Hundred years after 10 lakh Indian soldiers fought in World War I for the British Army, the UK government is preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war and bring to life the role played by Indians in the battle.
While Defence Ministry’s response to the British government’s proposal has been lukewarm, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has shown interest and roped in the United Service Institution (USI), a defence think tank, to participate in the commemoration in India.
“The Indian Army played a major role in the conflict. It fought in western Europe, in some of the most famous battles like Ypres (Belgium) and the Somme (France). It fought in the Mediterranean and at Gallipoli. It fought in the Middle East, in what was then Mesopotamia (now Iraq), in Palestime and in Suez. And it fought in East Africa,” the British High Commissioner James Bevan said Saturday.
“For us, this will be a commemoration not a celebration. Our aim is to show respect and gratitude to those who died and to their families, to ensure that today’s young people learn the facts and the lessons of that conflict and to promote a common resolve among all nations involved in WWI to ensure a peaceful and just world for future generations,” he said.
Squadron Leader Rana Chhina, who is secretary at USI’s Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, said: “It is very significant that we are able to utilise this centenary commemoration to highlight India’s involvement in that conflict… to reclaim what was in a sense a forgotten history but is a very important one and also part of the shared heritage of India and the UK.”
Around 1.2 million soldiers from undivided India fought for the British Empire during the war, of which 74,000 died.
A major commemorative event would be held on October 30 in which leading dignitaries and representatives from India, UK and other countries involved in WWI will be invited. “A programme to honour the soldiers who won Victoria Crosses will also be held. A total of 11 VCs were awarded to soldiers hailing from United India – six from today’s India, three from now Pakistan and two Nepalese nationals,” Bevan said.
Apart from these, a guide book to the battlefields of France and Belgium will be published for families wishing to visit sites where Indian servicemen fought.
Publication of an illustrated book giving a pictorial overview of India and WWI and digitisation of war diaries of Indian regiments which fought in France and Flanders will also be done, Bevan said.