British royalty to honour India’s WW-I soldiers

Chandigarh, July 16 (Calcutta Tube) Over 95 years after they sacrificed their lives for the British Indian Army in World War I, over 4,700 Indian soldiers will be honoured by the British royalty in France July 19.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, will visit the Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial in Nord Pas De Calais county to honour the Indian and other South Asian soldiers who fought against German forces in France.

The memorial commemorates over 4,700 Indian soldiers who fell in the battle of Neuve-Chapelle in March-April 1915.

‘Their Royal Highnesses will visit Neuve-Chapelle Memorial, in memory of soldiers from South Asia who gave their lives fighting for the British Indian Army in World War I,’ said Eva Omaghomi, assistant press secretary to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at The Royal Household.

‘Their Royal Highnesses will meet students from the United Kingdom and France who have been studying issues of diversity and national cohesion.’

Over 22 percent of the 161,000-strong British Indian Army were Sikhs from the Punjab province and several others were from areas of northern India.

Among those who made the supreme sacrifice in the battle is the winner of Victoria Cross, the highest British battle honour, Gobar Singh Negi, a rifleman from Garhwal Rifles of the Indian Army.

Hailing from Manjaur village in the Tehri Garwal area in present-day Uttarakhand, Negi was awarded the Victoria Cross for his ultimate act of bravery in the fiercest and most significant engagement of the Indian troops during the war.

Negi’s citation read: ‘For most conspicuous bravery on 10th March, 1915, at Neuve-Chapelle. During our attack on the German position he was one of a bayonet party with bombs who entered their main trench, and was the first man to go round each traverse, driving back the enemy until they were eventually forced to surrender. He was killed during this engagement.’

Losses of Indian troops in the battle of Neuve-Chapelle were heavy.

Official figures of casualties in WW-I said that 64,449 Indian soldiers were killed fighting for the Allied Forces in the war.

The Neuve-Chapelle Indian memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and unveiled in October 1927, has inscriptions in English, French, Arabic, Hindi and Gurmukhi (Punjabi) saying, ‘God is One, His is the Victory’.

The Indian soldiers who fell during the war have no known grave.

One of the memorials in their honour in India is the India Gate in central Delhi. The sandstone structure carries names of the Indian soldiers who died in WW-I fighting in lands thousands of kilometres from their home country for battles that were not their own.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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