Queen’s left China for India in November 1934. They received,
fittingly, after a highly successful tour, a splendid send-off.
As they marched to the station at Tientsin they encountered an
illuminated message on one building saying “Bon Voyage to
the Queen’s” and at the station large crowds of friends
made entrainment extremely difficult. The voyage was uneventful.
At Hong Kong seventy-six members of the Battalion departed for
England and a further 120 left at Karachi, but the numbers were
made up by a reinforcement draft shortly after reaching Quetta.
The battalion arrived at their new station a week before Christmas
after thirty-six hours in the train, the latter part through snow-clad
Quetta is nearly six thousand feet above sea level and bitterly
cold in winter. The train journey from Karachi involved crossing
the Sind Desert and climbing the famous Bolan Pass which had tested
the old Queen’s Royals so hard almost a hundred years previously
at the beginning of the First Afghan War. The Battalion was now
part of a large garrison comprising every branch of the British
and Indian Armies and a large RAF detachment. Mess staffs set
about making the somewhat barren messes and canteen more homely.
There were numerous football and hockey grounds and the battalion
football eleven soon made a name for itself by winning the Baluchistan
District Championship. The polo club set about acquiring new ponies.
With spring came the fruit blossom for which the area was well
known, and things looked much more cheerful.
31st May 1935 at 3.40 am in the early morning the city of Quetta
and the countryside for 100 miles to the south-west including
the town of Khelat were devastated by a severe earthquake which
lasted three minutes. There was another severe shock on 2nd June.
An official Government communique issued on that day from Simla
“1. The whole city of Quetta is destroyed and being sealed
under military guard from 2nd June with medical advice. It is
estimated that 20,000 corpses remain buried under the debris.
There is no hope of rescuing any more persons alive. The corpses
extracted and buried number several thousand. There are about
10,000 Indian survivors including 4,000 injured.
2. All houses in the civil area are razed to the ground exceptGovernment
House, which is partially standing but in ruins. The church and
club are both in ruins, also the Murree Brewery.
3. One quarter of the cantonment area is destroyed, theremaining
three quarters slightly damaged, but inhabitable. Most of the
damage was done in the RAF area where the barracks were destroyed,
and only six out of the twenty-seven machines are serviceable.
4. The railway area is destroyed.
5. Hanna Road and the Staff College are undamaged.
6. Surrounding villages are destroyed with, it is feared, veryheavy
casualties. The number is not yet ascertainable. Military parties
are being sent out to investigate and render help.
7. Outlying districts, as already reported from Khelat andMastung,
are reported to have been razed to the ground with heavy casualties.
All the villages between Quetta and Khelat are also reported to
have been destroyed”.
local newspaper headline announced “Terrible Disaster in
Quetta - Staff College unharmed”.
At the time when the earthquake occurred 1st Queen’s were
returning from night operations and were marching along a main
road. Had it not been for the darkness the Battalion must have
presented an extraordinary sight for it was almost impossible
to stand up and most of the troops either sat or fell down. One
officer described how as he was lying prostrate a large chasm
opened in the earth within reach of his hand, and then slowly
closed again. Within a minute, however, the battalion had recovered
and resumed the march. No one realised the seriousness of the
situation until after they had reached barracks at about 6.30
am and dismissed for breakfast and bed, having marched eighteen
miles during the night. The barracks were more or less intact
although the ammunition depot at which the Battalion found a guard
was in ruins, luckily without serious injury to the guard. At
7.30 a staff officer arrived from the Western Command Headquarters
to describe the situation and obtain help. When the magnitude
of the disaster was realised every available man was despatched
to the city.
There follows a description of the first three days taken from
the Regimental Journal of November 1935:
is not possible to describe the state of the city when the battalion
first saw it. It was completely razed to the ground. Corpses were
lying everywhere in the hot sun and every available vehicle in
Quetta was being used for the transportation of injured.
The area allotted to the battalion was the Civil Lines, which
included the Residency, the post office, the civil hospital and
the western end of the city. Companies were given areas in which
to clear the dead and injured. Battalion Headquarters were established
at the Residency. Hardly had we commenced our work than we were
called upon to supply a party of fifty men, which were later increased
to a hundred, to dig graves in the cemetery.
The system was to search methodically from house to house looking
for the injured and the dead. The injured were removed to the
hospitals and the dead were laid out on the side of the road and
collected in A.T. carts.
and Anglo-Indians, some unidentified, were taken to the British
cemetery, put into trenches dug by our men, and covered over quickly
whilst the Padre read the Burial Service. Indians were removed
in the same way and taken to a burial ground outside Quetta. Rescue
work went on steadily throughout the day. At 8 pm we stopped.
It was impossible to dig in the dark and there were no lights;
furthermore, the men were exhausted, added to which they had had
practically nothing to eat.
