Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros14.22. Histories of Space, Spaces of ...II/ After the transnational turn:...Memory and history of the Great(e...

2. Histories of Space, Spaces of History
II/ After the transnational turn: national and global perspectives

Memory and history of the Great(er) War and India: from a national-imperial to a more global perspective



Cet article explore les aspects historiographiques et mémoriels concernant l'Inde britannique dans la Première guerre mondiale. L’Inde d’aujourd'hui montre peu d’enclin à vouloir commémorer ou encourager la recherche sur ce sujet. Les pays occidentaux sont plus curieux de voir les soldats originaires des Indes britanniques honorés dans les commémorations de cette guerre. Nous soutenons que la question de l'Inde dans la Première guerre est en fait une question des plus importantes qui ne doit plus être négligée dans la nouvelle perspective historique globale sur la Première guerre. Nous soutenons que l’étude de la Première guerre mondiale, surtout en ce qui concerne la contribution des Empires coloniaux, en particulier la contribution de l'Empire britannique des Indes, est en fait d'une importance extrême pour le monde de l'après-guerre, le mouvement anticolonial et la stabilité de l'Empire britannique en Asie ainsi que l'état des relations internationales sur ce continent.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1Renewed importance has been given to World War One (WWI) in Indian history and the meaning of this war for India’s role globally (Neiberg, Sondhaus, Storey, Strachan). Indeed, it has become commonplace to read WWI as the start of the decolonization process in India, the true beginning of a peaceful thirty-year process of liberation (1918 to 1947/8). In that sense, the debates on WWI and India are about whether the war should be seen as the “matrix” of subsequent developments in inter-war India: increased violence within nationalist politics, colonial policies such as the “British atrocities” in Amritsar or in the Moplah massacre or even within Communalism and exclusive religious or caste nationalism (Das 2010). WWI could be seen as inaugurating an era of violence against and amongst Indian civilians for the next generation. Colonial troops may have been the closest witnesses of the genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 while fighting in Mesopotamia and that major event might be interpreted as the prefiguration of the massacres of Partition. The Great War could therefore be said to have paved the way to greater violence in India, the killing of millions being in some way the dress rehearsal and the necessary condition for the millions of deaths that occurred during the 1943 Bengal famine and Partition.

A new chronology for the Great(er) War and India

2These are bold statements to make, but they could be illustrated by the action of individuals such as Reginald Dyer, the so-called Butcher of Amritsar who had fought the war when he declared publically a day after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre: You people know well that I am a sepoy and soldier… For me the battlefield of France or Amritsar is the same” (Collett 270).

3Such interpretations prove to be indeed very questionable. In the first place, it is not easy to establish that a crucial threshold was crossed in 1914. Violent modern warfare had already been implemented on a large scale during the Indian Uprising or Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, a colonial military campaign of appalling brutality. Therefore, the sequence in which it would be more appropriate to include WWI in Indian history comes at the end of an era that had opened with the repression of the Sepoy Mutiny. One might therefore see in WWI only continuity in the act of using force to control India, not change. As a result, the origins of the war should be included in a larger sequence marked by the culmination of long-existing, but now wholly competing, imperialisms of the modern states (Das 2011a).

4Similarly, the consequences of the Great War are far from obvious. Many historians consider that war veterans were ‘rendered brutal’ by war and were reportedly willing to resort to violence during the nationalist campaigns (Gooptu). In reality, this theory does not withstand analysis: careful studies that have been conducted on veteran sepoys show unequivocally that they were mostly peace-loving; conversely, the violent activists who were to be found in the militias of the Hindu-exclusivist RSS or the pro-Pakistan Muslim National Guard had not, for most of them, experienced war (Vankoski 317). Finally, on a more general level, explaining the most violent episodes of Indian history through WWI (or for that matter, WWII) could confine historical analysis to obsession with metropolitan centres only, instead of paying attention to a specific global context, in this case that of the crisis of the interwar colonial and global economic order (Jarboe 2014b).

5A most fruitful kind of re-evaluation of the Great War both in space and time which leads to further extending research on India and WWI is to be found in Manela’s or Gerwarth and Manela’s work (Manela 2007; Gerwarth and Manela 2014, 2015). The two historical volumes focus on both Imperial British India at war and British India’s participation in the Versailles conference, reassessing the importance of the First World War in the long history of declining Empires. Gerwarth & Manela reject two classic assertions about WWI historiography: firstly, that the war began in 1914 and ended in 1918 and secondly, that the war was mainly fought in Europe between European nation-states. They want imperial conscripts and troops, conflict zones outside Europe, and revolutionary changes given their due importance in the general account of the war. They argue that history of the Great War must be examined as a mere cycle of armed imperial conflict within a frame that is both wider spatially than the 1914-1918 one and longer temporally.

6For Gerwarth & Manela, WWI actually began in 1911 with Italian colonial frustrations finding an outlet through the invasion of Libya, continued in 1912 with the Balkan wars – with Indian-Muslim support to the Ottoman Empire – meant to reduce Pan-Islamic (Ottoman) power in Europe (Kelly, Lüdke, McMeekin). WWI continued until 1923 after five main events had occurred: first, the end of Irish Civil War and the acceptance of British Partition of the island; second, the end of occupation of the Ruhr in Europe and the acceptance of renewed German power in Europe; third, the Treaty of Lausanne greenlighting the largest ethnic-cleansing episode in history (until the 1947 Partition of India) by defining Greek and Turkish territory; fourthly, the Bolsheviks’ final victory in Russia spreading revolutionary ideas across the colonized world; and lastly, the Washington Conference that made Japan the first non-white nation to become an established naval power in the Pacific and East Asia.

7Gerwarth & Manela clearly argue that the First World War should not just be seen as a war between European nation-states but rather as a war among global empires. Empires rather than nations had been mobilized for the war (Greenhut 1983). As a result WWI changed the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized forever. The Great War was not a conflict of nation-states: empires both disintegrated and expanded, and while violence was ending on the Western front (Morton) and in some other theatres, it continued at full strength in such places as the Ottoman Empire and Egypt (McKale, McMeekin), or even India.

