I’m sure you’ve heard of the First World War, you may have even read about it in books. But in case you don’t remember, here’s a quick refresher for you.
The first world war that broke out on the 28th of July, 1914, and lasted till the 11th of November, 1918, was one of the deadliest wars humanity ever had to face. Unlike the wars before then, WW1 saw the use of technology like never before. Also, it was the first time in history that a war saw the participation of nations on a global scale. The prime belligerents of the war were the Central Powers with the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria as member states. On the other side were the allies with the British Empire, the Russian Empire, the French Empire, the Japanese Empire, the United States of America, the Republic of China, the Republic of Liberia, the kingdom of Siam, and pretty much most of the other European nations as member states.
Since the British Empire was one of the key member states of the Allied Powers, the nations under its rule at the time became de-facto member states of the Allied Powers. They helped Britain fight the war by sending manpower, doling out resources, as letting the Allies use their country as staging areas for invasions.
India too made a huge contribution to the Allied cause and sent out almost 15 lakh volunteers including men and women from all communities - Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. These volunteers from all over India, together, formed the mighty Indian Expeditionary Force!
The Indian Army sent 7 Expeditionary Forces from A through G. Our soldiers fought on the Western Front, the Eastern Front, Egypt, Asia, and in Gallipoli. One of the most significant factors that contributed to such an unprecedented number of volunteers was the chance to move up the caste order that was wildly prevalent then. However, due to unfamiliarity with modern warfare, poor training and difficulty in adapting with wildly contrasting climate conditions led to the Indian Expeditionary Force suffering more than 50,000 casualties
, 65,000 injuries, and 10,000 missing soldiers. Other than manpower, India also supplied the British Empire with animals, rations, jute, and a hefty loan.
Here are some of the heroic stories of Indian soldiers during the first world war -
a) Kulbir Thapa
- Brought back three wounded soldiers from behind enemy lines despite being wounded himself. Awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest and most prestigious honour.
b) Badlu Singh
- Charged an entrenched machine gun position atop a hill in River Jordan, Palestine that was doling out heavy casualties to them. He was mortally injured while capturing such a position single-handed but all of the infantrymen surrendered to him before he died. Awarded the Victoria Cross.
c) Gobind Singh
- Successfully carried messages to and from the brigade headquarters to the regiment over a distance of 2.4 km under heavy fire from the enemy. After his horse was shot dead, he traversed the remaining way on foot.
These brave men and women did not just fight the enemy but also had to endure severe racism and discrimination from their white colonialists. Despite all they did, the role of these 1.5m Indian soldiers, nurses, and doctors largely remains forgotten. However, slowly but surely, more and more documentations of our soldiers in WW-I are being uncovered and they will have their stories heard as well.
Credits: Arko De
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