The next day, The Glorious First of June - the Battalion marched
at daybreak to the city. That was to be our area for the day.
It seemed a hopeless task - nothing but a pile of bricks. Dead
were lying everywhere. Squatting all over the place were survivors,
each in turn begging us to search this and that house for their
relatives and belongings. But we had all learnt a lesson from
the previous day. No longer were we going to dig for dead under
the houses, but only for the living. The previous day much precious
time had been wasted by digging for dead and carting them away.
This time we were going to look for the living and leave the dead.
This was easier said than done, for in looking for the living
we came across the dead; they had to be buried at once, for already
the city was beginning to smell terribly.
In our search we could be guided only by faint cries or by relatives
who said that they had heard cries during the night. Frequently
we brought men, women and children out alive; others were dead
when we reached them; some were unfortunately killed by the digging
causing a further fall of masonry. Some of those who had been
buried crawled out quite unhurt; others were so crippled as to
be unable to move.
Owing to the narrow streets being full of bricks and rubble it
was impossible to get ambulances up, and the men had long journeys
carrying the injured over piles of bricks to the nearest point
where ambulances could collect.
Long before the evening the men were dead beat. It was a very
hot day, the digging and burying had been terrific and the smell
was hourly becoming worse. The pitiful requests of the survivors
- who would do nothing to help themselves - and the sight of the
dead bodies added to the strain. There was still a party at the
cemetery burying Christians - Mohammedans were taken out to their
burial place by cart and the Hindus burned their dead at any convenient
On the third day the Battalion continued working in the city.
In the morning we were still digging out live people but they
were fewer than before. The men had to work with medicated pads
over their mouths and noses owing to the danger of disease from
dead bodies. The chief job, however, was moving the survivors
from the city. A big refugee camp had been opened up for them
on the racecourse, tentage was supplied and water and food provided.
Families were put into lorries by the men -whether they liked
it or not - and taken to the racecourse.
the evening it was apparent that even if anyone was still alive
they would never be found. Practically every survivor had been
evacuated to the refugee camp and the city was empty except for
military patrols. In the morning one party from the West Yorkshire
Regiment heard faint cries and dug furiously for hours. At last
they came to an opening and looked in - to find a cat and five
Not the least of our troubles was the question of what to do with
the animals. The city was full of cows and water-buffaloes, and
most of them had calves. The injured were shot on the spot, which
only added to the smell.
On 3rd June - that is to say the fourth day - the city was sealed.
By that it is meant that no one was allowed in the city, except
on duty. A cordon of soldiers surrounded the area, and for the
next two days patrols were sent through the city clearing out
anyone seen and shooting stray animals. Since then the city has
been closed by barbed wire entanglements, patrolled day and night
by soldiers at first, and now by the North West Frontier Police.
During the first day or two, when everything was disorganised,
the riff-raff in the neighbourhood, and from as far as forty miles
away, came to Quetta. They knew that beneath all those bricks
thousands and thousands of rupees and valuables were buried; for
although a few shopkeepers put their money in the bank the large
majority kept it in a box under the bed.
Martial law was declared, which meant looters could be shot on
sight, and the 16th Cavalry were posted on the outskirts of Quetta
to stop them coming in, but it was quite impossible to prevent
them all and very often tribesmen were caught looting. They were
tied to railings in the most uncomfortable position possible.
There they were left in the hot sun all day, and in the evening
given twelve across the behind and released. It was quite an unpleasant
There was still much to do. By 12th June all British women and
children were evacuated besides thousands of refugees and over
ten thousand injured, some by air but nearly all over the single
railway line. Rations had to be provided for everyone, British
and Indian, and thousands of horses and mules had to be foraged.
Tents arrived from all over India and had to be put up, barbed
wire fences had to be erected around valuable stores and ammunition,
refugees had to be controlled and prevented from getting out of
hand. Later, Wana huts had to be built and the remaining barracks
made more earthquake proof.
The Battalion subsequently received a certificate from the Viceroy
of India recording the thanks of the Government of India for their
share in the work of rescue and succour “which saved so
many lives and mitigated so much suffering”, and two soldiers
of the battalion, Lance Corporal G. Henshaw and Private A. Brook
were awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal which was later converted
to the George Cross by command of King George VI.
Work on reconstruction continued almost continuously into the
autumn. Conditions gradually settled down and a pleasant break
was provided during the winter for all ranks by a month’s
holiday in Karachi where the comparative civilisation, the warm
weather and the bathing, sailing and fishing were much enjoyed.
In 1936 the battalion reverted to normal training, and in October
they moved to Allahabad. The Regimental History records that “They
were especially sorry to leave the Indian battalions of the brigade,
the 2/11th Sikhs, 4/19th Hyderabad Regiment and the 2/8th Gurkha
Rifles, who had filled them with great respect for the Indian