8If we apply Gerwarth & Manela’s views to the Indian situation, my contention is that, as early as 1911, the imperial harmony and legitimacy that seemed to surround the Delhi Durbar in India exploded with the rejection of the Curzon Partition of Bengal. As millions of imperial Indian subjects were enrolled and served on various fronts, it can be said that the impact of the war was felt by hundreds of millions as the war brought not only conscription, but inflation and economic hardships, while also creating new opportunities such as undermining racial, religious and caste superiority and encouraging hopes for Home Rule and overseas migration (Fischer, Ramnath). However, wartime promises proved a great disappointment, creating instability for a whole generation (Tinker).

9In 1916, Home Rule League Nationalists demanded Dominion status. With great insight, the American international law specialist David Hunter Miller later described India’s membership of the League of Nations as “an anomaly among anomalies … a striking paradox almost without parallel” (Miller, 493). As the war ended, Gandhi and the nationalists of the Congress were extremely aware of the ambiguous status created by Versailles, the fact that “India enjoyed in theory at least, and as a matter of course, the sovereign rights of dominions, notwithstanding the fact that she had not reached a condition of complete autonomy even in internal affairs” (Miller, 493). It was finally the novel duties and constraints imposed by the League of Nations mandate system on Britain which hastened the process of its imperial decline that would eventually lead to the collapse of the colonial order and its replacement by the post-colonial nation-state in 1947 as the only internationally legitimate form of political organization.

10As early as 1919, there had been widespread opposition in India to both the insufficient constitutional reform and the post-war emergency measures, in a context of tragic events like the Amritsar massacre. The Non-cooperation Movement was the unexpected political response. As the colonial regime strained to restore order and contain crises occurring across India, it also struggled to shape and control the result of the war on the Ottomans in Mesopotamia and Palestine, in particular, or even in the Persian Gulf. The fact that the Muslims of the British Empire in India allied with Gandhi opposing the disappearance of the Khilafat in Istanbul also knocked the imperial edifice off balance. During the period 1919-1922, the British Empire in India suddenly faced its most severe crisis to date.

11The imperial reaction was first to react violently by massacring civilians in Amritsar or using aerial bombardment to tame revolts such as the Moplah rebellion, involving a Muslim martial race in the British Indian army that had fought in the Mesopotamia campaign. Moplah veterans were frustrated when the promised rewards for their service did not materialize. Once demobilized and thrust back into colonial Indian society, these men returned to a social and political hierarchy that was profoundly more racist, casteist and rigid than the army (Martin, Constable). Social and political control was encouraged by the colonial regime which resorted to racial and legal controls to uphold caste “prestige” (Ganachari).

12The First World War caused India to strongly question imperial legitimacy as Egypt gained partial independence unilaterally in 1922. White dominions were obtaining a better deal within the Empire too. By 1918, nearly one and a half million Indian soldiers or sepoys had gone to the frontline. They had made up nearly 20% of the British forces involved in the war, more than the so-called White Dominions or combined Welsh, Scottish and Irish contribution. Indeed, there is some irony in the fact that the very essence of the war between empires led to the fragilizing of the strongest empire the world ever saw, the British Empire (Jeffery, Killingray and Omissi). The Indian revolt which resulted at the end of the 1910’s and the beginning of the 1920’s generated new forms of anti-colonial politics with both practical – well-disciplined unarmed satyagraha resistance – and ideological challenges – non-violent ahimsa (Chandra 2012). The wish to reassert full British imperial control in India was facing newly effective tactics on a scale never known before.

  • 1 The template for European and Indian ethnic cleansing was the Greek-Turkish post WWI population tra (...)

13Ottoman and Russian collapse had also created a heavily contested region on India’s western and northern borders, thereby leaving buffer states like Iran, Afghanistan or Tibet without order or clear state authority. Both colonial authorities and Indian Muslim intellectuals like Iqbal suddenly envisioned a future territory called Pakistan (others a pure Buddhist Burma in the East) that could establish a protection zone around India. Inevitably, the independence process finally came at a high price for Indian nationalists: a price paid by the minorities expelled from post-Partition religiously-cleansed territories like Punjab and Bengal and leading to the biggest exodus in the history of mankind.1

14In any case, by 1923, the United States having retreated from the world scene, the Soviet Union seized the opportunity to support anti-imperial organizations across India and the rest of the colonized world. It seemed apparent that peace treaties had reinforced the colonial order but the multiple experiences of war by Indians and their physical encounter with the metropole would deeply affect the future of British India. Even if it took another war to complete the decolonization of India, the Great(er) War, or the period between 1911 and 1923, remains the real watershed years on the road to Indian freedom.

Military history

15Research issues debating the Great War depend on a particular context, in this case India, and also evolve with time. In the 1920s and 1930s, traditional military history was popular, be it anti or pro-sepoy or the usual paternalistic colonial perspective (Gardner). Histories started as memoirs and traditional battle-narrative type factual accounts. These accounts paid attention to decisions made by generals, high-ranking officers or politicians, be they British or Indian (Alexander, Anderson, Basu, Bhargava, Bhownaggree, Merewether, O’Dwyer, Rafiullah, Trevelyan, Wakefield, Willcocks, Wilson).

16First, there were writers like Rudyard Kipling who helped create official propaganda (Jain) or former Prime Minister David Lloyd George who acknowledged the participation of Indians:

The fighting races, however, gave us some magnificent troops, who proved their valour and endurance on every front and won a long array of official honours and recognitions, including a number of V.C.’s. The chief contribution of Hindustan was made in southern theatres — Palestine, Mesopotamia and East Africa, where our Indian legions rendered splendid service. (Lloyd George 322)

  • 2 In the British Expeditionary Forces or BEF, the Indian BEF represented a third of all British Empir (...)

17However, once conscription became well-established in Britain, the British government adopted a paternalistic gratitude towards the ill-equipped Indian sepoy who could not stand the European climate any longer (Koller 2008). Indians were then sent to other theatres of war as the fear of a new sepoy rebellion had to be avoided since, with so many losses in the first few months of the war, there was widespread anger in the Indian British Expeditionary Forces (Greenhut 1983).2 The two Indian divisions that fought in France were made up of about 24,000 men and had received around 30,000 replacements from India – in other words, they had suffered casualty rates of well over 100 per cent (Corrigan, Jack)!

