Brothers in arms: A tribute to Gallipoli

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TheIndianSun-Anzac Day

ANZAC Day brings to the fore a myriad emotions in all Australians and it is heart-warming to see people of all ages and nationalities line the streets to cheer the marching contingents – some marching in the memory of their fallen digger mates, some celebrating and acknowledging the role of their fellow countrymen in the Gallipoli campaign, and some others remembering their family members.

Then there are also the school bands, regimental bands and the serving troops. There is a feeling of euphoria mixed with grief, pride and nostalgia – emotions that cannot be captured on camera or projected on the silver screen. Though I was an army wife for 20 years before coming to Australia, I had never heard about the role of the Indian troops in the Gallipoli campaign. Three years ago when my husband marched in the parade with the other Indian veterans as a part of the Indian contingent paying respect to the memory of fallen Indian soldiers, I was swept away by a feeling of pride, of the great sacrifices made by Indian soldiers as they fought alongside their Australian and New Zealand compatriots.

I have been part of many parades in India and am well aware of the history and the role of the Indian Armed forces in wars pre and post Indian Independence. To really understand the importance of the ANZAC Day to the Indian Australians, especially the Indian veterans, I needed to know how the Indian army got involved with the ANZACs and the Gallipoli campaign. And so I met up with Colonel (Retd.) JoeMatthews seeking answers to the many questions that dogged me.

Col. Matthews is a veteran of the Indian Defence Force. An alumnus of the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy, Matthews held key operational and logistics executive appointments at Brigade and Corps HQs, and commanded an Infantry battalion in varying operational environments. After an illustrious career in the Army he moved into the banking sector where he currently pursues a career in financial crime management and analysis.  In 2013-2014 he was an elected Councillor with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), New South Wales. He was a presenter in the Commission of Enquiry held by the RUSI in September 2015 to enquire into the failure of the ANZAC’s August offensive in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. For the enquiry Col. Matthews played the role of Brigadier General Herbert Vaughn Cox, the Commander of the 29 Indian Infantry Brigade that was part of the ANZAC force in the August offensive. Col. Matthews is currently conducting research on the role and operations of the 29 Indian Infantry Brigade and attached troops of the Indian Army as part of the ANZAC deployment in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. His key interests include national security and geopolitics, especially in the South Asian and South Pacific domains.

Col. Matthews spoke to me in depth about the Indian involvement and how it came about – pages in history I had never turned before and pages that contained military manoeuvres that are fascinating! Here is my succinct account of the same …

India was a colony of the British empire in 1915 and it was the mainstream political opinion that if India desired greater responsibility and political autonomy, she must be willing to share in the burden of imperial defence. As a result, she contributed immensely to the war effort in terms of both men and material. Indian soldiers served with credit and honour in numerous battlefields around the globe, in France and Belgium, in Aden, Arabia, East Africa, Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Persia, Salonika, Russia, and even in China. By the end of the war 1,100,000 Indians had served overseas at the cost of 60,000 dead. They earned over 9,200 decorations for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses. These figures include the contribution of over 26,000 Imperial Service troops who were a part of the Indian States Forces.

29 Indian Infantry Brigade

The 29 Indian Infantry Brigade was formed in October 1914 as part of Indian Expeditionary Force F and was sent to Egypt. After arriving in Egypt, it joined the 10 Indian Division formed on 24 December. It served on the Suez Canal defences, notably taking part in the operations at the Suez Canal on 3 and 4 February 1915. After the defeat of the Turkish attempts to cross the canal, the Division was dispersed and the 29 Infantry Brigade was sent to Gallipoli in April 1915 for the Dardanelles Campaign.

The Brigade formed part of the Indian Expeditionary Force G for service in Gallipoli, the only Indian Army formation to serve on the peninsula. The Brigade was switched to ANZAC Cove from 6August since then was attached to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and fought side by side with the ANZACs for the rest of the campaign battles.

The Brigade took part in the August offensive — the Battle of Sari Bair (6 to 21 August 1915). 1st Battalion/6 Gurkha Rifles was the only unit to reach the top of the ridge and see the Dardanelles Strait. The Brigade’s involvement at Gallipoli came at a high price, for the 14 Sikh alone suffered huge causalities – 264 killed and 840 wounded in the Gallipoli campaign.

An Indian infantry battalion then usually had 13 British officers, 17 Indian officers (Junior Commissioned Officers) and 723 other ranks in its rolls.

The infantry served in the Cape Helles area of the Gallipoli peninsula from May to July, while the artillery landed with the ANZAC from the day of the first landings on 25 April until the final evacuation of the ANZAC from the peninsula in December 1915.

The Brigade joined battle, i.e., the Third Battle of Krithia on 4 June with the 14 Sikh battalion leading from the front, and the Gurkhas. In the intense battle that ensued the Sikhs lost 82% of their men launching repeated assaults on the Turkish positions. The valour the regiment displayed are unparalleled and will forever remain a proud chapter in Indian Army history.

Following the stalemate at Cape Helles and Ari Burnu (later known as Anzac Cove) from August 1915 the offensive in the peninsula was reignited for the capture of the heights of the Sari Bair range, crucial to the success of the overall aim of the Allies in the theatre of Dardanelles Strait. The 29 Brigade formed part of the ANZAC hereafter, deployedat the northern flank of the ANZAC force. On the night of 8 August, the 29 Indian Infantry Brigade and the 4 Australian Infantry Brigade marched together for the capture of the Sari Bair heights on Chunk Bair. In the battles that followed one of the Gukha battalions was decimated in the ‘Battle of Sari Bair’. The Brigade thereafter fought side by side with the ANZAC till the final evacuation from the peninsula on 20December 1915.

It is significant to highlight that nearly 16,000 Indian soldiers took part in the ANZAC campaign of which 1470 lost their lives and approximately 3000 were battle casualties; over 650 mules perished as well and many were put down during the withdrawal to deny their use to the Turks.

Memorials of the Indian Troops:

The memorial for the Indian troops who fought in the Gallipoli campaign is at Cape Helles in the Gallipoli Peninsula. No individual names of those killed exist, as that of the Australian and New Zealand troops who have their own memorials at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair.

In 2015, the Indian government commemorated the collective contribution of the Indian troops in the 1st World War. The troops who formed part of the 29 Indian Infantry Brigade and attached troops were remembered and their selfless service honoured.

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