1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles

This article is about the 1st 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 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions and a series of articles to help you to research soldiers who served in the Indian Army during the war. To view the articles click on the links below:

The 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles in the First World War

Lineage: Raised at Almora in 1887 by Lieutenant Colonel E. P. Mainwaring as the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd (the Kamaon) Goorka Regiment. In 1890 it became the 39th (The Garhwali) Regiment of Bengal Infantry and in 1892 the 39th (The Garhwal Rifles) Regiment of Bengal Infantry. In 1901 it became the 39th Garhwal Rifles and in 1922 the 1st Battalion 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles.

Class Composition in 1914: 8 Companies of Garhwalis. 1919: 4 Companies of Garhwalis.

Location in July 1914: The 1st Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles was stationed at Lansdowne (Uttarakhand, India) having arrived from Kila Drosh (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) on 6th November 1906.

The 1st 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 outside of the Gurkhas which has two battalions. The Battalion was inspected by Major-General H. D’U. Keary, Commanding Garhwal Brigade for its confidential review report for 1913-14 who reported:

This battalion is not up to the standard of the 2nd Battalion. Drill is fairly good but manoeuvre is inclined to be sticky and study of the ground and use thereof require attention. Musketry is fair and shows improvement in fire discipline and control of fire is not good and general fire effect is poor. Bayonet fighting and general physical training is very good and signalling very satisfactory.

Arms, equipment and mobilisation stores, orders and documents in good order.

Interior economy is in a good state and health and discipline of the battalion is good. Due economy as regards clothing deductions, is practised.

Although not up to the standard of the 2nd Battalion, considerable progress was made in the right direction during the brigade training camp, and I did not notice, this year, any lack of interest and slackening off on the part of the men, though they went through an arduous course of training for nearly three months.

Fit for service.

Confidential review reports on Indian Army units for 1913-1914IOR/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 an officer’s surname recorded which Battalion of the Regiment they were serving in.

39th Garhwal Rifles British officers

The Battalion received orders to mobilize on 9 August 1914 and left India at Karachi (Sindh, Pakistan) on board Hired Transport Ekma on 21 September bound for France as part of Indian Expeditionary Force A. The Battalion disembarked at Marseilles, France on 14 October 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 2nd 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 Battalion set began to reorganize and recruit more men. The Battalion served at Lansdowneand Quetta before heading to Mesopotamia (Iraq) though I’m not sure the of the date they arrived. In 1922, the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles became the 1st Battalion 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles.

War Diaries of the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles

There are three war diaries for the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles and two have been digitized. To download these war diaries for a small fee click on the first and third blue links below which will take you to the National Archives’ website. The war diary covering the Battalion’s brief stay in Egypt can only be viewed at the National Archives. I have transcribed some entries from the war diaries at the bottom of the page.

  • Date: 09 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. Many British and Indian officers and mentioned by name throughout. There are a number of detailed accounts of the actions that the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles took part in throughout this war diary, some with sketch maps attached and a lot of appendices for the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. From April 1915 there is a single battalion of the 39th Garhwal Rifles due to the heavy casualties both Battalions had sustained. This war diary is typed.
  • 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 below.
  • Date: 01 August 1919 – 30 April 1920
  • 54th Indian Infantry Brigade, 18th Indian Division
  • Reference: WO 95/5227/8
  • Notes: A good war diary with a variety of appendices.

Further Sources of the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles

If you are researching a British or Indian officer who served with the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles then the Indian Army List should be consulted. A good resource for the Battalion is its annual confidential reports held at the British Library: Confidential Reports on Regiments etcThese reports also contain the annual confidential reports of the British officers serving with it. Though, when the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles was abroad only its Depot and the officers serving with it are 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 date, a list of British officers and the Battles they were present at in 1914-15.


Extracts from War Diaries of the 1st Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles 

01 August 1914 – 30 November 1915, France, WO 95/3945/3

06 September 1914 – The fever resulting from our ten days halt at Kotdwara, which is an extremely malarious place at this time of year is beginning to come out.