18From the outset, accounts of the role of the Indian army in Western Europe or elsewhere were many during the war. Other fiction writers like Conan Doyle had also given detailed, heroic and utterly positive, even if condescending, descriptions of the battles the Indians fought. The soldiers were barely seen as mature and wise children of the Empire, their sometimes outdated values exposed them to unnecessary injuries and dangers, but Doyle himself was amongst the few who strongly supported the idea of an ever-adaptable Indian sepoy:

This warfare of unseen enemies and enormous explosions was new to the gallant Indians, but they soon accommodated themselves to it, and moderated the imprudent gallantry which exposed them at first to unnecessary loss. (Doyle ch.7)

19General James Willcocks, the commander of the Indian Corps in France in 1914, sees only gratefulness among the loyal colonial soldier subject who finds the hierarchy so helpful and full of attention towards cultural matters, again an oblique reference to the 1857 “mistake” (Willcocks). Indians themselves like Bhupendranath Basu, former member of the Imperial Legislative Council in India were not immune to deep loyalist feelings and were “prepared to lay down their lives on the field, so that the old order of things may pass away and a new order be ushered in” (Basu 1914). Moreover, far from disagreeing with such loyal or hardcore imperialists, Indian nationalists like Gandhi in 1914 fully agreed to send sepoys to fight for the defence of the imperial motherland (Chakravorty). At the end of the war, Gandhi still addressed mass gatherings declaring: “Voluntary recruiting is a key to swaraj and will give us honour and manhood” (Gandhi Research Foundation).

20Understandably, the results of collaboration were a deception for Indian nationalists. After WWI, memories of the war or glorious life accounts of Indian sepoys or princely officers on service in distant war zones quickly faded away (Vankoski). Interest in the Great War became even lower in the 1940s and 1950s since events that led to the independence of India and Pakistan and the decolonization of British India were understandably more prominent. Indian universities which were created in the 1960s and 1970s were more concerned with Marxist-influenced economic history when it came to studying WWI (Ellinwood and Pradhan). The consequences of the conflict on Indian society such as wartime protests, mutinies, rebellions and repression (Beckett) or the life of subaltern social groups like the sepoys have themselves become objects of study since the 1990s (Barrett 2007). Indeed, a number of interesting new issues have been debated.

21In the UK, we should mention a particular brand of traditional military historians for whom the life and motivation of Indian sepoys was the main focus of study with regard to the extreme conditions of either the European trenches or the long drawn out campaigns in Mesopotamia and elsewhere in the Mediterranean (Hodder).

22How could the sepoys face so many hardships? The school of military history that is more akin to the Periphery school traditionally focuses on India’s success on two issues: one is on Indian society as a whole and its ability and resilience to confront the war effort in the long term. The other is about the sepoys’ constancy in obeying their sahib officers despite suffering very difficult fighting conditions at the beginning of the war and despite being targeted by the racism of the British High Command which constantly underlines the failures of this particular contingent (Martin).

  • 3 “Chief” Ko Ho Senuna Nagi’s former tombstone in the Mazargues CWGC cemetery, France, read: “He took (...)

23The debate they offer is about whether the sepoys had actively or passively consented to warring for four long years as meek colonial subjects, certain that they were fighting for a just cause, defending British imperial hegemony and the King against his enemies, honouring the now solid martial tradition of intervention of the Indian expeditionary forces overseas (MacMunn, Silbey). Were pecuniary incentives unimportant and did notions of camaraderie operating both as the quest to uphold honour and avoid shame play a key role in motivating the soldiers? Hadn’t their consent accounted for the rather low proportion of deserters or rebels – who became outcasts in martial groups in India – amongst their ranks (Putkowski and Sykes, Manjapra)? Weren’t the sepoys supposed to share an old established war culture with the martial communities they were recruited from back home in India? Didn’t sepoys share a real war culture and mindset; didn’t they have only hatred for the opponents of the King of England – German troops were supposedly terrorized by the sepoy snipers – to whom they had pledged allegiance? Sikh, Rajput, Gurkha and Muslim warriors were enthusiastically supported by some colonial officers like Haig or Indian intellectuals like Lord Sinha and loyalist Princes like Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in such media as British ‘trench newspapers’ (Jarboe 2014a)? German propaganda made charges that Indian and African soldiers were involved in brutality in the war, such as cutting off fingers, heads and hands of their victims as “trophies” (Tilman).3 Weren’t the sepoys developing an even superior barbaric taste for the new kind of industrialised violence? Wasn’t the distribution of objects like postcards and personal souvenirs featuring deeply loyalist sepoy feelings another proof of his staunch support?

24To the question ‘How could the sepoys stand so much?’ Military history has an answer: the sepoys’ mental resilience is evident in the discourse of their war culture and accounts for their solid involvement in the conflict. For traditional military historians focusing on failures, the idea of a long and sustained war has actually been imposed through censorship and propaganda. For instance, the power of folk music was not lost on the military propagandists. Popular songs of the time were used effectively as an army propaganda piece played in village fairs and recruitment gatherings urging Indian men to join the war effort in return for benefits such as tastier food and better clothing (Singh, K.D.).

Social, postcolonial and global history

25Another historiographical trend, the ‘culture of war’ view, goes against the idea that the sepoys were poor innocent victims of the colonial regime. This view is strongly contested and some academics have challenged it by deciding to bear increasing attention to the sepoys’ war-accounts, especially those from vernacular-speaking backgrounds. This school of social history tries to unequivocally prove that sepoy consent to the war, if it ever existed, was then a view only held by the political, cultural and social colonial elites (Roy 2006).

  • 4 Vijay Singh tells the stories of the sepoys who fell in love with French women and had children fro (...)

26What Indian or colonial intellectuals declared in their notebooks or what is written on war memorials cannot of course be seen as expressing general sepoy opinion or a common sepoy attitude toward the conflict. Rather, the sepoy’s attitude to the war, the social historians say, was made up of resignation (they were ordered back to the front more than the average trooper); loyalty (they had long-time friends and relatives in the army); and camaraderie towards fellow-soldiers – behaviour similar to any other wartime army. Sepoys could be dedicated to the job, befriend the locals and even marry European women.4 Sepoys could and would have written very depressing letters home (Koller 2011), could go on a short leave, not to distant India, but just across the channel or further south in Marseilles, in order to forget the daily experience of war in the cold and wet weather of the northern French trenches (Omissi 2007). Refusing the war was difficult for them in the imperial context and they could not risk disobeying orders or start a mutiny in a non-Indian context (Gupta and Deshpande).

