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The EK1

The Malay States Guides in action at Hatum, Aden, 12th January 1916

Old Aden like a barrick-stove, that no one’s lit for years an’ years! (1)

Aden in 1916

  When Britain declared war on Turkey on 5th November 1914 two fronts were opened between Turkish and British forces – Sinai and Yemen. British-controlled Aden had a border with Yemen that had been successfully demarcated in 1904, (See HERE) but the declaration of war raised concerns about the security of the strategic Aden port because a Turkish Army Corps was stationed in Yemen, and the Turks might choose to attack Aden to disrupt Britain’s vital sea route through the Red Sea and Suez Canal.  Aden was garrisoned by a weak British brigade, commanded from India, that Britain was reluctant to strengthen because of the urgent need for troops in France and Egypt. (see HERE)  Britain decided not to display aggression towards Yemen but to treat Aden Harbour as a ‘defended port.’ Whilst this strategy conserved British military manpower it also lowered British prestige in the hinterland, and handed the Turks an opportunity to cajole and coerce Arab tribes in the interior to join the Turkish cause that had been proclaimed as a jihad or holy war.

For the Maps please go HERE

However the presence of the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General H.V. Cox, CB, CSI, aboard a naval convoy on its way to Egypt, allowed offensive action to be taken by the British on 10th November 1914, and the Turkish post at Sheikh Saad was attacked.  The landing party, well supported by the Royal Navy, drove off the Turkish defenders, captured six guns and other important equipment and destroyed the enemy entrenchments, wells and magazines before re-embarking for Egypt and then Gallipoli, minus the 23rd Sikh Pioneers who now strengthened the Aden garrison.

In mid-1915 the Turks stirred up trouble amongst tribes in the Aden hinterland, threatening the friendly Sultan of Lahej.  A British column was despatched to Lahej but numerous difficulties, not the least being the deadly summer heat and the breakdown of the water and ammunition transport arrangements due to the desertion of local drivers, led to a disorganised British retreat to the Khor Maksar lines outside Aden.  Sheikh Othman was abandoned to the Turks who, fortunately for the British, chose to halt there. 

Right: Malay States Guides

In early 1915 a few reinforcements had trickled into Aden but now the subject was addressed with more vigour and the 28th (Frontier Force) Brigade arrived from Egypt, and Major-General Sir George Younghusband, KCIE, CB, was sent to take command in Aden.  He quickly and correctly appreciated that, if the Turks were expelled from Sheikh Othman, then Aden port could be defended by a small British force. On 21st July a Frontier Force Brigade column attacked and seized Sheikh Othman after a sharp fight.  One month later another small column pushed the Turks out of Fiyush, from where the enemy withdrew to Lahej; and on 28th August the Frontier Force Brigade went out to reconnoitre Waht where it punished a superior Turkish force who tried to follow up the British retirement too closely. 

As the climate in September was still too hot for long operations, and because the security situation appeared to be under control, Younghusband departed, handing over command in Aden to Brigadier-General C.H.U. Price, CB, DSO. The Frontier Force Brigade also returned to Egypt minus the 62nd Punjabis who stayed on in Aden. In October the Malay States Guides arrived to join the Aden garrison. 

As Younghusband had made Aden port safe, Price was left to practise a policy of ‘active defence’ that involved the rapid mobilisation of garrison units to form a Moveable Column that could deploy for very limited periods to deter further Turkish advances.  Against light opposition, such as raiders, a smaller ‘Flying Column’ could be put into the field more rapidly.  The British infantry and cavalry could match the enemy forces in short actions, but the Turks possessed more artillery and so the British had to be careful in choosing their battlefields and in the tactics that they used.  However the factor that determined the length of an operation was water, as the Turks had the advantage of sitting on the desert wells of their choosing.  The British could only stay in the field as long as their camel convoys could bring forward sufficient water for men, horses, mules and camels.

