Remembrance Day: Britain’s debt to the sub-continent


by Rumbold
8th November, 2007 at 9:26 pm    

With Remembrance Day approaching, it seems appropriate for us to commemorate all those South Asians who fought for Britain, not because they were forced to, but because they wanted to.

On the outbreak of the First World War (WWI) in 1914, messages of support for the British flooded in from the Indian princely states, while many Indian cities saw pro-British demonstrations. Well over a million South Asians volunteered to fight for Britain during WWI, and they were sent all over the world; France, the Middle East, and many other places. The Daila Lama sent troops to help and even Mahatma Gandhi volunteered to work with an ambulance unit.

This acceptance of overseas service for King George was all the more amazing, given the attitude of many Indians in the 19th century. Then, service outside the Hindu heartlands was seen as terrible, because it involved a loss of caste. Even the Punjab and Sindh were considered to be abroad. Hindu troops mutinied in Burma because of its location, while the First Afghan War was even more disastrous in this respect. A force made up of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s men, British sepoys and some exiled Afghans were routed and the surviving Hindus were ostracised when they returned home. The twentieth century would see a radical change in these attitudes.

The death toll between 1914 and 1918 was heavy. Close to 50,000 South Asians perished in WWI, with tens of thousands wounded. Around 13,000 medals were won by these forces, including 12 Victoria Crosses, Britain’s greatest medal for bravery in the face of the enemy. The first VC was won by one Khudabad Khan, then serving with the ‘Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis’.

During World War Two, despite resentment at Britain’s failure to grant her independence, India still stood up and was counted. By 1943 the Indian army had two and a half million soldiers to call on, making it the largest all-volunteer force in history. South Asians managed to win 30 VCs during this war, with many others displaying almost superhuman bravery. One of the stories that I find most moving is that of Noor Inayat Khan, a British agent working in Paris under the noses of the Gestapo, who was eventually found and shot. Spies like her were always in incredible danger, not just because they were behind enemy lines, but also because they could expect no quarter if they were captured, unlike soldiers in uniform.

42 VCs in two wars were just the tip of the iceberg. Without the bravery and selfless sacrifice of all millions of South Asian heroes, many of whom had never even seen Britain and had no reason to fight for her, Britain might well have been defeated and we might all be speaking German now- Hitler would have won. Whether it’s ancient Sikhs with magnificent beards proudly displaying their medals, or the Ghurkhas who still fight for Britain today, remember; we owe them all a debt of honour, a debt that will probably never be fully repaid.

Update: One way the British government could do more to honour these Indian soldiers would be to make more of an effort to catch one of their descendant’s killers:

“The family of British ‘honour’ killing victim, Surjit Kaur Athwal, will mark Remembrance Day with an earnest call to the Prime Minister to intervene on her case.

On Remembrance Sunday, Dhillon family members will gather in Coventry for prayers and remembrance of Surjit. They will reflect on the huge service and sacrifice by three generations of their family, to the British military defence; and the contrasting failure of the British state to protect and support them in their time of critical need.

Surjit’s family are agonised that her case has been neglected and abandoned by the British government; in contrast with the huge service and sacrifice of Surjit’s three generations of grandfathers Bassan Singh, Bufsun Singh and Maghar Singh. Between 1850 to 1945, they served with great courage and distinction in global British war efforts, including both World Wars.

Surjit’s family stresses that, as a full-fledged British citizen, Surjit’s murder abroad deserves full and equal intervention from the British government. They draw comparisons with other British cases like Lucy Blackman in Japan, Kirsty Jones in Thailand and currently Madeleine McCann in Portugal.”

This appeal was previously covered here, and the conviction of some of the murderers was covered here (and Douglas Clark started a petition as a result of this).

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  1. El Cid — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:32 pm  

    As a modest student of the Burma campaign, I salute them all, although I think a lot of Indians and Pakistanis are ashamed of them.

  2. Laban — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:35 pm  

    some nice photos of Sikh soldiers at

    http://www.sikhcybermuseum.org.uk/gallery.htm

  3. Bert Preast — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:38 pm  

    “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them”

    Well played, lads.

  4. Jagdeep — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:40 pm  

    There are thousands of graves and interned ashes of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim soldiers from India in the war graves across Belgium and France. I saw a documentary a while back about some British Indian families who went over to visit and pay respect to their grandparents and families, very moving stuff.

