NEW DELHI: On October 28, 1914, a wounded sergeant of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers recuperating in Dublin, Ireland, told the British press about Indian bravery on the Western Front. He said: “We were close to them when they received their baptism by fire. They were halted in an exposed position and it was only […]
NEW DELHI: On October 28, 1914, a wounded sergeant of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers recuperating in Dublin, Ireland, told the British press about Indian bravery on the Western Front.
He said: “We were close to them when they received their baptism by fire. They were halted in an exposed position and it was only by occasional flash of fire from their dark eyes that you would have seen that anything unusual was on. Many of them were hit, but few of them dropped out. They got the order to advance and you never saw men more pleased. They went forward with a rush like a football team charging their opponents. They got to grips with the Germans in double quick time, and the howl of joy that went up as they felt their bayonets gripping something solid told us that those chaps felt that they were paying the Germans back in full for the peppering they had got while waiting for orders. When they came back from that charge, they looked very well pleased with themselves, and they had every right to be.”
The men described above were among the 1.3 million men of the Indian Army who fought across the globe in the First World War. A century later, their sacrifices are now being honoured by world leaders and country heads, the latest being UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Thursday. But leading this tribute march is Great Britain under whose flag the Indian Army served in both world wars.
“Britain feels an enormous amount of gratitude to India and her Army for their decisive intervention in the First World War. Without the Indian Army, we couldn’t have won. The Indian Army was the only Commonwealth army that fought in all theatres of the war. So the commemoration of the Indian soldiers’ role is of utmost importance to us,” says Brigadier Brian McCall of the British Army, now the defence attach at the British high commission in Delhi.
While many Indian commemoration programmes are already under way in the UK, Britain has some elaborate plans for India. “We have digitized the war diaries of the various regiments that participated in the conflict through the National Archives of UK. These treasure troves of information, hitherto unavailable to the people of India, are also being hardbound in print. We shall officially hand over these to the government of India at a grand ceremony on October 30 at the high commissioner’s residence in Delhi. These records will then be placed in the National Archives of India,” McCall tells TOI in an exclusive briefing at his south Delhi residence.
But the commemoration doesn’t stop there. Britain has also prepared six sandstone memorials for each of the Victoria Cross winners in the war (the Indian Army won 11 VCs, but Britain has placed three of them in Pakistan and two in Nepal) apart from a memorial tablet that will be placed on a war memorial, either existing or the one that finance minister Arun Jaitley promised to set up in his 2014-15 budget speech.
The high commission has been liaising with the United Service Institution of India’s Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research in the latter’s India and the Great War commemoration project — a four-year initiative sponsored by the ministry of external affairs that aims to re-establish the lost Indian voice in the predominantly white narrative of the First World War.
Squadron Leader Rana TS Chhina (Retd), who has been piloting this initiative, elaborates on the six proposed memorials, “The sandstone memorial will be placed in a chhatri, the traditional Indian memorial to the dead. These chhatris will be funded by the state governments and established in the villages from where these soldiers came. The Amar Veer Smarak, as these memorials will be known, will be a matter of pride for those villages, states as well as the country. Villagers in Haryana and UP have already set aside plots to set up these memorials.”
To be part of this grand ceremony, McCall says, the commanding officers of all those regiments whose war diaries are being digitized have been invited. However, “not one has acknowledged the invite”. It would certainly be embarrassing for both Britain and India, more for India, if the government and the military don’t support this initiative. A senior Indian Army officer says on condition of anonymity, “We want to commemorate the WWI centenary, but the MoD hasn’t given us a go-ahead. They haven’t said ‘no’ either. They aren’t saying anything at all. And that is so depressing.”
But McCall isn’t disheartened yet. “We plan to fly in a Royal Air Force band for joint performance with an Indian Air Force band at the ceremony. I can tell you this that every Indian who attends that ceremony will come out of it with his chest swelling with pride,” he says.
~ Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/