In 1916 Britain
approached the government of India
for the supply of a volunteer Labour Corps to serve in both France and Mesopotamia. The Indian government delegated the
responsibility to raise separate Corps of 2,000 men to United
No central administrative direction was given and each region decided
its own terms and conditions. As time
passed more and more Labour Corps were needed, and this resulted in an Indian
Jail Labour Corps being raised for service in Mesopotamia;
the volunteer prisoners worked well and earned wages, but these were lower than
the wages of the ‘free’ workers.
British officers, assisted by senior non-commissioned
officers acting as Supervisors, commanded companies of 500 men; they were
supported by a number of chiefs or head-men recruited to act as junior
officers. When the British command
personnel understood and spoke the dialects of their men and appreciated the
prevailing culture there were few difficulties and the labourers were
self-disciplined, often performing well in adverse or dangerous
The rulers of the Princely States of India demonstrated their support for the Allied
war effort in various ways, and the Hindu Ruler of Manipur in north-eastern India supplied
his own labour corps of 2,000 men.
However the Ruler did not nominate his Hindu citizens for this service,
but he recruited 1,200 Christian or animist Naga tribesmen and 800 similar Kuki
tribesmen from the mountainous areas in his state. The head-hunting hill tribesmen were not
highly regarded by the Hindus and it is likely that tribal chiefs were just ordered
to produce the required numbers of men whether they were volunteers or not.
Above: The hills south-east of Moirang
On the whole the Nagas presented no problems and were
pleased to be wage earners, as were the neighbouring Lushai and the Garo and
Khasi hill tribesmen from around Shillong in today’s Meghalaya stat (1). Further recruitments from these hill tribes
ran smoothly as some had experience of working for the British in labour
capacities on public works or minor military operations. However when certain of the more remote Kuki
chiefs heard that further labour was needed an insurrection broke out that
lasted for 18 months. But it should be
noted that initially the insurrection was not confined to the Kuki family of
tribes, and also that many Kukis remained loyal to the State of Manipur and to
the British, some of them assisting the British military effort against their
disaffected tribal brethren.
The fighting that took place during the Kuki Rising, as
the insurrection was named, was in the hills around the Imphal plain, and
British forces were deployed both from the main base at Imphal and from bases
in Burma along the Chindwin River. Those
readers familiar with the Second World War Battle of Imphal will recognise many
place-names and hill features, as during the Rising the Kukis held ground that
the British were to fight over 26 years later when Japanese invaders seized
it. A legacy of the Kuki Rising was that
in 1944 during the Japanese invasion of Manipur many of the Kukis chose to side
with the invaders, although others did not.
Above: Kuki prisoners
In both wars the Kukis were the eventual losers, but
during the Rising they were able to embarrass the British by a continued
resistance, as the military resources available to the British were finite due
to overseas wartime commitments. The
British were reliant on those military units already in Assam and Burma, the
principal units being the Assam Rifles and the Burma Military Police; both of
these regiments recruited from Nepal and the Punjab as well as locally. This had an effect on India’s contribution to the Allied war effort as
the overseas posting of drafts of trained men from Assam
to Gurkha and other regiments was suspended during the Rising.
The Kuki Rising was eventually put down by a combination
of British military ruthlessness supported by modern weapons of war, assisted
by Kuki pragmatism in submitting when morale was low and further resistance was
seen to be futile. The Kuki Rising was
not the most glorious of Britain’s
colonial actions and it was deliberately under-publicised at the time. However the exertions and courage of the
British sepoys in fighting serious and savage banditry over very hostile
terrain deserve recognition.
Above: Burning Longyin Village
The start of the
In 1917 the local Political Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel
H.W.G. Cole CSI, advised the Kukis that the Labour Corps needed more men to go
to France. The Kuki Chiefs refused this request, and
then refused a second similar one.
