In 1914, Britain entered into war. It was not called World War -1 but was instead called the ‘Great War’, or ‘The long battle. The Indian soldiers called it ‘laam’. It was only in 1940s, the ‘great war between 1914 and 1918 came to be called 1st World War.
The Indian soldiers played a significant role in World War-1. Their contributions are not well recorded nor their stories told. For there were very few Indian soldiers to write from the Indian perspective.
Thus the contributions of Indian soldiers have not found the right place in the history of World War-1. A total of 11 lakh men both in front line and in the support services was contribution of India to the war. About 9000 gallantry awards were given to Indians.
Yet due credit has not been given to India for this large a contribution to World War-1. In physical money value, India contributed a sterling bounty 146-200 million for the war effort.
Apart from this, another 80 million was contributed in equipments and stores. The maximum casualty for Indians were in Mesopotamia where 30,000 was killed and another 30,000 injured. Indians gave 17,825 animals for this war effort. 36,91,836 tons of supplies.
Interestingly Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of Ahimsa, did not oppose the recruitment of India soldiers by the British administrators of India.
Probable in a hope that such a gesture would lead the British offering self-rule and independence to India, post the war. Many princes of India and the Muslim league also supported the war effort. It was Ganga Singh Maharaja Bikaner who led the Indian princes in this war effort who was the only Indian signatory in Versai treaty which ended the Great War.
Maharaja Ganga Singh
The India Gate in Delhi is dedication to Indian soldiers who fought in the 1st World War. It was first called, India War Memorial and was later renamed as India Gate.
Over 11 lakh 20 thousand Indian soldiers were compulsorily enlisted by the British Government of the then undivided India, to fight for the British Empire in the World War-1.
Indian Soldiers at first war of Yepres
Indian Soldiers in action during World War-1
Indian Soldiers March through Damascus, Syria
Indian Soldiers In Trenches During Turkish Attack on Shaiba, Iraq
Sikh Soldiers of Indian Army Doing Worship And Listening to Guru Granth Sahib , Iraq
The Indian Army at the Victory Parade in London, 1919
A Magazine cover praising the victory of Indian soldiers against the Germans and Japanese troops
Who can forget the heroism of Sikhs in the battlefields of World War-1. Around 1,30, 000 Sikhs served in World War-1, and fought in the battles under British flag.
Sikh Soldiers – The Forgotten Heroes of World War I
In this War, over 74000 Indian brave hearts gave up their lives fighting for the British flag and 62,000 Indian soldiers were wounded in a battle that raged for 4 years from 1914 to 1918.
Starving Indian Soldiers At Kut-Al-Amara,Later Taken Prisoners By Ottoman Army
We, Hema and Hari in our travels happened to visit the South England town of Brighton where the Royal Pavilion is situated.
This Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital during the World War 1. It is now locally dubbed as the, “4 Onions, and a Turnip”, for its out of place design in an English seaside.
Brighton Royal Pavilion
Memorial for Indian soldiers who died in the Battle
One of the letters of an Indian soldier which has been recovered from the Haryana Academy of History and Culture, speaks of their hospitalization in this Royal Pavilion.
Excerpts of the Letter from an India Soldier
The Dome Hospital at Royal Pavilion
Indian soldiers were heavily deployed in Flanders to fight along with the British. This trenches around Ypres saw the bloodiest of the battles where Indians were deployed in the forefront.
The English word ‘Blighty’ came into usage, from the Indian word ‘Vilayaty’ meaning ‘foreign’. This word ‘Blighty’ was coined in the trenches of the battlefield of WW-1. When a soldier was wounded serious enough to be evacuated and sent back home, to a foreign land, he was called Blighty, Vilayathy. The royal pavilion looked after over 4300 Indian soldiers. A special Indian kitchen was set up to suit their taste, for their quick recovery.
The Indian soldiers were so well looked after in Brighton that the fame of Brighton spread to different remote villages of India as a place of healing. In 1921, the maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh unveiled a plaque at the royal pavilion ground thanks all for the medical services rendered to the wounded Indian soldiers.
– Dr. D.K. Hari & Dr. D.K. Hema Hari