  5. Jagdeep — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:42 pm  

    I remember talking to an old English colonel type years ago when visiting the Imperial War Museum and he told me a story about some Sikh soldiers who escaped from Colditz or somehwere and made it back to England. Imagine that. Never been able to find out more about it, makes a good story.

  6. douglas clark — on 8th November, 2007 at 9:52 pm  

    Rumbold,

    That is a great post, I hope you don’t see what follows as cavilling.

    I agree with all your sentiments here. Could we not, therefore, see equal treatment for Ghurkhas and anyone else that fought with us? Iraq interpreters, anyone?

  7. El Cid — on 8th November, 2007 at 10:11 pm  

    …as I was saying. (Yawn)

  8. Bert Preast — on 8th November, 2007 at 11:16 pm  

    “No. You would be speaking Russian, for they would have overrun the Germans”

    WHAT?

  9. douglas clark — on 8th November, 2007 at 11:28 pm  

    Bert,

    He might well be right on that point. It was the Russians that won it for us. 19 out of 20 German Soldiers were killed by Russians. Could we please keep to the facts?

    OK, if you want to argue about supply chains and the like, but at the point of killing, it is a truism.

    Where Muzumdar completely messes up is in his assessment of what Stalin might have done next. Nobody knows. But Muzumdars ideas are naive, at the very least.

  10. Bert Preast — on 8th November, 2007 at 11:31 pm  

    In late 412 and early 42 the USSR was teetering on the edge of defeat. Stalin himself admitted as much, and begged us to step up the aid. Had not the US entered the war and quadrupled what we could send him we both may well have gone down.

    Not disputing that the USSR won the war for a moment – just that if Germany weren’t dealing with 2 fronts and the allies weren’t sending aid to Uncle Joe they would not have.

  11. douglas clark — on 8th November, 2007 at 11:43 pm  

    Bert,

    Agreed. You argue the supply chain point admirably. And the two fronts arguement is a given. My point was that it took us all to take the bastard down. I don’t take kindly to allies, such as Indians, assuming it was solely about Blighty. It was, frankly, as much to do with them as it was about us. Hitler was, I think we could all agree, a complete utter nutter.

    Which is why I think Muzumdar is picking up the wrong end of the stick. It was in Indians interests to fight this genocidal lunatic.

  12. Bert Preast — on 8th November, 2007 at 11:46 pm  

    From the Indian POV it was more in their interest to fight the Japanese – in some regions they thought the Empire of Nippon would bring improvements but even before the worst of it became known they’d decided better the devil you know.

  13. douglas clark — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:02 am  

    Point taken. Still and all, are we now so weak that we apologise for kicking Adolf in the nuts? There were, as Rumbold said, millions of Indians fighting against what was the Axis.

    I have a T Shirt which is in the shape of an RAF roundel. You have to look closely, but what it says is ‘celebating the defeat of fascism 1945 – 2005′. That is something we should all be proud of and, frankly, telling Muzumdar where to get off.

    That was my dad, that was. And many other kids dads too.

    It was before my time. My generation is, frankly, very lucky.

  14. Bert Preast — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:07 am  
  15. douglas clark — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:19 am  

    Morgoth,

    Just like the current day appeasers of fascist genocidal regimes like Iran and Saddam’s Iraq.

    Explain yourself. Where has this conversation led you to that conclusion? I know you are a person unable to distinguish between imperialism and liberal interventionism. That much is a given. Your happy clappy, sitting on a safe western chair, advocacy of ‘intervention’in Iran, and not in a good way, makes me sick. Folk are going to die if we go down your Oliver Kamm opened route.

    You are frankly an apologist for imperialism, not liberal interventionism. Prove otherwise.

    Morgoth, I would never deny your intelligence, I would most certainly deny your sense.

  16. douglas clark — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:23 am  

    Bert,

    Thanks for pointing that out to me.

    No, not all of us. No.

    Goodnight.

  17. pounce — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:28 am  

    Muzumdar wrote;
    “Like the Gurkas today, the brown men were simply used as cannon fodder before the white man came in and claimed the glory.”

