This article covers the history of the President’s Body Guard. PBG is the oldest surviving mounted unit and the senior most regiment of the Indian Army.
President’s Body Guard (PBG) is the oldest surviving mounted unit and the senior most regiment of the Indian Army. PBG was raised by Governor Warren Hastings in Sep, 1773. Hastings handpicked 50 troopers from the ‘Moghal Horse’, which was raised in 1760 by local sirdars, Sirdars Mirza Shahbaz Khan & Sirdar Khan Tar Beg. In the same year, Raja Cheyt Singh of Benaras provided another 50 troopers that took the strength of the unit to 100. The first commander of the unit was Capt. Sweeny Toone, an officer of the Honourable East Indian Company(HEIC), who had Lt. Samuel Black as his subaltern . The establishment of the unit was as follows: -
GGBG was the only Corps of cavalry in the Bengal presidency till 1777 when two Regiments of Cavalry were transferred to the HEIC by Nawab of Oudh. Both the regiments were raised in 1776.
President’s Body Guard’s title kept on changing with the passage of time: -
1773-1780 The Governor’s* Troops of Moghals. Other titles in use were Troops of Body Guard, Governor’s Troops of Bodyguards, Troops of Horse guards, Troops of Black Cavalry, Body Troop.
1784 Governor General’s Body guards (GGBG)
1859 His Excellency the Viceroy’s Body Guards**
1944 44th Divisional Reconnaissance Squadron (GGBG)
1946 Governor General’s Bodyguard
1947 After independence, the unit got split between Governor General’s Body Guard, India & Governor General’s Body Guard, Pakistan.
1950 The President’s Body Guard, India. In Pakistan the title remained GGBG till 1956.
Strength & Ethnic Composition: -
Strength of the regiment varied throughout its history. Minimum strength of the unit was 50 when it was raised in 1773 but the precise maximum strength of the unit is not known. President of India’s website claims a number of 1929 just before the First Sikh war but some historians believe the number to be 469. As per the book “Historical Records of the Governor General’s Body Guards” published in 1910, maximum strength of the unit was 529 all ranks on 12th Feb, 1844 just before the first Sikh War. In addition to 529 all ranks, orders were also issued to attach two Rissalahs of Irregular Cavalry, taking the strength of the unit to 730 all ranks.
Ethnic composition of the unit also kept on changing. It started with muslims (Moghals) from Awadh (Eastern U.P.) when it was raised in 1773. By 1800, Hindus (Rajput & Brahmins) were allowed to join GGBG along with Muslims but the area of the recruitment remained the same, Awadh & Bihar. In 1800, the recruitment pool was changed from Bengal Presidency to Madras Presidency & GGBG was reconstituted with troopers from Madras cavalry & for next 60 years, South Indian Castes formed bulk of the unit. After the Great Mutiny of 1857, center of recruitment of Indian Army was shifted from Awadh & south India to North India. GGBG was no exception & Sikhs were enlisted for the first time in Aug, 1883 & Punjabi Muslims in Oct, 1887. Recruitment of Brahmins & Rajputs ceased in 1895. After that, the recruitment was fixed at 50% Sikhs (Malwa & Majha) & 50% Muslims (Hindustani & Punjabi). Currently Jat, Sikhs & Rajputs are taken in equal number primarily from the states of Punjab, Haryana & Rajasthan. Minimum height necessary to be enlisted is 6 feet. Before independence the average height of the troopers was 6 feet 3 inches. Because of the personality & appearance of the men, popular acronym of GGBG was ‘God’s Gift to Beautiful Girls’.
Java, Ava Maharajpore, Moodkee, Ferozshah, Aliwal, Sabroan.
Operational History: -
PBG first saw action in 1773-74 when it was deployed against Sanyasis – a band that ravaged the countryside in the guise of mendicants. Its next campaign was against Rohillas in April 1774 in the battle of St. George where Rohillas were defeated completely. The unit was also present during the 3rd Mysore War (1790-92) against Tipu Sultan. During this campaign, it successfully thwarted an assassination attempt on the life of Governor General Lord Cornwallis. In 1801, a detachment consisted of 1 Native officer & 26 other ranks went to Egypt to ride the horses of experimental horse artillery. It marched for 120 miles in the desert in the height of summer. All their horses died & they had to place the guns on camels. They never saw action in Egypt as Alexandria had capitulated by the time, they arrived there.
