Indefatigable through the Western Front – 1/9GR and Mehar Singh Khatri

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Indefatigable through the Western Front – 1/9GR and Mehar Singh Khatri

With the outbreak of the First World War in Europe British Army rapidly found itself in need of immediate reinforcement. Units of the Indian Army were quickly deployed in large numbers to the Western Front in September and October 1914. The First Battalion of the Ninth Gurkha Rifles, part of the Dehra Dun Brigade of the Indian Army, reached Marseille on October 12th 1914. Amongst those soldiers present was a Jemadar named Mehar Singh Khatri. The battalion spent much of the rest of 1914 in the allied front lines near Neuve Chapelle, and are recorded as having deployed homemade explosives to counter German grenades, and even a homemade trench mortar.

In March of 1915 the battle of Neuve Chapelle began and the Dehra Dun Brigade advanced. Personnel of 1/9GR were stationed on the Brigade’s left flank and managed to capture several prisoners during the attack. Mehar Singh Khatri led his platoon in these captures, and upon being challenged in German at the edge of the wood he responded with a blunt ‘First Ninth!’, at which the German soldiers in question surrendered without delay. After the close of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle Mehar Sing Khatri was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, and is recorded as having been promoted to the rank of Subedar.

1/9GR garrisoned various sections of the front for the rest of 1915, taking part in the Battles of Aubers Ridge and Loos. On October 29th 1915 the Battalion held a muster, and found that only four Gurkha officers and 280 other ranks remained of the 17 Gurkha Officers and 804 men who landed in Marseilles the previous year. Of these remaining four, only two had remained unwounded. One of these two was Mehar Singh Khatri. He had by this point been promoted to the post of Subedar-Major, the most senior Gurkha Officer in the Battalion, and is recorded as having never taken a single day’s leave away from the Battalion since their arrival in France over a year before.

Less than a month later 1/9GR left the front for Marseille. They would be redeployed to the middle east for much of 1916, before finally returning to Dehra Dun in India on October 6th, 1916 after an absence of just over two years.

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