    What utter tripe. Have a look at the stats for how many coloured people (36000)died from India as opposed to white British people. (326,000)
    http://www.secondworldwar.co.uk/casualty.html

    Oh and by the way I’m brown skinned (parents from India) I did 22 years in the British army and when I finished I was in charge of 500 white people. I also served at the VE day celebrations in Hyde Park in 1995. The number of Asian people who attended wearing their medals was something I would have loved the hate mongers to have seen. People like you Muzumdar dishonour their name with your revised version of history.

  18. Bert Preast — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:40 am  

    If anyone here lost relatives in either of the world wars, they can get a good idea of when, where and thereby often what happened to them by banging the name into here:

    http://www.cwgc.org/debt_of_honour.asp?menuid=14

  19. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:54 am  

    “I would never deny your intelligence, I would most certainly deny your sense.”

    So intelligent that facts turn to putty in his head.
    I think I have got that the right way round.

    He is another Mazumdar.

  20. Natty — on 9th November, 2007 at 1:19 am  

    World War 1

    Over 74,000 soldiers from the Indian Sub-continent died, almost 70,000 were wounded. For the record that is more than some European countries like Greece, Portugal, Belgium. The number of soldiers killed from the Indian Sub-continent was only just under 33% of the number of US Soldiers that were killed. In a War that wasn’t Indian as freedom didn’t emerge from this war so to remain under colonial rule Indians sacrificed over 74,000 soldiers with almost the same number wounded.

    Indian subcontinent (present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) numbered 1.5 million volunteers, which is one of the biggest recorded volunteer armies in history. Over 140,000 saw active service on the Western Front in France and Belgium. Indian participation and action on the Western Front came within one month of the start of the war, at the First Battle of Ypres where Khudadad Khan became the first Indian to win a Victoria Cross. Indian subcontinent soldiers won 13,000 medals, including 12 Victoria Crosses.

    How were they treated over here, well an extract from a letter:
    “Alas we are not free to go about at will. In fact we Indians are treated like prisoners. On all sides there is barbed-wire and a sentry stands at each door. Leave London out of the question; we cannot even get to see New Milton properly. If I had known that such a state of affairs would exist, I would never have come. If you ask me the truth, I can say that I have never experienced such hardship in all my life. True, we are well fed, and are given plenty of clothing but the essential thing — freedom – is denied. Convicts in India are sent to Andaman Islands; but we have found our convict station here in England.” (From another soldier 2 December 1915).
    http://www.21citizen.org.uk/collections/britasian/britasiasoldiers.html

  21. Natty — on 9th November, 2007 at 1:36 am  

    The contribution in World War 2 to the Allies, by Indian and African Forces was even greater, which is amazing considering they faced their own threats.

    They provided the biggest volunteer force in history, gave the allies massive contributions and interest free loans.

    “The colonies contributed more than just manpower to the army. In many colonies, the pre-war naval volunteer forces were expanded. In addition, seamen from the Empire also crewed British merchant ships.

    These ships were usually the oldest, slowest ones, in which the men shovelled coal below decks at rates of pay far below that of white sailors doing the same work. Their death toll was high. Of the approximately 15,000 colonial merchant seamen who brought food and raw materials to Britain and transported war materiel to various battlefronts, 5,000 perished. Some are buried in Commonwealth War Graves as far away as Murmansk.

    The colonies also helped with funds for the Allied war effort. For example, the Bechuana (total pop. c.250,000) sent £10,400 to purchase two Spitfires for the RAF, and collected thousands of pounds for the many war charities. They also paid extra taxes, and their government sent £50,000 as a free gift to Britain.

    The 25 million people of Nigeria sent a quarter of a million pounds to the war charities. This, and other such contributions, have to be seen in the context of local wages. In Nigeria, it was only two shillings (10p) per day. The West African colonies sent a total of one and a half million pounds to the charities, and their governments granted Britain £1 million in interest-free loans.

    Such loans must also be seen in context. In no British colony were there sufficient numbers of schools or hospitals, for example. The total contribution of the colonial empire was £23.3 million in gifts and £10.7 million in interest-free loans, as well as £14 million low-interest loans. India also had to pay for its two and a half million citizens in uniform, as well as for the highly paid white British officers.

    One could ask: without the colonial contributions, could the Allies have won the war?”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/colonies_colonials_04.shtml

    In addition Indian community leader – Ghandi – wrote an open letter to Hitler advocating tolerance. Within the struggle against the Fascists, Indians also had to continue to fight for their own freedom from colonialism. So with all this going on and providing massive support to the Allies they also had an additional fight for their own freedom from the very people they were aiding to stop the rise of fascism.

