Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Reincarnation of the Calcutta Light Horse, A.F.(I.)

Having retired after the nominal twenty years plus in the U.S. Naval Reserve, a group of us who had become close friends over the years, decided to have small reunions on a fairly regular basis. In order to provide some identity to the group, and after a reasonable amount of research, we decided to commemorate and reincarnate in obviously smaller numbers, the Calcutta Light Horse, an Auxiliary Force (India) regiment of the British Indian Army.

Several of us remembered having seen a 1980 movie, ‘Sea Wolves (the Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse)’ starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore, with Trevor Howard and Patrick MacNee. Since last having members serve in the Boer War and World War I, the regiment had been more analogous to a British gentlemen’s private club than an active military unit. As an adjunct for movie buffs the following is a correlation of the actual personnel from the regiment participating in the action, and the cast of the movie.

Although there were weekly meetings and annual exercises, it wasn’t until well after the start of World War II that this group of middle-aged jute merchants, accountants, solicitors, engineers and stock brokers were able to prove their mettle, and uphold the finest traditions of the regiment in a highly classified combat engagement. Their clandestine action occurred under the command and planning of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

In the original regimental history, ‘CALCUTTA LIGHT HORSE A.F.(I.) 1759 –1881 – 1947, published in 1957 by a committee of the Regiment, there appears‘The Unwritten Chapter’. As part of my personal research the following is an addendum to that chapter:

The field service solar topee of the Calcutta Light Horse
between a South African Forces solar topee and a replica
of the full dress turban of the 2nd Punjab Regiment 

Those with the knowledge and sharp eye of a regimental sergeant-major will pick-up on a detail, which until very recently I was not aware of. The regimental pagri badge should be on the other side of the topee, and have the red stripe forward. Needless to say it has already been corrected. Am extremely envious of the purchaser of the following regimental pith helmet, that was recently for sale for a very short time on a militaria site on the Internet.

The ships involved in the action by Creek Force are shown in the following contemporary photographs.

With the partition of India in 1947 the disbandment of the entire Auxiliary Force, including the regiment, took place. Here is one of the last known photographs of the Officers of the Regiment and of Colonel W. H. Grice, ADC, ED., the last Commanding Officer.

The Officers of the Regiment approximately a year after the
highly successful clandestine attack on German ships in
Marmagoa, Goa harbor in March 1943

Colonel William H. Grice, ADC, ED, Commanding Officer,
Calcutta Light Horse, who directly participated in the attack
Following is a recently published photograph of a contingent of the Calcutta Light Horse on training exercise in Belgaum in 1940, with acknowledgement and gratitude to FIBIS (Families in British India Society). By sheer "coincidence", perhaps? Belgaum is near the west coast of India, strategically located near then Portuguese Goa, and was a major British Army Training Center and cantonment. It continues in use today by the Indian Armed Forces.

Our ranks were very similar in civilian professions to that of the ranks of the Calcutta Light Horse, with the exception of not having any jute merchants. In addition we had a few classified missions to our credit, albeit non-combat in nature. Suffices to say that even our correct regimental ties and blue blazers with regimental crest, were still no match to the colonel’s resplendent full dress uniform. Unfortunately, like our hair, the ranks are thinning, since the following photograph was taken we have lost three members and a fourth is in hospice.

Current members of the Calcutta Light Horse in regimental
mufti with faces obscured SAS fashion for "security reasons"

Officer's Cap Badge of the Calcutta Light Horse as can be
seen on Col. Grice's full dress solar helmet above

Reverse of same cap badge

Calcutta Light Horse regimental blazer badge

Regimental tie of the Calcutta Light Horse A.F.(I.)

In order to provide some semblance of legitimacy to our organization, all members were presented with an honorary commission. Intentionally undersized, when compared with the genuine article, but in all other aspects it was an authentic facsimile, including the signature of the King (Edward VIII), and countersigned for the Imperial General Staff by then Colonel (Later Field Marshal) William J. Slim.

Intentionally undersized facsimile honorary commission
as a Colonel in the Calcutta Light Horse

The following photograph is of The “Hollywood” Light Horse. Male members of the cast of “Sea Wolves” (The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse) on location in either Goa or India. In the front row (third in from left) Trevor Howard, then starting (fifth in from left), David Niven, Roger Moore and Gregory Peck. In the second row (second in from left) Patrick MacNee.