  • 5 See Robert Clarke’s professional research website on Indian army ranks like “bhisti”, “coolie”, “dh (...)
  • 6 Anglo-Indian slang was disseminated throughout the BEF to the British and the rest of the Empire: “ (...)

27The sepoy’s tenacious and persistent combat attitude against the enemy was therefore neither based on failure/barbaric hatred (Greenhut 1983) nor successful/loyalist consent (Jack, Trench). Controversy between military history and social history (Roy) has however proved fruitful, raising questions about various concepts, sources and methods. The resulting research is based on large corpuses. It has increased knowledge of otherwise ignored groups like ‘sepoys on leave’ (Markovits), ‘mutineers’ (Beckett), ‘camp-followers’ (Singha 2010, 2007),5 ‘Anglo-Indian officers’6 and ‘Non-Commissioned Officers’ like lances, naiks, havildars (Palit, Greenhut 1984). It has certainly made the realities of the Great War in the Indian army more nuanced, and no longer is the traditional ‘culture of war’ view so predominant.

28We have seen that this interpretative tension between proponents of either imperial or neo-imperial military history or social history contributed to renewed study of issues and raised questions barely addressed before. Notably, the attention paid to individual accounts of the war which opened up prospects for work on what is called ‘war experience’ of the ‘PostColonial’ (PoCos) type, the way in which the war has been experienced most intimately. Texts bequeathed by sepoys, as well as archives of the armed forces, have provided professional historians with the opportunity to reconstruct the specific social relationships built in order to survive the hardships of the war. How did the sepoy demonstrate friendship, camaraderie, through touching, emotion and intimacy in the world of trenches and hospitals (Das 2011b, Fell)? The myth of a strong, invincible masculine fighter fostered through the works of Rudyard Kipling and embodied in the figure of General Haig was deconstructed. A very different view of male experience accommodating fear, vulnerability, support and physical tenderness, sprang up in its place. Rivalry and conflict existed among Indian martial groups or imperial races (Barrett 2011).

29The PoCos school of history takes into account the broader social importance of the gendered or sexual identities in wartime (Levine 2010): what is the influence of war on manhood, on the model of masculine courage. How was homosexuality in Gurkha and Pathan regiments considered; in what conditions were homosexuals court-martialled in the British Indian army (Streets, Greenhut 1981)? Marriages, divorces, and repudiations also happened, family life having become non-existent for many sepoys who were not allowed to go home on leave for many years. Indian soldiers wrote home, went on leave and discovered European cities and civilian populations (Dendooven, Markovits, Omissi 2007). They were absent fathers or sometimes had children with the locals: despite researchers’ efforts sources are not always available on colonial troops. The sexuality of the soldiers and their massive recourse to prostitutes (Greenhut 1981, Levine 1998) are topics that mail and autobiographical texts do sometimes mention. Letters written by soldiers commented favourably on French women with whom soldiers had sexual liaisons and from whom they learnt behaviours soldiers themselves started passing on to their wives when returning home: “The ladies here are very nice and they bestow their favours upon us freely and most generously. They don’t do this thing the way we do it in India” (Parekh).

30What of the regularity of religious practice, the consumption of meat, pork, beef, alcohol and tobacco or drugs which for Indians takes on great importance (Robinson)? The British Army had no wish to repeat the mistakes that had led to the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and so did its utmost to cater for the needs of its Asian soldiers. In the midst of a new Indian uprising in 1920, Commander Willcocks was extremely eager to stress the care taken by high officialdom during the war to avoid the mistakes made in 1857:

The rations consisted of meat for those who ate it, several days in the week according to the circumstances of the time; for non meat-eaters extra gur (sugar), dall (lentils), ghee (clarified butter), potatoes, tea, atta (flour), and five kinds of tasty ingredients; in addition dried fruits such as raisins, etc., and various kinds of vegetables as procurable. But this did not end their rations, for mixed sweetmeats were frequently supplied by friends and retired British officers; cigarettes in abundance for such classes as smoked them; European and Indian tobacco and chillums (native clay pipes) were sent by some of the Indian Princes. Rum was issued to those who were not prohibited from taking alcohol and extra tea to those who could not indulge in the former. Goats were purchased from Southern Europe in large numbers; slaughtered at fixed stations on the line of communications by men of the various units; labelled with distinctive tapes and conveyed to destination by men of the different denominations. (Willcocks 98)

31Fighting in a war elevated sepoys to the caste of Kshatriya (warrior caste). In a caste-ridden society, social status rose if one became a soldier bringing on oneself and one’s family the prestige of fighting for the Empire and travelling abroad. The Moplah rebellion was the result of such elevation being frustrated. Fighting should normally have enhanced caste and social status for future generations.

32The almost ethnographic component of the PoCos’ finely-tuned research venture also deals with mass killing and death or disease (Barrett 2011, Harrison): mourning dead comrades, dealing with mass burial/cremation (Robinson), recovering in Brighton hospitals (Collins, Fell), or honouring the dead by attending war memorial ceremonies. On the South Downs, Chattri at Patcham or Neuve-Chapelle for instance, sepoy memory of the war became an active field of research in its own right. Many questions have only begun to be sketched out and inventive work on sources will throw light on these issues.

Conclusion: the memory of India in WWI

  • 7 By releasing an online book, Indian War Memorials of the First World War (Mukerje).
  • 8 Except for France due to the sale of the Rafale fighter jet to India (“French army to march down Ra (...)