    Indian Forces numbered at their maximum 2.5 million – the largest all-volunteer force in recorded history.
    Indian forces won around 30 Victoria Crosses for their heroics.

    By the way you should know that as a result of colonial policy millions died as a result of starvation during the time of the Second World War. In Bengal alone up to 3 million people died as a result of colonial policy which led to their starvation.

    The details are much greater but I doubt I’d be allowed to post them but suffice to say that it should be remembered that this was at a time when the Empire still existed and they had to struggle for their own freedom.

    In Europe there is a rosy view of the war and often forgotten is the mass rapes committed by US Troops. Five years ago, Robert Lilly, a distinguished American sociologist, prepared a book based on military archives. Taken by Force is a study of the rapes committed by American soldiers in Europe between 1942 and 1945. He submitted his manuscript in 2001. But after September 11, its US publisher suppressed it.

    Time Magazine reported in September 1945:

    “Our own army and the British army along with ours have done their share of looting and raping … we too are considered an army of rapists.”

    “British and US elites gave aid to the fascists. President Bush’s grandfather, prosecuted for “trading with the enemy” in 1942, was one of many powerful Anglo-Americans who liked Mussolini and Hitler and did what they could to help. Appeasement as a state policy was only the tip of an iceberg of practical aid to these dictatorships. Capital and technology flowed freely, and fascist despots received dignified treatment in Washington and London. Henry Ford made Hitler birthday gifts of 50,000 marks.”

  22. Natty — on 9th November, 2007 at 1:39 am  

    BTW Those that were bigging up Enoch Powell on here should remember this contribution by the colonies and the appalling way that Indians and even worse Africans were treated in many cases.

    As an example:

    “The Caribbean Regiment wasn’t recruited until 1944, when it was posted to Egypt to guard PoWs. There they were in fights with white South African troops, billeted nearby, who objected to the regiment being allowed to carry arms.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/colonies_colonials_03.shtml

  23. Natty — on 9th November, 2007 at 1:48 am  

    Put in context we should remember that for their significant contributions no Indian Sub-continent, African, Latin or South American country got a seat on the UN Security council.

    America got its seat because it was part of the Pan American Union with other Latin and South American countries. Britian got its because it was part of Britian and the Commonwealth.

    I’ve yet to work out why France got one.

    So Enoch Powell using the freedom that coloured people helped to win for him got up and gave a speech to enhance his leadership credentials, which in some cases wasn’t even factualy correct with regards to the old lady and her treatment, basically to trash non-white people, using the very freedom they had helped win for him to make his speech.

    Powell never saw any combat. Powell went from Private to Brigadier without seeing combat!

    On February 16, 1943, Powell said: “I see growing on the horizon the greater peril than Germany or Japan ever were…our terrible enemy, America…”

  24. douglas clark — on 9th November, 2007 at 8:48 am  

    Natty,

    So Enoch Powell using the freedom that coloured people helped to win for him got up and gave a speech to enhance his leadership credentials … basically to trash non-white people, using the very freedom they had helped win for him to make his speech.

    People tend to forget that.

  25. a — on 9th November, 2007 at 9:03 am  

    this, http://www.chattri.com/, on the south downs is a memorial for indian troops killed in the first world war. it’s fab.

  26. a — on 9th November, 2007 at 9:06 am  
  27. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:00 am  

    Thanks to everyone who has linked to interesting pieces in the comments. I had hoped this would happen.

  28. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:14 am  

    Douglas:

    “I agree with all your sentiments here. Could we not, therefore, see equal treatment for Ghurkhas and anyone else that fought with us? Iraq interpreters, anyone?”

    Agree completly. The way we treat them is shocking (in fairness to the present government, they have improved the lot of serving/recently retired Ghurkhas somewhat).

    “It was before my time. My generation is, frankly, very lucky.”

    Well said.

  29. Jai — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:40 am  

    Excellent, poignant article, Rumbold. Thank you for writing this. Some nice sentiments, especially the final paragraph.

    *************************

    Quite a few enlightening URL links supplied by other commenters too. The one Laban provided in post #2 is also superb — it has an absolutely huge number of pictures of old Indian paintings, photographs, and examples of antique weaponry.

