Roland (“Roly”) Grimshaw

Indian Cavalry Officer and Diarist in World War I

Roly Grimshaw began his military career when he was commissioned into the Royal Irish Regiment in 1899. He transferred to the Poona Horse Regiment of the Indian Corps after serving two years in India.

Roland William Wrigley (“Roly”) Grimshaw was an officer in the Indian Army Corps of the British forces during World War I. From August 1914 to June 1915 he kept a detailed diary, subsequently published1, of his wartime experiences.


Roly Grimshaw’s Roots

The Role of India in World War I

Background to Roly’s WWI Diary

First Excerpt from Diary – “The Outbreak of War”

Second Excerpt from Diary – “1st Battle of Ypres”

Battle Artwork, Indian Corps in France, 1914-1915

Roly’s Life after the War


Roly Grimshaw’s Roots

Roly was descended from the “Irish” line of Grimshaws, which is presented on a companion webpage. He was one of the sons of Thomas Wrigley and Sarah (Thomas) Grimshaw; this family is also described on a companion webpage. Roly’s background is described as follows in the book containing his diary (Wakefield and Weippert1, p. 9):

R. W. W. ‘Roly’ Grimshaw came of an Irish Protestant family. Born in Dublin in 1879, he was the ninth child and sixth surviving son of a family of twelve. His father was Dr. Thomas Grimshaw C.B. the Registrar of Ireland who was in practice in Dublin; his mother Sarah Thomas lived to the age of 102. He was educated largely at home and later at St John’s College, Portsmouth. In 1899 he was commissioned into the Royal Irish Regiment. After serving for two years in India, he transferred to the 34th Poona Horse. Two of his brothers were in the army, the elder being in the 1st Punjab Regiment.

The Role of India in World War I

The start of WWI is traced to the assassination of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo, Bosnia, in June 1914. After a succession of events, Germany invaded Belgium on August 3, 1914, and Britain declared war on Germany on August 4. India was a British colony during the “Great War” and fought admirably in several theaters. The following summary of India’s role is provided by Encyclopedia Britannica Online2:

In August 1914, Lord Hardinge announced his government’s {Britain’s} entry into World War I. India’s contributions to the war became extensive and significant, and the war’s contributions to change within British India proved to be even greater. In many ways – politically, economically, and socially- the impact of the conflict was as pervasive as that of the mutiny of 1857-59.

India’s Contributions to the War Effort

The initial response to Lord Hardinge’s announcement was, for the most part, enthusiastically supportive throughout India. Indian princes volunteered their men, money, and personal service, while leaders of the Congress–from Tilak, who had just been released from Mandalay and had wired the king-emperor vowing his patriotic support, to Gandhi, who toured Indian villages urging peasants to join the British army – were allied in backing the war effort. Only India’s Muslims, whose doctrinal allegiance to the Ottoman caliph had to be weighed against their temporal devotion to British rule, seemed ambivalent from the war’s inception.

Support from the Congress was primarily offered on the assumption that Britain would repay such loyal assistance with substantial political concessions–if not immediate independence or at least dominion status following the war, then surely its promise soon after the Allies achieved victory. The government of India’s immediate military support was of vital importance in bolstering the western front, and an expeditionary force, including two fully manned infantry divisions and one cavalry division, left India in late August and early September 1914. They were shipped directly to France and moved up to the battered Belgian line just in time for the First Battle of Ypres. The Indian Corps sustained extraordinarily heavy losses during the winter campaigns of 1914-15 on the western front. The myth of Indian racial inferiority, especially with respect to courage in battle, was thus dissolved in sepoy blood on Flanders fields. In 1917 Indians were at last admitted to the final bastion of British Indian racial discrimination – the ranks of royal commissioned officers.

In the early months of the war, Indian troops were rushed to East Africa and Egypt, as well as to the western front, and by the end of 1914 more than 300,000 officers and men of the British Indian Army had been shipped to overseas garrisons and battlefronts

Background to Roly’s WWI Diary

Roly’s first entry in his diary was on August 2, 1914, just two days before Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. Years afterward, he wrote the following Author’s Note1:

For some years I have kept up a day-to-day diary. When invalided home wounded, I thought that perhaps the Regiment might like to have a record of my personal views concerning matters affecting the old Corps and the war in general. I therefore prepared this extract as a pastime. In doing so I have not attempted to fake it. that is, having become wise after the events, made alterations. This extract is therefore exactly the same as the original, only I have excluded all purely private matter. As to statements concerning units and persons: in certain cases I may be mistaken but I have never written anything in malice.

