Friday, 17 October 2014

The Indians Arrive

I inherited a bound set of The War Illustrated from my paternal grandparents. One hundred years after its publication I'm exploring its pages to discover the people and their times.

Part of the largest volunteer army in the world arrived in Marseilles on 26th September 1914.  The European war was starting to encompass the globe.  The Indian soldiers were poorly equipped for the cold and still wore khaki drill uniforms more appropriate for warmer climates.
Marseille under the snow 1914. - The Cannebière.
The winter of 1914/15 would be the coldest of the decade and Indian soldiers froze to death while they stood as sentries.  Winter uniforms did not arrive at the front until the Spring. As the caption says on the first photo it was  "...not long before they were bearing their part in the hard fighting in Northern France".  In fact the Lahore and Meerut infantry division were selected for the fierce fighting of Ypres and their losses were heavy.  One soldier wrote home "this is not war; it is the ending of the world".
All the hard times were in the future as the War Illustrated of 10th October shows them marching through the city of Marseilles in September 1914.  (The Germans would have the first sight of them at Hollelbeke on October 31st)
There must have been a lot of photographers on the streets because marching Indian troops in Marseilles is an image which appears in a number of postcards and publications but it does highlight those light weight uniforms. Over a million Indian soldiers would fight in World War One but those who were injured might  find themselves in the more congenial surroundings of
From the Royal Pavilion Museums of Brighton and Hove collection
the ornate Royal Brighton Pavilion which had been turned into a military hospital for Indian soldiers.  I would love to know who thought of using the Brighton Pavilion, certainly an inspired choice
Royal Pavilion at Dusk from Wikipedia
Just as the soldiers were settling down for another winter on the western front and might have been thinking that they were a lot warmer than the winter of 1914/15 in their late arriving uniforms the early months of 1916 saw the infantry divisions withdrawn (the cavalry remained behind)
Indian Cavalry from Europeana 1914-18 (Netherlands National Archive, Den Haag)
  and redeployed in Mesopotamia which henceforth would form their main scene of action.

 Indian perspectives of World War One:-
 "The Indian Sepoy in the First World War" by Santanu Das article on the British Library 'World War'
"The Last Post: letters home to India in the First World War" - Guardian 21 February 2014

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