Seaside ceremony in England honours first World War Indian soldiers
Historian Shrabani Basu highlighted the immense sacrifice of over 73,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives on foreign lands during the British colonial period
The event was organised by the Friends of the Indian Soldiers Memorial in collaboration with the New Milton Town Council – Image Credit:
A seaside village in southern England paid tribute last week to the valiant efforts and sacrifices of Indian soldiers who fought in World War I, also known as the Great War.
The commemoration took place at the Indian Memorial Obelisk in Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire, which was originally erected in July 1917 to honour the Indian troops who received care at army hospitals in Barton-on-Sea during the war.
The event was organised by the Friends of the Indian Soldiers Memorial in collaboration with the New Milton Town Council.
This group, formed last year, is dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage and historical significance of the memorial. The ceremony served as a heartfelt remembrance of the Indian soldiers’ contributions and a symbol of gratitude for their service.
“As we stand here today on the seafront, we can only hope that when they walked here, they would have been greeted by local people who would have thanked them for coming here and fighting their war,” Shrabani Basu, the UK-based author of ‘For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-1918′, said in a keynote address at the event.
“And they would also be happy to know that over a 100 years later we would gather in this spot and remember them. Today there are descendants of the soldiers living in Britain who can be proud of what their ancestors achieved… Let us remember that there is a corner of a British field that is forever India. And it is our shared history that makes our shared future,” she said.
During the event, the British Indian historian highlighted the immense sacrifice of over 73,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives on foreign lands during the British colonial period.
She recounted tales of courage and valor that earned many of these soldiers royal honors and medals.
The Indian Memorial Obelisk, dedicated to their memory, features two inscriptions.
One side bears the inscription in English, while the other side carries the translation in Urdu.
“This Memorial is erected to commemorate the establishment at Barton on Sea in 1914 of the Convalescent Depot for Indian Troops who fought in Europe during the Great War and was subscribed for by members of the staff,” it reads.
Harmeet Singh Brar, one of the founding members of the Friends of the Indian Soldiers Memorial, said: “The Obelisk is a symbol of our cultural history, a symbol of courage that binds us together as we remember our ancestors fighting for freedom, that freedom that allows us to be here together today.
“It is the intention of the Friends group to continue to promote that cultural history, nurturing interest for this incredible piece of history, by engaging with the community and encouraging relationships with other heritage groups.”
The Act of Remembrance, to be an annual event, was attended by the Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire, civic leaders and representatives from local schools as well as members of the public.
“I feel it is so important to remember the close bond between the local people of New Milton and Barton on Sea and the wonderful Indian soldiers who briefly shared our town during those awful days of the Great War,” said Callum Murray, a student at Durlston Court School and an honorary member of the Friends group.
“The continued bond is represented by the soldiers’ Obelisk, and it is always an honour to play my small part to ensure the past is remembered and the future is embraced, as we would not have this opportunity without their sacrifice,” he said.
The Friends of the Indian Soldiers Memorial has a mission to actively promote the history of the Indian Army in the New Forest region of Hampshire to a wide audience, including the Indian communities in the UK, schools and other groups.
The group is also researching the names and background stories of the Indian soldiers who died locally.