Royal Irish Rifles volunteer to fight bubonic plague, India.

Tuesday, 9 March, 1897 - Thursday, 20 May, 1897

The 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles was stationed at Poona when a very serious outbreak of bubonic plague took place throughout the Bombay districts in 1896-97. There were many deaths, especially amongst the Indian populations of the towns and villages. The service of British and Indian regiments was placed at the disposal of the civil authorities by Lieutenant General Sir Charles Nairne KCB, Commanding the Forces, Bombay, to assist in the eradication of the epidemic. In response to the call for volunteers, 200 were called for from 2 RIR and 500 men immediately volunteered for this dangerous and unpleasant duty. Finally, 135 non-commissioned officers and men were selected with five officers. They remained on duty from 9 March until 20 May 1897 and the phrase 'on duty' could indicate that few were actually deployed.

The fact that few Riflemen, if any, may have deployed can be explained by the sensitivities of the local situation. There was a preference, by the civil authorities, for the employment of Indian troops as the British soldier was not familiar with either the language or culture of the Hindu and Muslim communities. Large numbers of small disinfecting detachments of three or four men were expected to work across a wide area of the villages and towns, and even in Bombay city itself. Search groups seeking diseased individuals was a particularly sensitive issue as they entered private dwellings. There were altogether three attacks on British troops with no losses whereas the Indian units suffered 14 attacks resulting in 11 deaths. These figures were explained by the low numbers of British troops actually deployed.