Commemorating the forgotten soldiers of World War I

Commemorating the forgotten soldiers of World War I


It was in Frankfurt in 2011 that I first thought of publishing a volume on the contribution of the Indian soldiers in the Great War.

Approximately seven lakh Indian soldiers fought on behalf of the British Empire, thousands never to return home alive,” says Pramod Kumar, curator of the exhibition – India and the First World War, commemorating the 100 years of World War I.

In their attempt to honour the Indian soldiers in the centenary year of the Great War, Roli Books in collaboration with the Embassy of France and Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, presented an exhibition of compelling photographs and rare objects used by the troops which shed light on the honour, bravery and sacrifice of these men.

The images for the exhibition have been sourced from across the world, primarily from Imperial War Museum, British Library, London, French Military Archives, Flanders Museum, Belgium and many other private collections internationally.

There is a separate section showcasing the actual uniform, turban and other memorabilia used by the Indian soldiers 100 years ago. Besides, there is also a section featuring sound recordings and silent movies of the Indian soldiers made from 1914 to 1918.

When the Great War came to a head, Britain needed all the support it could get. It fell to the lot of the Empire’s colonies across the world to fill in the gaps left by the weakened British regiments. Thus, close to seven lakh Indian soldiers, encouraged to enlist by their national leaders, crossed the oceans for the first time to fight an indecipherable war against an unknown enemy.

“They were ill-prepared for the European winters and the dusty Mesopotamian summers. The warfare tactics, which used extensive bunkers and weapons that were hitherto unheard of, proved to be a challenge. Issues of racism and language followed the Indian soldiers wherever they were deployed. And yet, they fought bravely for the prestige of their regiments and for their own ‘izzat’,” said Kumar, who is also the head, Roli Books.

“They proved to the world that they were brave, loyal, and capable soldiers, and till date, the Indian troops are spoken of reverently in the villages across the Western Front. And yet, the history books find little to no mention of this aspect of the War. The Indian contributions, over 100 million euros and more than 70,000 dead, lie largely forgotten,” he said.