  30. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:43 am  

    Jai:

    “Excellent, poignant article, Rumbold. Thank you for writing this. Some nice sentiments, especially the final paragraph.”

    Thanks Jai- I appreciate that.

  31. Mandeep — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:46 pm  

    My tributes to all those valiant Indians who fought and died in the battle against fascism and intolerance and for truth, justice and world peace. Have a look at some articles on them and their battles at http://www.indianmilitaryhistory.org

  32. sonia — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:51 pm  

    the way i interpreted Muzumdar’s wider point was that soldiers didnt have much of a choice then, just like soldiers dont have much of a choice now.

    which is i think a valid thing to point out. regardless of whether it is in the nations interest or not, it is important to see who actually becomes the footsoldiers serving those interests. And the fact that they do appear to be people who aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the ‘ideology’, but often people who are economically deprived, therefore see the Army as a good career choice.

    after all, how many pro-war types actually joined the army to go fight in Iraq hmm?

    the divide in people who believe in something, and don’t go join the army, and the people who may or may not believe in something, but do join the army, is certainly one that should NOT be forgotten. If we are going to celebrate people’s sacrifices, well then, we should also consider whether they were able to make that sacrifice freely, and whether they would have done so, if they’d had some other job. Otherwise, we run the risk of taking their sacrifice for granted.

  33. Parvinder — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:52 pm  

    My dad worked for the British Army as a lorry driver when he was in Singapore. After the Japanese takeover of the city, he spent the best part of 2 years in a camp and saw with his own eyes the treatment mented out to Chinese (genocide), British (starvation), Indians (slaves).

    Did anyone catch the superb piece of Drama on the beeb last Sunday – ‘Joe’s Palace’ ?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe's_Palace

    Just when you think you know all that needs to be known about the Nazis and something more sick that they did pops up. It also showed how British and American businessman continued to do business with them right up to the war. Remember our very own Daily Mail supported the Nazis also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Mail

    Credit to all those who fought them.

  34. sonia — on 9th November, 2007 at 12:53 pm  

    And this is said – from the point of view of an interest in a soldier as a human being,and the constraints they operated under, and the things they had to go through – not JUST as ‘expendable material for serving a nation’- whose sacrfice we take for granted. For too long we have considered soldiers faceless creatures, well they arent.

  35. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 1:54 pm  

    Natty

    “Put in context we should remember that for their significant contributions no Indian Sub-continent, African, Latin or South American country got a seat on the UN Security council.”

    This is an issue that has not been raised often enough.

  36. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 3:04 pm  

    Sonia, Mazumadar has no concern for the lives of soldiers. Don’t forget his penchant for ethinic cleansing. He makes a very sectarian point; as does Morgoth, regularly.

  37. justforfun — on 9th November, 2007 at 3:22 pm  

    Rumbold – can you elaborate on

    This acceptance of overseas service for King George was all the more amazing, given the attitude of many Indians in the 19th century.

    Is your point merely about the travel overseas or was there a wider change in attitude to service in from first the East India Company Army and then through to the Imperial Army.

    I ask because you obvious take an interest in this history on the sub-continent and just wanted your views.

    In my mind the modern Indian view of the past Indian Army flip flops. On the one hand the Army was a bunch of mercenaries that were dupes, without whose collaboration the British stood no chance of ever ruling such a vast land with so few ‘British’ soldiers; going so far as even collaborating with the British to resist Japanese liberation. A crime so unforgivable that ex-service men have been miserably treated by Indian politians while ex-INA fighters are feted at every turn.

    On the other hand the East India Company sepoys were also the participants in India’s first “independance war” and were nor really the dupes and villians at all, but really liberators who were just getting modern ‘training’ before pouncing on their oppressors. As if Indians already did not know how to kill each other before the British arrived.

    As an aside – who saw on TV recently the programme about the “Mutiny” and how it apparently was all a Wahabist plot to re-invigorate Islam and the Mughal Empire. William Darlrymple really does get all dewy eyed over the Moghuls. If so – no wonder the Sikh regiments put down the revolt. (Unfortunately Rumbold – Mel Gibson’s film will be delayed for a while as the scriptwriters struggle to accomodate this new plot line into the movie :-) – Sorry.)

