Keeping a memory alive at the 11th hour

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On November 11, WW1 — Remembrance Day, let us pay tribute to the “unsung heros” of war

History is passed down from generation to generation, however sometimes the facts are distorted and misrepresented. India’s involvement in the First World War has been for many years been grossly undervalued and in some cases not validated at all.

In this sinful country, it rains very much and also snows, and many men have been frost-bitten… All the men will be finished here. In the space of a few months how many have fallen and how many have been wounded

(Santa Singh (Sikh) letter to his uncle (India)

A hospital [Gurmukhi], Brighton, 18th August 1915)  Source: Dr Brighton’s Pavillion

November 11 at 11 am is the time we bow our heads and give thought and respect to those who have fallen in battle.

Our youth know of the famous battles such as Gallipoli and the role the Australians played, but how many know the role of the Indian soldier during WW1.

We have no firm figures, but it is said, as many as 1.3 million Indian soldiers, of which over 74,000 perished, were part of the WW1 Indian effort to this war.

The British government at the time made promises of independence from Britain to India and India in return supported Britain in the war effort—in places far from their homes, for political reasons they had no politics in.  These “ordinary/extraordinary” soldiers made sacrifices—however history does not tell much of “The Indian Soldier”.  He seems to have sacrificed not just his life, but also any validation history should bestow upon him. He’s been swept under the carpet, as the “forgotten army”.

Along with the 74,000 Indian soldiers killed during the war, as many were wounded physically, emotionally and mentally. Indian troops were spread across Europe, Mediterranean, Mespotamia, North Africa and East Africa, and exposed to the horrors of the trenches in the same vile conditions—yet they receive very little if any acknowledgement, let alone any accolades for this contribution.

 

Neuve Chappelle—France—Hundreds of Indians killed

Gallipoli  Turkey—1,000 Indians killed

Mesopotamia (Ottoman Empire)—70,000 Indians fought

This brave contingency of men, were fighting a war few understood little about — they fought in defence of “The British Empire”. They fought bravely, in battles where they watched each other being ripped apart, in places they were not climatically accustomed to—isolated from their loved ones at home. These men were not conscripts—but professional soldiers fighting for the British Empire—being a soldier was in fact their profession. However, in this case they were not fighting for their country India. They were serving the British Empire—the same Empire that was oppressing the populace of India—through high taxes, labor and food supply.

After the war ended these soldiers were forgotten by the rest of the world and ignored by India. Promises made by Britain to give India freedom were ignored and lives lost in exchange for this pledge of freedom became worthless. India still did not get self-rule… until much, much later in history.

India suffered during the war—high taxes imposed by Britain to support the war, high inflation and trade disruption led to economic losses. This caused further hardship. At this time the country was hit by an influenza epidemic, which wiped out many lives.

The First World War ended, but India still fought it’s own war from within, this time with a cause and an outcome, shaking itself from the shackles of British rule and finally securing independence in 1947.

Many lives were lost during the fight for Indian independence, the lives of civilians, including women and children should also go down in history as  “heroes”—giving recognition and testimony to the strength and courage of these people.

In 1931, the British constructed the India Gate in New Delhi. It is a monument visited by many who now pay respect to those who have fought…

Let us all on November 11, at 11 am bow our heads and respect every nation that has fought for today’s freedom.

 

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