India made a vital contribution to Allied success in the First World War. The Indian Army grew from some 150,000 in 1914 to nearly 1.4 million by 1918. More than one million served overseas. There were Muslim, Sikh and Hindu men in the Indian Expeditionary Force. Commissioned officers both British and Indian, held ranks identical to commissioned officers of the British Army. Recruitment was entirely voluntary; about 1.75 million men served in the First World War.
The Indian Army played a crucial role in WW1, fighting in every major theatre of operations alongside British units. During the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, March 1915, the Indian Army provided as much as half of the attacking force. For the first time, Indian soldiers were fighting on European soil.
In both World War I and World War II, Indian soldiers formed the backbone of Great Britain’s land forces as Britain’s main advantage was its naval power. Millions of Indian soldiers and volunteers participated in both wars on Britain side. It would be no exaggeration to say that without Indian soldiers, Britain might have lost the war and Germany would have conquered Europe.
The CWGC commemorates some 74,000 who lost their lives while serving with the Indian forces between 1914 and 1921. Many were cremated in accordance with their faith and their names are inscribed on memorials, which can be found from Brighton to Basra, Cape Helles to Gallipoli and from Egypt to eastern Africa. Of those, 67,000 were wounded, while 62,000 died in battle. Many think that if the British hadn’t had the Indian army, they wouldn’t have got through the World War.
Many wounded colonial troops were sent to England to receive treatment and to recover from their injuries. Several were sent to the Royal Pavilion Hospital in Brighton, which during WW1, was used as a military hospital. Over 74,000 were killed — five times more than the combined death toll from every war that India has fought since independence.
The Indian Corps won 13,000 medals for gallantry including 12 Victoria Crosses- the supreme award for valor. Some 100,000 Gurkhas from Nepal took part in fighting during the First World War. Two Victoria Crosses were won by Gurkhas.
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