Colonel Cole then went to France with the Lushai Labour Corps
and another officiating Political Officer was appointed. This man arranged for a Durbar to be held and
invited all the Chiefs to listen to his explanations of why the men were
wanted, the nature of the work and the terms and conditions. The leading recalcitrant Chiefs, Ngulkhup of
Mombi and Ngulbul of Longya, replied in an insolent manner rejecting the
invitation and stating that if force was used against them then they would retaliate
with force. The British authorities were
suspicious that these Chiefs may have been incited by Bengal
seditionists in Sylhet and Cachar who wished to impede the Allied war effort,
but proof of this was never found.
As the two Chiefs had defied British authority they had to
be dealt with, and in September the officiating Political Officer marched a
force of 100 rifles from the Imphal-based 4th (Darrang) Battalion, Assam
Rifles, under Captain M.C. Coote (2) to Mombi where after a skirmish the village was burned down. This force then marched on Longya to repeat
the process but an instruction from Shillong, the administrative capital of Assam, arrived
ordering that no further action should be taken against the Kukis. The punitive operation was cancelled and the
troops withdrew, leaving the Kukis to believe that the British did not have the
resources or the stomach for a real fight.
Both Chiefs then closed their territories to the British
and in December started raiding the Hindu villages on the extremities of the
Imphal plain; little mercy was offered to the Hindu subsistence farmers and
their families. At that time and due to
the fact that both the Assam Rifles and the Burma Military Police had sent
thousands of their best men overseas in drafts, leaving the units composed of
either very young or very old soldiers, the British were not responding
strongly to all the challenges to their authority.
At this point a very brave effort was made by a British
lady to keep the peace with the Kukis.
Colonel Cole’s wife lived in Imphal and she knew Chief Ngulkhup
personally. She sent him a message
asking for a meeting at Shuganoo, and went there with just an interpreter; the
journey took four days marching from Imphal.
Ngulkhup and a few of his leading men met Mrs. Cole courteously and
listened to her pleas for reconciliation.
However Ngulkhup had his own agenda and declined the suggestions made by
Mrs. Cole, who returned to Imphal having attempted to do more than any British
official had done to keep the peace.
Above: Coote's & Hibbert's columns at Imphal before moving out
The Southern Chin Hills
Meanwhile in Burma
a similar resistance to further recruiting for the Labour Corps was being
organised in the Southern Chin Hills. This resistance was aggravated by British
attempts to suppress slavery, which was a popular custom amongst the southern
Chins. This rising took the British
authorities in Burma
by surprise and Haka was besieged by Chin rebels, so assistance was requested
from the Assam Rifles. The Deputy
Inspector General of the Assam Rifles, Colonel L.W. Shakespear, obtained
authority and despatched Captain H.L.F. Falkland (3),
Commandant of 1st (Lushai) Battalion, Assam Rifles, with 150 rifles
from Aijal to Haka, 16 days’ marching away.
A few days later another message arrived from Burma reporting that Falam was also
surrounded by rebels. Shakespear now
ordered Captain E.C. Montefiore (4)
at Kohima with the 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion,
Assam Rifles, to take 150
rifles to Burma. Montefiore’s journey involved marching to
Manipur Road Station, Dimapur, taking trains to Chittagong, then a river steamer to
Rangamatti followed by country boats to Demagiri and finally two weeks’ hard
marching to Haka. British strength in
Manipur was being dispersed even before campaigning against the Manipur Kukis
Abovre: Montefiore's Column at a river in the Southern Chin Hills
As no punitive action was taken against the Kuki raids on
isolated Hindu villages, more Kukis from Hinglep and Ukah, south of the Imphal
Plain, joined in the fun. Two serious
raids, one against the police post near Shuganoo and the second near Moirang,
led to two detachments of the 4th (Darrang) Battalion, Assam
Rifles, being sent out from Imphal; each detachment was 80 rifles strong. The Political Agent with Lieutenant Halliday
marched on Mombi and Captain Coote with Lieutenant E.J. Hooper (5)
marched on Hinglep. Coote’s column
entered the hills below Moirang and was immediately attacked but fought back
fiercely, punishing the Ukah tribesmen with little loss to itself. But after going through Shuganoo Halliday
encountered strong stockades at the Chokpi
River crossing where he
lost three men killed and several wounded; this caused his retirement and Kuki
morale soared. Many more villages joined
the Rising, closing the Palel-Tamu road to Burma by destroying the rest
houses, killing the caretakers and bringing down the telegraph line.