The Malay States Guides 

In Malaya the states of Perak, Pahang, Selangor and Negri Sembilan were in 1895 formed into a confederation titled the Federated Malay States; these states were independent and ruled by their Sultans but they accepted British advice and protection.  The federation treaty with Britain required the states to maintain a military force at the expense of the state governments and rulers.  State Military Police units, mainly recruited from the Indian Punjab, had been performing useful security roles in Perak, Selangor and Pahang and these units were consolidated into the new military force titled the Malay States Guides that was headquartered in Taiping.  The responsibility of the Malay States Guides was the internal defence of the Federated Malay States, but by treaty in time of emergency the unit could be used for the defence of Singapore.  Service elsewhere in the world appears not to have been mentioned in the federation treaty or in the soldiers’ contracts of service.

Above: A Malay States Guides group

The Malay States Guides recruited Sikhs, Punjabi Muhammadans and Pathans from India and also locally in Malaya.  The recruits from India were referred to the unit by existing members returning from leave in the Punjab.  The British officers came from the Indian and British armies and Indian officers received commissions from the Governor of the Straits Settlements.  Maxim machine guns were issued to infantry companies and an artillery battery was armed with mule-packed mountain guns.  The service of all Indian ranks was pensionable, and after some uncertainly as to whether, as ‘colonial’ troops, they might be entitled to British awards including the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal, it was resolved in July 1916 that Indian awards would be more suitable, in the form of the Order of British India, the Indian Order of Merit, and the Indian Distinguished Service Medal. The rationale was  influenced by the fact that during WW1 the Malay States Guides was integrated, albeit pro tem, with Indian formations within the orbit of Simla and the Government of India. As with personnel of both British and Indian armies, they were also eligible for the Victoria Cross and the Military Cross. (2) Tall men were recruited and all ranks wore splendid uniforms when on ceremonial parades, to the delight of the Sultans and spectators.  However more time was spent drilling for parades than was spent on training in the field for war, too much time in barracks led to over-indulgence in alcohol by some castes leading to consequent disciplinary problems.  Some of the European officers were of indifferent quality, a few of them not even speaking Urdu, the command language.  Thus power was consolidated in the hands of the Indian officers who were notorious both for indulging in intrigues often relating to caste, and in operating lucrative local businesses – private transport-carting being a popular commercial activity throughout the unit.  Thus lack of firm and inspirational leadership, professional direction and internal discipline, sullied what should have been a fine and impressive operational regiment.

Above: MSG leave Malaya for Aden

The infantry establishment of the Guides called for three double companies:  one of Manjha Sikhs, another of Malwa Sikhs, and a third of Punjabi Muhammadans and Pathans. A depot company trained recruits and specialists. The artillery establishment, a mountain battery, was equipped with four 10-pounder mountain guns carried on mules purchased in North China, although there were insufficient numbers of mules for all four guns.  Of the two sections in the battery one was composed of Sikhs and the other of Punjabi Muhammadans and Pathans.

The Commandant’s report for 1913 showed that the Malay States Guides was up to strength 

European officers 11
Indian officers 16
Pathans 200
Hindus 3 (being reduced)
Sikh soldiers 584   
Malays 1 (armourer).
Punjabi Moslems 102   

Total strength 917 all ranks 

An important non-military duty of the unit was to supply the Fire Brigade for Taiping town with equipment provided by the Perak Government. Despite using 1902-pattern rifles the unit marksmanship results were satisfactory. The establishment of thirty qualified signallers with requisite equipment was complete. A further thirty-five men possessed signalling certificates.  All Indian ranks had received an increased pay award on 1st January 1913.  The Malay States Guides was, in theory, ready to go to war.

Above: Malay States Guides on parade before the Great War

Great War mobilisation, refusal to serve overseas, and the Singapore Mutiny

The Malay States Guides mobilised for war on 6th August 1914, and all men on leave in India were recalled. Two days later special trains and boats took the men to Singapore where they satisfactorily performed routine security duties. But the regiment had been selected for service in East Africa alongside Indian Expeditionary Forces ‘B’ and ‘C’.  When preparations for the move to East Africa began the Indian officers and rank and file refused to embark, stating that their contracts did not specify service outside Malaya.

This action shocked the British military establishment and also exposed the lack of knowledge of the British regimental officers about the concerns and intentions of their own soldiers. Initially disbandment of the regiment was proposed but wiser councils ordered a return of the infantry to Taiping where, after reflection on both sides, new contracts including provision for overseas service were offered and accepted by all ranks.  The mountain battery was retained for duties in Singapore.