    On the other hand when the Imperial Army’s contribution is forgotten by Britain and the other victors of WW1 & WW2 we get all upset.

    When the last Empress of India was buried – where was this Army at the parade? The rest of the world was watching and India did not turn up. Not surprising, as in India the Imperial Army is being wiped from the history books, as an inconvenience or a story that is just too uncomfortable to investigate and whose tale might upset the ‘Independance’ narrative that has been spun for so many years.

    We use the Imperial Army as pawns to fight other battles. We should not attempt to judge them but only try and understand why they joined and why they died.
    This might not fit our current narrative very well, but it will be a sign of maturity and reality and not some world of make believe and this is why Sonia, the questions you ask are the most difficult to answer candidly, but are the most relevant to a real historical analysis as opposed to progandist analysis.

    Justforfun

  38. El Cid — on 9th November, 2007 at 3:49 pm  

    Would it be fair to say that a far higher proportion of British Indians and Pakistanis have WW1 or/and WW2 family heritage?
    Like Asians deported from Uganda, they too were children of the British Empire (much like white Aussies, Kiwis, Kenyans — and a bit like Bosnian moslems, who were the foot soldeirs of the Ottoman Empire)
    If so, is that a key differentiator and element of their British identity?
    I’m, just asking

  39. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 3:51 pm  

    ““Mutiny” and how it apparently was all a Wahabist plot to re-invigorate Islam and the Mughal Empire. ”

    Had never come across that before. I understood the mutiny to be Indian-wide, so to speak.

    As for uncomfortable truths, there was a Guardian report highlighting recent Indian historian’s work which put the British Raj’s revenge of 10,000,000 killed (yes the usual men, women and children) over a number of years. The report also made the point that with India becoming more confident, it was now able to start looking at its history a bit more objectively.

  40. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:13 pm  

    Justforfun:

    “Is your point merely about the travel overseas or was there a wider change in attitude to service in from first the East India Company Army and then through to the Imperial Army.”

    I would say that the EIC army (paid for by the EIC) was seen very much as a job, whereas the King’s army (paid for by the taxpayer) was more of a vocation. As the King’s army developed and the EIC’s was dissolved or absorbed, the sepoys had a stronger bond of loyalty to the British. As British India expanded beyond Hindu heartlands in the latter half of the 19th century, serving beyond these heartlands became less of a disgrace. Also, post-mutiny, the white British contingent was stregthened, making there one Brit from every three Indians in the army. Post-mutiny, less Hindus were recruited as well, with the British favouring the Sikhs and Ghurkhas more heavily (as they were seen as more loyal and better fighters). Even so, serving on the Western front was hardly popular.

    “In my mind the modern Indian view of the past Indian Army flip flops. On the one hand the Army was a bunch of mercenaries that were dupes, without whose collaboration the British stood no chance of ever ruling such a vast land with so few ‘British’ soldiers; going so far as even collaborating with the British to resist Japanese liberation. A crime so unforgivable that ex-service men have been miserably treated by Indian politians while ex-INA fighters are feted at every turn.”

    An idiocy made doubly unforgivable because of the fact that most generals of the independent Indian army served in WWII. Just look at the number of chiefs of staff that fought for the British.

    “On the other hand the East India Company sepoys were also the participants in India’s first “independance war” and were nor really the dupes and villians at all, but really liberators who were just getting modern ‘training’ before pouncing on their oppressors. As if Indians already did not know how to kill each other before the British arrived.”

    Exactly- a stupid theory. It was a mutiny plain and simple, brought on by British incompetence and insensitivity.

    “William Darlrymple really does get all dewy eyed over the Moghuls. If so – no wonder the Sikh regiments put down the revolt. (Unfortunately Rumbold – Mel Gibson’s film will be delayed for a while as the scriptwriters struggle to accomodate this new plot line into the movie – Sorry.)”

    “Ye can take our lives (again and again), but ye’ll niver take our suti!!!!!!!!!”

