Garhwali soldiers on the Western Front - IWC
Gabar Singh Negi of the Garhwali community was born at Manjood village near Chamba, Tehri Garhwal district, Uttarakhand India. He joined 'The Garhwal Rifles' in October 1913. On 10th March 1915, during the First World War, he was 19 years old and a Rifleman in the 2/39th Garhwal Rifles, Indian Army, when he was awarded the highest gallantry award at Neuve Chapelle, France.
During an attack on the German position, he was one of a bayonet party with bombs who entered their main trench and was the first man to go round each traverse, driving back the enemy until they were eventually forced to surrender. He was killed during this engagement. He left behind a 13yr old wife, Satoori Devi, who never remarried and always wore her husband's Victoria Cross Medal pinned to her saree.
The Gabar Singh Negi Fair amongst the Garhwali community is held annually in his memory in Chamba. In 1971, the Garhwali Rifles adopted the Fair, to give it a much-needed boost. A memorial was constructed; and with the inclusion of army traditions in the ceremonies, the Fair started attracting villagers from far and near to pay their homage to this brave soldier. Every year, on 20th or 21st April (depending on the Hindu calendar), the area around the Negi Memorial in Chamba comes alive with many kiosks being set up. This is the only fair of its kind in the state. The other feature of the fair is the recruitment rally conducted by the Garhwali Rifles Regimental Centre.
The Garhwalis are hill people and a martial race but were less good known than other martial races like the Sikhs, Gurkhas, Pathans and Dogras. However, the Garhwali contribution impressed the British with their fighting abilities on the Western Front.
The Great War saw the Garhwali in France, part of the Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division, plunging into action in Flanders, where both battalions fought with exemplary valour. The regiment had the distinction of winning two Victoria Crosses; Nk Darwan Singh Negi at Festubert and Rfn Gabar Singh Negi (posthumous) at Neuve Chapelle. Nk Darwan Singh also had the distinction of being the first Indian to be presented the Victoria Cross personally by the King-Emperor who came down specially to the battlefront in France at Locon on 1st December 1914. The extent of casualties being very high, the battalions were temporarily amalgamated and designated "The Garhwal Rifles" (the two Garhwali battalions lost 14 officers, 15 VCOs and 405 killed in France). Lt Gen Sir James Willcocks, commanding the Indian Corps in France had this to say about the Garhwalis in his book "With the Indians in France" : "The 1st and 2nd Battalions both did splendidly on every occasion in which they were engaged... the Garhwalis suddenly sprang to the very front rank of our best fighting men... nothing could have been better than their elan and discipline".