07 September 1914 – Several more men are down with fever, a large proportion, however, of the cases are slight, and the sea voyage will make the men that have got fever quite fit again. If possible no troops should Camp at Kotdwara during the rainy season.

10 September 1914 – The men now sleep and cook in sheds near the ship on the wharf. The animals also were disembarked yesterday. Though in our Embarkation return we pointed out that the men are meat eaters, no meat ration has been provided for them. No lime juice has been provided by the authorities. We have, however, provided some Regimentally.

30 October 1914 – All trenches were occupied by 5.30 am – the enemy making 2 ? attacks. The first one a very severe one, while relief was being carried out. There was a heavy downpour of rain during the darkness and the trenches were consequently rendered very uncomfortable and men got chilled.

02 November 1914 – All companies employed in improving trenches and making comfortable places lined with straw for men to rest in. There was practically no shelling during the day. Casualties: 1 Killed, 4 Wounded.

04 November 1914 – A party o scouts sent out y Captain Lumb were charged by a large party of the enemy who succeeded in reaching the gap on B company’s left. Captain Lumb withdraw a section from B Company under Jemadar Ajit Sing Rawat who charged the Germans who immediately fled. This part of Germans was about 80 strong and could easily have rolled up Captain Lumb’s flank has they pressed the attack but the prompt action of Captain Lumb and later of Ajit Sing put an end to any further offensives action, and showed that the Germans were not keen to meet the bayonet. Casualties: 4 Wounded.

01 January – 31 March 1916, Suez Canal Defences, WO95/4426

03 January 1916 – Ismailia – Canal Defences, No. 2 Section – Lieutenant Fisher of 2/3rd [Gurkha Rifles], who was on board S.S. Persia and among those saved wired that both Captains Lyell and Berryman of ours were saved, but little hope of poor Colonel Swiney and Captain Lodwick, which is very sad.

01 January – 17 March 1916 – Suez Canal Defences – WO95/4426

17 March 1916 – Lansdowne – Once more in the old station. The Battalion left at 7.30 am, the transport having been sent on ahead. It was very hot and dusty.

Dura village 2 1/2 miles from Lansdowne was reached at 10.30 am and here we found our Garhwali Officers ready to welcome us. The place was decorated with flags and archways, and the 2/3rd Gurkhas were in force with refreshments for the men. Colonel Sweet commanding 2/8th Gurkhas kindly had tea and light refreshments sent down for the British officers. Where the road leads off to the 2/3rd and 2/8th Gurkha Lines, the regiment was met by Colonel Sweet Commanding the Station and the road was lined by the 2/8th and 2/10th Gurkhas and cheers were given as we passed.

On nearing the Sadar Bazaar, through which the route lay to the regimental parade ground Mr Clay C.S., Deputy Commissioner of Garhwal, O.C. Depot and Mr Barker Asst. Commissioner met us and marched back to the parade ground.

The Sadar Bazaar was gaily decorated with flags and archways and rose leaves and rhododendron flowers were strewed in the way. The whole route from the bazaar to parade ground was gaily decorated and ? by recruits of both depots and all the ladies of the station were collected in a shamiana tent to welcome us.

On arrival on the parade ground the 2 Battalions were separated. British and Garhwali Officers fallen out and an address was presented and read by the Committees of the local King George School in English and Hindi. Lieutenant Colonel Drake Brockman, C.M.G., replied briefly thanking them on behalf of the whole regiment for their kind address and welcome.

The Battalions then marched to their respective lines played off by the combined bands of all the regiments. Light refreshments were served in the shamiana tent and an adjournment was made to the Mess of the Garhwal Rifles for lunch after which the proceedings terminated.

Thus after an absence of 1 year and 5 1/2 months of real hard service, the regiment once more settled down [to a] peace routine.

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