India’s war contribution to al­lied victory

(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images).
(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

THE 75th anniversary of VE day last week came and went without much acknowledgement of the Indian contribution to al­lied victory.

The Indian-origin his­torian Kusoom Vadgama, who has long tried to highlight the role played by Indian soldiers, said: “I am glued to the media, but no one has men­tioned the contribution from India – Pakistan in­cluded. I have no words to mention this lack of gratitude. One would think that the Indian sol­diers did not join the armed forces. What an insult to India. It is al­ways assumed that Brit­ain alone won the war.”

For the record, a total of 2.5 million Indian sol­diers enlisted for Britain in the Second World War. They served in the North African campaign against the Germans; in Eritrea and Abyssinia against the Italians; in West Asia, Iran and Iraq; in the Far East; in Italy, where they took part in some of the bloodiest fighting at the siege of Monte Cassino and elsewhere.

By the end of the war, 36,092 Indians were killed or missing, 64,350 were wounded and 79,489 taken prisoner.

In her VE Day address, the Queen recalled the speech made by George VI as she said: “As I now reflect on my father’s words and the joyous cel­ebrations, which some of us experienced first-hand, I am thankful for the strength and courage that the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and all our allies displayed.”

An Indian origin peer said the sacrifices of Indi­an soldiers in the Second World War was “not com­pletely forgotten but a constant effort is required to properly recognise ‘the gift of India’ and to ‘re­member the blood of thy martyred sons’ ”.

He drew my attention to a report in a local pa­per in Windsor about a 96-year-old Indian veter­an, Sergeant Mohammad Hussain, who “trained in gunnery, wireless and driving in the Armoured Corps before joining the 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers as the ma­chine gunner on an ar­moured car, fighting in It­aly at the ferocious Battle of Monte Cassino and taking a number of Ger­man prisoners”.

The paper reported: “He came to the UK in 1960 because he wanted his son to have a British edu­cation and has lived in Windsor for 23 years. He remembers with amuse­ment getting a job as a security guard – especial­ly when he put on his uniform. ‘I heard some­one say, ‘Bloody blackie in a British uniform.’”

Perhaps his detractor should not be blamed too much, since the Indian war contribution is not part of the national nar­rative nor included in the history syllabus at school. One way to tell the story would be through films such as The Darkest Hour.

The question now is whether the sacrifice of Asian doctors and nurses in the current pandemic be remembered 75 years from now.