On 15th February 1915 a mutiny broke out in Singapore involving half of the 5th Light Infantry, an Indian Army regiment.  Around a dozen of the Malay States Guides gunners joined the mutineers and the battery commander, Lieut. M.F.A. Maclean, (3) was shot dead on the 5th Light Infantry parade ground.  However the remainder of the battery remained loyal and distanced itself from the mutiny, which was by now becoming bloody and brutal, by marching out of Singapore under its senior Indian officer to the adjacent Malay state of Johore, where all ranks were disarmed. 

After an enquiry had cleared them of any association with the mutiny, the loyal gunners were re-armed and returned to duty. Later in 1915 an insurrection broke out in the Malay state of Kelantan and ‘A’ company of the Malay States Guides infantry was sent there. (4) The single-company was increased in size to around 200 men by attachments from other companies. The Guides moved up the coast by boat to make a beach landing, successfully defending their camp from an insurgent night attack; next day an enemy group, poorly armed with old muskets, was caught in the open and the Guides were able to kill and wound several insurgents. Hard jungle patrolling then became the norm for a few months until the last of the insurgents had surrendered or been killed. The Guides suffered only one casualty when a soldier drowned in the Kelantan River. It was then decided to send the regiment to join the Aden Field Force.

Above: The Malay States Guides 1906 Bisley Team


After being inspected by the General Officer Commanding Troops, Straits Settlements, the Malay States Guides embarked on the transport ship Arankola and sailed for Aden on 26th September 1915.  A port call was made at Colombo, Ceylon, where the regiment went on a route march. Three machine guns and two tripods were issued at Colombo by the Army Ordnance Department. Aden was reached on 9th October and the regiment disembarked with the following strength:  

Artillery (Mountain Bty)
British officer 1  
Indian officers 3
rank and file 106  
horses 5; mules 47


British officers 9 
Indian officers 12
rank and file 536             

 Temporary Lieut.-Colonel C.H.B. Lees, 53rd Sikhs, Frontier Force, was the regimental commandant.  The subedar-major was Jag Singh.  Other British officers named in the war diary at this time were:    Temp. Maj. C.E. Borton, 129th Baluchis (2-i-c) Capt. W. Leslie, R.G.A., cmdg artillery Captain T.B. Minniken, 76th Punjabis [Capt. G.F. Turner, 82nd Punjabis (5), Captain P.T. Blanford, 84th Punjabis, * Captain Anderson, * Lieutenant V.C. Upton, * Lieutenant F. Golding, * 2nd  Lieutenant A.F. Hayward, 2nd Lieutenant L.C. Pearson, I.A.R.O. (6), * Captain Wood (Medical Officer)   

( * The identity of these officers has not been established.)

The Guides were immediately allocated a sector of the Sheikh Othman defence line, relieving the 56th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force), who departed for Egypt.  The companies were employed on manning static defence picquets by day and night, learning desert entrenching and wiring skills under Captain C.F. Stoehr of the 3rd Sappers & Miners, practising field firing under Major Borton, and taking part in minor tactical manoeuvring against Turkish intrusions near Sheikh Othman.  There were regular arrests of local and Somali women suspected of spying, and night patrols attempted to apprehend enemy agents signalling from the minarets of mosques and other high places in Sheikh Othman.  The effects of the exposure to the dry, hot and harsh climatic conditions in Aden gave rise to dysentery-types of sickness throughout the unit until the soldiers’ bodies, diets, and drinking habits had adjusted to their unaccustomed environment.

Above: MSG Artillery firing in Aden

The mountain battery wished to train for mobile operations but more mules and drivers were needed if four guns were to be deployed in a Mobile Column.  Army HQ in India stated that no more resources were available and so the battery reduced its mobile element to one section of two guns.  Even so, compared to Indian Army establishments there was still a deficiency of thirteen drivers, nine mules, three syces and four ponies.  The other two guns were positioned in the Sheikh Othman defence line.

Those men that marched outside the British defence line found the terrain to be rolling country consisting mainly of sand dunes, with patches of dense camel-thorn and scrub and every now and then a solitary tree or group of ruined buildings. A skilful Turkish commander, Said Pasha, operated from Lahej with 2,300 Turkish soldiers, 650 local Arabs and Somalis, and nineteen artillery pieces.  Said Pasha maintained picquets on wells and vital ground features and he could reinforce threatened locations quickly.