Additional background is included in Wakefield and Weippert1 (p. 9-10):

In October 1914, Captain Grimshaw recorded in his diary that he never thought he would be in Calais with a squadron of the Poona Horse. When he joined his Regiment in 1902, he expected that his main service would be in India on internal security duties. Active service opportunities would be limited to the Afghan Wars on the North-West Frontier and possible expeditions to Persia, Burma or China. Participation in a major war on the continent of Europe was most unlikely. The primary role of the Indian Army was the defence of India, for which it was admirably trained and equipped. However, by 1913, German militarism posed such a threat to peace that the British Government asked India to be prepared, in the event of war, to send Indian troops to Egypt with the intention, ultimately, of employing them in Europe Two Infantry Divisions and a Cavalry Brigade were earmarked for the purpose.

Sometime during his service, a photo was made of Roly in full uniform as a member of the Poona Horse regiment; it is shown below.

“Captain Grimshaw wearing the dress uniform of the 34th Poona Horse (Regiment).1

Wakefield and Weippert1 continue with the following additional background information on Roly’s diary (p. 9, 10):

The first part of the author’s diary was written in 1914 commencing with the outbreak of war. At the time Captain Grimshaw was on leave in England, having just completed two years in India as an instructor at the School of Cavalry and Equitation at Saugor. He rejoined his Regiment in Egypt en route for France, landing at Marseilles in October 1914. He describes his day-to-day life as a British officer commanding a squadron in the trenches in Flanders during the winter of 1914. One of his squadron officers was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, and he himself was later severely wounded. Invalided to England in 1915, he spent much of his time visiting his men and others of the Indian Corps in hospital. He returned to India in 1915 to take command of an Indian Cavalry War Depot. Extracts from his diary were included in the Regimental History of the Poona Horse published in 1931.

On 9 August 1914, five days after the declaration of war, the Poona Horse received orders to mobilise as part of the Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade. Like all Indian Cavalry, the Regiment was sillidar – a system in which the Regiment was horsed, clothed and equipped by the men who composed it. When a man joined, he had to put down a sum of money to cover the cost of his horse, clothing and equipment. When he left, his horse and equipment was sold back to the Regiment who re-paid him his original investment. The results, from the financial point of view, were excellent; a very fine body of Cavalry was maintained at relatively low cost to the Government of India. For operations on or beyond the Indian frontier, the system had worked tolerably well but was difficult to adapt to the needs of a winter campaign in Europe. At short notice the Regiment could not obtain supplies of warm clothing on the open market in India or afford to pay for them. In consequence men went to France in their tropical uniforms and lightweight boots with the addition of a flannel shirt and jersey, which was the best that Regimental funds could manage. On arrival in France, the situation was so desperate that the Regiment went into action as Dismounted Infantry within two weeks of arrival. There was no time to make up deficiencies in clothing and equipment.

First Excerpt from Diary: “The Outbreak of War”

Two excerpts from Roly Grimshaw’s diary have been selected for this webpage to provide a sampling of his writing and of the experiences he was recording. The first excerpt1 is from the beginning of the diary and covers the period from 2 August 1914 to 2 September 1914:

On 2 June 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in the remote town of Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia, was the spark which set off the chain of events leading to the declaration of war between the great powers of Europe. The provocative murder of the Archduke, heir apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a Serbian terrorist was an insult which the Austro-Hungarian government could not ignore. The refusal of Serbia to accept the harsh terms of the Austro-Hungarian government ultimatum led to a declaration of war. Russia supported Serbia and mobilised. Then followed the most serious consequences. Germany, allied to Austria, declared war first on Russia and then on France, Russia’s ally. Britain’s main concern was with her Empire and not with continental alliances. However it was always likely that, if France was attacked, Britain would stand by her. When on 4 August 1914 German troops crossed the Belgian frontier, despite Belgium’s refusal to allow the violation of her neutrality, Britain honoured her pledge to guarantee Belgium’s neutrality by declaring war on Germany. (Editors’ note by Wakefield and Weippert1)

Sunday 2 August 1914 Germany has declared war on France and Russia. It now remains to be seen if we are to get dragged in. It certainly seems preposterous that because a degenerate youth assassinates a rather undesirable heir apparent that therefore the whole world should be plunged into this vortex of international suicide. In the history of the world, I wonder if the single act of any individual has occasioned such a riot of destruction. This incident may be merely the peg which the Germanic powers are hanging their hat on, but it only confirms my opinion that the extinction of all these dynasties is desirable if merely from the point of view of reducing the pegs. If Germany does not infringe the neutrality of the Low Countries, ourselves and Italy may be able to keep out of it, anyhow for the present. If France succeeds in giving Germany the knock she will not need our help. Can Germany take on France and Russia) I doubt it. Feel all jumpy myself with this war scare on as I am so apprehensive of being sent back to India. I can hardly support the idea.

Monday 3 August 1914 Left for town taking with me some kit. On arrival at the station heard that war was imminent between us and Germany. First I went to India Office, but there was such a crowd that I couldn’t get to see anyone so strolled up to club where I met several Indian Army men who, like myself, were almost hysterical at the rumour that we are to be sent out to India.

