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PM May, Prince Charles at service to remember Indian soldiers

Indians were among the 275,000 British and Commonwealth military personnel who died at the Battle of Passchendaele during World War 1.

world Updated: Jul 31, 2017 18:52 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Britain's Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Charles, Prince William and Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde and Prime Minister Theresa May attend commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele at Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres in Belgium on July 31, 2017.
Britain's Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Charles, Prince William and Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde and Prime Minister Theresa May attend commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele at Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres in Belgium on July 31, 2017. (Reuters)

Prime Minister Theresa May joined members of Britain’s royal family at a service to remember thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in one of the bloodiest theatres of conflict during World War 1 at Passchendaele, Belgium, 100 years ago.

The battle in Flanders began on July 31, 1917 and claimed the lives of around 275,000 British and Commonwealth military personnel – including Indians – and around 200,000 Germans. The Allied forces were ranged against the German 4th Army.

May was joined by Prince Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the king and queen of Belgium and other dignitaries for the playing of the Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives to attend a ceremony marking the centenary of the battle of Passchendaele, one of the bloodiest of World War 1, during the Last Post ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Western Flanders on July 30, 2017. (AFP)

The Indian Forces Memorial, with the names of soldiers, is located on the south side of the gate. Mustard gas was used for the first time during the conflict, resulting in the death of thousands of soldiers whose identities remain unknown.

May said she was honoured to attend the event: "The name Passchendaele resonates with anyone with even a passing knowledge of the First World War. It is on those fields where hundreds of thousands of men of all nations fought and died in appalling conditions."

Also in attendance were 4,000 relatives of those who fought in the battle. The conflict is officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, which is remembered not only for the number of casualties but the mud and quagmire caused by weeks of rain, in which many men and horses drowned.

Defence secretary Michael Fallon said: “These services provide us with the time to reflect on the sacrifice not just of the thousands of British and Commonwealth troops who gave their lives, but of the men on all sides who did not return home.

“This was a battle which touched communities across Europe and it is a privilege to be here in Belgium to stand as friends with the representatives of all the countries who took part in the battle – friends who continue to be strong allies.” 

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in the area known as the Ypres Salient. The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields.

It bears the names of more than 54,000 casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the United Kingdom who died in the Salient and whose graves are not known.                

According to records, the British Indian Army in World War 1 sent seven Indian Expeditionary Forces with more than a million troops to serve in various theatres of war. Of the Indian Expeditionary Forces, named A to G, Force A served on the western front attached to the British Army in battle against the Imperial German Army.

Two army corps made up of four divisions were sent from India - one infantry corps, the 1st Indian Corps, comprising two divisions, 7th (Meerut) Division and 3rd (Lahore) Division, and one cavalry corps, formed on arrival in France as the Indian Cavalry Corps with the 1st Indian Cavalry Division and 2nd Indian Cavalry Division.