Film: Royal Indian Army Service Corps in World War 2

ten minutes clip of Second World War captures an important chapter of Indian
army.  War stories are usually focused on combat soldiers and support
services though vital usually don’t get much attention.  However, we all
know that if supply corps does not send food in time, a hungry soldier cannot
survive even a day or without the help of an orderly of medical corps a minor
bleeding wound can end the life of a soldier. 
clip provides a window to the role of Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC)
contingent in Western theatre in Second World War.  Film caught the day to
day functioning of animal transport and also tradition of presentation of ‘nazar’
to King. There are three interesting people in the clip. Major Akbar Khan,
Risaldar Major Muhammad Ashraf Khan and narrator Z. A. Bukhari. Z.A. Bukhari
was from my hometown of Peshawar and his as well as his brother Ahmad Shah
Bukhari’s role in early history of Indian broadcasting requires a separate
detailed piece.

contingent was K-6 Force. This force was sent to France in November 1939 where
it stayed until evacuation in June 1940.  It left its animals behind in
France during evacuation.  It stayed in England from 1940-44 where it
worked with horses and mules brought from France and United States.  Force
came back to India and later went to Burma theatre.  It consisted of Force
Head Quarters (HQ) and four Animal Transport (AT) companies. Force Commander
was Major (Temp Lt. Colonel) R.W.W. Hills and senior Indian Viceroy
Commissioned Officer (VCO) was Risaldar Major Muhammad Ashraf Khan, IOM, IDSM.
Force was all Muslims mainly Punjabi Muslims of Potohar area with few Pathans
and Hazarawal. The discipline and efficiency of the force was
exemplary in all phases and all observers praised Indian soldiers.
embarkation and disembarkation everything went smoothly without any loss of
animals. In the chaotic retreat from Dunkirk, the discipline was exemplary. In
England, the behavior of soldiers was excellent and locals who came in contact
with them remembered them even after fifty years.
Mohammad Akbar Khan was 2IC of No: 25 Animal Transport Company (ATC). In 1947,
he was senior most Muslim officer of Indian army and given Pakistan Army number
1 (a detailed profile of Akbar and his family is almost complete). 
Risaldar Major Muhammad Ashraf Khan served a long career with RIASC.  He
had received IDSM on North West Frontier in 1935 operations.  In France,
he earned IOM for his cool and calm attitude during extrication.  He
received his IOM from the King at Buckingham Palace.  In June 1944, he was
appointed Ist Class Order of British India (OBI).  He was a Hazarawal and
belonged to the same area of Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan.  He was
very well respected by soldiers and junior officers.  When Ayub Khan was
removed from the command of 1 Assam Regiment in 1945 in Burma and Lieutenant
Colonel Steve Parsons took over, Ayub spent next few weeks in the forty pounder
tent of RM Ashraf Khan as his guest before heading back to India.
(An excellent
source of K-6 Force is a two part piece written by Chris Kemptom in Durbar,
Vol. 28 & 29, Winter 2011 and Spring 2012.)
picture below is a rare photograph of RIASC soldiers in England.

Eid ul Azha prayer at Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking, London, 28 December
1941.  In front rows are soldiers of RIASC and Risaldar Major Muhammad
Ashraf Khan with beard in the center.  Picture is from Woking Mission
is interesting history of Woking mosque and it is linked with history of Muslim
Diaspora in London.  This mosque was established in 1913.  In First
World War, imam of the mosque Maulana Sadr-ud-Din was involved in the care of
wounded and dead in England. Initially, British authorities approved for
purchase of a burial plot in Netley near Royal Victoria Hospital where many
wounded Indian soldiers were treated. Sadr-ud-Din advised them to change the
burial site to near Woking mosque. He met Director General of War Office
General Sir Alfred Keogh and Military Secretary to India Office General Sir
Edmund Barrow.  In November 1914, three Muslim soldiers were buried in a
section of a Christian cemetery.  Later, burial site was selected near
Woking mosque. 
its inception, this mosque was run by Ahmadi Muslims.  They were declared
non-Muslim in 1974 in Pakistan and have been relentlessly persecuted forcing
large numbers of them to migrate to other countries. 
23, 2016

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Syed Anjum Ali
Syed Anjum Ali
6 years ago

There seem to be some historical fallacies in this article. The Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, Surrey, England, was established in 1889 through the patronage of HH the Begum Shah Jahan sba of Bhopal. From that time till 1912/1913 it was largely managed by a committee led by Dr GW Leitner and later, his son. In 1913 Khwaja Kamaluddin a Kashmiri lawyer, and founder of the Woking Muslim Mission, took over. In 1917 the Muslim soldiers Burial Ground was established initially with 19 burials. By 1918, as World War 2 ended, the Ahmadiyya influence grew strong and by 1922 they took over the mosque entirely. This control lasted till the 1960s and in 1972 it was ceded back to Sunni Muslims.

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