33The centenary of the Great War has seen European countries organise large-scale commemorative programmes, including official ceremonies, exhibitions, displays in newly renovated museums, and tourist trails. It is not just governments under the pressure of so-called multiculturalists that have sought to honour their former empires’ participation in the conflict and give former subject peoples their due in European history. The United Nations themselves look to pay homage to the million Indian colonial soldiers who fought during World War I.7 Their sacrifice has been compared to that made by other Indian soldiers today when participating in UN peacekeeping operations around the world. However, successor states to the old British colonies in South Asia plan no such grand events. Commemorative practices have been scarce in India in the run up to the WWI centenary and even the ritual homage paid to the Unknown Soldier has not served for more diplomatic rapprochement with the former colonizer or the European Union as a whole.8 While Prime Minister Narendra Modi did pay homage to the 10,000 Indian soldiers who were killed while fighting alongside the French during World War I by visiting the Neuve-Chapelle war memorial in Lille in April 2015, he was the first Indian Prime Minister to do so.

  • 9 The USI-MEA Centenary Commemoration project (“India and the Great War”) means to reconsider the rol (...)
  • 10 The soldiers were mostly Sikhs and Muslims and half of them from Punjab. For more on the topic of P (...)

34Quite unique was the response of the oldest Indian think-tank, the United Service Institution, which cooperated with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ Public Diplomacy Wing in organising public events in India.9 However, cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission where sepoys repose have been ignored, even in the Middle East where India enjoys good relations with either Iraq or Iran. India Gate, one of the main monuments in Delhi, which was built as a memorial to the soldiers of the Indian army who died in the war, forbids the copying of the engraved names of soldiers who died fighting!10

35In a book review published on 22 November 2014, journalist Srinath Raghavan writes: “South Asian historians of all stripes are more interested in people who resisted the imperial power than those who collaborated with it”, putting the blame not only on Indian historians “having no interest in military history” but also on the Indian public which views the soldiers as mere mercenaries whose prime motivation was money. He adds the sepoys did not die for India, so there is no reason to remember them. Only regiments feel able to celebrate the centenary, but it remains an internal affair (Raghavan).

36The Great War in India is overshadowed by either the shame suffered by Indian nationalist supporters, or simply the weight of the struggle for independence and the tragic events of Partition. The fight against the British colonial regime, followed by the disastrous events of the so-called decolonization process of the British Empire in India, is overwhelmingly what marked the Indian subcontinent’s psyche more than any other event. Controversies among historians are still most vivid in this regard (Mahajan). World War I on the other hand has only aroused minor interest in the cultural and public sphere in India so far. India’s memory of the conflict remains extremely distant, and it is understandably largely crushed under the weight of the anti-colonial struggle and the policy of non-alignment of the years following independence. In other Commonwealth countries, rekindled interest in the war has been observed and in at least two of the so-called former “White Dominions”, Australia and New Zealand, Gallipoli is the effective birth certificate of the newly-formed national identity (Bouchard ch.6).

37Commemorating WWI is a different matter for the Indian diaspora in Britain. There seems to be no lack of interest for conflicts involving colonial troops in official circles ever since the erection of the Memorial Gates back in 2002. The memory of the Great War, in its collective dimension, possibly adds justification to the diasporic Indian presence in the UK and the strong links that have bonded many generations of South Asians to their newly-adopted country (Visram). Talk to any Punjabi immigrant in the UK today and it is highly likely that they will describe grandfathers and other relatives who fought for Britain. British Asians are recovering this lost history and revealing the vital contribution that colonized Indians made.

  • 11 Recently, another major India literary figure Amitav Ghosh has begun a writing project on his blog (...)
  • 12 Salt of the Sarkar is a multimedia retelling of the story created by Dominic Rai, including a play (...)

38A centenary edition of a major work of English literature written by Mulk Raj Anand is re-connecting the Indian diaspora to Indian WWI heroes. Across the Black Waters tells the story of a young soldier and his companions, as they arrived at Marseilles by ship from India in September 1914 to reach the frontline in Flanders in October.11 Such fiction is being re-discovered by a new generation of the diaspora and the novel is to be performed as a play at the Hackney Empire in 2018.12 In France, Paris-based Indian filmmaker, scriptwriter and novelist Vijay Singh made a film about the sons and daughters of Indian soldiers who met their loved ones in France: Farewell My Indian Soldier/Mademoiselle France pleure.

  • 13 BBC Radio 4’s “Soldiers of the Empire” programme (2014) follows in the footsteps of BBC World Servi (...)

39A graphic novel also offers the personal tale of a sepoy who faces death in the trenches of the Western Front (Cowsill and Sharma). Radio or television programmes abound,13 accompanied by the recent publication of several long monographs that deal with the Indian presence in WWI (Das 2011c).

  • 14 See the exhibition “Les Indiens 1914-15 : le sacrifice d’un peuple dans la boue d’Artois” held at S (...)
  • 15 For instance, the BBC’s “Forgotten heroes: the Indian Army in the Great War” (4-18 Aug. 2014); The (...)

40Simply put, every Briton of Indian roots has now the opportunity to delve into a documented past of letters (Omissi 1999, Nagra, Singh), artefacts14, and war heroes (Stewart), that solidly links him or her to Britain. Through WWI memorabilia, the British past carries strong references to Indian heroism, martyrdom, suffering, sacrifice or brotherhood (China); this is important for the second or third generation of British Asians who have never heard of these stories before and now turn to the vestiges of the early Indian presence in Britain: see the BBC Asian Network, the British Library WWI site, Making Britain/Open University online and even more material on the South Asia section of the Online International Encyclopedia of the First World War, to cite but some sources.15 Sustained British Asian activism initiated the restoration and preservation of the “Doctor Brighton” Pavilion (Brar). Genealogical research and blogs chronicling the lives of Indian warriors or regiments are common. There is a campaign to remove past injustices and rehabilitate repatriated Indian Prisoners of War (Ahuja, Jones) or soldiers convicted of self-inflicted wounds, countering allegations that Indian soldiers deliberately shot themselves in order to be taken out of action.

41The current readings linked to the historiographical debate around the ‘Great War and India’ and the way historians who are interested in this period of entangled imperial, Indian, British national or global history, interpret it, raise major issues concerning the fate of these ‘subalterns’ caught up in the workings of history.

Haut de page


Ahuja, Ravi, Heike Liebau, and Franziska Roy. When the war began we heard of several kings: South Asian prisoners in World War I Germany. New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2011. Print.