The Moveable Column  

In early January 1916 reports came into Aden Headquarters suggesting that Said Pasha was extending his influence over former friendly tribes to the east of Aden. A decision was taken to counter this by mounting a demonstration against the Turks picqueting the important Hatum Ridge. A manoeuvre was planned that was intended to entice the enemy into an inopportune counter-attack across open ground where he could be punished by the British artillery. The Malay States Guides were selected to play the leading role in this manoeuvre. The regiment would be the decoy that attracted the Turkish counter-attack. On 11th February orders were issued for the immediate formation of a Moveable Column whose fighting units were:  

HQ and two Squadrons 26th (King George’s Own) Light Cavalry
The Aden Troop (circa 100 cavalrymen seconded from the Indian Army)


15-pndr Camel Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (six guns)
10-pndr Camel Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (two guns)
1/4th Hampshire (Howitzer) Battery (four 5-inch howitzers)
Malay States Guides Mountain Bty (one section of two 10-inch guns)
5-inch Breech Loading Battery, R.G.A. (one 5-inch heavy gun)


No 5 Company, 1st Sappers & Miners  
No 23 Company, 3rd Sappers & Miners  

Infantry 1/4th Buffs (East Kent Regiment) - one coy 
126th Baluchistan Infantry - four coys
23rd Sikh Pioneers 
Malay States Guides – infantry element
109th Infantry 
The Imad Levy (local irregulars)  

All the nominated units were ordered to leave behind specific numbers of men in order to maintain the Sheikh Othman garrison at a respectable strength.  Medical support was provided by two Indian Sections and one British Section of the Combined Field Ambulance stationed at Sheikh Othman.  Each unit was to set up its Regimental Aid Post 100 metres behind the firing line, commanded by the unit Medical Officer.  Casualties for evacuation then had to be carried to the Dressing Station in the rear from where they would be evacuated by Desert Carts with canvas covers to Sheikh Othman; there casualties were to be taken over by No.10 Stationary Hospital and moved by motor ambulance to the base hospital in Aden.

 The 18th Mule Corps deployed all its animals to provide transport support for the operation and the 56th Camel Corps provided camels. The Ammunition and Supply Columns were ordered to base themselves at Sheikh Othman and to send forward requested supplies from there. To prevent noisy activity from compromising the operation detailed instructions were issued to units on such subjects as pre-breaking the seals on ammunition containers and oiling their retaining clips.  Visual signalling was to be used on the operation with Dar Al Amir being the central Visual Signalling Station, but the HQ Cable Section was to lay cable for the column commander to maintain telephone communications with Aden.  The route was to be picqueted as far as Robat by the Sheikh Othman garrison; after Robat picqeting duties were the responsibility of the Moveable Column commander, Brigadier-General W.C. Walton.  


The Malay States Guides was the advance guard, marching out at 02.15 hrs, 12th January 1916, and reaching the Hatum area, about ten kilometres distant, at dawn.  The regiment then acted as a protective screen for the main body that entrenched a position behind the screen.  Elements of the column (the 26th Cavalry, Aden Troop, a Sharpshooter detail, the Buffs machine gun company and the Imad Levy) marched to Fiyush to reconnoitre that area but maintained close contact with the troops at Hatum. 

Colonel Lees deployed his Nos I and II double-companies forward, keeping No III double-company in reserve.  No. 5 Coy Sappers & Miners supported the Malay States Guides throughout the day. The artillery battery commanders went forward to reconnoitre.  Around 07.00 hrs the Turks noticed the British movements and commenced shelling the area where Nos I and II double-companies met.  The shell-fire searched the area with shrapnel; the Turkish range and fuze settings were accurate and the guns appeared to be concealed behind Subah. Luckily for the Guides and the Sappers & Miners the Turkish artillery observers could not see exact targets and so the enemy guns continued to search with fire rather than engage specific groups of men with concentrations of fire.

