Unsung Heroes

India’s role in World War I and its impact on Indian Independence struggle

During the World War I and World War II India was a part of British Colonial empire, who was very much involved in both the wars, hence Indians was there as a part of artillery and man force from Britain’s side.

However, India’s part in the war is frequently overlooked as a result of the horrors experienced in trench warfare and by Europe’s tendency to home in on battles such as those fought at the Somme and Verdun, which many assume only Europeans fought in.

When World War I broke out in 1914, India was in a state of growing political unrest. The Indian National Congress had gone from being a group that simply discussed issues to a body that was pushing for more self-government. Before the war started, the Germans had spent a great deal of time and energy trying to stir up an anti-British movement in India.

Many shared the view that if Britain got involved in a crisis somewhere in the world, Indian separatists would use this as an opportunity to advance their cause.

These fears were unfounded. When the war was declared on August 4th, India rallied to the cause. Those with influence within India believed that the cause of Indian independence would best be served by helping out Britain in whatever capacity India could – including the Indian National Congress.

Offers of financial and military help were made from all over the country. Hugely wealthy princes offered great sums of money, and even areas outside of British India offered help – Nepal offered help and in total sent 100,000 Gurkhas and the Dalai Lama in Tibet offered 1000 of his troops to the cause.

Despite the pre-war fears of unrest, Britain, in fact, could take many troops and most of her military equipment out of India as fears of unrest subsided. Indian troops were ready for battle before most other troops in the dominions.

Indian troops were on the Western Front by the winter of 1914 and fought at the first Battle of Ypres. By the end of 1915, they had sustained many casualties. Along with the casualties from sickness, the decision was taken to withdraw the Indian Corps from front line duty at the end of 1915.

In total, 800,000 Indian troops fought in all the theatres of the war with 1½ million volunteering to fight. They fought in most theatres of war including Gallipoli and North and East Africa. In all 47,746 were classed as killed or missing with 65,000 wounded.

India expected to be rewarded with a major move towards independence or at the least self-government. When it became obvious that this was not going to happen, the mood in India became more militant.

The resultant was that it looted India’s economy, and was hit by bankruptcy.

During the last phases of the war Mahatma Gandhi said:
“Seek ye first the recruiting office, and everything will be added unto you.”

The British government’s post-war attitude quickly alienated Gandhi and was a great stimulus for his independence movement.

Though as a token for the help The British introduced the Government of India Act in the year 1919, which introduced parliament system and voting for the most privileged.

But the independence which we wanted, was never given as the British controlled all central government and within the provincial governments, the British kept control of the key posts of tax and law and order.

Many Indian felt that they were let down, but that didn’t deter India to play a significant part in World War II.


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