On the Burma
side of the border Kukis began attacking posts in the Chindwin
Valley and in the northern Chin Hills; Shakespear moved to Imphal to control
events. As porters were needed to
transport supplies for columns, 800 Nagas were recruited at Kohima and marched
to Imphal, escorted by a platoon from the 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion, Assam
Rifles. The 4th (Darrang
Battalion), Assam Rifles, was put through a three-week intensive jungle
training course, whilst 100 rifles from the 2nd (Sadiya) Battalion, Assam
Rifles, were ordered to march from Sadiya through Silchar to Imphal, under
Major H.D. Cloete MC (6). Well-stocked bases were established at Palel
and Shuganoo, and two columns each of 120 rifles were formed, with trained Naga
porters carrying a 7-pounder mountain gun and ammunition for each column.
Above: An Assam Rifles post in the Manipur Hills
Captain Hebbert, with the Political Agent, commanded a
column marching from Palel to Tamu to reopen the Burma
Road and punish rebel villages in the vicinity. Captain Coote, with Mr. J.C. Higgins, Indian
Civil Service and Political Agent Imphal, marched from Shuganoo for Mombi
planning to join up with a Burma
column under Captain Steadman that was marching north from Tiddim to deal with
accompanied Coote’s column and later wrote an account of its actions. The column marched to its base at Shuganoo
destroying Aihang village on the way; then Longyin village was destroyed as a
punishment for the attack on the nearby Itoll police post. An attack was prepared on the Chokpi River
crossing stockades but scouts found them deserted; however nearby were found
the bodies of the men killed in Halliday’s previous attack. These corpses were without heads, hands or
feet. As Coote knew that the direct
route to Mombi was strongly stockaded his column marched up a ridge to the east
of the Tuyang River.
But now the column began to take casualties from snipers hidden in the
thick jungle who could not be seen. When
Mombi could be observed from the ridgeline the 7-pounder gun came into action
at 800 metres range, hitting the village and dispersing the armed tribesmen
inside it. The next day Coote’s men
descended to Mombi but found it deserted.
Whilst the Nagas built strongly-defended villages on hill
tops the Kukis were more nomadic, building temporary villages until they moved
on to the next one. However they often
defended the approaches to their villages with thorn or ‘punji’ stick (7)
spiked hedges protecting stout stockades.
Log breastworks, loopholed for musket firers, covered likely approach
routes. Sometimes leather cannon rolled
from buffalo hide were mounted on trees to fire stones or metal fragments at
attackers, but these weapons usually burst when fired. The civil authorities were taken by surprise
by the number of firearms that the Kukis possessed, and although these were
generally old flint-locks and muzzle-loaders they were effective in close-quarter
sniping and fighting. However the Kukis
rarely stood and fought from a defensive position, preferring to cause some
attrition to their attackers and then to quickly withdraw.
Above: Coote and Higgins inside the Mombi stockade
Coote rested at Mombi whilst his wounded were carried back
to Shuganoo and rations were brought forward.
Smoke had been seen rising from the direction of Longya, and heliograph
contact with the Lenakot post in the north Chin Hills
ascertained that Steadman had burned Longya without opposition. Steadman had then marched towards Khailet,
the rendezvous point for him and Coote, but on meeting a long stockade barring
his path he had charged it. The result
was a serious reverse for Steadman who lost 11 men killed and many wounded including
himself, wounded three times. Many of
his porters had bolted and Steadman withdrew to Lenakot, much to the joy of the
Coote set about his own task of punishing insurgents in
the Mombi area. His column marched
through thick jungle for five days, incessantly climbing up or descending down
steep-sided hills. When halting for the
night the jungle had to be cleared and a barbed wire fence run around the
perimeter to deter sudden attacks. On 7th
February 1918, having destroyed Nungoinu and other nearby villages, Coote was
advancing along a densely-wooded ridge when he was ambushed. Reconnaissance showed that a barrier of rocks
ran across the ridge, the narrow track was heavily stockaded and the space
before the rocks was covered in felled trees 40 metres deep. Both Shakespear and Higgins led flanking
parties but the steep terrain defied their efforts to get behind the stockade
and rocks. Meanwhile Coote was losing men killed and wounded from around 70
firearms being discharged through small apertures in the rock barricade.
