FROM THE NORTH EAST TO THE NORTH WEST FRONTIER
In March 1891 the Regiment’s name was changed to the 42nd Gurkha Rifle Regiment of Bengal Infantry and to conform with Rifle custom black accoutrements were issued to all ranks. In the same year the Regiment was authorised to bear the battle honour “BURMA 1885-87”. This and subsequent battle honours are borne on the drums of the Regiment and on the cross-belts of the officers.
By September 1891 the Regiment was once more stationed at Kohima, and in November its Snider rifles were replaced with Martini-Henry Mark IIs. In 1892 a Gurkha Recruiting Centre was established at Gorakhpur.
In December 1893 the Regiment moved to Shillong where in June 1897 a severe earthquake destroyed all the buildings. Two soldiers and two Gurkha wives were killed. Nearly all the mess silver was destroyed. Recovered later, the bent and battered pieces were sent to England where they were melted down and made into a centre-piece, a rifleman of the 42nd Gurkha Rifles. Very little silver now existed in the Regiment which pre-dated this period.
The Regiment was heavily involved in the clearing-up operations after the earthquake and then, from 1897 until July 1898, in rebuilding its barracks for which the Government provided 8,000 Rupees. The new barracks were made from stone with corrugated iron roofing.
In 1896 the Presidency Army system was abolished and the Army in India was reorganised into the following four Commands:
- Punjab Madras (including Burma)
- Bengal Bombay (including Sind, Quetta and Aden)
As a result of this change it became possible to move regiments around India more freely and in 1899 the Regiment was transferred to the Punjab Command. As this was a major move all soldiers were allowed to take their discharge if they wished, but only fifty did so. The Regiment thus ended seventy-seven years service in Assam and in September 1899 began its move to Abbottabad. This move was marred by an outbreak of cholera in which fifty-eight members of the Regiment and their families died.
In 1900 the Regiment was reorganised into four double companies and in the same year it moved to Chitral for a year of garrison duties. 1901 brought another change of name, the 42nd Gurkha Rifles.
Field Marshal the Lord Kitchener of Khartoum took over as Commander-in-Chief India in 1902 and as a result many changes were made. The Army was reformed into a functional command system which abolished the old geographic commands, replacing them with three army corps. The last traces of the Presidency Armies thus vanished. In 1905 a further reorganisation resulted in the formation of Northern, Western and Eastern Commands and two Independent Divisions (9th Secunderabad and Burma).
In an order published in October 1903, the names and numbers of all units were recast with the result that the ten Gurkha regiments were numbered separately, the 42nd Gurkha Rifles becoming the 6th Gurkha Rifles. The Regiment was issued with two machine guns in 1903 together with 16 pairs of binoculars and three range-finders (disrespectfully known as ‘string and guessing boxes’). Bandolier equipment was also issued, the .303 Lee-Enfield Mark IV rifle having already been issued in 1901.
In November 1904 the formation of a second battalion was formed from half the existing Regiment. The reorganisation took place at Abbottabad and the two new battalions were commanded as follows:
- 1st Battalion – Lt Col H O’Donnell
- 2nd Battalion – Lt Col F C Colomb
By December 1905 the Battalion, having received 485 new recruits to make good its losses to the 2nd Battalion, was able to resume normal duties, the first of which was an inspection by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, later King George V.
In 1907 khaki drill shorts were issued to replace the khaki drill knickerbockers previously worn. In the same year a khaki felt hat for use in Field Service Order was introduced and soon became synonymous with Gurkhas. It is still in use today with the Royal Gurkha Rifles. 1907 also saw another reorganisation of the Indian Army, with the division of the Sub-Continent into two Army areas – Northern and Southern. Each Army had a number of divisions and some independent brigades.
In 1908 the Battalion was twice mobilised for expeditions against tribesmen on the North West Frontier but on both occasions saw no action. The remaining six years before the outbreak of the First World War were spent training, with the provision of the guard detachment at the Viceroy’s Residence at Simla providing a spell of public duties for four officers and one hundred and ninety-two soldiers.
The 2nd Battalion was formed in November 1904. It too was inspected by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales in December 1905, having received its 599 recruits. In September 1907 it moved into its own permanent barracks at Abbottabad.
Detachments of the Battalion were deployed on operations in the Zakha Khel area in 1908. In 1911 it moved to Chitral for two years garrison duty, returning to Abbottabad in October 1913. It then carried out routine peacetime training until the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.