Leicester has highlighted little-known stories around the Indian and Commonwealth contribution to the World Wars in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday this weekend, marked annually to commemorate the contribution of soldiers and civilians who were part of the British war effort.
India made a huge contribution in World War II, raising the world”s largest volunteer army of 2.5 million soldiers, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.
Remember Together, an event organised by the Royal British Legion and British Future, recently brought to life the stories of the millions of soldiers from pre-Partition India, Canada, the Caribbean and Kenya who fought in the war alongside their white British allies.
“This year we are encouraging people to Remember Together and join together in Remembrance activities to mark the wide-ranging contributions people from all cultures and backgrounds have made through their service,” said Catherine Davies, Head of Remembrance at the Royal British Legion.
At the Remember Together event held in Leicester, military historian Dan Hill brought to life the story of the Indian Comforts Fund during the war.
In 1939, as Indian soldiers headed to France and merchant sailors endeavoured to keep supply lines open, a group of British and Asian men and women based at India House in Aldwych, which continues to be the site of the Indian High Commission in London today, began packing parcels of food and warm clothing to send across Europe to Indian prisoners of war, soldiers, and merchant sailors.
As these men were fighting so far from home each food parcel contained some home comforts such as ghee, curry powder and Indian sweets.
Not used to the dreary British weather, nearly 30,000 Indian sailors who passed through British ports each received hats, scarves and warm jumpers, courtesy of 100,000 knitters across the country.
In food parcels, there would usually be a pack of cigarettes, but for the Sikh soldiers, who did not smoke, they were allowed an extra portion of sweets or chocolate.
“There”s growing awareness that the armies who fought for Britain in both World Wars looked rather like the multi-ethnic, multi-faith Britain of today. The story of the Indian Comforts Fund shows how that collaboration happened on the home front too,” said Sunder Katwala, Director of integration think tank British Future.
“This is shared history of which we can all be proud. Britain”s tradition of remembrance is as relevant if your parents came here from India, Pakistan or the Caribbean as it is for someone whose family has lived here for generations. It”s something we share that can bring us together,” he said.
This year, Remember Together events being held across the UK reflect on the 75th anniversary of D-Day – the largest seaborne invasion in history which laid the foundations for the defeat of Nazi Germany.
On Sunday, a traditional two-minute silence will be observed throughout the UK at 11 am local time and church services and other ceremonial gatherings are planned throughout the day to honour the memory of the British service members, including from the Commonwealth, who have died in wars and other military conflicts since the onset of World War I.