After 45 minutes of heavy firing from an almost invisible
enemy, accompanied by loud drumming and war-chanting, the mountain gun was
brought forward and came into action.
But after the third round had been fired the gun Havildar and three
others of the gun crew were hit, putting the gun out of action. Coote then decided to rush the position with
Jemadar Kharga Sing’s platoon advancing on the left, accompanied by Shakespear,
whilst Coote provided supporting fire on the right from his soldiers’ old
single-shot Martini Henry rifles.
Because of the tree obstacles on the ground a rush was not possible but
Kharga Sing methodically walked his men forward across the trees and up the
rocks. Both Coote and the enemy ceased
firing and Kharga Sing crossed the rocks to find that the Kukis had not chosen
to stand and fight but had withdrawn; bloodstains and trails confirmed several
Kuki casualties and examination of the excellent defensive position showed that
up to 300 tribesmen could have been holding it.
Coote occupied the adjacent Khengoi
Village for the night, burning it the
next morning after his signallers had heliographed Tamu to arrange for rations
to be ready for him at Withok, across the Burma border in the Kale Kabaw
valley. At Withok a camp had been
prepared for the column and carts came up from Tamu, 35 kilometres away, to
evacuate the wounded and sick. Captain
Grantham of the Burma Police and Lieutenant C.G. Kay-Mouatt, 1-70th
Burma Rifles, rode in with the carts to advise that the Kuki Rising was
spreading swiftly. A Burma Column was
forming at Tamu to operate against the Chassadh Kukis occupying the hills east
of Imphal who were raiding Kangal Thana and Homalin in the Chindwin Valley. Further north and to the west of Imphal the Silchar Road had
been closed, rest houses destroyed and anyone seized by the Kukis was being cut
up. Major Cloete was in Silchar
preparing to reopen the road to Imphal.
Above: The Imphal-Silchar Road runs over the far ridgeline
Coote marched his column back towards Palel, burning
Changpol, Gnarjal and Pantha
Villages on the way. The column’s final action was on Rekchu Hill
where a strong line of breastworks and shelter pits commanded the track
upwards. However the Kukis opened fire
too soon, and the column’s two flanking parties got abreast of the position
before the defenders noticed them, causing an immediate Kuki withdrawal. After five weeks of strenuous campaigning
Cootes’ men, in ragged clothing and worn-out boots, but now fit and
experienced, reached Imphal. Here the
column found that 100 rifles from the 2/2nd Ghurkas under Major J.E.
Cruickshank had been sent to garrison the town, and another 100 were in Kohima
under Lieutenant Duff, thus releasing more of the Assam Rifles for operations (8).
Hebbert’s column had returned a few days previously having
had a less arduous time punishing villages near the Imphal-Tamu road, with only
one skirmish being fought near Suampo.
Several other columns were now deployed in the hills surrounding the
Imphal plain, and Major Cloete’s column was on the Silchar Road and had fought a sharp
action at Laibol. There was still much
work to be done both along the Chindwin and
around the Imphal plain.
Right: Loopholed breastwork on jungle track
The Spring and
Summer of 1918
In March Shakespear marched to Tamu escorted by 50 rifles
from the 4th (Darrang) Battalion,
under Jemadar Babu Lal. There he met
with his Burma
counterpart, Lieutenant-Colonel J.J.W. ffrench-Mullen CIE, and a co-operative
strategy was devised. Two Chindwin
columns starting from Homalin (Major T.D.H. Hackett (9))
and Kangal Thana (Captain Patrick) would work together with Captain Coote’s
Imphal column against the Chassadh Kukis whilst a fourth column from Kohima
(Lieutenants H.C. Prior (10)
and Sanderson) operated towards the un-administered Somra Tracts. Meanwhile 100 rifles from 1st
(Lushai) Battalion, Assam Rifles, under Subadar Bhowan
Singh were to be stationed at Bangmual in south-west Manipur to cooperate with
any troops that pursued insurgents into that area. Bhowan Singh was later mentioned in
despatches for his leadership on operations in the Bangmual area.