Alexander, H. M. On two fronts: being the adventures of an Indian Mule Corps in France & Gallipoli. New York: EP Dutton & Company, 1917. Print.

Anderson, Capt. Edward. With the 33rd Q V O Light Cavalry in Mesopotamia. Ed. John Sambrooke. Poona: The Scottish Mission Industries, 1915 (2014). Print.

“Anglo-Indian Army Slang.” CWGC. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Barrett, Michèle. “Death and the afterlife: Britain’s colonies and Dominions.” Race, Empire and First World War Writing. Ed. Santanu Das. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 301-320. Print.

---. “Subalterns at war: First World War colonial forces and the politics of the Imperial War Graves Commission.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 9.3 (2007): 451-474. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Basu, Bhupendranath. Why India is heart and soul with Great Britain. London: MacMillan, 1914. Print.

Beckett, Ian. “The Singapore Mutiny of February 1915”. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research LXII (1984): 132-153. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Bhargava, M.B.L. India’s services in the War. Allahabad: Standard Press, 1919. Print.

Bhownaggree, M. M. The verdict of India. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916. Print.

Bouchard, Gérard. The making of the nations and cultures of the New World: an essay in comparative history. Montréal, Québec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009. Print.

Brar, Sandip Singh, curator. Doctor Brighton’s Pavilion., 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Chakravorty, Upendra. Indian nationalism and the First World War, 1914-1918. Calcutta: Progressive Publishers, 1997. Print.

Chandra, Bipan. The writings of Bipan Chandra: the making of modern India: from Marx to Gandhi. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2012. 3-99. Print.

Chhina, Rana. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal. New Delhi: InvictaIndia, 2001. Print.

Clarke, Robert. “WW1 Indian Army Ranks.” Researching the Lives and Service Records of World War One Soldiers. 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Collett, Nigel. The butcher of Amritsar. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2005. 270. Print.

Collins, Joyce. Dr Brighton’s Indian patients, December 1914-January 1916. Brighton: Brighton Books, 1997. Print.

Constable, Philip. “The marginalization of a Dalit martial race in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Western India.” The Journal of Asian Studies 60.2 (2001): 439. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Corrigan, Gordon. Introduction. Sepoys in the trenches: The Indian Corps on the Western Front, 1914-15. Staplehurst: Spellmount. 1999. Print.

Cowsill, Alan, and Lalit Kumar Sharma. World War One 1914-18. Graphic novel. Campfire, 20 May 2014. Paper.

Das, Santanu, ed. Race, empire and First World War writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011c. Print.

Das, Santanu. “Ardour and anxiety: politics and literature in the Indian Homefront.” The world in world wars: experiences, perceptions and perspectives from Africa and Asia. Ed. Heike Liebau. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 341-368. Print.

---. “Imperialism, nationalism and the First World War in India.” Finding common ground new directions in First World War studies. Ed. Jennifer D. Keene and Michael Scott Neiberg. Leiden: Brill, 2011a. 67-86. Print.

---. “Indians at home, Mesopotamia and France: 1914-1918. Towards an intimate history.” Race Empire and First World War Writing. Ed. Santanu Das. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011b. 70-89. Print.

---. Touch and intimacy in First World War literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.

Dendooven, Dominiek. “Living apart together: Belgian civilians and non-white troops and workers in wartime Flanders.” Race Empire and First World War Writing. Ed. Santanu Das. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 143-157. Print.

Doyle, Conan. The British campaign in France and Flanders. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1916. Ch.7, “The ‘La Bassée-Armentières’ operations from October 11 to 31 October 1914.” Print.

Ellinwood, DeWitt C., and Satyendra Dev Pradhan. India and World War I. New Delhi: Manohar, 1978. Print.

Farewell My Indian Soldier. Dir. Vijay Singh. Silhouette Films (India, UK), 2016. Film.

Fell, Alison S. Nursing the other: the representation of colonial troops in French and British First World War nursing memoirs.” Race, Empire and First World War Writing. Ed. Santanu Das. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 158-174. Print.

Fischer-Tiné, Harald. “Indian nationalism and the ‘world forces’: transnational and diasporic dimensions of the Indian freedom movement on the eve of the First World War.” Journal of Global History 2.03 (2007): 325-344. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

“French army to march down Rajpath on Indian Republic Day 2016.” indiatoday 11 Jan. 2016: Education. India Today. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Ganachari, Aravind. “First World War purchasing Indian loyalties: Imperial policy of recruitment and rewards.” Economic and Political Weekly 40.8 (2005): 779-88. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

GandhiServe Foundation. “Speech at Ras, June 26 1918.” The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (e-book). New Delhi: Publications Division Government of India, 1999. Vol. 17. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

---. “Speech at Gujarati political conference (Godhra), November 3 1917.” The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (e-book). Vol. 16. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Gardner, Nikolas. “Morale and discipline in a multi-ethnic army: The Indian Army in Mesopotamia (1914–1917).” The Journal of the Middle East and Africa 4.1 (2013): 1-20. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

---. “Sepoys and the siege of Kut-al-Amara, December 1915 - April 1916.” War in History 11.3 (2004): 307-26. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

---. Trial by fire: command and the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. Print.

Gerwarth, Robert, and Erez Manela. “The Great War as a global war: Imperial conflict and the reconfiguration of world order, 1911-1923.” Diplomatic History 38.4 (2014): 786-800. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

---. Empires at war, 1911-1923. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Print.

Ghosh, Amitav. “Archive for the ‘At Home and the World in Mesopotamia’ Category.” Amitav Ghosh, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Gooptu, Nandini. The politics of the urban poor in early twentieth-century India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

Government of India. India’s contribution to the Great War. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1923. Print.

Greenhut, Jeffrey. “Race, Sex, and War: the impact of race and sex on morale and health services for the Indian Corps on the Western Front, 1914.” Military Affairs 45.2 (1981): 71-74. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

---. “Sahib and sepoy: an inquiry into the relationship between the British officers and native soldiers of the British Indian Army.” Military Affairs 48.1 (1984): 15. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

---. “The Imperial reserve: The Indian Corps on the Western front, 1914–15.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 12.1 (1983): 54-73. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Gupta, Partha Sarathi, and Anirudh Deshpande. The British Raj and its Indian armed forces, 1857-1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Harrison, Mark. “Disease, discipline and dissent: the Indian Army in France and England 1914-1915.” Medicine and modern warfare. Ed. Roger Cooter. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 185-205. Print.

