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: –
- 1 Captain
- 1 Lieutenant
- 4 Sergeants
- 6 Daffadars
- 100 troopers
- 2 Trumpeters
- 1 Ferrier
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.
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 First 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.
Governor’s Body Guard, Madras
This was the senior most regiment among the three Governor’s Body Guard regiments. Raised in 1778 at Madras with one Sergeant, one Corporal & 12 European troopers & was placed under command of Lt. P. Sullivan. Unlike other Madras Army regiments, GBG, Madras retained its title throughout its history till 1947 when it was disbanded. The strength & composition of the unit, however, kept on changing. In 1778, it had one European troop & in 1781, the strength was raised to 1 European & 1 Native troops. The European troop was disbanded in 1784 & a company of the light infantry was attached. By 1799, strength of the GBG was raised to 100 men & they performed escort duty in Persia & Mysore war. From 1808 to 1820, detachments from different Madras cavalry regiments joined GBG on rotation.
The regiment took part in third Maratha War (1817-1819) where its charge along with 6th Bengal Light Cavalry changed the course of the war & considered as the decisive factor in winning the war. During the war, the regiment earned its only Battle Honour ‘Seetabuldee’ for the relief of Nagpur Residency. GBG, Madras also took part in the First Burma war (1824-1826), where it rescued the advance guard which was surrounded by a large body of enemy force at Pagan.
During the First World War, the regiment served as a remount training center and also patrolled the beaches during the bombardment of Madras by a German ship Emden. A combined force was also formed from detachment from Bombay & Madras Body Guards and was sent to serve in France.
The Governor’s Body Guards, Madras also received a standard from Lord Willingdon in March 1924 bearing its only Battle Honour ‘Seetabuldee’.
At the time of its raising, the unit only had European troops. But 1781 onwards, South Indian classes dominated the regiment for most of the time, especially Deccani & Madrasi muslims. In 1947, Unit had Rajputs from Rajasthan & Jats from Eastern UP & Punjab.
Governor’s Body Guard, Bombay
The unit was raised on 22nd March 1865 in Poona from a selected body of troopers of a disbanded unit, The Southern Mahratta Horse(SMH), which was first raised in 1850. Though the unit was re-organized twice in 1895 & 1938 but there was no change in its title.
It also retained its title throughout its existence till 1947 when it was disbanded. In 1865, it had mahratta troopers only from SMH but later Sikhs, Deccani Muslims & Punjabi Muslims were also recruited in the unit.
Governor’s Body Guard, Bengal
In 1912, capitol of India was transferred from Calcutta to Delhi & the Viceroy, along with Governor General’s Body Guard, moved to Delhi and Bengal got the status of the Presidency just like Bombay & Madras. At that time, Capt. Rivers Berney Worgan of 20th Deccan Horse raised Governor’s BG, Bengal from volunteers from different Bengal cavalry regiments. This was the youngest unit among three GBG units. GBG, Bengal also retained its title throughout its existence & was also disbanded in 1947. Only Punjabi muslims & Rajputs were recruited for the unit. Since GBG, Bengal came into existance in 1912, there is no photo of the unit by Fred Bremner.
When it came to uniform, all three GBG units followed the pattern of Governor General’s Body Guards and they just added few articles like cummerbunds and plastrons.
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”.
Currently PBG has an establishment of 4 officers, 14 JCOs & 161 Bodyguards along with the administrative support personnel. 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.
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.
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****.
Governor’s Body Guard, Madras
This painting of Maj. Lovett shows a sowar of GBG, Madras wearing a red Alkhalak with 1.5 inches of gold coloured lace round the neck & chest. Blue coloured pagri (also referred as Lungi by British authors) with red coloured stripes on gold and is worn round the red coloured Kullah.
White Gauntlet gloves, white breeches, black Napoleon boots with Blue coloured Kammarband with stripes in red, yellow & white colour complete the uniform.
Another painting by Chater Paul Chater provides more accurate detail of the uniform of the sowar. It shows the same uniform as shown by Lovett but the Pugri is blue coloured with gold, blue & white stripes. Army Dress regulations, 1901 gives almost similar information of the dress of the Native Officer of the unit.
Most of Chater’s paintings were based on Indian Army Dress Regulations – 1901, 1913. A black & White photograph taken by Fredrick Bremner in 1897 shows the same details of the uniform of Madras Body Guards (see the photo Governor’s Body Guard, Madras). As per “The Navy & Army Illustrated” Dec. 10th, 1897 edition, the person in the portrait is Jemadar Abdul Karim Khan.
Governor’s Body Guard, Bombay
Pargi is red coloured with blue & gold stripes. Kammarband is of blue merino & belt is of white buff leather. Sowar is wearing white gauntlet gloves & Napoleon boots. This painting of Maj. Lovett is based on 1901 Dress Regulations.
Fred Bremner’s photograph shows the same uniform (see the photo Governor’s Body Guard, Bombay)
Governor’ General’s Body Guard
Another Painting by Chater Paul Chater shows a sowar of GGBG in red Alkhalak made of scarlet cloth with blue facing fasten with regimental pattern buttons on the front, gold embroidery around the neck & Bengali knot in gold lace on the cuffs.
Instead of any kammarband, sowar is wearing girdle of 2.5 inches wide gold lace with two crimson red stripes. Pagri is blue coloured with gold, blue & white stripes wrapped around red & gold kullah.
Since the Sowar shown in the painting is a Sikh, the Pagri is traditional Sikh Pagri & we dont see any kullah in the Pargi. Napoleon boots & white pants complete the uniform.
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.