Above: Hatum Ridge

The enemy shelling intensified around 08.30 hrs and the Turks then moved forward to attack, coming to within 550 metres of the Guides’ positions.  The Guides had been sheltering from enemy observation behind a low ridge but now they had to come onto the crest of the ridge to engage the enemy with rifles and machine guns.  The Turkish artillery observers could now see them and accurate fire came down causing casualties.  As more Turkish troops appeared to his front Colonel Lees started to withdraw at around 09.30 hrs; the Guides withdrew 400 metres and took up new fire positions.  During this withdrawal the British guns concentrated fire on the presumed enemy artillery locations, neutralising their activities whilst the Guides scrambled back with their casualties.

Half an hour later Colonel Lees noticed that the number of enemy infantry to his front had diminished and so he advanced again, but this time about 700 metres forward, driving enemy skirmishers before him.  The Guides were again exchanging rifle fire with the enemy, and attracting accurate Turkish artillery fire that caused further casualties.  As an enemy attack was now predicted, the British artillery batteries came into action.  The 15-pndr camel battery stayed in the rear, using three positions from which it gave very effective fire support to the Guides.  However the 1/4th Hampshire (Howitzer) Battery and the Malay States Guides section of 10-pndr guns deployed forward in an attempt to see the attacking enemy troops.  Much sand was blowing in the air, reducing visibility, and the guns of the Hampshires and Guides guns came into action to a flank but forward of the Guides infantry.  These two units attracted heavy enemy rifle fire and Captain William Leslie, the Guides Battery commander, was shot off his horse by a bullet to the head that killed him instantly, at which point Jemadar Sawan Singh took command.  The Hampshires’ and Guides’ guns were then re-deployed to come into action further to the rear.

Around noon the situation had become very unpleasant for the Guides and Colonel Lees commenced a tactical withdrawal starting with his right flank that was now being enfiladed by the enemy.  The Turks then built up strength in front of the Guides left double-company and the company commander was ordered to make a fighting withdrawal.  Colonel Lees concentrated his men on the screening positions that they had first occupied at dawn, and halted the Turkish advance.  The 10-pndr Camel Battery was used in direct support of the Guides now and its fire effectively deterred a Turkish attack.  After ninety minutes of fighting from the screening position, the Guides left flank was being turned again and Colonel Lees withdrew his three double-companies and the Sappers & Miners into the main position at 14.30 hrs, where the Guides role was taken over by the 126th Baluchis, the Guides going into reserve.

Meanwhile the cavalry had been tasked to get behind the Turkish left flank and disrupt enemy activities; however the enemy artillery fire directed against it was so effective that the mission could not be achieved, and the cavalry was shelled out of each area that it occupied.  At 15.00 hrs the Turks attacked the 126th Baluchis but a double-company of the 109th Infantry moved up in support and the attack failed. Thirty minutes later Brigadier Walton decided that his Moveable Column had achieved all that it reasonably could do, and he called-in the Fiyush elements and ordered a return to Sheikh Othman.  This decision was no doubt influenced by the aggressive and courageous actions of the enemy infantry and horsemen, the accuracy of the Turkish guns and the proximity of nightfall which would have been of more benefit to the enemy that to the Moveable Column.  Overnight the column would have had to stay in an entrenched square formation, taking casualties from both artillery shrapnel and the small-arms fire of Turkish raiding parties.

The Mobile Column withdrew in good order; another enemy attack was repulsed at 16.30 hrs but after that the Turks were disinclined to follow-up the British withdrawal.  The Malay States Guides covered the withdrawal supported by the Sappers & Miners and the company of 1/4th Buffs, and at 22.15 hrs that night the Rear Guard arrived back at Sheikh Othman.

Above: British cavalry on a Turkish observation post at Hatum

The cost   The Malay States Guides infantry had fired 16,574 rifle and machine gun rounds in action and the section of guns had fired 191 rounds of shrapnel; the regiment had been blooded on the battlefield and had come through the action very creditably, as Brigadier General Price told the unit when he later congratulated them.  Throughout a difficult day’s fighting in the desert the Guides’ internal administrative systems worked well; orders were issued and executed, casualties were evacuated, signals were sent and received, ammunition and water was moved forward when needed, and all of this was performed whilst under effective enemy fire.  Said Pasha had been shown that a British column could swiftly come out from Sheikh Othman to operate and cause the Turks attrition when they attacked.  The local tribes had been shown that whilst the British could not defeat Said Pasha, neither could he defeat the British.  However it has to be said that Said Pasha would not have been disappointed at the result of the engagement.  He had seen-off a British column and the poor visibility had prevented the British artillery, which fired a total of 1,138 rounds, from inflicting too many casualties on his attacking infantry and horsemen. (7) But a price had been paid by the Guides. 

