BBC Thought for the Day in commemoration of the Battle of Passchendaele next Monday 31st July 2017 and remembering that soldiers from India and the Commonwealth helped defend our British land. Lest we forget
Following a rallying cry by Lord Kitchener “Your Country Needs You”, pals’ batallions were formed across the country. Whilst the War Minister urged for conscripts to sign up for Battle, preparations were being made across the Empire to mobilise troops to defend King and Country.
‘Do not think that this is war. This is not war. It is the ending of the world. This is just such a war as was related in the Mahabharata about our forefathers’, wrote a wounded Indian soldier from a hospital in England on 29 January 1915.
1.3 million Indians served the British Empire in the First World War. They served in places as diverse as France and Belgium, Mesopatamia, Egypt, Gallipoli, Palestine and Sinai, and East and West Africa – testiying the global nature of the war.
140,000 combatants from India served in the trenches in France and Belgium taking part in the fiercest battles – Ypres, Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle and Passchendaele.
The role and sacrifices of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and South Africans has been celebrated and rendered immortal. Of the 1.3 million Indian troops who served, however, you hear very little.
The French waited for Indian troops to arrive who were soon in the thick of the fighting, as the cries came in Marseille, “Vivent les Hindous!”.
Today, the sacrifices of these men is not remembered. The separation of history is stark. We are not them, but a story can be a means of connection, we are like them.
In the United Kingdom we have focused on remembering the stories of local heroes, however, these heroes also protected the land – free and just – on which we today stand. In our great city, with descendants from all over the Commonweath, let us today gather and reflect on the global sacrifice to our freedom.
In India, sacrifices of these Indian heroes are disregarded as a feeling of national shame. In India, they are not regarded as heroes. The First World War experience may be said to have imbued Indian sepoys with a greater sense of his rights.
In the honour of the Indian soldiers who came from afar to fight with the greatest dedication in a land they had possibly not heard of earlier and stopped the German advance preventing the town of Ypres from being captured. To this meeting place, a place where we realise our common history and where by cherishing that mutual past, we can work on our mutual future.
शहीदों अमर रहो ||
Suraj D Samant
Representative for Youth Development
Hindu Council UK