Hodder, Reginald. Famous fights of Indian native regiments. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914. Print.

Jack, George Morton. “The Indian Army on the Western Front, 1914-1915: A Portrait of Collaboration.” War in History 13.3 (2006): 329-62. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Jain, Anurag. “Rudyard Kipling and the ‘Eyes of Asia’: recruiting the voices of Indian soldiers for WWI Propaganda.” The 4th Conference of the International Society for First World War Studies. Washington. 18-20 Oct. 2007. Reading.

---. “The relationship between Ford, Kipling, Conan Doyle, Wells and British propaganda of the First World War.” Thesis. Queen Mary University of London, 2009. London: Queen Mary Research Online, 2009. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Jarboe, Andrew Tait. “Soldiers of Empire: Indian sepoys in and beyond the Imperial metropole during the First World War, 1914-1919.” Thesis. Northeastern University, 2014 a. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service, Apr. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

---. Empires in World War I: shifting frontiers and imperial dynamics in a global conflict. London: Tauris, 2014b. Print.

Jeffery, Keith. “‘An English barrack in the oriental seas’? India in the aftermath of the First World War.” Modern Asian Studies 15.03 (1981): 369-386. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Jones, Heather. “Imperial captivities: colonial prisoners of war in Germany and the Ottoman Empire 1914–1918”. Race Empire and First World War Writing. Ed. Santanu Das. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 175-193. Print.

Kelly, Saul. “‘Crazy in the Extreme’? The Silk Letters Conspiracy.” Middle Eastern Studies 49.2 (2013): 162-78. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Killingray, David, and David E. Omissi, eds. Guardians of Empire: the armed forces of the colonial powers c. 1700-1964. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999. Print.

Kipling, Rudyard. The Eyes of Asia. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918. Print.

Koller, Christian. “Representing otherness: African, Indian and European soldiers’ letters and memoirs.” Race Empire and First World War Writing. Ed. Santanu Das. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 127-142. Print.

---. “The recruitment of colonial troops in Africa and Asia and their deployment in Europe during the First World War.” Immigrants & Minorities 26.1-2 (2008): 111-33. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Levine, Philippa, ed. Gender and Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Levine, Philippa. “Battle colors: Race, sex, and colonial soldiery in World War I.” Journal of Women’s History 9.4 (1998): 104-30. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Liebau, Heike, Katrin Bromber, Katharina Lange, Dyala Hamza, and Ravi Ahuja, eds. The world in world wars: experiences, perceptions and perspectives from Africa and Asia. Leiden: Brill, 2010. Print.

“Like Another Mahabharata: Indian Soldiers in the Great War.” By Mukti Jane Campion. Omnibus. BBC World Service. BBC, London, 2000. Radio.

Lloyd George, David. War memoirs of David Lloyd George, 1918. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1937. Print.

Lüdke, Tilman. Jihad made in Germany: Ottoman and German propaganda and intelligence operations in the First World War. Münster: Lit, 2005. Print.

MacMunn, George. “The Romance of the martial races.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 80.1 (1932): 41-28. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Mahajan, Sucheta. “Towards freedom: the making of a history”. Decolonization and the Struggle for National Liberation in India (1909-1971): historical, political, economic, religious and architectural aspects. Ed. Di Costanzo, Thierry and Guillaume Ducoeur. Frankfurt am Main: Lang, Peter Frankfurt, 2014. 185-199. Print.

Manela, Erez. The Wilsonian moment: self-determination and the international origins of anticolonial nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Markovits, Claude. “Indian soldiers’ experiences in France during World War I: seeing Europe from the rear of the Front.” The world in world wars: experiences, perceptions and perspectives from Africa and Asia. Ed. Liebau, Heike, Katrin Bromber, Katharina Lange, Dyala Hamza, and Ravi Ahuja. Leiden: Brill, 2010. Print.

Martin, Gregory. “The influence of racial attitudes on British policy towards India during the First World War.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 14.2 (1986): 91-113. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Mazumder, Rajit K. The Indian Army and the making of Punjab. Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003. Print.

McKale, Donald M. War by revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the era of World War I. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2008. Print.

McMeekin, Sean. The Berlin-Baghdad express: the Ottoman Empire and Germany’s bid for world power. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2012. Print.

Merewether, Lt Col. J.W.B., and Lt Col. Sir Frederick Smith. The Indian Corps in France, London: John Murray, 1918. Print.

Miller, David Hunter. The drafting of the covenant. New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1928. Print.

Mukerje, Asoke, ed. Indian War Memorials of the First World War. New York: Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Mulk Raj Anand. Across the Black Waters. Delhi: Orient Paperback, 1940. Print.

Nagra, Daljit. “The last post: letters home to India during the First World War.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Ltd., 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Neiberg, Michael S. Fighting the Great War: a global history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. Print.

O’Dwyer, Michael. India as I knew it, 1885-1925. London: Constable, 1926. Print.

Omissi, David, ed. Indian voices of the Great War: soldiers’ letters, 1914-18. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999. Print.

---. “Europe through Indian eyes: Indian soldiers encounter England and France, 1914-1918.” The English Historical Review CXXII.496 (2007): 371-96. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Palit, D. K. Saga of an Indian I.M.S. officer: the life and times of Lieutenant Colonel Anath Nath Palit, OBE 1883-1972. New Delhi: Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, United Service Institution of India, 2006. Print.

Parekh, Lord Bhikhu. “India’s contribution to the Great War.” Asia House. Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival, 21 May 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Putkowski, Julian and Julian Sykes. Shot at dawn: executions in World War One by authority of the British Army Act. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1999. Print.

Rafiullah, Mohammed. Gwalior’s part in the war. London: Hazell Watson & Viney, 1920. Print.

Ramnath, Maia. Haj to utopia: how the Ghadar movement charted global radicalism and attempted to overthrow the British Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Raghavan, Srinath. “Book review: Honour and Fidelity – India’s Military Contribution to the Great War, 1914-18.” The Indian Express. The Indian Express, 22 Nov. 2014. 26 Feb. 2017.