Above: Tablet in All-Saints Church, Taiping

William Leslie was the sole casualty suffered by the Guides artillery, (8)
but the Guides infantry had lost three men and an attached mule driver killed and two more men who died of wounds.  Two Indian officers and six men were seriously wounded and one British officer and thirteen men were less seriously wounded.  Five mules and one horse were also wounded.  The Malay States Guides casualties were:  

Killed In Action
Captain William Leslie, Royal Garrison Artillery, att’d MSG; 1855 Sepoy Kehar Singh; 1542 Lance Naik Isar Singh; 1115 Driver Gulab, 7th Mule Corps, att’d MSG.

Died of Wounds
No.2445 Sepoy Teja Singh; No.2688 Bugler Jewa Singh.

Severely Wounded
Subadar Jewa Singh; Jemadar Saidullah; 2433 Sepoy Uttam Singh; 2771 Sepoy Dula Singh; 1712 Sepoy Harnam Singh; 2561 Sepoy Bhajan Singh; 2751 Sepoy Sher Khan. 

Capt. Philip Thomas Blanford, 84th Punjabis att’d to MSG; 2374 Sepoy Uttam Singh; 2397 Sepoy Hazara Singh; 1326 Havildar Bhola Singh; 1359 Havildar Rattan Singh; 6314 Naik Kakkoo; 2492 Bugler Akbar Shah; 2015 Sepoy Abdul Ghafar; 2564 Sepoy Fazl Din; 2054 Sepoy Ghulam Kadir; 2791 Sepoy Indar Singh; 2357 Sepoy Mitt Singh; 2512 Sepoy Pakhar Singh; 2691 Sepoy Sher Gull.

One other Sepoy from the 126th Baluchis was killed on the Hatum battlefield that day. (9) In total the Combined Field Ambulance evacuated nine British and forty-five Indian casualties.  

Awards for the Hatum action granted to the Malay States Guides  

Military Cross (10)
Captain Philip Thomas Blanford, 84th Punjabis, att’d Malay States Guides  

Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class (11)

2639 Havildar Kehar Singh  1631 Naik Sawan Singh 
2519 Sepoy Sarwan Singh “For conspicuous gallantry in dashing out to within 400 yards of the enemy’s position and bringing in a wounded Indian officer under heavy shell and rifle fire.”  

Mentioned in Despatches

Major (Temporary Lt Colonel) C.H.B. Lees, CMG, 53rd Sikhs att’d Malay States Guides Captain P.T. Blanford, MC, 84th Punjabis, att’d Malay States Guides,
2639 Havildar Kehar Singh, IOM   
1631 Naik Sawan Singh, IOM
1632 Naik Santa Singh, IDSM   
2519 Sepoy Sarwan Singh, IOM

Operations in Aden until the war ended  

The Malay States Guides remained in Aden until 1919 and the operations in which they were involved were very similar to the Hatum action. Moveable and Flying Columns went out into the desert to confront the Turks, British posts were defended against Turkish raiders and

Turkish posts were raided by the Guides.  The following citations give an idea of the tactics employed:  

Military Cross (12)
Captain Guy Fisher Turner, 82nd Punjabis att’d Malay States Guides  “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led a party of has regiment across difficult country against an enemy picquet five miles away. His party rushed and surprised the picquet and killed several of the enemy. He showed great skill and initiative.”  

Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class (13)
Jemadar Gurditt Singh  “On the night of the 15th-16th February 1918 this Indian officer commanded a platoon in an enterprise against an enemy picquet.  He personally volunteered to go forward and exactly locate the picquet and by doing so materially assisted the success of the operation.  Subsequently in the attacks, he led his platoon with great gallantry and determination.”