When Coote set off with his column, accompanied by
Lieutenant N.E. Parry (11)
and Mr. Higgins, the Naga porters suddenly went on strike and refused to carry
loads. To quote directly from
Shakespear: ‘The wholesome spectacle of the 11 ringleaders being publicly
flogged soon induced all to think differently and they quietly resumed
work’. Coote marched on, punishing those
villages that did not submit, and near Kangal Thana he met up with Patrick and
they marched together to attack Kamjong, Chief Pachei’s principal village. During the fighting around here the columns
suffered several casualties but Pachei escaped and moved into the unexplored
Somra Tracts. Indecisive skirmishes
continued into the summer and the Kukis remained active, recruiting more
tribesmen to join the Rising. At Bamakshan
village an unexpected and well-planned Kuki night attack killed two men in a
column led by Captain Goodall, and the telegraph lines were chopped down again
on the Burma road despite previous punitive
actions against local villages. Goodall
had to move into this area to support a column under Captain Francis Tuker, 2nd
Gurkha Rifles, an officer destined for senior appointments in World War II.
Above: The Palel-Tamu road at its highest point
In April prompt military support had been provided by the
territorial Indian Defence Force unit the Surma Valley Light Horse. A group of 70 or 80 Kukis raided the North
Cachar Hills and both the Europeans and the local labour on the tea estates
near Haflong lived in fear of losing their heads. Twenty four members of ‘B’ Troop, Surma
Valley Light Horse, forsook their civilian occupations and turned out from
Silchar for up to a fortnight to provide a military presence until relieved by
100 rifles of the 2nd (Sadiya) Battalion,
under Captain J.H. Copeland (12).
By July both Falkland’s and Montefiore’s columns had
returned from successful operations against the southern Chins in Burma, the latter column returning via Rangoon, Calcutta
and Kohima. During his deployment
Montefiore had entered Manipur from the south to restore the unfortunate
situation that Steadman’s withdrawal had created, destroying big stockades at
Haika and killing many Kuki including Gnulbul, the Chief of Longya, who was
attempting to escape with his little son in his arms. Falkland’s column had sustained many
casualties in the hard fighting against the Chins, and it marched back to
Aijal; both columns had experienced a tough seven months of campaigning, and
their main source of replacement clothing had been the Ladies’ War Society in Rangoon. The southern Chin rebels were now reduced to
a small number of activists, and Montefiore was to be awarded an honour for his
military prowess in Burma.
As the mid-year hot-weather season commenced both sides
felt exhausted and needed to rest. It
was now apparent to the British that the Rising could not be put down in the
traditional way by dispersed and loosely coordinated columns of troops using
antiquated weapons. Additional handicaps
were an inadequate transport arrangement and a supply system that prevaricated
on grounds of cost whenever worn-out boots and clothing needed replacing. The Chief Commissioner of Assam took Shakespear to Simla for discussions
with the Commander in Chief, India.
The arrival of
Lieutenant General Sir Henry D’Urban Keary KCB KCIE DSO
Simla wanted to be rid of the embarrassing Kuki Rising and
some decisive measures were taken. The
old single-shot Martini Henry rifles used by the Assam Rifles and Burma
Military Police were replaced with new .303-inch long Lee-Enfield magazine
rifles. Lewis guns (13)
and rifle grenades (14)
were issued and four Stokes trench mortars were supplied to the Burma Military
Police; this last weapon was to be a decisive factor in breaking Kuki
resistance. New issues of clothing,
boots and kit were made to the sepoys, free of charge. More officers from the Indian Army Reserve of
Officers were posted into the theatre.