Wrote to two or three people I thought might help me. Grey’s speech in the House came in slowly on the tape and showed us all that only a miracle could save us from war. The ultra Radicals played up well and afforded a good example, there being few dissentient speeches. Of course all the Army and Navy officer class are clamouring for the war -they little know what it means. After dinner strolled down Whitehall to see the crowds. Everyone very orderly and very serious. When I turned in I felt quite exhausted with my tramping and worrying. Tuesday 4 August 1914 War seems inevitable. To Sir Arthur Leetham to get an introduction to Allen by, and he was very civil. I asked him if I could be employed as a sort of attaché to our Cavalry to report for the Cavalry Journal. He said such was impossible. To the club where I met Fitzgerald, Kitchener’s ADC. It seems we are all to go out about the 1lth, if the Admiralty can guarantee us safe conduct Returned home by the 5.05 train. I don’t ever remember feeling so disconsolate. The very idea of returning to India has made me feel quite ill. I try and look at it from a philosophic point of view but it is very hard to see men all around one preparing for war whilst I, who have made my profession my hobby, am idling away my time. It is simply maddening. I almost feel like deserting and enlisting. So Kitchener has taken over Secretary of State for War and the Haldane camp has been scotched.

Wednesday 5 August 1914 We have declared war on Germany and now must await the issue of the naval part. The Expeditionary Force is to go over. I hardly slept a wink at night and feel really seedy. I must pull myself together otherwise I shall be so ill that, if by chance I get orders, I won’t be able to go. I went over my kit so as to put it together quickly the moment I get orders. Stuck in some photos. It seems such a hollow occupation when I might be employed preparing men for the war.

Thursday 6 August 1914 Up to town. The Belgians seem to be holding the Germans. Lunched club. Met Hambro and others. Dined with Black. Quite a cheery evening in spite of all my troubles.

Friday 7 August 1914 To King’s Cross to see Simpson. Then to Liverpool Street to meet Black who was due to leave by the P & O mail steamer. A very crowded train. Met Black trying to recover his kit as he had succeeded in transferring to British Cavalry. Lucky fellow’ Returned to Lodge feeling more wretched than ever.

Saturday 8 August 1914 Slept better and am pulling myself together. Spent entire morning packing. Apparently the Belgians have given the Germans a nasty check at Liege. That’s all it is, as what are 25,000 men to an army like that of Germany?

Sunday 9 August 1914 Felt much better, but my limbs are all shaky simply from worrying about the war and my being ordered to India. How much one’s health depends on one’s peace of mind’

Monday 10 August 1914 Left at 8.40 for Southampton to join the Dongola. Simson.1 also joined me at Waterloo. The train was very crowded from Waterloo to Southampton. At latter place found all the hotels crammed, but heard I might get into the Polygon, so Simson and I went there and got accommodation in the billiard room. Found that the hotel was the Headquarters of the Expeditionary Force and I met Jack Kellett who was French’s camp commandant. Latter took me into the room used as the office. It was crammed with clerks and all seemed busy writing and very serious.

Tuesday II August 1914 Drove down to docks and found everything in a state of indescribable confusion. I have never seen such an ill-organised arrangement. It reflects very little credit on our India Office. I met Forbes, who had come down to see ‘Macey’ Anderson off. A clerk from the India Office came down about noon and read out a long list of officers’ names who had to return to London as their sailing had been cancelled. I had a hope that perhaps Simson’s name and mine might be amongst them, but I scarcely expected it as I knew we were almost certain to sail owing to the Regiment being mobilized and coming to Egypt. The bulk of the names were Cavalry officers, at least it seemed so, but perhaps it was because I knew so many Cavalry names. As far as I knew the British Cavalry had enormous reserves of officers to draw on, but of course more may be wanted and anyhow it’s an undeniable fact that Cavalry somehow or other command more interest in high places – even Indian Cavalry.

Did not get on board till 6.00 p.m. and decided to leave a great deal of my kit behind in charge of King. I wonder if I shall ever see it again. If the confusion on the wharf was bad that on the ship was 10,000 times worse. Luggage everywhere and anywhere. I have never seen anything like it. All us captains and subalterns have to live as privates. Got a good plain meal about 6.30 p.m. and drew hammocks at 9.30 -more and worse confusion. I had some difficulty in slinging mine but eventually got it shipshape and climbed in. Found my air pillow most useful. We cleared at 10.30 p.m. going out by the Spit. The place was a blaze of searchlights and it looked very businesslike and warlike.

