother was a Rajput princess. It started off as an irregular cavalry regiment in the service of the East India Company, today it is a senior cavalry regiment of the Armored Corps and is known as the 1st Horse.

 Gardener’s Horse Started by LT Colonel William Gardener 

Julian Gardener, descendant of Lt Col William Gardener

While William Linnaeus Gardener was of European parentage, he married an Indian Muslim princess and raised a strong Anglo Indian dynasty whose descendants still live today in the area of Khasgang near Agra UP where Gardener is buried. In fact, one of his descendants ekes out a living as a farmer who was tracked down by English journalist William Dalrymple. (read the story here). In 1809 he raised his Gardeners Horse which first saw action in the Nepal war of 1815. Like Skinners Horse, The Gardner’s Horse is also a part of the armored corps, known as the 2nd Lancers.

The regiments continued in Independent India 

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Army chief inspecting Skinners Horse

After independence, the mounted steeds of these regiments were replaced by powerful tanks but with their spirit intact. So coveted are these regiments that only the crème-de la crème, the best of the best or the most brilliant of the pass out’s from the I.M.A (Indian Military Academy) or O.T.A (Officer’s Training Academy) can ever think of earning a commission in them.

However, to this marvelous saga is attached a tragic fact............

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Skinner's Horse

In the last 50 years or so, there has not been a single Anglo Indian commanding officer of these regiments (to the best of my knowledge) despite the army receiving a steady flow of brilliant, young A.I talent, many of whom have reached the pinnacle in other arms of service. The last A.I to command either one of them was Brig Michael Skinner, way back in the Sixties. Sadly, these regiments remain devoid of their own kinsmen. This, I feel is because of the lack of awareness in India about the intertwining legacy of these regiments and the A.I community.

Skinner's Horse in Parade

Now let me come to the point………  It would be ever so prudent, wise and farsighted if the leaders of the A.I community met with the President and the defense minister and n explained to them the origins of these two regiments and requested for at least one vacancy to be reserved for a young & deserving A.I pass out from the I.M.A or the O.T.A. should that cadet so desire.
Many might be aghast and feel that it is below ones dignity to ask for such a favor; however, I feel that this is no favor. The Sikhs have a preference do the Marathas. Why not the A.I’s???

Will there ever be another Anglo Indian commanding officer of these two regiments?

Men of the actual Skinner's Horse at a commemorative meeting at teen murti memorial New Delhi
The Sikh, Maratha and other illustrious regiments’ have their origins in medieval India, but let us not forget that they were raised by the British and not by Indians! However, the Skinners horse and Gardener’s horse are two UNIQUE regiments’ raised by those from a 100% indigenous community!!!If this proposal of mine ever sees the light of day, it won’t be far off when one (or both) of these regiments will once again proudly boast of an A.I Commanding officer and that day will be a red letter day in the history of the community, after all these regiments’ are a part of the great Anglo Indian heritage.


Skinner's Horse
Courage is destiny folks and I think it’s high time that the community began to aggressively reassert itself in 21st century India. Now, like the old A.I saying goes, “It’s time we got up and put our ball curry on the stove”.

Contributed by: Noel Dias


Noel Dias is a passionate Anglo Indian writer from Nagpur. He has contributed several articles to the Anglo Indian review writing under the pen name “Popeye”



Comments

  1. Well written . Kudos . I know of some AIs who are in the IA . One being Capt Wilkins in the armoured. May be he can get a regimental change to go on and become the next AI CO of one of these regiments . It would indeed be a proud moment

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