Undivided India contributed what would today be the equivalent of nearly £34 billion to Britain during the First World War.
The extent to which British India helped the English Empire is recorded in war history. It reveals that undivided India’s contribution to the First World War went beyond 1.5 million men who were recruited and nearly 65,000 who died.
Indians contributed more than £100 million in 1917 to the Raj coffers. Three quarters of this was raised by war loans or bonds and the rest by the Government of India, say records. “India’s Contribution to the Great War, Calcutta” published in 1923 has all the figures.
The UK Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website points out that £100 in 1917 would be worth £34,000 today if an estimate is made using the share of GDP as an indicator. The scale of the contribution was enormous. “An initial offer of a lump sum of £100 million was made in 1917. Three quarters of this was raised by war loans or bonds and the rest by the Government of India.” say records. Buying of war bonds was a patriotic effort. The CWGC site also shows pictures of letters and postcards in Urdu, entreating people to buy bonds.
Very recently the UK treasury said it will soon pay back its war debt. “The Treasury will redeem the outstanding £1.9 billion of debt from 3½% War Loan on Monday 9 March 2015.” it announced.
The UK debt management office told HT that as far “as they knew” the bonds in question were sold to British public and were not related to India.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne said “It is a sign of our fiscal credibility and it’s a good deal for this generation of taxpayers. It’s also another fitting way to remember that extraordinary sacrifice of the past”. India’s contributions to the war are hardly likely to be returned in cash but the story of the massive scale of its participation and role is gradually coming to light as the world marks the centenary years of the First World War that lasted from 1914 to 1918.