Wednesday 12 August 1914 Had a better night’s sleep than I thought possible. Stowed my hammock early and got a good wash before the rush. When the latter came, it was a rush with a vengeance. I never saw such abandoned confusion. Semi-nude officers in every attire conceivable scrambling for a ‘place in the sun’. Breakfast was another scramble. After that we had a parade by mobilized units which didn’t seem to be a success as their numbers were very limited. The miscellaneous was quite four-fifths. The 9th Cavalry Brigade totalled out at five officers. After parade we tried tidying up a bit, but it was not a success, so we dropped it and amused ourselves by watching the very senior brigade (about 15 generals) making frantic efforts to retrieve some of their kit. If only one had a pencil handy and were a bit of a caricaturist, one had plenty of humorous material to work on. After lunch we had another parade by messes, and out of this some order was obtained and chaos began to subside. There was an immense amount to do. I found I was by virtue of my seniority mess captain. I got together some of my things and tidied up a bit, but of course all the most necessary articles are not forthcoming. It is quite obvious that one cannot become a private in 24 hours. It really is quite wonderful how chaps have settled in as well as they have.

During the morning two French destroyers looked us up and in the afternoon we came up with a French battlecruiser steering north-east. We exchanged signals. Towards evening we sighted a large French liner and a small French cruiser. The Somali which was accompanying us full of civilians returning to India was ordered to heave to, and we closed on her and eventually stopped. After an interchange of signals we stood on our course. Bridge after dinner. I played as badly as I could but won two rubbers.

Thursday 13 August 1914 Had a more comfortable night of it and things much more shipshape. A heavy fog necessitated repeated use of the whistle which was a very disturbing factor in one’s sleep. We went dead slow. Another parade at 10.45 and messes again were adjusted. I shifted from No.78 to 84 and myself, Simson and two Baddeleys, Mocatta, Robertson made up a small and select mess.

Fire alarm 3.00 p.m. My particular job is to close the watertight doors of our section. This my not be an ideal occupation for the mounted arm but I must admit to the fact that I volunteered for it because I discovered that just above my section there were six baths and that the main entrance to them was through my compartment. If, therefore I close the door when everyone goes to their posts, I can, on the dismiss sounding, easily secure a bath. This is by no means unimportant as there are only a dozen baths for 900 officers -practically one to every 80 officers. Hence the offer of my services as watertight door closer, a duty everyone else jibbed at. My offer looked altruistic but it was far from being so. At today’s alarm we all went to stations, put on cork belts and looked in a very ‘sinking’ condition.

So we have now declared war on Austria. We are getting on and will soon be quits with the Kaiser. This may put a different complexion on the state of [he Mediterranean. I should never be surprised if we were held up at Gib. If Italy joins the Triple Alliance we certainly cannot go on, as what with the Goebel and Breslau, Austrian and Italian fleet we and the French will be hard put to it to hold our own east of Gib. Had a great hunt for my luggage. Eventually found most of it. They have commandeered all the Italian Marine officers to steer the ship. Wonder if they know how to Apparently all the regular quartermasters have been taken for the Royal Navy.

Friday 14 August 1914 Had quite a good night’s rest. It’s very painful having nothing to do. I feel so depressed that I can no longer concentrate my mind on anything. About 5.00 p.m. a Portuguese fishing smack signalled to us that they wanted biscuits and water, so we hove to and dished them out what they required. Just as we finished this, a French warship appeared in the offing making for us. As she was obviously French we stood on our course, but she seemed suspicious and fired across our bows, so we pulled up. She came up and steamed close round LIS, with all her guns trained. As she did so we gave her a great cheer which the little French sailors heartily responded to. This is my 34th birthday. I hardly expected to spend it as I have.

Saturday 15 August 1914 Did baggage fatigue all day. Quite hot now, and meals are very trying, dinner being a particularly repulsive business. No fans and the messes on each side of the engine room superheated

Sunday 16 August 1914 Arrived Gib, 4.00 a.m. Found we weren’t wanted and were to proceed at once, which we did. Everyone feeling more gloomy than ever. The post was forgotten, which added to one’s irritation. Tried some chess but my mind wanders right off the game. Apparently Austria’s navy is very harmless. The Goebel and Breslau have bolted into the Dardanelles and Italy remains complacently neutral

Monday 17 August 1914 Slept well in spite of the heat. Read most of the day but my mind will wander to the firing line where I ought to be. No one will ever know the anguish I have suffered. Played bridge after dinner and played very badly, my mind being on other things.

Tuesday 18 August 1914 Much cooler. So Grierson is dead. He looked apoplectic. Turkey is apparently going to join Germany, and Bulgaria and Japan the Allies.

Wednesday 19 August 1914 Read rubbish all day. Arrived Malta 8.00 pm; no news. Very stuffy. Left at 2.00 am. Won 18 shillings in the sweep by way of a change.

Thursday 20 August 1914 Another very uninteresting day. A concert in the evening. I did not attend but played bridge. Slept below as there was a nice breeze. More rumours of us disembarking in Egypt, but I have little hopes and spent my time thinking out plans for getting out of the combatant side of military service.

Friday 21 August 1914 Another dreary day. We get no news of the war.

