Infantry & Artillery of the Lahore Kingdom

The use of helmets among the army of the Sikh Kingdom of Lahore seems to have been confined to units of the cavalry. Units of the infantry wore turbans rather than helmets and a number of early eyewitness accounts bear this out:

22nd June. - Went to the parade ground soon after sunrise; Runjeet came to meet us on his elephant about a mile from it, and we accompanied him to the right of his line of infantry. It consisted of about twelve thousand men, and reached to the city gates, about two miles. I never saw so straight or beautiful a line with any troops. They were all dressed in white with black cross belts, and either a red or yellow silk turban; armed with muskets and bayonets of excellent manufacture, from Runjeet's foundry at Lahore. (Osborne, 1840) [1]


Turbaned Sikh infantry soldier ca. 1840

The only essential difference between the costume of the troops of Runjeet-Singh and those of France is, that the former still wear the turban, with their long hair interlaced with folds of cachmire. The men pride themselves upon their hair; they connect with it the idea of strength and power. (Interview with General Allard, 1838) [2]

The regular infantry, composed of tall, long-legged men, capable of enduring great fatigue and long forced marches, is commanded by General Ventura; they are armed with firelocks and bayonets (of Lahore manufacture). Their uniform is after the French fashion, scarlet coaties, with green lapells, and worsted epaulets, black belts, tight breeches, and gaiters buttoned to the knee. The head-dress is a turban, as nothing could overcome the prejudice against a hat or cap. (Asiatic Journal, 1839) [3]

The Sikh Sepahis do not wear gaiters ; and instead of a cap or helmet of any sort, a red cloth is rolled up, and twisted through and over their hair, so as to form a turban, for the Sikhs do not shave the head like the Hindus, and when seen on parade at some little distance, they are scarcely to be distinguished from the Company's troops. (Vigne, 1840) [4]

The first grand review of the whole of Runjeet's regulars assembled at Lahore. We found them, on coming to the ground, drawn up in line, extending two miles on the banks of the river, consisting of twenty-eight battalions of infantry and six of cavalry; altogether about 18,000 men, exceedingly well clothed, and armed in the European fashion, with the exception of the cap, the aversion to which Runjeet has never been yet able entirely to overcome in his army: red turbans being substituted for the shako [a tall, cylindrical military cap], which I am not at all sure is not an improvement, for a more villanous head-dress than the present shako never was invented. (Fane, 1842) [5]


Military Manual of Ranjit Singh

‘however, the more closely-fitting dress of an officer belonging to one of the Maharajah's regiments pointed out that European customs had been adopted to some extent, but the existing head-dress of crimson or other bright coloured silk still attests the unwillingness of the Sikh soldier to wear the chako’ (Barr, 1844) [6]

The regiments are indiscrimininately filled with Mussulmans and Sikhs, and wear for head-dress the pagri of the Punjab, each regiment adopting a distinguishing colour, as red, blue, green, &c. In other respects they are clothed similarly to the native troops in the British Indian service. [7]

Like the infantry of the Lahore Kingdom, units of the artillery also did not wear helmets. William Barr provided the following description of Sikh artillery attached to General Court’s brigade:

The men dress something like our own horse artillery, except that, instead of helmets, they wear red turbans, (the jemadars or officers' being of silk,) which hang down so as to cover the back part of the neck; white trowsers, with long boots; black waist and cross belts; and black leather scabbard with brass ornaments. (Barr, 1844) [8]

Footnotes

1. W. G. Osborne, The Court and Camp of Runjeet Sing (London: 1840), 154-155

2. "Runjeet Singh, Chief of Lahore. No. II", The Saturday Magazine, No. 384, June 30, 1838, 248

3. "The Kingdom of the Sikhs", The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, Vol. XXVIII, Jan-Apr, 1839, 90

4. G. T. Vigne, A Personal Narrative of a Visit to Ghuzni, Kabul, and Afghanistan (London: 1840), 295

5. Henry Edward Fane, Five Years in India, Volume I (London: 1842), 159-160

6. William Barr, Journal of a March from Delhi to Peshawur (London: 1844) 112

7. Charles Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, The Panjab, & Kalat, Volume I (London: 1844), 432

8. William Barr, 260