The following are a few excerpts from the movie, The Sea Wolves (The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse), released in 1980, two years after their WWII mission had been declassified in 1978 under the provisions of the British Official Secrets Act.


There is a very interesting coincidence (limited research indicates only that) which has recently come to this author's attention regarding the Calcutta Light Horse. One of the commanding officers of the regiment was LCol Archie Pugh CBE (1871 - 1923) during the period from 1912 -1923. As the reader may recall it was LCol Lewis Pugh (later MGen Lewis H. O. Pugh CB, CBE, DSO(w 2 bars) 1907-1981) who conceived of the operation, and was present in its execution.

LCol Archie Pugh CBE, OC,
Calcutta Light Horse, 1912 -1923

MGen Lewis H.O. Pugh CB, CBE, DSO
w/2 bars


Warrior said...

Dear Jim,

As a serving soldier in the British Army may I just say what a fantastic idea it is of yours to breathe life into an old Regiment. I also have a great attachment to the Light Horse in that my Great uncle Tpr Devine served within the ranks. I am currently in the process of writing a book detailing the history of the Regiment, and would welcome any comments or stories you may wish to share.

If you wish to get in touch my e-mail is;

Best wishes


Charles Home said...

I second Mike's view. I wish I could join! My grandfather, John Norval Home, was in the CLH in about 1916 during his time in Calcutta working as a .... you've guessed it .... jute (gunny) broker! I would love to know more about this period of the regiment.
Incidentally he died of TB, back in the UK five years later, three months after his son, my father, was born.
Best regards

Anonymous said...

I play Battlefield 3, and my squad is called the CLH (Culcutta Light Horse).

I would recommend the book "Boarding Party: The Last Action of the Calcutta Light Horse", written by James Leasor. Really in depth and explains the famous raid, and background into the CLH.

All the best.

TJMacwilkin said...

Back in 1982, a group of fellow Anglophiles and ex-squaddies in Springfield, Missouri had a similar idea after viewing "The Sea Wolves" and formed the "Royal Colonial Light Horse Brigade", a chum-and-chowder society in the spirit of the "Calcutta Tight Horse". I'm proud to say I received my "commission" in 1992, and I would be happy to send a picture of it for your perusal. The RCLH is still around, but many of its original members have went to their last parade now.

I've been interested for sometime in the CLH's sister regiment, the Calcutta Scottish.

Todd said...

Just to follow up on my post from last year, I would love to visit with you regarding your reincarnation of the CLH.

Anonymous said...

I am so delighted that I am now part of the Calcutta Light Horse Regiment, which has reincarnated in Regina, Saskatchewan Canada. We meet regularly. There is lots of passion. This is reviving great memories for me as I grew up on airbases during the Second World War. Another glorious legend is in the making.

John said...

I am fascinated by this operation. In Particular W. H. Grice. Has anyone found additional bio information or his resting place? David Niven who portrayed him in the movie, was also quite the soldier.

I think it is a wonderful tribute to honor these men. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

'Prove their meddle' should be 'prove their mettle.' There is one incorrect spelling of 'topee' as toppee.'

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Anonymous,
Thank you for pointing out a long standing pair of "oops". Both items have been corrected. Wish I had you as an editor/proofreader.

MrC said...

Jim, interested to see you reincarnating the CLH. For many years I've had an interest in the CLH, as my grandfather was a member. He was Major F Coster and is shown in your photograph at the top of this page. Family history always maintains that as he was a serving regular army officer on attachment to an Auxiliary Regiment, he could not participate in the raid on Goa but as Adjutant, he was certainly involved in the planning of the operation.

I'm always on the look out for more information and collectibles from the CLH and one day I hope I will get a blog or web page together to display my collection!

Please feel free to contact me at

Anonymous said...


My surname is the same as one of the main officers involved in the mission. My late Father who served in a similar sort of activity during WW2 told me that we may be related to the person involved. Are you able to advise me as to how I can find out more about him as there appears to be very little on the internet.

Arnhemjim said...

Hello Anonymous,
Unfortunately I don't know of another source other than the book "Boarding Party" by J. Leasor, Naval Institute Press, 1995.

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