Saturday 22 August 1914 Very hot night. Meals unbearably revolting.

Sunday 23 August 1914 Arrived Port Said 8.00 a.m. Heard the truly joyful tidings that we were all for Cairo. Landed at 10.30 am and after lunch at the Casino Palace Hotel left in a special for Cairo where we arrived at 7.00 pm. Self and Simson were told off to the Continental. We shared a room together and had a horribly hot night of it. Not a breath of air. The climate of Cairo at this season is very similar to that of Bombay in the early spring.

Monday 24 August 1914 Still no news of the war. After breakfast strolled round to the barracks and did some shopping and reported our arrival. Met O’Farrel, Irish Fusiliers, who is in the Egyptian army. Cairo seems quite a fine town and very Indian in general aspect. Replace the British element by French in Calcutta, and you have Cairo. Went to the Turf Club in the evening. I quite expected an institution like one of our big clubs in India, but found a rather mouldy ill-kempt place similar to a Moffusal* Club in India.

Tuesday 25 August 1914 Out to Abasseih to call on the 3rd DGs. Afternoon wrote my name in the Sirdar’s book and the Agent’s. I hardly expected to meet Milne Cheetham in the capacity of acting agent for Kitchener.

Wednesday 26 August 1914 Out to the Sirdars to see Rees-Mogg. Met Wingate who seemed very affable. To the Sports Club for tea where I picked up Recs-Mogg, who introduced me to some useful people. This club was also a disappointment. I had pictured to myself quite a sports club deluxe, and instead found a rather dilapidated wooden shanty of a bar, pavilion, dressing-room affair. News from the war not very reassuring. It looks as if the Allies will have to go back a very long way. If the Nancy-Belfort line goes things will be black. Doubt if the Prussians get Paris, however, before the Russians break in the back door. Rees-Mogg dined with me.

Thursday 27 August 1914 Went hunting for rooms and found some in the Villa Chatham and decided to move over. Visited the famous Museum and looked at the mummies. It always seems to me somewhat lacking in good taste to expose the bodies to these old Egyptian Kings to the vulgar gaze of a ‘pay to see ‘cm’ globetrotter. To the Sports Club for a game of squash.

Friday 28 August 1914 Went out to Heliopolis to see our prospective camp and look round. Heliopolis seems to me to be a sort of glorified White City, and at this time of the year deserted.

Saturday 29 August 1914 Spent the morning letter writing. Squash afternoon. Sunday 30 August 1914 Went out to the Pyramids with Simson. Was very disappointed and the trip was made hideous with repulsive looking touts. We climbed into the burial chamber of the big pyramid and I took a flashlight photo of the interior. Visited the Sphinx, a dilapidated old thing. As mere wonders of our forefathers’ skill and energy I think they are a poor representation thereof, compared to the Ellora caves. So the British force is having a very stiff time of it. I don’t like these cryptic references to ‘reaching fresh positions’ However it looks as if the mailed fist had shot its bolt al1d a defensive campaign will be its next role.

Monday 31 August 1914 To the bank to cash a cheque. Then to club to read the papers and then to our rooms to do my first lesson in Arabic. I may as well learn some on the off-chance of us staying in Egypt.

Tuesday 1 September 1914 Arabic 7. 15 to 8. 15 [am} .I find my Hindustani very helpful. Schooled Butlers ponies evening. I am lucky to have anything to ride. War news rather unsatisfactory.

Wednesday 2 September 1914 Arabic. I don’t like the war news. It seems to me something isn’t quite as it ought to be and the official wires don’t ring true. It looks as if the Germans were stronger than some of our feeble-minded rulers suspected.

Second Excerpt from Diary: “1st Battle of Ypres”

The second diary excerpt1 selected for this webpage covers the period from 5 to 21 November 1914, when some of the most action described in the diary occurred. During this timeframe, the valiant stand by the Indian troops at Yrpes prevented the German forces from breaking out in the crucial early months of the war.

The British Expeditionary Force holding the line of shallow, badly-made trenches from Ypres to La Bassee was subjected to a series of massive German attacks designed to clear Belgium and capture Calais. At a critical stage when the Germans seemed on the point of making a breakthrough the Indian Corps were brought up as reinforcements. In half waterlogged trenches, under constant attacks by German Infantry, who outnumbered them by at least seven to one, the Indian Corps fought with the utmost gallantry alongside the seasoned veterans of the British Expeditionary Force. At the end of four weeks of the heaviest fighting experienced in the war the line held. Ypres remained unconquered. In the words of Lord Harding, Viceroy of India: “It is to the abiding glory of the Indian Corps that it reached France in the first great crisis of the war. The only trained reinforcements immediately available in any part of the empire arrived in time to stem the German thrust towards Ypres and the Channel ports during the autumn of 1914. They consecrated with their blood the unity of India with the empire; and few indeed are the survivors of that gallant force.” (Editors’ note by Wakefield and Weippert1)

Thursday 5 November 1914 A day off. Rumour that Loring of the 37th Lancers is to be brought in to replace as second in command caused some irritation. The horses of ours killed and wounded are being taken away I should have thought that it would have been better to send up our first reinforcements. Our horses’ feet are very dicky and soft, and evidently cannot stand the damp and slush after their boardship activity.

