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War veterans remember Indian soldiers' effort in WWI

world Updated: Jun 14, 2010 10:27 IST

Indian and British war veterans came together in scores to pay homage to the Indian soldiers who gave up their lives in World War I, fighting on the side of the Allies, at a touching memorial service in Brighton.

At a solemn ceremony last evening, Nalin Surie, the Indian High Commissioner to UK, saluted the supreme sacrifices
made by Indian soldiers.

"Over one million Indian Army soldiers saw active service alongside British troops during the First World War,"
he said at the Chattri memorial.

Surie said Brighton has a special place in the hearts of the people as 12,000 Indian soldiers wounded on the Western
Front were hospitalised at sites around the city.

The 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who died in Brighton were cremated at the Sussex Downs. The Chattri, an umbrella
shaped memorial on pillars, was built on the exact spot where their bodies were cremated, giving the spot its name.

After the cremation, the ashes were scattered in the sea, in accordance with their religious rites.

Their Muslim brothers in arms, totalling 21 were buried near the Woking's Shah Jehan Mosque, the oldest of its kind in North West Europe built in 1889.

The High Commissioner also released a new publication brought out to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Indian
Republic, titled 'Valour & Sacrifice', The First Indian Soldiers in Europe 1914-1916.

He commended Deputy High Commissioner Asoke Mukerji for taking the initiative to put together "this historical material".

According to the publication, altogether, 1,302,394 Indian soldiers fought as part of seven separate Expeditionary Forces across Europe, Africa and Asia during the World War I.

They were supplemented by 172,815 animals and 3,691,836 tonnes of supplies and stores.

As many as 121,598 Indian soldiers were the casualties of the War, including 53,486 dead, 64,350 wounded and 3,762 missing or imprisoned as on December 31, 1919.

The highest number of Indian casualties in the war occurred in Mesopotamia, today's Iraq, which included about 30,000 dead and 32,000 wounded.

Apart from this, India contributed equipment and stores worth over 80 million pounds to the Allied war effort until 1918. In terms of direct monetary contribution, India gave 146.2 million pounds from its revenues towards the cost of the war up until the end of 1919-20.

Speaking on behalf of the war veterans, Squadron Leader Mahinder S Pujji, one of the most experienced World War II veteran fighter pilots, expressed "gratitude to the people of this beautiful city for helping our injured soldiers and helping us to erect a monument (Chattri) in honour of all those soldiers killed in this part of the world".

He said, "They made the supreme sacrifice so that we may stand here as free people."

President of the Chattri Memorial Group, Davinder Dhillon, said with help of Commonwealth War Graves Commission a new memorial would be built at the site inscribing names of all 53 soldiers. It would be read by September 26.

The Maharajah of Patiala had donated and unveiled the Southern Gateway to the Royal Pavilion on October 26, 1921 to commemorate the part Brighton and its inhabitants played in caring for the wounded Indian soldiers.

In return, the Mayor of Brighton, Councillor BN Southall, presented the maharaja with a gold key, a copy of the original key to the Royal Pavilion.

Prominent among those present at the memorial service were the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Geoffrey Wells, The Chief Executive John Barradell, Director-General Commonwealth War Graves Commission Richard Kellaway, Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant Peter Field, besides Pujji and Dhillon.