The only Political Officer who had been into the Somra Tracts, Mr. W. Street of
the Burma Commission, was recalled from his duties with the Chin Labour Corps
Lieutenant General Sir Henry D’Urban Keary KCB KCIE DSO
was due to take command of the Burma Division and he was tasked with ending the
Kuki Rising. Keary was to command from Burma whilst
Colonel C.E.E.F.K. Macquoid DSO commanded in Manipur but reported to Keary;
ffrench-Mullen was to be Keary’s principal staff officer. General Keary had served in the Third
Anglo-Burmese War in 1885 and he later raised a battalion of Burma Military
Police; whilst operating in the mounted infantry role he had been awarded the
DSO for gallantry at Wuntho in 1891. He
had then commanded a battalion in the operations to suppress insurrection in
the Northern Chin Hills in 1892-93. He was a soldier with definite views
regarding the efficassy of strong punitive measures against recalcitrant
tribes. After making his appreciation of
the situation he declared his plan of action to be: ‘. . . to put an end to the
Kuki revolt by force of arms, break the Kuki spirit, disarm the Kukis, exact reparation
and pave the way for an effective administration of their country’.
Left: Kamjong stockade entrance with swinging timbers
In Burma the troops that Keary used were the 1/70th
and the 85th Burma Rifles, the 62nd Company Burma Sappers
& Miners, the 202-man strong Chin Friendly Corps, and detachments of the
Military Police battalions from Chin Hills, Bhamo Hills, Monywa Hills, Mandalay
Hills, Myitkyina Hills, Taunggyi Hills, Shwebo Hills, Pyabwe Hills, Rangoon
Hills and Toungoo Hills. With his
headquarters and Supply and Transport personnel his Burma force totalled 3,011
men. In Assam Macquoid commanded the
four Assam Rifles battalions already mentioned, one section of 35 signallers
from 43rd Signal Company and a company of 150 Friendly Kuki Scouts;
this was a total of 3,223 combatants. In
the non-combatant role were 310 officers and men comprising a Section of the
Gauhati Labour Corps, an officer and 35 men forming a survey detachment and
4,600 local porters.
The signallers from 43rd Signal Company were to
make a big impact on future operations on the Manipur side, allowing Keary and
his subordinates to closely coordinate column movements. On the Burma side 150 Burma Military
Police signallers under Subadar Atta Muhammad provided the requirement and Atta
Muhammad was later mentioned in despatches.
Carrier pigeons were introduced to carry messages, but the birds were
not given enough time to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings.
On the Manipur side transport had to be large gangs of
porters as no pack-transport roads existed apart from the cart road from
Dimapur via Kohima to Imphal. It took a
cart one month to bring a load from Dimapur to Imphal. On the Burma side mules could be used and
1,500 of them were purchased across the Chinese border. Unfortunately surra disease (15)
affected these mules on their journey into Burma, and Burman porters had to be
hired until the mules recovered. These
porters lived along the Burma
rivers and were not hill-men, but they were all that could be raised as
friendly Kukis who had previously offered to do the work were intimidated
against performing it by their rebel brethren.
The operations mounted from Burma
were well supported by steamers plying the Chindwin River.
Keary adopted a plan initiated by Major A. Vickers (16),
3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion,
Rifles. Seven Areas of Operation were
demarcated in which lines of posts were to be established; the posts were to be
rationed for three months and manned generously so that small columns could be
formed from within them. The Areas were:
North East (Somra and North Chassadh); East
(Chassadh); South-East (Mombi and Longya); South (Manhlung); South-West
(Hinglep and Ukha); North-West (Silchar
Road and Jampi).
In each Area a base position was nominated to which supplies would be
brought and dumped, these dumps would then support both the posts and any
columns operating in the area.
Mobile columns in each area were to drive the Kuki onto
the lines of posts where they were to be harried until the tribesmen
submitted. As some villages in the Kuki
heartlands were ostensibly ‘friendly’ care had to be taken to not attack
them. To a degree this problem was
solved by the construction of ‘concentration camps’ on the Manipur plain where
the ‘friendly’ Kukis could reside during operations. Those ‘friendlies’ that did not come down to
the camps had to take the rough with the smooth, and few British tears were
shed for them as undoubtedly those villagers would be coerced into helping the
rebels in various ways during operations.