Friday 6 November 1914 Damp, moist, poisonous weather. Usual digging operations for the rest, but my squadron had a day off.

Saturday 7 November 1914 ‘D’ squadron went out to dig in the evening. One horse got hit by a shrapnel bullet but not severely. It did not even go lame, but the Veterinary people took it into hospital as a curiosity I suppose.

Sunday 8 November 1914 Things seem at a regular impasse and now Turkey is in it. I wonder how things will go in Egypt. I have no great belief in Turkish prowess on the battlefield, German leaders or no German leaders.

Monday 9 November 1914 Out to dig again, Rather unpleasant experience of hostile howitzer and shrapnel fire. I wonder if I feel more distrait under this kind of fire than others. I certainly feel very uncomfortable. Am not sure which is the nastiest, shrapnel or howitzer. The former comes silently and one is bowled over before one hears the crack of the burst. The other gives time to take cover (if any exists) but till the crash comes one is uncertain if the cursed thing will hit one or not, or burst close enough to maim or kill. These howitzer shells arc very local in their action. ‘B’ squadron had several rifles smashed by one shell. It might have been several jawans.

On returning to billets we got orders to go up to Estaires to reinforce the 3rd Division. On arrival there we were billeted in a big cotton factory which was promptly shelled by big howitzers a couple of hours after our arrival. Looked remarkably like spy work as no hostile shells had been thrown into Estaires for a month. I fancy the enemy knew the range exactly, as they themselves had been in Estaires and billeted in the factory. Fortunately they did not know at which end of the big factory compound we had tethered our horse and, equally fortunately, shelled the Western end, where we had none. They threw about 50 shells into the place but did no real harm. If ever there was a case of ‘when ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise’ this was one. Many of the occupants of the factory that night were new to shell fire and thought the incessant crashing was one of our batteries in action close by. I knew otherwise and went out to see if any harm was being done. Several of the shells never burst at all.

Tuesday 10 November 1914 Returned to billets in the morning. A quiet day so far. Out again at 4.30 pm, back to Estaires again and acted as support to the 3rd Division. No shelling this time. I fancy Watkis is a trifle jumpy. It is curious but we never are dragged out to act as a support to Paddy Anderson. I hear they cut three lines of the telephone leadin,g out to the German lines from Estalres. Wonderful people the Germani and still more wonderfully mean, unpatriotic and despicable are those Frenchmen who aid and abet their dirty work.

Wednesday 11 November 1914 Back again in our old billets. A howling gale and wet and cold. A quiet night.

Thursday 12 November 1914 Bobs visited us at 11.30 am and spoke to some of our men. He looked very shaky and worn.

Friday 13 November 1914 My squadron ordered to dig at Richbourg L’Avoue. Left at 2.30 pm in pouring rain. Had a long wait at Croix Barbee till darkness set in. I found I was in command of a working party of 400. 150 P.H., 150 4th Cavalry, 100 Jodhpurs {Lancers}. We moved up close to where we were to dig at 5:00 pm. It was within 500 feet of the hostile trenches. I led with ‘D’ squadron and ‘B’, till I got to within 300 yards of the place where we were to branch off the road. Here I halted the entire party and met Kelly the Sapper, who explained to me the general lie of the ground and our safest line of approach to the tapes. He gave me a Sapper subaltern to guide me.

As Kelly seemed to think 300 men were enough, I told Maxwell, who was commanding the detachment of the Jodhpur Lancers, to return to quarters. Maxwell objected on the score of disappointing his men. I therefore asked him to fall back to Croix Barbee and act as a support; thus forming, as diplomats say, a suitable ‘formula’ for satisfying both parties. I was particularly anxious to get quit of the Jodhpur Lancers, as Kelly had just told me that he had received a phone message to say that our troops were going to make an attack on the German trenches at 9.30 pm and that our work would be very ‘tricky’ as we would be under a hot fire. Again silence and smooth working was essential and, although I knew that I could depend on the Jodhpurs for reckless bravery, I was apprehensive of them giving us away at such, for them, an unusual occupation of digging trenches in the dark. It was blowing hard -half a gale and very wet and I felt certain the control by one British officer of these “Jo Hukums” would be impossible. However Maxwell assented to this proposal and I went off with ourselves and the 4th Cavalry

Finding the approach ditch ankle deep in mud however, I halted and told Farran I would take on the Poona Horse detachment and, as soon as we were in position, either come back myself or send a guide. I therefore put myself at the head of ‘D’, and young Simson and Dennis at the tail and went forward. After going about 250 yards, the Sapper guide indicated we must quit the trench and cross a piece of open ground often swept by fire. We scrambled out of our protecting trench and went forward. A few bullets ‘zipped’ by, but we soon arrived on the ground when, to my horror, I found that only Essa Khan’s troop had come up and that touch had been lost by the remainder. I wondered where they had blundered to. We were much too close to the enemy to shout. However I set Essa Khan’s troop to dig, with the injunction that the sooner they got cover the better.

