Role of India in World War-1

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: September 13th, 2023

Hello students,

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Background on WorldWar1

First World War is considered one of the most important events in the history of the World. It was fought between allies and Central powers. The allies consisted of France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Romania and Russia. Central powers were Germany, Austria –Hungary, Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire. There were many factors behind the First World War, which was fought between 1914 to 1919. The historical causes include Anarchy at the international level, Balkan wars, Alsace and Loraine based confrontation, Conflict between Imperialist countries for market and colonies and other factors. But the immediate cause was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian native on 28th of July, 1914. This event marked the beginning of the First World War, with Germany entering the war to defend Austria.  Soon other countries of the World were drawn into the war. With Turkey and Bulgaria joining on the side of Germany and Italy leaving the Triple alliance to recover Italian territories from the clutches of Austria.

The war ended with the defeat of Germany and its allies along with the humiliating treaty of Versailles. On the other hand, Britain and its allies won the war along with a lot of privileges in their favour. This treaty in the future led the ground for the Second World War and establishment of League of Nations.

Indians in WorldWar1

In this whole scenario, the role of a large number of soldiers from the different parts of the World was astounding. Indian soldiers were among the soldiers who fought on the side of the British Empire in the First World War. 13 lakh Indian soldiers from the Indian Army served during the First World War, on the side of allied powers. They fought on various fronts including European, Mediterranean and the Middle East area. These include areas of France, Belgium, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine and Gallipoli.

Battle of Haifa was a significant event of the First World War, it was fought on September 23, 1918, in modern-day Israel. It was a story of the bravery of Indian soldiers. The story of Battle of Haifa begins with the threat of life to the Abdul Baha, the son of the prophet of the Baha’i Faith by the Ottoman Governor in Palestine. the captivation of Abdul Baha by Jamal Pasha and his plans of the assassination of Abdul Baha. A British intelligence officer conveyed the secret information of crucifixion of Abdul Baha to British General. General Allenby at that time has no British troops freely available to control the situation. Thus he ordered the 15th Imperial cavalry Brigade comprising of Jodhpur, Mysore and Hyderabad Lancers to carry out the attack on Haifa. The strong cavalry led by Indian soldiers captured Haifa and ensure the safety of Abdul Baha. After being liberated by the Indians Abdul Baha spoke about the courage of Indian soldiers and said: “Seven sovereign powers of the world endeavoured for two hundred years to release it(Haifa) from the hand of the Turk but failed while you through the power and help of God have taken the land so speedily and so easily ”.This victory brought about an early end to the war by opening up another port in Haifa for British forces, and subsequent defeat of the Ottoman Empire. This victory also disproves the myth that Indian soldiers can only perform well when led by British Officers.

The Indian nationals supported Britishers with money and power in the First World War. The support of Indian soldiers was very important for the victory of Britishers. Indian soldiers fought on the western front without special gears to sustain that environment. They fought bravely. They even undermined the discrimination meted out to them by Britishers under Martial Race theory. They fought the battle of Neuve Chapelle in France, where they were defeated and later British thought them to transfer to the Middle East to fight Turks. Due to their exceptional bravery in the battle of Neuve Chapelle, soldier Khudadad  Khan received the first Victoria Cross. It was the first Victoria Cross to be received by any South Asian soldier.

In 1914 the 6th Poona division captured Basra in the Persian Gulf from the Turks and secured the oilfields. Indian troops also played an important role in the capture of Iraq in 1917. They were also sent to Kenya to capture the German colony of East Africa. Indian soldiers along with their British counterparts were subjected to severe brutalities in the hands of Turkish captors.

As among all of the colonies of British, French and German empire, the contribution of Indian soldiers comprising of soldiers from present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and India remains highest. They were of various backgrounds castes and classes, yet they fought bravely towards a common enemy. Praising the valour of Indian soldier Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-chief of the Indian army once said: “Britain couldn’t have come through the wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army”.

A total of 11 Victoria Crosses were won by Indian soldiers (Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry that a British and Commonwealth servicemen can achieve). Along with Khudadad Khan, several others like Mir Dast, Shahamad Khan, Lala Darwan Negi, Gabbar Negi, Gobind Singh, Badlu Singh won the Victoria Cross in First World War.     

Approximately 74,000 of Indian soldiers lost their lives in the First World War. Also, almost 12 lakh horses and mules in total were used by Britain, were from India. But their sacrifice seems to be forgotten, unlike their counterpart from Australia, Canada and South Africa. In order to commemorate their achievement, Britishers built India Gate in 1931. But the real respect which Indian soldiers deserve remained absent.

The story of valour and bravery of Indian soldiers is not limited to the First World War only, but also their performance in the second World War and various peacekeeping missions. Their Victory in the war in Kargil, the liberation of Kashmir and Siachen remains undoubtedly of great importance. Indian armed forces had repeatedly upheld the responsibility to protect the Unity and Integrity of India. We shouldn’t forget the role played by the Indian army in ensuring security for millions of Indians.

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