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India's contribution to First World War

punjab Updated: Jun 16, 2013 09:17 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
India

India provided Britain with not just men and material, but money as well to fight the First World War. Apart from 1,440,437 men recruited, 1,381,050 men were sent for service overseas. India also bore the cost of these troops which were being largely used for Imperial rather than Indian purposes, and in 1917 she made an outright gift of £100 million towards the cost of the war.


The British Indian army, often derided as a mercenary force by nationalists in an attack on British policy in India, and on the British presence itself, was to serve with distinction in nearly every theatre of the war.

The Royal Indian Marine (precursor of the Indian Navy) was armed in 1914, some of its ships serving with the Royal Navy on escort duties and others as coastal minesweepers or river gunboats in the Mesopotamia campaign. The role of the Indian merchant services in transportation and supply was no less essential than that of their comrades in arms. India also provided over 170,000 animals and 3,700,000 tonnes of supplies and stores.

In all, some 116,000 soldiers from India sacrificed their lives in the First World War. Over 9,200 decorations were earned, including 11 Victoria Cross. True, this was not our war but we can be proud of our contribution in the worldwide struggle against tyranny and oppression and for truth, justice and liberty. As the world prepares to commemorate the centenary of the war's beginning next year we must come to terms with our colonial past and ensure that we are not left out.

Indian expeditionary forces in World War 1

A number of expeditionary forces were sent overseas by the Indian army during the First World War. These included:

Force A: The Indian Corps and Indian Cavalry Corps in France and Flanders, Cavalry Corps - 1st Division, 2nd Division, Indian Corps - 3rd (Lahore) Division, 7th (Meerut) Division.

Shortly after arriving, they were involved in some of the fiercest fighting around Ypres in Belgium. The fighting came as a shock to soldiers more used to colonial warfare. The traditional resilience of the jawans asserted itself however and the Germans soon learned to respect the fighting men from India.

The Indians provided half the attacking force at Neuve Chapelle in March and the Lahore Division counter-attacked at the Second Battle of Ypres in April. Heavy losses were sustained at Loos in September.

The Corps was withdrawn to Egypt in October 1915 for many reasons. The Indian Cavalry Corps stayed on in France albeit fighting mostly in a dismounted role, moving ultimately to Egypt in the spring of 1918.

Force B: The 27th (Bangalore) Brigade and the Imperial Service Brigade (States' Forces troops) in East Africa. Force B was broken up in December 1914 and its units used for the defence of East Africa.

Force C: Battalions in Uganda, 29th Punjabis, Half battalions of Jind, Bharatpur, Kapurthala and Rampur Infantry (Imperial Service Forces) Volunteer 15-pounder battery, 10-pounder mountain battery, Volunteer Maxim battery and Field Ambulance. Force C was broken up on arrival at Mombasa and its units served separately subsequently.

Force D: Forces in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), Cavalry Division (created from independent brigades in December 1916), 6th (Poona) Division, 7th (Meerut) Division, 12th Division, 14th Division, 15th Division, 17th Division and 18th Division.

Force E: Forces in Egypt, 1st Mounted Division (later 4th Cavalry Division), 2nd Mounted Division (later 5th Cavalry Division) and 11th Division.

Force F: 28th, 29th and 30th Brigades in Egypt, These formed part of 10th Division. The formation was broken up in March 1915.

Force G: 29th Brigade in Gallipoli. The formation served away from its parent division i.e. the 10th. Other units that took part were the 7th Mountain Battery, an animal transport corps based on mules and a hospital establishment.

AFPI cadets' success in their initial NDA exam

My faith in the Armed Forces Preparatory Institute (AFPI), SAS Nagar, its enthusiastic cadets and the efficacy of the methods used by General Baljit Grewal and his dedicated team has been vindicated in the very first test.

The final merit list for the 130th Course at the National Defence Academy (NDA) starting later this month includes as many as eight cadets from the institution. These results are better than that of any other school in the region, including the defence services' traditional feeder institutions, the Sainik Schools.

The dynamic, creative thinker General Baljit Grewal and his committed team deserve as much credit for creating a centre of excellence as the keen as mustard cadets they have nurtured. Lastly, one must applaud the vision of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for setting up the AFPI and funding it lavishly.