British Defence Secretary pays homage to Indian WWI veterans

British Defence Secretary M Fallon on Thursday laid a wreath at the war memorial at India Gate to commemorate India's contribution during World War I.

New Delhi: British Defence Secretary M Fallon on Thursday laid a wreath at the war memorial at India Gate to commemorate India's contribution during World War I.

According to media reports, Fallon, who is on a day long visit to the country, will also hold meetings with senior Indian Gto overnment officials.

Fallon will also present the Government of India, six Victoria Cross memorials that were won by soldiers in the war at a special function organized at the British High Commission today, the reports said.

India played a significant part during World War One, but its contribution to the war effort has been frequently overlooked.

When the war broke out in 1914, India was in the throes 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 sentiment and movements 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 4, 1914, India rallied to the British-led Allied 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 deployed 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 one-and-a-half 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.

The Indian Corps won 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 12 Victoria Crosses. Khudadad Khan won the Corps first Victoria Cross.

Such was the cost of the war, that India's economy was pushed to near bankruptcy.

The Indian support given to Britain's cause surprised the establishment in Britain.

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, and ultimately resulted in it gaining independence from British colonial rule on August 15, 1947.

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