Bodies piled one upon the other, covered every inch of the ground. Blood poured from the endless cadavers, the metallic scent clinging to the air. Despair drifted with the breeze, carrying the lost souls of the ferocious battles.
World War 1 and 2 are global wars that led to great bloodshed, including India. Although it is believed that the nation did not have an immense contribution to the wars, that is untrue.
There is a lot of credit due to Indians, especially for the support they gave the British.
India’s Invaluable Contribution
- World War 1 took the world by storm. It was one of the most significant bloodsheds in geopolitical history.
- From early 1914 to 1918, it entangled most of Europe, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and the United States of America.
- Europe was divided into the Allies Italy, France, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and the United States, who defeated the “Central Powers” of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey (Ottoman Empire).
- Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, once said, “Britain couldn’t have come through the wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.”
- More than 1.3 million Indian soldiers were sent to fight and die on behalf of the Allied forces in World War 1.
- Volunteering meant a chance to break through the caste system, taking the high status of “warrior” and the good pay that came with it.
- Of the 1.3 million soldiers, more than 74,000 were killed, 65,000 were wounded, and 10,000 were reported missing.
- India also supplied the British government with 3.7 million tonnes of supplies, such as clothing, tanks, armored cars, guns, and more. India even provided a loan as high as Rs 838 crores.
- In terms of animals, it was believed that the 170,000 animals provided were of the best, which proved to be a game-changer during the war.
- History has forgotten the Indian stories of war, the countless Indian sacrifices. They have been omitted from the history of the First World War, erased from the anecdotes passed down generations.
The First Battle of Ypres
- It was young Indian soldiers who stopped the Germans advance during the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, while the British were still gathering their forces.
- The Lahore Division and Meerut Division originally formed the Indians Corps when they were sent to Egypt as the cavalry. On August 27th, the British Government decided they needed to be sent to France as reinforcements of the British Expeditionary Force.
- Nearly 700,000 Indian infantry privates fought the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia. More than half of them were Indian Muslims, fighting their co-religionists in defense of the Allies.
- By the end of 1915, the Indian army had sustained countless casualties, and not just from the war, but from sickness as well. Consequently, the Britishers decided to withdraw the Indian Corps from the front lines of the Western Front.
The Britishers Giving Back
- Wounded Indians were sent to Britain to recover.
- The Royal Pavilion in Brighton was transformed into a hospital for the incoming soldiers.
- During their time spent there, they were visited by the King and the Royal Family. There were also tours available for them to visit London and the sights.
- Any religious needs were also taken into account, with nine separate kitchens to cater to every need of the Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims.
- The supreme sacrifice by the Indians was recorded in the World War 1 memorial in Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.
- There is also an Indian Memorial on a lawn south of the Menin Gate at the request of the Indian government.
- The British took soldiers, money, food, case, and ammunition from India, collected by British tax policies.
- Even The Times magazine thanked the Indian Empire for the “completeness and unanimity of its enthusiastic aid.”
- For its endeavors, India expected Great Britain to honor its promise of independence and freedom or at least self-governance at the end of the war.
The Brutal Rowlatt Act
- When World War 1 ended, India was denied its promised reward of independence. Instead, the Britishers went on to impose the Rowlatt Act, which allowed the incarceration of suspects without trial and certain political cases to be tried without juries.
- The Rowlatt Act forged the path for their silencing of India and its contribution as they were able to arrest without a warrant and try political activists without a jury. Public protests against it were quelled ruthlessly.
- The worst incident was the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of 1919. General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to fire upon 15,000 unarmed and peaceful men, women, and children protesting in an enclosed garden in Amritsar. They killed as many as 1,500 people and wounded more than 1,000. This sparked great controversy as the Britishers praised Dyer for this act.
- Even Rabindranath Tagore protested against India’s helpless position as British subjects.
The Miscredited Monument of Homage
- The Britishers did, however, commemorate the First World War by building the arch, now known as India Gate, in 1931.
- It was initially named All-India War Memorial and was built to pay homage to the fallen Indian World War 1 soldiers.
- India Gate is now one of India’s most famous monuments, visited by thousands of people daily who have no idea who or what it stands for.
- Many people visit the gate and bow their heads in remembrance of the fallen soldiers in wars against China and Pakistan, not knowing the soldiers the monument was initially built as a homage for.
Japan’s Most Colossal Defeat
- World War 2 was not as surprising, being a consequence of the First World War.
- The Second World War has been given the titles of the most significant war and bloodiest conflict in history.
- This world war roped in virtually the entire world through the years 1939-1945.
- The “belligerents” included Germany, Japan, and Italy who were defeated by the Allies France, Great Britain, the United States, Russia, and China.
- The British Indian Army holds the title of the world’s most significant volunteer force, with 2.5 million Indians gathered during this war, a feat unknown to many.
- During the Second World War, India dramatically changed South Asia as it was used as a garrison for the British against the Japanese.
- In the 1940s, the Fourteenth Army — a unit of British, Indian, and African soldiers — turned the tide of the war by recapturing Burma for the Allies.
- The bloodiest battles of World War 2 in India are the Battles of Kohima and Imphal, which cost Japan most of its army in Burma.
- According to Robert Lyman, the author of “Japan’s Last Bid for Victory: The Invasion of India 1944,” Japan sees the battle of Imphal as one of their most substantial defeats ever.
A Spy Infiltrating the Enemy
- In 1942, Noor Inayat Khan joined the Special Operation Executive (SOE), a secret British organization.
- She trained as a wireless operator and was stationed in France to work alongside the French resistance and report back on German military activity.
- Her unit had been exposed even before she arrived, but she did not let that stop her. She continued to work alone, transmitting coded messages back to Great Britain.
- In 1943, she was captured and killed by the Germans, but not before she provided an invaluable contribution to the war effort.
India’s Second Invaluable Contribution
- Indian doctors and nurses were deeply embedded in the war effort, treating all wounded soldiers returning from the front lines.
- In 1939, the Indian Comforts Fund (ICF) was established by Indian and British women.
- Between the time ICF was created and 1945, they delivered over 1.7 million packets of food to both colliders and prisoners of war, as well as providing warm clothes and other supplies.
- The nation itself helped out as well, collecting food and other materials for the war.
- Kolkata was the Allies’ Rest and Recreation point, where soldiers from America, Britain, and India stopped to recuperate before either heading back out to war or going home.
- India was also home to Italian Prisoners of War (POWS). As early as 1941, Italian POWS were arriving on ships by the dozen at Mumbai.
India’s Final Independence
- By the time the war ended, the Britishers were bankrupt and unable to maintain the vast colonies under their Empire.
- Although World War 2 was a catalyst in India’s fight for freedom, India almost gained its independence on its own when the British almost lost to Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA).
- The INA was brought together by Subhash Chandra Bose and was comprised of Indian volunteers and Japanese POWs, aiming to throw the British out of India.
- The British army stopped them in Imphal and Kohima.
- In the end, the INA did nothing to hinder the eventual independence of India in 1944.
- Although the partition of the Britishers left deep scars, they also left a professional and well-trained army, along with the judiciary, railway, and other services that contributed profoundly to providing a stable foundation for India.