I then got a guide from the Sapper subaltern to take me back to the trench as I felt certain that that was the point where connection had been broken. The guide promptly lost his way. Fortunately when going forward from the point where I quitted the trench, I had taken a star bearing just on the off-chance as the sky had cleared a bit. By now keeping this dead behind me I got back to the ditch where I found Simson and Dennis. I felt very angry with Simson, but he said I went too fast and they could not keep up impeded as they were with digging implements. Well, I started off again but now I was in a real quandary. The clouds had obscured my ‘guiding star’ and inky darkness prevailed. Even the direction of the wind, often a help, seemed all wrong. To make matters worse, a brisk fire opened and some bullets droned unpleasantly near. We lay down. I sent Simson ahead to see if he could find our working party of one troop but, of course, owing to the fire, they had ceased work and were lying down. Simson returned and said he could neither see nor hear anything. It seemed truly ridiculous that in a short advance of 300 yards or so one could get so much astray, but the darkness was inky. I then sent Dennis out to my right front (Simson having worked to my left) and after l5 minutes he returned with the news that some made unoccupied trenches were in front about 150 yards off. I moved into these trenches but I had not a notion where I was.

As soon as we were all in, I sent two squadron scouts with fixed bayonets each way along the trench to see what was on either side with orders not to go more than 200 yards and then to return. Those that went to the right soon returned to say that they had found my first troop, so I moved what I thought was the remainder over to the tapes and set them to work. Again I found only one troop had followed so back I went again and this time brought the whole lot along very slowly. I soon had them extended along the task and then went off to get the Sapper subaltern to give me a reliable guide back to the 4th Cavalry. It had taken me an hour and a half to bring my 150 men 500 yards and get them on to their task. It was now 7.00 pm and although I knew our men would be dug in by 9.30 pm, sufficiently to have ample cover, I was very apprehensive about the 4th Cavalry who also had to dig, in an even more exposed position than myself. I could not find the Sapper subaltern but found one of his N.C.O.s who told me his officer had gone back to fetch the 4th Cavalry. Shortly after this the 4th Cavalry rolled up with the Sapper subaltern.

I then mentioned to the latter about the impending attack and he seemed very much surprised and said he would never have asked fot a working party had he known of such an undertaking being planned for tonight. He added that we would find it very difficult to dig where we were owing to the immensely hot fire that the enemy would be sure to bring on the trenches 500 yards or so in from of us. Apparently all the bullets which missed our from trenches pitched all round where we were digging. This sounded immensely cheerful but, bar telling Simson and Dennis, I kept my mouth shut and merely told our fellows to dig like ‘hell’. And dig they did. I arranged with Farran to place his Sub-Assistant Surgeon in a central position for both working parties. Now and again a shell, friendly and hostile, screamed overhead.

About 8.00 pm the squelching rain ceased, the sky cleared, and the stars, came out. By 9.00 pm, I went along the trench and felt secure. The 4th Cavalry were not so fortunate, but were making good headway. At 9.30 pm sharp, our batteries gave tongue with a simultaneous crash – crash – crash – crash. In the twinkling of an eye, the entire place was like a Brock’s fireworks. I shouted to the men to down tools and lie prone. I do not think they required telling although I had never told them that an attack was coming off. Hundreds of star shells thrown up by the Germani made the place like daylight and suddenly five searchlights threw their beams on the scene. Two in particular swept over where we were digging, but not an eyebrow could be seen. Immediately following the crash of our guns, there was a momentary silence and then the crackle of thousands of rifles and rattle tattle of machine guns. The air simply droned with bullets and the spindrift of flying particles of earth raised by ricos soon filtered into one’s ears etc After about an hour this ‘liveliness’ died down and we started digging again. It was impossible to say if our little attack had been successful or not -probably it was not as they very rarely are.

At intervals, further bursts of fire broke out, and we had to suspend work several times but by 3.00 am, our Sapper officer passed us as finished and we retraced our steps by a fairly well-covered route. The 4th had not finished, but I saw no reason to stay any longer. We got horses at Croix Barbee and back to billets at 6.00 am, I am thankful to say without any casualties. I believe the 4th had two men hit as I heard the doctor being called for. Our men want a lot of practice at keeping in touch in the dark.

