M3 Features

Photo exhibition on Indian soldiers who fought in the Great War

November 20, 2014

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, which the Allies won in 1918. The Allies, mainly consisting of the French Republic, the British Empire and the Russian Empire, defeated the Germany-led Axis powers.

In this war effort, not only did soldiers from the countries directly involved in the war fight, but also huge numbers from the colonies of these powers, mainly of France and Britain. Hence, there were African, Irish, Indian and Indo-Chinese soldiers, among others, on the side of the Allies. Britain, the ruling colonial power of India, mobilised 1.5 million Indian soldiers during this war, also called the Great War. Among the Indians, Punjabi Muslims, Sikhs, Garhwalis and Gorkhas were the dominant segments.

Some 150,000 Indian soldiers were deployed in Europe from September 1914. The overwhelming majority of Indian troops fought in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire. However, a large number also fought in France, France being the Western Front in the European theatre of the war.

Around 28,500 Indian soldiers had come to fight on French and Belgian soil as part of the British army by end-1914. They faced the severe winter of 1914-15 and the wars in Neuve Chapelle (in France) in March 1915, in Ypres (in Belgium) in April 1915, in Festubert (in France) in May 1915 and in Loos (in Belgium) in September 1915. In all, from 1914 to 1918, around 90,000 soldiers in various capacities fought for the freedom of France and Belgium. Of them, 8,500 died and 50,000 were injured.

As a tribute from France to this immense sacrifice by Indian soldiers, Alliance Française du Bengale is holding a 13-day-long photo exhibition titled ‘War and Memories’ at Victoria Memorial. It started on November 11 and would continue till November 23. This exhibition has provided glimpses from the lives of those who left their own lands to fight for their colonial masters. Take, for instance, the picture titled ‘Indian Mounted Troops riding through Marseilles.’ The soldiers, being led in France by a British and a French officer – as shown in the photograph – had sailed through the Suez Canal to reach Marseilles, a major port on the Mediterranean Sea which was the point of entry into France for colonial troops. Another photograph depicts Sikh soldiers with French colonels at Pas-deCalais in northern France.

A total of 35 rare photographs of colonial troops grace the exhibition. Not just of Indians, photographs of troops from other colonies also form part of the exhibition. The pictures have been sourced from the French Ministry of Defence, the German Historical Museum and the Ulster Museum. Olivier Litvine, Curator-Director of Alliance Française de Dhaka, has curated this exhibition.

Image: Alliance Française du Bengale

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