Volunteers and students researched soldiers from the Middlesex Regiment using historical records, birth certificates, national census from 1901 and 1911 to find out where they came from and their family roots. They also found living relatives to interview. Click on a soldier’s map to learn more about their story.
“He stood up to his full height and said: ‘you probably are too young to know that there was such a thing as the Great War. I was one of the soldiers of the Great War. To fight for you and your family. And I think I’ve left quite a bit of my blood in the soil of France!”
Tarun Maninal, Rudra’s grandson
Agit Anil Rudra, or ‘Jick’ to his friends, was born in Delhi, India in 1896. Rudra enlisted himself in the Universities and Public Schools Brigade, a part of Lord Kitchener’s Army with his Ceylonese passport. Rudra saw through two World Wars and became a general of the independent Indian Army.
“Nothing’s definite about Sam Manning . . . apart from the fact that we know he existed!”
John Cowley, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Fellow
Sam Manning was born in Couva, Trinidad in 1897, a British colony since 1797. Before joining the Middlesex Regiment, Manning found work variously as a motor mechanic, chauffer and even as a jockey.
Perhaps to escape poverty, Manning travelled to London and enlisted into the Middlesex Regiment to fight for Britain. He served in France before being transported to the British West Indies Regiment in Palestine.
“They were all frightfully patriotic out there at the time, and he came and fought for King and Country.”
Muriel, Chunchie’s daughter
Kamal Chunchie was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to a migrant Malay family. Little is known of his early life in Asia, except that he once worked as a police inspector in Singapore. Chunchie was inspired to travel to London to join the Middlesex Regiment, seeing action in the trenches.
During the war, Chunchie was gassed and injured, and sent to Malta to recuperate. There he played cricket, his biggest passion, one which he continued after the war as the only ‘coloured’ member of the Essex Gentlemen’s Cricket Club. In 1928, Chunchie established the Coloured Seamen’s Institute in Canning Town.
“I had some crashes! Sixty altogether. Of course they weren’t all bad smashes. Some were only forced landings but even these usually meant some nasty bumps. But it was good fun.”
Harry O’Hara, during WW1
Harry O’Hara was born in Tokyo in 1891, but left to work as a journalist in India. When the war broke out, he joined the 34th Sikh Pioneers. Later, after serving with the Gurkhas and suffering three injuries, he was transferred to the Middlesex Regiment.After qualifying as a pilot, he was then transferred the Royal Flying Corps. While flying over the trenches, O’Hara was shot down, ending his wartime fighting.
“A tough Cockney Sergeant asked what my religion was. When I said Parsi, he asked me what the hell that was and said there was no such blinking religion. When I insisted, he produced a Bible and asked me if I was prepared to swear on that book. I replied that I would swear on any book he liked. He promptly put me down as Roman Catholic.”
Karesat Ardeshir Dadebhai Naoroji, otherwise known as ‘Kish’, was born in Cutch, India in 1893. His grandfather was Sir Dababhoy Naoroji, the first Indian M.P. in Britain and founder of the Indian National Congress. Kish’s privileged background allowed him to study at the best schools in India, and on to Cambridge in 1912. When the war broke out Kish was 21. He enlisted into the Universities and Public Schools Brigade, expecting to become an officer.
After leading his men as a Sergeant during the Somme, Kish was deemed ‘unfit for service.’ He travelled back to Britain and become one of the pioneer Indian officers of the Indian Army, much like his friend A.A. Rudra.
“In July last we left our Native lands to come to England and join the Colours. We offered ourselves and were accepted, being drafted into the 11th Middlesex. This Regiment some months ago was sent to Aldershot and we with about ten other dark men were left behind and eventually sent to Northampton to the Reserve Battalion 18th Middlesex. Our life here is intolerable.”
Donald Brown, from his letter of complaint
Donald Brown was born in 1895 in Demerara, British Guiana, a British colony on the South America mainland. In 1905 riots broke out in the major towns of British Guiana (now known as Guyana) after ‘coloured’ inhabitants were dissatisfied with the standard of living in the country. British Guiana become radically politicised following the first trade union formed in this period.
On 15 March 1916, Brown wrote a petition of complaint along with six other ‘coloured’ soldiers from Guiana, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Gold Coast (Ghana), and the West Indies, concerning their ‘intolerable lives’ as black soldiers while in training.
Often referred to as Joseph Singh in his identification documents, little is known of this soldier’s experiences during the war. Born in the Punjab on the Indian subcontinent in around 1878, he was a surprisingly old, 36, at the start of the war.
Singh must have been a man of at least comfortable wealth. He resided at 70 Stowe Road in London’s Shepherd’s Bush and lived alone with an 18-year old Ceylonese servant. He married his wife Dobby, a native Londoner in Poplar, London in 1912.
Singh became a private of the 5th battalion of the Middlesex regiment. He was discharged in 1917 to 33 Miller Crescent, Edinburgh. Little else is known of his experiences in an otherwise all-white British battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.
Drummer Roberts was a Trinidadian soldier of the Middlesex Regiment. Little is known about him, but he was photographed standing as a ‘black mascot’ in his battalion. He is compared to another battalion’s mascot: a black cat.
It is thought that Drummer Roberts was on board the ship Tyndareus, which was struck by a mine near South Africa during its passage to Hong Kong. King George V praised the Middlesex Regiment’s discipline and courage during the attack. All on board survived.
If Roberts was on the ship, then he and the other survivors were taken ashore to Cape Town to recuperate for several days.
Born on 25 October 1896 in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, very little is known of Private Francis Owen Gittens, leaving us simply with this solitary photo.
He died 1 July in the Battle of the Somme at the age of 19 and has a grave at Thiepval Memorial for the Missing of the Somme. His name is written on the Port of Spain Cenotaph in Trinidad.