INDIA: How the Great War Inspired an Independent India
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Alongside the many interesting new views of the war that historiography and hindsight have made available a hundred years on, there’s also a new awareness of aspects of the war's history that were under-regarded at the time.
It’s been almost forgotten that more than 1 million subjects of undivided colonial India (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) fought in the Great War for the Allies, whisked into the battlefields of Flanders and Gallipoli by a massive recruitment drive in the east by their British masters. This was a force much bigger than Britain’s own expeditionary army, and one that literally often served as cannon fodder in a conflict that horrified even its principal movers with its brutality and toll on both combatant and civilian life.
Indian troops carried out Allied commands in key battles in France, Belgium, Mesopotamia and East Africa, but when the history of the war came to be written, it was mainly that of its impact on European society and civilization, the "center" of the world. Adrift in a strange land where few could speak his language, the often illiterate Indian sepoy, or soldier, could not speak back to his master or leave a private mark on his age.