Whilst the plans were being made and the new weapons
introduced to the troops minor operations continued. Subadar Hanspal Limbu of
the 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion,
who commanded a post at Niemi received information from ‘friendlies’ that a
large group of Chassadh Kukis was approaching.
The Subadar took a party of his men out to meet the rebels and in a
sharp fight 30 Kukis were killed; Hanspal Limbu was subsequently awarded the
Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
Encountering the new British Lewis guns and magazine rifles must have
been a distressing experience for many Kukis.
With hostilities ceasing in France
in late 1918 a number of experienced officers were returned to India to join
Keary’s force. Prominent amongst them
was Major H. Douglas of the Surma Valley Light Horse who was to command a
column and receive an honour for the way he operated. But the world-wide Spanish influenza epidemic
struck some of the Assam Rifles, and an outbreak of cerebral meningitis
affected others. Nevertheless in early November 1918 all Keary’s columns were
on the move and the Kukis were experiencing coordinated pressure from several
Above: The March 1918 conference at Tamu
The final months
of the Kuki Rising
As the British columns advanced they accepted submissions
from those villagers who had had enough of war, but the villages that resisted
were destroyed along with any cultivated areas that they possessed. As a village submitted it had to surrender
its firearms and pay a fine of livestock, and accept the guidance of a Political
Officer; if insufficient firearms were surrendered then the cultivation of that
village was destroyed. Chiefs considered
dangerous were arrested after submission or capture and some were held in
detention outside Manipur. Villagers or
tribal units attempting to move away from advancing columns were forced back by
posts or other columns so that they could not escape retribution for their
rebellious acts. Wherever the Kukis went
they could see the winking flashes of British heliographs reporting their
movements. As the British columns advanced
they made bridle paths through the jungle and over the hills, opening up the
Kuki territory for the British administrators who followed. The surveyors took their readings in the
field and used them to produce the first maps of unexplored areas such as the
The main rebel leaders were always on the move attempting
to enter new areas to find refuge, but their followers rapidly became
dispirited and demoralised by the new firepower of the British columns and
posts. In the North West Area Subadar
Hari Ram, 3rd (Naga Hills) Battalion,
commanded the Channachin post and he made a surprise attack on Layang village
killing 28 rebels and capturing the entire livestock; Hari Ram was later
awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
When the nearby garrison of the Dulin post attacked the rebel village of Sompuram with similar results nearly all
organised resistance in the Jampi region ceased, most chiefs submitted,
surrendering weapons and paying tribute without further argument. This pattern of the successful use of
superior British firepower was repeated in all seven Areas,
With the Burma Military Police columns on the Chindwin
side denying the Kukis freedom of movement across the border, Keary had
achieved his aim of putting an end to the Kuki revolt by force of arms,
breaking the Kuki spirit, disarming the Kukis, exacting reparation and paving
the way for an effective administration of their country. His success was undeniable. After four months of operating from the Somra
Tracts Chief Pachei found that he was even being pursued and hounded there, and
in April he appeared in Imphal and surrendered.
By 20th May 1919 nearly all resistance had ceased and
operations were terminated. To help the
country settle down strong posts were maintained by the Assam Rifles at Ukruhl,
Kamjong, Nantiram, Tamenglao, Chura Chandpur, Mombi, Poshing, Chanakin and
Totalling the results of military operations between
December 1917 and May 1919, 140 rebel villages were destroyed, 112 rebel
villages submitted and 15 villages were found deserted. In Manipur 970 muskets were confiscated
whilst in the south Chin Hills over 600 were
handed in. Large amounts of grain and
cattle were also confiscated. The
estimated number of Kukis killed was 126 men, but doubtless others died of
wounds away from the scenes of action, especially when the new British weapons
came into use. The British lost 59
all-ranks killed, 135 wounded and 97 dead from other causes, principally
The whole affair had been an embarrassment to the
government of India
and the campaign was denied publicity.
Participation in the campaign did not qualify for a clasp to the Indian
General Service Medal; however troops who served in the field for any period
from the start of the Kuki rising until 31st October 1918 qualified
for the award of the British Victory Medal.