Robinson, Catherine. “Neither East nor West: some aspects of religion and ritual in the Indian army of the Raj.” Religion 26.1 (1996): 37-47. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Roy, Kaushik. War and society in colonial India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Salt of the Sarkar. Multimedia project by Dominic Rai and Caroline Goffin. Dir. Dominic Rai. Man Mela Theatre Company, 2016. Play.

Silbey, David. “Over the dirty waters: the Experience of British Indians in World War I.” Personal perspectives: World War I. Ed. Timothy C. Dowling. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2006. Print.

Singh, Gajendra. The testimonies of Indian soldiers and the two World Wars: between self and sepoy. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Print.

Singh, Karan Deep. “In India’s folk songs, echoes of WWI.” Wall Street Journal blogs. Wall Street Journal, 31 Dec. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Singha, Radhika. “Front lines and status lines: sepoy and ‘menial’ in the Great War, 1916-1920.” The World in World Wars: Experiences, perceptions and perspectives from Africa and Asia. Ed. Liebau et al. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 55-106. Print.

---. “Finding labor from India for the war in Iraq: the jail porter and Labor Corps, 1916-1920.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 49.02 (2007): 412-445. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

“Soldiers of the Empire”. By Santanu Das. BBC Radio 4. BBC. Broadcasting House, London, 15-22 Oct. 2014. Radio.

Sondhaus, Lawrence. World War One: the global revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

Stewart, Iain. “Indian Army Victoria Cross Holders awarded during the First World War 1914-18 and between WWI and WWII.” The Victoria Cross, Britain’s Highest Award for Gallantry., 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Storey, William Kelleher. The First World War: a concise global history. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014. Print.

Strachan, Hew. “The First World War as a global war.” First World War Studies 1.1 (2010): 3-14. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Streets, Heather. Martial Races: the military, race and masculinity in British imperial culture, 1857-1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. Print.

Tai-Yong, Tan. “An Imperial home-front: Punjab and the First World War.” The Journal of Military History 64.2 (2000): 371. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Tinker, Hugh. “India in the First World War and after”. Journal of Contemporary History 3.4 (1968): 89-107. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Trench, Charles Chenevix. The Indian army and the king’s enemies 1900-1947. London: Thames and Hudson, 1988. Print.

Trevelyan, Ernest J. India and the War. London: n.p., 1914. Pamphlet.

USI-MEA. “India and the Great War: A Joint USI-MEA Centenary Commemoration Project”. The United Service Institution of India, 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Vankoski, Susan. “The Indian ex-soldier from the eve of the First World War to Partition: a study of provisions for ex-soldiers and ex-soldiers’ role in national life.” Dissertation. Columbia University, 1996. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Visram, Rozina. Asians in Britain: 400 years of history. London: Virginia Pluto Press, 2002. Print.

Wakefield, Col. J., and Lt. Col. J.M. Weippart, eds. Indian cavalry officer Captain Roly Grimshaw. Tunbridge Wells: Costello, 1986. Print.

Willcocks, Gen. Sir James. With the Indians in France. London: Constable and Company, 1920. Print.

Wilson, Lt. Col. W.E. Johnston. An account of the operations of the 18th (Indian) Division in Mesopotamia, December 1917 to December 1918. London: Finden, Brown & Co Ltd, 1920. Print.

Haut de page


1 The template for European and Indian ethnic cleansing was the Greek-Turkish post WWI population transfers.

2 In the British Expeditionary Forces or BEF, the Indian BEF represented a third of all British Empire troops deployed on the Western front.

3 “Chief” Ko Ho Senuna Nagi’s former tombstone in the Mazargues CWGC cemetery, France, read: “He took 24 heads and was present at the death of 130 enemies in battle”, information obtained orally on 6 Sept. 2016 from Mr Iain Craig, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Marseille.

4 Vijay Singh tells the stories of the sepoys who fell in love with French women and had children from them. His film is inspired by the life of a descendant of these children (Farewell My Indian Soldier).

5 See Robert Clarke’s professional research website on Indian army ranks like “bhisti”, “coolie”, “dhobi”, “langri”.

6 Anglo-Indian slang was disseminated throughout the BEF to the British and the rest of the Empire: “khaki”, “sniper”, “cushy”, “blighty”, etc. (“Anglo-Indian Army Slang”).

7 By releasing an online book, Indian War Memorials of the First World War (Mukerje).

8 Except for France due to the sale of the Rafale fighter jet to India (“French army to march down Rajpath on Indian Republic Day 2016”).

9 The USI-MEA Centenary Commemoration project (“India and the Great War”) means to reconsider the role of India in WWI and commemorate Indian soldiers who served during the war.

10 The soldiers were mostly Sikhs and Muslims and half of them from Punjab. For more on the topic of Punjab and the war, see Mazumder, Tai-Yong, Green, Ellinwood and Pradhan in the bibliography.

11 Recently, another major India literary figure Amitav Ghosh has begun a writing project on his blog about the Mesopotamian campaign.

12 Salt of the Sarkar is a multimedia retelling of the story created by Dominic Rai, including a play to be performed by the Man Mela Company.

13 BBC Radio 4’s “Soldiers of the Empire” programme (2014) follows in the footsteps of BBC World Service’s “Like Another Mahabharata: Indian Soldiers in the Great War” (2000).

14 See the exhibition “Les Indiens 1914-15 : le sacrifice d’un peuple dans la boue d’Artois” held at Saint-Venant, France, Sept.-Dec. 2014.

15 For instance, the BBC’s “Forgotten heroes: the Indian Army in the Great War” (4-18 Aug. 2014); The British Library’s “The Indian Sepoy in the First World War” by Santanu Das; the First World War section of the Open University’s “Making Britain: Discover How South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950”.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Thierry DI COSTANZO, « Memory and history of the Great(er) War and India: from a national-imperial to a more global perspective »e-Rea [En ligne], 14.2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2017, consulté le 23 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page



University of Strasbourg
Thierry Di Costanzo is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Strasbourg, France. He holds a PhD in English studies from the University of Rennes. He is currently writing a book on the historiography of the idea of Pakistan following his research at Kyoto University on the Aqeel collection.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search