But all these campaigns did not bring any Battle Honour to GGBG. They earned their first Battle Honour ‘Java’ in 1811 during the conquest of the island. At present PBG has the unique distinction of being the only surviving unit to carry this honour. In 1824, a detachment volunteered to sail over kaala paani (Black War, at that time, Hindu soldiers would refrain from sailing over sea for the fear of losing their caste) to take part in the first Burmese War and earned their second Battle Honour ‘Ava’. Body Guards received their third Battle Honour ‘Maharajpore’ for the battle of Maharajpore in 1843 when British intervened in the battle for the succession that erupted in Gwalior after the death of Maharaja Scindia.
PBG fought all the main battles of the 1st Sikh War & earned four Battle honours. During the 1857 mutiny, Lord Canning himself asked the officers and other ranks to serve without arms as a precautionary measures, which they did in good faith and later, they escorted Lord Canning to the grand Darbar at Allahabad where on 1st Nov, 1858, it was proclaimed that India will be governed by the Crown and title of Viceroy was conferred on the Governor General.
During the WW1, Lord Harding offered the Body Guards as Divisional Cavalry for the Meerut Division, which was going to France. But it was decided that the best use of the Body Guards would be working as trainers for raw remounts of cavalry & artillery. Thus for the entire period of the WW1, GGBG worked as remount training center. However, a detachment of the unit was sent to France as a reinforcement of 3rd Skinner’s Horse. During the World War 2, for a brief period of time, GGBG served as 44th Division Reconnaissance Squadron.
Independence came with partition of the nation & armed forces were also divided in 2:1 ratio between India & Pakistan. GGBG was no exception, so Muslim elements of the unit went to Pakistan & Sikhs and Rajput elements stayed with India. The title of the Body Guard remained GGBG till 26th January, 1950 when India became Republic & GGBG became President’s Body Guard. The first commandant of the regiment was Lt. Col. Thakur Govind Singh and his adjutant was Shibzada Yakub Singh, who decided to join Pakistan Army. After the division of other assets of the regiment, when it came to gold plated buggey of the Viceroy, both India & Pakistan wanted it. To decide the fate of the buggey, Col. Singh & Sahibzada Yakub Singh tossed a coin & India got the buggey.
After the independence, PBG saw action in all the major wars. It rendered yeoman service in the capitol & helped reinstating confidence in general public. In 1962 Indo-China war, PBG armoured cars were the first one to be airlifted to Chusul. It participated in Op. Ablaze in 1965 indo-Pak war. The regiment served in Siachin glacier where it has been serving till date. A detachment of the regiment was a part of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces to Sri Lanka during 1988-89 & Indian contingents to UN Peace Keeping Forces to Somalia, Angola & Sierra Leon.
Other Body Guard Units: -
Before Independence, there were three more Body guard units, one for each Presidency. These units were called Governor’s Body guard (and not Governor General’s Body Guards). All these units were disbanded in 1947. Here is a short introduction to each unit.
Standards, Guidons*** & Banners: -
In 1779, Honourable East India Company started issuing Standards to Indian Cavalry regiments. In 1800, GGBG was presented with its first Standard by Marquess Wellesley at the conclusion of his Review of the Body Guard. In 1815, the Countess of Moira & London presented a standard to the newly raised squadron. Two more Standards were presented to the newly raised squadrons of the Body Guards in 1844, when the strength of the regiment was highest. Standards were abolished in regiments of Indian Cavalry in 1864 & in 1931, a Guidon was presented to the Body Guards, which was last carried on escorts in 1936.
Two Silver state Trumpets with Banners were presented to the Body Guards by Lord Reading in 1923 on the 150th anniversary of the raising of the unit. One banner represented Star of India with the Battle Hounors of the regiment (see photo SILVER TRUMPET) and the other banner carried Coat-of-Arms of the viceroy. Each Successive Viceroy presented a banner to the Body Guard on assuming office, banners of past viceroy’s being kept in the custody of the regiment. The practice is in place till date & every president present a silver trumpet to the regiment – the only difference being replacement of the coat-of-arms of Viceroy with the monogram of the President.
First trumpet with banner by the President of Republic of India was presented by Dr. Rajender Prasad on 14th May, 1957. It had maroon background, emblem and crest in gold thread. The design incorporated the initials of Dr. Rajender Prasad in Devnagri script in the center & four emblems in gold in all four corners of the banner, from the Personal Standard of the President. The Personal Standard of the then President, Dr. Rajender Prasad was presented to the regiment on 18th Jan, 1958 by the President himself. In Nov, 1958, President Rajender Prasad presented new Regimental Standard to the PBG, the previous Regimental Standard had been laid up after India became republic. Old Regimental Standard still rests in the Regiment’s Officer’s mess.