Indian Distinguished Service Medal

GGO 887, 5 Aug 1916   
Jemadar Bogh Singh, Infantry
1632 Naik Santa Singh, Infantry      
GGO 89, 11 Jan 1919  
1563 Sepoy Lal Sing, Infantry
GGO 585, March 1919     
1067 Havildar Wir Singh, Artillery    
GGO 2912, 20 Sep 1919    
864 Havildar Bagga Singh, Infy
2592 Gunner Abdul Rahim, Artillery
2736 Gunner Roshan Din, Arty 
2654 Sepoy Surain Singh, Infantry    

Indian Meritorious Service Medal

Battery QM Sgt Chand Singh
1442 Driver Naik Ghulam Din  

654 Hav.-Major Narain Singh
1431 Havildar Sohan Singh
1639 Havildar Kehar Singh
990 Havildar Jwala Singh
1896 Havildar Musa Khan
1087 Havildar Veer Singh
1859 L-Naik Gujar Singh
1801 Sepoy Gurdit Singh Dresser Valoo

 Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) Maj. (Temp Lt Col.) Charles Henry Brownlow Lees, 53rd Sikhs att’d Malay States Guides (14) Croix de Guerre (French) Lieutenant-Colonel C.H.B. Lees (15) Medaille Militaire (French) 2639 Havildar Kehar Singh, IOM (16) Medaille d’Honneur avec Glaives (en Vermeil) (French) Subadar Thaman Singh (17) 

Right: IDSM to Havildar Bagga Singh, Malay States Guides for Aden

Order of British India
Sohan Singh, Artillery (18)

Brevet rank of Major

Captain P.T. Blanford, 84th Punjabis, att’d Malay States Guides

Mentioned in Despatches
Maj. (Temp. Lt-Col.) C.H.B. Lees, CMG, 53rd Sikhs Frontier Force    
Lieut. (Actg Capt.) R.C. Eastmond, Indian Army Reserve of Officers (IARO)

Subadar Sohan Singh
Jemadar Karim Baksh
2592 Gunner Abdul Rahim
2736 Gunner Roshan Din

Subadar Vilayat Shah
Jemadar Bogh Singh  
Jemadar Gurditt Singh
1087 Havildar Wir Singh   
990 Havildar Jawala Singh
1442 Driver Naik Ghulam Din  
1653 Sepoy Lal Singh 2654 Sepoy Surain Singh

Commemorations and colours

On the 2nd August 1917 Major Cyprian Edward Borton, 126th Baluchis attached to the Malay States Guides, was killed in action in another engagement near Hatum. (19) He is buried in Maala Cemetery, Aden, Yemen along with Captain Leslie.  Major Borton, Captain Leslie and Lieutenant Maclean are commemorated on a brass plaque installed by their brother officers in All-Saints Church, Taiping, Malaysia.

On the Heliopolis (Aden) Memorial in Egypt are inscribed the names of thirty-five men of the Malay States Guides who died in Aden, while another name is inscribed on the Heliopolis (Port Tewfik) Memorial. Names can also be seen on Great War memorials in Malaysia.

The Regimental Colours were retained in All-Saints Church Taiping but were lost, as was the regimental silver, during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II.

The end of the Malay States Guides

By the end of the Great War the strength of the regiment was around 500 men, a big reduction from the established strength of over 900 that had been in service when war was declared.  Fighting and harsh climatic conditions had led to many casualty and medical evacuations from Aden; the three years of war in that theatre had taken a heavy toll.   Most men wished to return to the Punjab and the pleasures of family life. After consultations and discussions, and ever-mindful of how he had been let down early in the war by the refusal to serve overseas, Colonel Lees recommended the disbandment of the regiment.  The Rulers of the Federated Malay States were advised to accept this decision, and a Burmese battalion of the Indian Army was allocated to provide security in the States.

The Indian officers and men were given three options: to serve in the Federated Malay States Police or the Indian Army, with previous military service counted for both options, or to become redundant on generous terms.  It appears that 200 men opted for the Federated Malay States Police and judt one man opted for the Indian Army; the remainder accepted redundancy and returned to the Punjab.  The redundant men who later trickled back to Malaya when they had spent all their Aden savings and redundancy settlements could join the police, but without previous military service counting for seniority and pension.