Two Distinguished Service Orders were awarded but the citations were not
The last word must go to the Kukis. They led the British on a merry dance for 18
months armed only with ancient muskets, they carried no packs and had no supply
trains or medical support but they knew their own country well and how to live
off it and fight effectively from it.
They were a tough and fierce adversary who commanded the respect of all
who went up against them. Shahbash (Well
Done!) the Kukis!
Awards made for
service during the Kuki Rising
Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI).
Lieutenant-Colonel John Lawrence William ffrench-Mullen
CIE, Indian Army.
Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE).
Colonel Leslie Waterfield Shakespear CB and Colonel
Charles Edward Every Francis Kirwan Macqoid DSO, both of the Indian Army;
Captain Edward Joseph Calveley Hordern, Royal Indian Marine; John Comyn
Higgins, John Henry Hutton and John Brown Marshall, all of the Indian Civil
Commander of the Military Division of the Order of
the British Empire (CBE).
Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Bulmer Tait Abbey and Major
Lindsay Elliott Lumley Burne, both of Indian Army.
Officers of the Military Division of the Order of the
British Empire (OBE).
Captain Claud Emanuel Montefiore, Indian Army, Assam
Military Police (17);
Captain William Niven Greer MB, Royal Army Medical Corps; Lieutenant Charles
George Kay-Mouat, 1/70th Burma Rifles, Indian Army; Major Hannath
Douglas Marshall, 2nd Surma Valley Light Horse, Indian Defence
Force; Temporary Captain David Vincent O’Malley MB, Royal Army Medical Corps;
Captain George Edward Scott, Indian Defence Force; Major (Temporary Lieutenant
Colonel) William Blomfield White, 39th Central Indian Horse, Indian
Members of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Val Ardern Hulme,
Indian Army Reserve of Officers; Captain John Hugh Copeland, Indian Army
Reserve of Officers attached to 8th Gurkha Rifles; Lieutenant George
David Walker, 2/8th Gurkha Rifles; Lieutenant Eric John Wilkinson,
Indian Army Reserve of Officers attached to Supply & Transport Corps and
Headquarters Staff, Burma Force.
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
Captain William George King Broome, 89th
Punjabis and Major Thomas Dalby Hutchison Hackett, both of the Indian Army.
Starling John & Lee Ivor: No Labour, No Battle.
Military Labour During the First World War. (Spellmount, UK
Wood, Reverend W.H.S.: Through Fifty Years. A History of
the Surma Valley Light Horse. (Naval &
Military Press reprint).
1- The ‘Tower of France’, a memorial to the Khasis who did not return
can be seen today in central Shillong.
2- Captain Coote was attached from the 107th Pioneers.
3- Captain Falkland was attached from the 13th Rajputs (The
4- Captain E.C. Montifiori was attached from the 110th
Mahratta Light Infantry.
5- Lieutenant Hooper was attached from the Indian Army Reserve of
6- Major Cloete was attached from the 90th Punjabis. His Military Cross had been awarded in Mesopotamia. He
was murdered at Sadiya in 1920.
7- A simple spike, made out of wood or bamboo, generally placed upright or at
an angle in the ground. Punji sticks are usually deployed in substantial
8- The 2/2nd Gurkha detachment remained in Imphal and
Kohima for four months before returning to its Battalion location at Tank on
the North-West Frontier. The Gurkhas did
not deploy for operations against the Kukis.
9- Major Hackett was an Indian Army officer serving on the Burma
10- Lieutenant Prior was attached from the IARO.
11- Lieutenant Parry was attached from THE IARO.
12- Captain Copeland was attached from the IARO.
13- Light machine guns.
14- Fragmentation grenades that are discharged from a rifle muzzle.
15- Surra is a disease inflicted by the horse-fly that can be fatal if
not treated promptly.
16- Major Vickers was attached from the 48th Pioneers.
17- The Assam Rifles had previously held titles as Military Police
The names can be seen on Page 7761 of a Supplement to the London Gazette dated
23 July 1920 under the heading KUKI PUNITIVE OPERATIONS.