This article is about the 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles and will help you to research the Battalion and those who served with it during the First World War. I have written separate articles for the 1st, 3rd and 4th Battalions and a series of guides to help you to research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war:
- 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles
- 3rd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles
- 4th Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles
- Guides to researching soldiers who served in the Indian Army
2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles in the First World War
Lineage: The 2nd Battalion was raised by Lieutenant Colonel J. T. Evatt D.S.O. as the 49th (Garhwal Rifle) Regiment of Bengal Infantry in 1901, then the 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles in November 1901 and the 2nd Battalion 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles in 1922. For a history of the Regiment’s lineage see my page on the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles.
Class Composition in 1914: 8 Companies of Garhwalis. 1919: 4 Companies of Garhwalis.
Location in July 1914: The 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles was stationed at Lansdowne (Uttarakhand, India) having arrived from Kila Drosh (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) on 17th November 1907.
The 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles was stationed at Lansdowne when the First World War began in August 1914. The 39th Garhwal Rifles was the only Indian infantry regiment apart from the Gurkhas which has more than one battalion prior to August 1914. The Battalion was inspected by Major-General H. D’U. Keary, Commanding Garhwal Brigade for its confidential review report for 1913-14 who reported:
A very marked advance has been made in the training and instruction of the battalion and it is now in very good order. Drill is satisfactory; manoeuvre is very good; musketry in the field has been well worked up and fire discipline and control are well observed. Musketry on the range shows a satisfactory improvement and bayonet fighting and physical training is well looked after. Arms, equipment and stores are complete and in good order.
Interior economy is in all respects satisfactory, discipline is very good, clothing in good order and due economy is practised with regard to clothing deductions.
The general condition of the battalion is excellent and it is fit for war service.
Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914: IOR/L/MIL/7/17023
The extract below was taken from the October 1914 Indian Army List and recorded the British officers serving with the 39th Garhwal Rifles. The number to the left of the officer’s surname recorded which Battalion of the Regiment they were serving in. The Indian Army List is a very useful resource to use when researching both Regiments and officers of the Indian Army and I have a guide to help you decipher its jargon: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.
The Battalion received orders to mobilize shortly after the outbreak of war and left Lansdowne on 21 August. The Battalion left India at Kiamari Docks (Karachi, Pakistan) on board SS Coconada bound for France on 21 September as part of Indian Expeditionary Force A. The Battalion arrived in France as part of the Garhwal Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Division on 13 October. The Battalion suffered such heavy casualties during its service on the Western Front that it was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles on 30 March 1915 after the Battle of Neuve Chapelle to form the Garhwal Rifles. The Garhwal Rifles was withdrawn to Egypt in November 1915 where it helped to defend the Suez Canal.
The amalgamated Regiment’s stay in Egypt was brief as it was withdrawn to India on board SS Muttra on 28 February 1916. The Garhwal Rifles arrived at Bombay on 11 March and moved to Lansdowne where the Garhwal Rifles separated into the 1st and 2nd Battalions. Once back in Lansdowne, the Battalions set about returning to strength and training new recruits. In March 1917, the 2nd Battalion moved to Mesopotamia (Iraq) where it joined the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, 15th Indian Division. In September 1918, the Battalion proceeded to the Salonika Front, then after the war to Turkey and did not return to India until November 1920. In 1922, the 2nd Battalion Garhwal Rifles became the 2nd Battalion 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles.
War Diaries of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles
There are six war diaries for the 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles and two covering the Battalion’s service on the Western Front and Mesopotamia have been digitized. The rest of the war diaries can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have transcribed some entries at the bottom of the page.
- Date: 21 August 1914 – 30 November 1915
- Garhwal Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Division, France
- Reference: WO 95/3945/3
- Notes: An excellent war diary which has been digitized and is available to download from the National Archives’ website which also contains the 1st Battalion’s diary. A large proportion of the war diary is typed and there is plenty of British and Indian officers mentioned throughout. There is also a detailed report by Lieutenant Colonel Drake-Brockman on the ‘part played by my Battalion in the attack on Neuve Chapelle on the 10th instant [March 1915] and in subsequent operations. In March 1915 the two battalion of the 39th Garhwal Rifles were combined due to the heavy casualties they had sustained.
- Date: 01 January – 17 March 1916
- 20th Indian Infantry Brigade, Suez Canal Defences
- Reference: WO 95/4426
- Notes: A good, detailed war diary which is typed. See the transcription of the welcome the Battalion received when they arrived at Lansdowne in March 1916 on the 1st Battalion Garhwal Rifles‘ page.