Thus the brief but interesting life of the Malay States Guides ended in 1919.  The regiment was what it was – a colourful addition to the entourage of its owners, the Sultans of the Federated Malay States.  In peacetime the British military authorities inspected the regiment but could not direct it, as it was not theirs to direct.  The British officers seconded to the regiment in the pre-war years failed to prepare their men both mentally and contractually for an overseas war, and lack of strong internal discipline led to slackness, intrigue  and profiteering within the unit and finally to a clash of cultures after mobilisation that would never be forgiven by the British authorities.

But when the criticism and carping is over, the fact that stands out is that the Malay States Guides went to serve for over three years in one of the most physically demanding and under-resourced operational theatres of the Great War – and the regiment served and fought well. 

Shabash to the Indian officers and men - Sikhs, Punjabi Muhammadans and Pathans – brothers in arms who served in Aden fighting for both their Malay Sultans and the British Empire!


Inder Singh, History of Malay States Guides (1873-19190 (Cathay Printers, Penang 1965); Rana Chhina. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal  (Invicta, New Delhi 2001); Peter Duckers, Reward of Valour. The Indian Order of Merit, 1914-1918 (Jade Publishing, Oldham 1999); Sir Charles Lucas (editor), The Empire at War (Oxford University Press 1926); Barry Renfrew, Forgotten Regiments. Regular and Volunteer Units of the British Far East (Terrier Press, Amersham 2009); Honours & Awards, Indian Army Aug. 1914 – Aug. 1921  (published officially  in 1931 as Roll of Honour Indian Army 1914-1921, reprinted by J.B. Hayward & Son); Lieutenant-Colonel E.R.B. Murray, Commandant, Report of the Malay States Guides For The Year 1913, Supplement to the Federated Malay States Government Gazette, 27th March 1914 (on-line at <>);  London Gazette , despatches and awards notifications; Medal Index Cards; Army Lists, 1915 and 1916;  War Diaries (The National Archives, Kew, London – found within file ref. WO95 5438) of the Malay States Guides Infantry & Artillery Battery, Aden Combined Field Ambulance, 18th Mule Corps, Aden Troop, 15-pdr Camel Battery RGA, 10-pdr Camel Battery RGA, 5-inch BL Battery Aden, Comdr. Royal Arty Aden, Comdr Royal Engineers Aden.  

(This article appeared in a recent edition of DURBAR, the journal of the Indian Military History Society: )

(1) From the poem “For to Admire” by Rudyard Kipling.
(2) India Office Records, Military Collections, shelf mark L/Mil/7/5381: telegraphic correspondence between the Viceroy in India and the War Office in London from 22 June to 7 July 1916.
(3) Lieut. Moira Francis Allan Maclean, Royal Garrison Artillery
(4) Single companies were identified alphabetically whereas double-companies were numbered.
(5) Although not recorded in the diary, from 14 Nov 1911 Capt. G.F. Turner was employed with the Guides. He served with them in Aden and was awarded the Military Cross
(6) 2nd Lieut. Leonard Clive Pearson was a Perak planter in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers.
(7) One British estimate of Turkish casualties was around 200, but this figure was not proven.
(8) His body was recovered and is buried in Maala Cemetery, Aden.
(9) No. 4736 Sepoy Khanun Khan.
(10) London Gazette, 26 Jun 1916 (citation not published).
(11) Gazette of India, GGO 886, 5 Aug 1916
(12) London Gazette, 13 May 1918
(13) Gazette of India, GGO 2912, 20 Sep 1919
(14) London Gazette, 17 Oct 1917. Major Lees, a regular officer of the 53rd Sikhs, was posted to the Malay States Guides in March 1914, serving as 2-i-c in the temporary rank of Lt-Colonel. He continued serving with the Guides until January 1921, even though w.e.f. 1st February 1918 he was appointed to the command of the 53rd Sikhs in the permanent rank of Lt-Colonel.
(15) London Gazette, 6 Nov 1918
(16) London Gazette, 6 Nov 1918; Gazette of India, GGO 208/1919
(17) London Gazette, 15 Dec 1919
(18) Recorded in Honours & Awards Indian Army 1914-1921 (p.26). A supernumerary award for field service in Aden, it has not been traced elsewhere and the ‘class’ of award is not known.
(19) After the death of Major Borton, the appointment of 2nd-in-Command was held by Captain T.B. Minniken, 6th Punjabis att’d Malay States Guides.