India’s Role In World War I: Remembering 100 Years Later


“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

– UK’s Foreign Minister Lord Grey, on the eve of the First World War

The lamps went-out all over Europe 100 years ago when the Allies (United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary came at war the last week of July in 1914 and lasted for over four years, coming to an end in November 1918. 2014 marks the centenary of the Great War. One of the most gruesome conflicts in the world history; the war saw over 37 million casualties, both military and civilian. The war ended with the signing of the Armistice in 1918 and was formally concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

India’s coloniser, Britain was at the centre of the conflict. India, although not a fundamental element of the World War I, played a vital role in the war. The political struggle for independence was gaining momentum in the nation and it was believed by the Indian National Congress that it would best serve our independence aspirations if we were to help the British. So, India rallied to the cause that was not their own.


More than one million Indian soldiers were sent oversees to fight someone else’s war. Not only the army, but the Royal Indian Marine was also armed in 1914, and sent for war duties. India also provided aid in nursing, supplies and stores, and even relieved animals that fell prey to injuries caused by the violence of the war. The British nation was overwhelmed by the completeness and unanimity of the enthusiastic aid provided by the Indian convoy, reported the Times.

India did contribute in numbers, but the army was unequipped to deal with the modern warfare being used in the war. Some of the soldiers drafted from India were too old and therefore, unfit. Most of the soldiers found it difficult to cope with the extremely cold temperatures in Europe. Diversity also brought adversity as it was tough for soldiers from different cultures to co-ordinate.


Despite the limitations of the logistics of the soldiers and various other difficulties, the Indian troops contributed to the British cause effectively. Acts of bravery of Indian soldiers like Kulbir Thapa, Shahamad Khan, Badlu Singh, Gabar Singh Negi and others are a part of the folklore of the Indian Army. 60,000 Indian troops sacrificed their lives in the war, and over 9000 medals for gallantry and 12 Victoria Crosses were won.


Indian military, although less trained, minimally equipped, and relatively incompetent with respect to modern warfare of WWI, fought the Great War valiantly. Though it was a war fought for someone else’s cause, the gallant act of the Indian soldiers some of whom died brutally, was a part of our very own freedom struggle; a joint struggle of every freedom fighter that finally brought us the integrity of self-governance.

Here is a short clip highlighting the role of the Indian Army at the War. Watch below.

Vikas Arora

Image Source: [Google]