Dehradun: More than a century after he died, an audio recording of Rifleman Shib Singh Kaintura, who served in the Garhwal Rifles during the First World War, has reached India. As a prisoner-of-war at the Half-moon camp in Germany during the Great War, Shib Singh never returned home. After serving as a prisoner-of-war, Singh passed away and was buried at Golders Green Crematorium in London.
The Lautarchiv (sound archive) at the Humboldt University in Berlin has provided Firstpost with a rare shellac recording of a Garhwal Rifles soldier. The recording is among the odd 7,000 that the Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission holds in its archives. There are only a few recordings available in the university collection of Indian soldiers who served as POWs during the First World War.
Rifleman Shib Singh Kaintura, regimental number 2396, of the 1st/39th Garhwal Rifles was born in Luthiyag village (mentioned Luthiag in the documents). At that time, this village was part of Tehri Garhwal. In the audio recording, recorded on 2 January 1917, he tells an interesting story about his school days at Jakholi, 42 km from Rudraprayag. Shib Kaintura once slapped a poor boy in his class out of anger.
Because the school principal was a close friend of his father, a scared Shib fled to the forest near his village, fearing that his parents would severely punish him. After hiding in the forest for three days, he decided to return to his village. Kaintura has not shared any information about where he stayed in the forest and how he managed food and water.
Lautarchiv has also provided Firstpost with various documents related to the rare recording, including a personnel sheet, the spoken Hindi text, and the phonetic English text. Shib has not mentioned the name of his native village in either the handwritten sheet or the audio recording. However, the sheets used to provide information about the recording mention Kaintura's village and place of study.
Nico Bischoff, an employee of the Humboldt University of Berlin's public service, says: "We have more than 7,000 records in our archives, including many records from prisoners of war around the world. As far as our search engine goes, the term India results in a total of 318 hits. But there are people and recordings from Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and other countries as well listed under this term. So we cannot make a totally accurate prediction about the number of recordings of PoWs from only India but more like from the general region of and around India.”
The Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission dates back to 1915 when the Ministry of Culture decided to establish it on Wilhelm Doegen's suggestion. The commission's extensive and rare sound collection is now housed in the Lautarchiv sound archive at Humboldt University in Berlin. The commission recorded the speech and music of foreigners held in various German POW camps.
Shib Singh attended school in Jakoli, which was incorporated into the Rudraprayag district in 1997. Jakholi is a block in the district with a population of 661 people.
Deepak Kaintura, a young Garhwali poet, says, "My great grandfather Dev Singh Kaintura fought in WWI and died in France. My great grandfather was awarded a brass war memorial plaque posthumously, which we have preserved. We found no information on Shib Singh in the Luthiyag village, which is the largest settlement of Kaintura families in Garhwal."
It currently takes 20 kilometres to travel from Luthiyag to Jakholi. This also illustrates Shiv Singh's struggles in getting an education. At age 5 or 6, he enrolled in school in Jakholi. He talks about an incident that happened in class I, which had a total of 14 students, in the recording. When Kaintura finished his elementary education, he enlisted in the Garhwal Rifles. According to the 2011 Census, Luthiyag has 184 households and a total population of 1,022.
"Agriculture remains the primary occupation in our village," says Dinesh Kaintura, Village Pradhan (head). "Around 40 young people are in the Indian Army, and another 60 work in the hospitality industry."
When he fought in the war, Shib Singh Kaintura was a young man. He had to endure hardships at the Half Moon camp in Germany together with other POWs. Their health was severely impacted by a lack of food, clothing, sanitation and medical facilities. Infectious diseases claimed the majority of their lives.
Shib Singh's cause of death is revealed in "Casualty addendum to war diary (No.WWI/184/4)," volume 27, an old army headquarters file. According to the document, when Kaintura was released from the POW camp, he had pleurisy and bronchopneumonia. The Garhwal Rifles soldier passed away and was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium in London on 15 February 1919, following his release from German captivity.
The only shellac recording of a Garhwal Rifles soldier in Lautarchiv's collection is that of Kaintura. The top sound archives in Germany have recordings made by Indian POWs in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Punjabi, Nepali, Khasi, Limbu, English, Urdu, Bengali, Gurmukhi, and other languages. The Luthiyag locals are probably curious about the recording. This will also make it easier to determine Shib Kaintura's ancestry.