Saturday 14 November 1914 A quiet day. A rumour that the Germani have got Dixmude [Diksmuide]. Gray has gone sick. I thought he would; he has been looking very seedy.

Sunday 15 November 1914 A bitterly cold day and it started snowing at 9.00 am. I went out with Dennis to try and get cover for my horses. I had some trouble with the inhabitants but, as soon as they saw I meant business, I got what I wanted. I find Dennis quite an expert at handling these questions. He is full of tact. It is a case, however, of better us than the Germans. Poor old Bobs [is] gone. Like the good old soldier he was, he died on the battlefield. I fancy this foul weather was too much for him.

Monday 16 November 1914 Another inclement day. One has one’s work cut out to keep one’s men and horses fit. I wonder if the latter are worth all this trouble.

Tuesday 17 November 1914 Moved into new billets one mile south of Hinges. Quite comfortable but no cover for my horses. Saw Hudson, Willcock’s Chief of the Staff. He was most cheery and pleasant, but I think a trifle out of touch with some matters. We are quite close to the aerodrome and it is interesting seeing our aircraft coming and going.

Wednesday 18 November 1914 A hard frost and a pleasant change from the wet and slush. Rode into Bethune to do some shopping. Considering that this place is constantly shelled, I think the inhabitants behave with remarkable equanimity.

Thursday 19 November 1914 Prince Arthur of Connaught visited the Regiment. Trotting exercises. Began snowing heavily at 1.00 pm and my horses are all like polar bears. As my men all have comfortable barns to sleep in, I put their waterproof sheers over the horses

Friday 20 November 1914 A bright morning and the country wrapped in its snowy mantle. I found that the use of my waterproof sheets was apt to be expensive as several of the horses had eaten one another’s With these very short hay rations, I fancy the horses would eat anything. Took the men out for a good double. The frost shoes issued are much too large for our small horses. Apparently De Pass ordered this size without seeing if they fitted our horses. Very cold indeed all day and our men’s feet are showing signs of trouble in spite of all my care and forethought.

Saturday 21 November 1914 Twenty degrees of frost registered last night and the whole country frozen up.

Battle Artwork, Indian Corps in France, 1914-1915

The book with Roly’s diary1 includes photos (shown below) that convey some of the intensity of the action seen by the Indian Army Corps in France in 1914 and 1915. The lower figure is a drawing of the mounted Indian forces somewhere in France.

“The Bengal Lancers charging the German Cavalry near Ypres, October 1914.


“Indian troops charging the German trenches at Neuve Chapelle, March 1915.1

“Sir Pertab Singh leading the Jodhpur Lancers through a French village.1

Roly’s Life after the War

Roly’s battlefield injuries prevented his return to the frontlines, although he continued service during the war in command of a depot in India. His life after the war is described as follows in Wakefield and Weippert(p. 199, Epilogue):

After the war in 1919, ‘Roly’ Grimshaw married Dorothea Bromhead from a family long connected with India; they had a son Desmond and a daughter Kathleen. On retirement from the army in 1923, Major Grimshaw went to live at Malmesbury in Wiltshire where he rode with the Duke of Beaufott’s Hounds and got some polo. In his day he was one of the best polo players in his Regiment and reached a handicap of seven. For a time, he was one of the official polo umpires at the Ranelagh Club and was a judge of polo ponies for the National Pony Society.

Grimshaw’s earliest publication was Letters on Polo in India written for beginners in the game. Many of his articles and short stories appeared in the magazine The Polo Monthly and his novel Indian Whirlpools was published in 1929. He died in 1932, after a long illness, aged 52. Lieutenant General Sir James Willcocks, commanding the Indian Corps in France in 1914-15, described the British officers as the salt of the earth. ‘Roly’ Grimshaw was certainly one of them.

After the First World War, the 34th Poona Horse was amalgamated with the 33rd Cavalry, to be re-named the Poona Horse (17th Queen Victoria’s Own Cavalry). Since India gained her independence in 1947, the Poona Horse, like the many other Indian Cavalry regiments who served in France, has continued to flourish. The history and traditions of the past are a source of pride and the bonds of friendship between the former British Officers and the regiments of today are as strong as ever. Desmond was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in September 1939 and was killed in action in Tunisia in April 1943, while serving with the 1st Army.

Captain Roly Grimshaw evidently took a strong interest in polo before his death in 1932. Figure 5 shows a photo of Roly dressed for polo.

Figure 5. “Captain Grimshaw with one of his favourite polo ponies.1


1Wakefield, Col. J., and Lt. Col. J.M. Weippert, eds., 1986, Indian Cavalry Officer 1914-15 – Captain Roly Grimshaw:Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, D.J. Costello, 224 p.

2″India” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. topic?eu=121174&sctn=14 [Accessed 27 March 2001].

Webpage History

Webpage posted April 2001. Slightly upgraded July 2009 with addition of spaces and enlarging images. Banner replaced April 2011.