Information about this Exhibit and Additional Resources
This exhibit contains reports speaking of the Indian contribution to Britain’s army, in specific numbers both in terms of manpower and material support. This support placed an immense strain on India’s own resources, as acknowledged in these documents. Beginning in the later months of 1914, Indian troops were sent to the Persian Gulf to safeguard Britain’s oil interests in Abadan. For the duration of the campaign, around 600,000 Indians served in Mesopotamia including officers, soldiers, as well as non-combatants such as labourers who worked on roads and railways. They fought against the Ottoman Empire which had entered the war on Germany’s side. Many of them lived under miserable conditions, suffering from diseases and left with limited food supplies and clean water in the harsh weather. Indians were also amongst the ones captured by Ottoman forces at Kut-al-Amara and treated brutally on the 500-mile march to Turkish prison camps. Furthermore, Indian troops were crucial to the victory achieved later in the campaign for the British forces. For example, the attack on Shumran in February of 1917 was led by the 37th Indian Brigade.
While the Mesopotamia Commission’s report acknowledged the Indian contribution in clear terms, noting that ‘India may justly be proud of her contribution to the Empire, while England has every reason for her grateful recognition of her services’ (CAB 24/7/52: p. 10), this contribution was not publicly discussed until recently.
Indian nationalists had supported the Indian participation in the war hoping that they would be rewarded with self-government in return. However, that was denied to Indians after the war ended.
- David Omissi, Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldier’s Letters, 1914- 18, (London: Palgrave Macmillan London, 1999)
- Gajendra Singh, The Testimonies of Indian Soldiers and the Two World Wars: Between Self and Sepoy, (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014)
- George Morton-Jack, The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to Victory, the Untold Story of the Indian Army in the First World War, (Little, Brown: 2018)
- Santanu Das, India, Empire, and First World War Culture: Writings, Images, and Songs, (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
- ‘WAR DIARY. ARMY HEADQUARTERS, INDIA. […] I.E.F. “D”. Volume 58. (From 1st to 31st May 1919.)’, Qatar National Library, [accessed June 30, 2022] https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100000000112.0x000230
- “The Mesopotamia Campaign”, National Archives, [accessed June 29, 2022] https://nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/battles/mesopotamia.htmes
- “Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten”, BBC, July 2, 2015 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33317368
- Santanu Das, “The Indian sepoy in the First World War”, The British Library, February 6, 2014, https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/the-indian-sepoy-in-the-first-world-war
- “World War One: Six extraordinary Indian stories”, BBC News, November 11, 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-46148207
- “Indian Soldiers in the First World War”, First World War in Focus, National Army Museum, November 3, 2016, https://ww1.nam.ac.uk/2808/news/indian-soldiers-first-world-war/#.Yr2GIy8w1QJ
- “Mesopotamia campaign”, National Army Museum, [accessed June 28, 2022] https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/mesopotamia-campaign