- Date: 01 March 1917 – 30 September 1918
- 12th Indian Infantry Brigade, 15th Indian Division
- Reference: WO 95/5194/1
- Notes: This war diary has been digitized and is available to download from the National Archives’ website.
- Date: 01 October 1918 – 30 March 1919
- 84th Infantry Brigade, 28th Division
- Reference: WO 95/4919
- Notes: A good, detailed war diary which has been typed. The entries are far longer than is typically found in post-war diaries. There are nominal rolls of British officers serving with the Battalion each month.
- Date: 01 April – 30 November 1919
- 85th Infantry Brigade, 28th Division
- Reference: WO 95/4922
- Notes: A typed war diary with slightly longer entries than average for this period. There are nominal rolls of British officers serving with the 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles at the end of each month.
- Date: 01 December 1921 – 28 February 1922
- Waziristan Force: 9th Indian Infantry Brigade
- Reference: WO 95/5400
- Notes: A good typed war diary. There are nominal rolls of officers present with the 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles on 31 December 1921, 31 January and 29 February 1922. Also, an appendix titled “Resume of works in camp and permanent piquets completed during January”.
Further Sources for the 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles
If you are researching a British or Indian officer who served with the 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles then the Indian Army List should be consulted. I would also recommend looking at the confidential reports for the Battalion which are held at the British Library in London: Confidential Reports on Regiments etc. These reports also contain the annual reports of British officers serving with the Battalion. However, when the Battalion was abroad only its Depot and the British officers who were serving with it were reported on.
A book I would recommend for learning more about both the 1st and 2nd Battalions is: With the Royal Garhwal Rifles in the Great War, from August 1914 to November 1917 by D. H. Drake-Brockman. This book was reprinted by the Naval & Military Press in 2007 and can easily be found online. The book is a memoir by an officer who served with the Regiment during the First World War and is very detailed and readable. Of interest is Drake-Brockman’s description of the Regimental Depot during the war. This book contains a lot of detailed appendices, including a list of honours and rewards with London Gazette dates, a list of British officers and the battles they were present at in 1914-15.
Extracts from the War Diaries of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles
21 August 1914 – 30 November 1915, France, WO 95/3945/3
24 November 1914 – Billets La Couture – A milder morning, and a thaw settling in. Double Companies and Machines Guns out for a short route march to keep men and animals fit. Opened up warm clothing, but found it all too small in chest and waist measurements, being only 34″-35″ chest, and 32″-33″ waist, and it would be quite impossible for men to wear those coats over all their warm clothing. It was therefore all repacked and returned to store.
25 November 1914 – Billets La Couture and in the trenches – Festubert -… The trenches were very bad ones, being very wide and certainly untenable under shrapnel fire. They were constantly crumbling away and needed constant revelting with sandbags. Also the whole line of trenches occupied by the Battalion was one huge grave, a large number of corpses having been buried actually in the trenches and parapet by former occupants of the line.
There were also a large number of dead lying close to the trench, both behind and in front, the result of fighting round this trench on November 23rd, when frontal attacks had been made on it unsuccessfully in an endeavor to re-capture it from the Germans, and the night of the 23rd/34th when it was recaptured by the 1/39th G.
It was impossible to do anything to improve the trenches, all that could be done was to patch up bad placed with sandbags. The trenches were full of abandoned German equipment, ammunition, and rifles and a large number of the latter being collected and sent to the ordnance depot for disposal.
01 December 1921 – 28 February 1922, Waziristan Force, WO95/5400
31 December 1921 – Sararogha – Ladha – Distance 14 Miles – The morning was very cold and owing to this and the difficulty of tying loads on camels with frozen fingers the Battalion did not march until 09.00 hours. The same formation was adopted as the previous day. After passing Piaza, news was received that the Oak Tree Nullah was being sniped. The Battalion doubled across in single file. No further sniping was experienced. 3The Battalion arrived at Ladha at 14.30 hours and marched straight into a standing camp except A. and H.Q. companies who had to pitch a temporary camp owing to lack of space.
11 January 1922 – Camp Ladha – Observed as holiday, special permission having been obtained from Brigade. The convoy, which was under Khassadar escort, was fired on this afternoon, 2 shots being fired and one camel killed. A patrol from Parasol permanent piquet under Jemadar Ajab Sing Gariya (B Company) left their piquet and advanced towards Oak Tree hill, where they observed the enemy and fired some 15 rounds of Lewis Gun fire after them, causing no casualties. The action of this piquet was commended by the Brigade Commander.