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.