When the 2nd President Dr. Radha Krishnan assumed office, he presented his banner to the PBG on 21st Oct, 1962. His banner had grey background and emblem and crest in gold thread. The design incorporated his initials in Devnagri script in the center & four emblems in gold in four corners, from the Personal flag of the President. New President’s Standard of the Body Guard & the Regimental Standard were awarded by the President Dr. Radha Krishnan on Nov 11th, 1963. The Regimental Standard is dark blue in colour with Regimental crest in the center surrounded by the lotus flowers & Ashoka leaves. Five scrolls on either side of the crest are for the Battle Honours & Standard bears the motto “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. President Smt. Pratibha Devi Singh Patil presented a new banner to the PBG on 1st March 2008 & this was the 11th banner that the Regiment received since independence.
Present day: -
Currently PBG has an establishment of 2 officers, 14 JCOs & 161 Bodyguards along with the administrative support personnel. The current commanding officer of the regiment Colonel TS Mundi is from 45th Armoured Regiment. Lt. Col. Mahender Singh of 2nd Lancers (Gardner's Horse) was Second-in-Command of the regiment. Current Second-in-Command of the regiment is Major Amit Bhardwaj of 52nd Armoured Regiment. Technical Officer of the Regiment is Major Mrigank Mehrotra of 48 Armoured Regiment. The medical officer of the regiment is Major Surendra Poonia of Special Forces. He is also a international level Powerlifter & has represented India in Croatia & Spain during World Medical Games where medical professionals from all over the world came to participate. Major Poonia won 1 Gold, 1 Silver & 1 Bronze medal in Croatia in 2010 and 2 Gold,2 Silver & 1 Bronze in Spain in 2011. He won 2 Gold & 5 Silver medals in World Medical & Health Games, 2012 held in Turkey. Major poonia successfully defended his gold medal in powerlifting & winning gold medal thrice consecutively makes him worthy of Arjun Award. All officers of the PBG are handpicked by Indian Armoured corp and are officers of different cavalry regiments having outstanding career. By tradition, the CO has always been of Brigadier or Colonel rank. He is assisted by Majors, Captains, Risaldars and Daffadars.
Soldiers hold the ranks of Sowar or Naik. Recruitment to the Regiment in India now is in equal share, to Sikhs, Jats and Rajputs, with officers and administrative staff from all over India. All the Bodyguards are trained paratroopers & tank men and perform their operational duties with the same perfection as the ceremonial duties like swearing in the President & Government, Republic Day parade, Beating Retreat, visits by heads of states, Guard Changing Ceremony etc. Mounts of the Bodyguards are of a minimum height of 157.5 cms measured at shoulder. Just like their counterpart of the British household cavalry, mounts of the PBG are allowed to wear full manes. All the horses of the regiment are Bay in colour except the horse of the regimental trumpeter, which is Grey Charger. The President's Bodyguard has the unique distinction of being the only military unit in the Indian Army, privileged to carry the President's Silver Trumpet and Trumpet Banner.
Trumpeter with silver trumpet & regimental banner.
PBG trooper in maroon Beret & badge
PBG Trooper (Rajput) in winter's ceremonial uniform.
The Badge of the PBG comprises the state symbol borne aloft on an open parachute supported by crossed lances which are held to-gather by its title, PBG. Before independence, the badge comprised of two lances held to-gather by the title GGBG with a Tudor crown above it. Shoulder title was simple GGBG just as today, shoulder title of the regiment is PBG.
|After 1859, this design was used only on stationary, crest & sabretache and has not been seen in metal (Victoria Regina Bodyguard)||
Button, President's Body Guard
Regiment's uniforms have also not changed much since 1900.
Let’s have a look at different coloured paintings by Maj. A.C. Lovett & Chater Paul Chater****.
Present day uniform of the unit has not changed much except the buttons, badges, shoulder badges etc. which have changed from GGBG to PBG (see the photo PBG Trooper in Ceremonial uniform).
* The title Governor General came into existence on 20th Oct, 1780 & before that, the official title of Warren Hastings was Governor of Bengal, hence the title Governor’s Troops of Moghal.
**This was the informal title conferred to the unit after the great mutiny of 1857, when India came directly under the crown. The official title remained GGBG.
*** Senior & Heavy Cavalry units carry Standards. Junior and light cavalry units carry Guidon which can be upgraded to Standard by the President for the special meritorious services.
****Chater Paul Chater was born in Calcutta of British parents in 1879. He lived in India for next 20 years before he went to Britain to earn his degree in Mine Engg. He never served in Indian Army and was not a professional painter or had any kind of training for the same But his love for Indian Army & its uniform motivated him to paint uniforms of different regiments of the Indian Army. Most of his work was based on Indian Army Dress Regulations - 1901, 1913 and other coloured paintings by Maj. A.C. Lovett and Richard Simkin.
All the images from this page can be seen in the President's Body Guard Gallery at http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/Army/Galleries/Regiments/PBG/