The UK on Friday (8) paid tributes to an estimated 87,000 Indian martyrs who had fought as part of the British Army as it observed a two-minute silence to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
With about 2.5 million men, the Indian Army of the Second World War during the British Raj era in the 1940s was the largest volunteer army in history.
“Millions of people from communities across the Commonwealth and the world served in the British armed forces during the Second World War, and hundreds of thousands gave their lives serving on land, at sea, and in the air,” said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which launched a digital campaign calling on the public to take part in an act of virtual remembrance given the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Soldiers from undivided India had served in theatres of war across the world, including India and Burma; Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong; the Middle East and North Africa; Greece and Italy. They served at sea and in the air, as well as contributing to support and medical care.
“The CWGC commemorates more than 87,000 people who lost their lives while serving with Indian forces during the Second World War. The CWGC works to ensure that those who served and died during the Second World War are never forgotten,” said an official statement.
On May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany formally surrendered, ending the Second World War in Europe. The British people had been at war for 2,075 days by then and endured bombing and the loss of loved ones. As the darkest days were now firmly behind them, people took to the streets to celebrate the victory.
Coronavirus restrictions have seen major VE Day commemorations and street parties cancelled, moving to more socially distant forms of celebration.
Prince Charles and wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, led the UK’s silence at 11am to honour servicemen and women during the war, with Queen Elizabeth II set to address the nation at 9pm — the exact time her father, King George VI, gave a radio address 75 years ago.
Boris Johnson thanked the VE Day generation, saying “our gratitude will be eternal”, and called for a similar spirit of “œnational endeavour” in the war against Covid-19.
“We can’t hold the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past, but all of us who were born since 1945 are acutely conscious that we owe everything we most value to the generation who won the Second World War,” the prime minister said.
While all public gatherings had been cancelled due to the social distancing rules in place to curb the spread of the deadly virus, the occasion was marked with a fly-past over London by the Royal Air Force display team the Red Arrows, while RAF Typhoon jets flew over Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
The CWGC director-general, Victoria Wallace, said: “At this dark time, we want to give people a way to honour those brave men and women who gave their lives in the second World War, creating this virtual Wall of Remembrance, so they can take part in VE Day.
“Whether it is a simple thank you, a picture or a few lines of text, we want to collect as many tributes as possible. Despite trying circumstances, we will ensure that these men and women are remembered in perpetuity.”
Alongside the online “Wall of Remembrance”, the CWGC has launched a new podcast series “The 1.7 Million Stories of CWGC”, which explores some of the stories of those who lost their lives, the history of the wars and how the CWGC is still working to bring those stories to life today.
It had also launched recently an interactive digital exhibition on Noor Inayat-Khan, the Indian-origin British spy who died in the line of duty under interrogation of the Nazi Gestapo during World War II.