  41. justforfun — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:17 pm  

    Refresh – I can’t remember the programme name but it was within the last two weeks on a terrestrial UK channel. It was quite an expensive production, re-constructions etc, not that that is a sign of scholarship but some one thought it worth spending the cash. Even had our friend William giving his take on the Wahabist nature of the plot and how it then fled to the NWFP and hid out for decades and transmuted into Deobandism. Suprised Sunny did not pick up on it , but probably for the best as it would just be the usual thread :-)

    I’m no Mutiny historian, but the mutiny was really a North India thing, on the banks of the Ganges plain as this was the easiest ‘travel’ corridor during those times. It was certainly not India wide. In fact the rest of Princely India and British India went on as usual… but I await to be corrected.

    10m dead in revenge? The British were usually pretty bureaucratic in their documentation of famine, pestilance etc ( more fool them), Alot of Indians are pretty knowledgable about their ancestors (cue all those find “your ancestor programmes visiting family priests and going back 600 years”, so it would be a historical coup for this historian to find 10m deaths no-one has found before. Or is he aggragating all deaths from many causes, like our friend Muzumdar who once blamed the introduction of advanced the British transport network for facilitating genocide in India, in much the same way that we can now blame the Director of Indian Railways as responsible for the spread of HIV around India today.

    Justforfun

  42. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:20 pm  

    Refresh:

    “I’m no Mutiny historian, but the mutiny was really a North India thing, on the banks of the Ganges plain as this was the easiest ‘travel’ corridor during those times. It was certainly not India wide. In fact the rest of Princely India and British India went on as usual… but I await to be corrected.”

    You are right- it was very much centred around the Ganges area, rather than anywhere in the South. Deobandism was influenced by Wahabhism though.

  43. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:21 pm  

    Sorry, not Refresh- I meant Justforfun.

  44. Telefonica — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:22 pm  

    It is a shame that Muzumdar’s post was pulled. His post was by far the most interesting I have read, compared to the rest of stuff on this thread.

    No offence!

    I read it last night and was planning on replying today, only to find it gone.

    – who saw on TV recently the programme about the “Mutiny” and how it apparently was all a Wahabist plot to re-invigorate Islam and the Mughal Empire

    This is common knowledge. Although I would hardly call it a ‘wahabist plot’.

    It was simply an ill-fated plan to restore the Mughal throne.

    The most interesting part of the story is how the Sikh soldiers beheaded Bahadur Shah Zafar II and his immediate family, and then went to Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and offered the severed heads at the doors.

    The gurdwara lies where the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur, was executed by Aurungzeb for refusing to embrace Islam.

    Again, the idea that they fought ‘for the Empire’ is rather naïve.

  45. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:24 pm  

    Here is that story.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,,2155324,00.html

    I was surprised Sunny didn’t run this one.

  46. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:25 pm  

    Telefonica:

    “It was simply an ill-fated plan to restore the Mughal throne.”

    It was a military mutiny against British ill-treatment, and the Mughal Emperor was then co-opted to act as the mutineers’ figurehead.

  47. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:26 pm  

    Very interesting footnotes in that link.

    “What they said

    Charles Dickens: “I wish I were commander-in-chief in India … I should proclaim to them that I considered my holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the race.”

    Karl Marx: “The question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton.”

    L’Estaffette, French newspaper: “Intervene in favour of the Indians, launch all our squadrons on the seas, join our efforts with those of Russia against British India …such is the only policy truly worthy of the glorious traditions of France.”

    The Guardian: “We sincerely hope that the terrible lesson thus taught will never be forgotten … We may rely on native bayonets, but they must be officered by Europeans.”

  48. Telefonica — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:30 pm  

    It was a military mutiny against British ill-treatment, and the Mughal Emperor was then co-opted to act as the mutineers’ figurehead.

    …Which, if successful, would have led to the restoration of the Mughal throne….Which is why the Sikhs wern’t too keen on the idea.

  49. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:35 pm  

    Telefonica:

    “Which, if successful, would have led to the restoration of the Mughal throne….Which is why the Sikhs wern’t too keen on the idea.”

    Well yes, but that is not why the mutiny started. The sepoys were worried that the British were eroding their traditions (banning suti and suchlike), and were going to force them to covert to Christianity. Everybody knows about the cartridges covered with pig/cow fat (at that time you had to bite on the cartridge then load it), but in reality that was just the spark.

  50. El Cid — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:45 pm  

    Again, the idea that they fought ‘for the Empire’ is rather naïve.

    It’s not naive. It’s a fact. That they did it in pursuit of economic advancement, see the world, further their careers, rather than naked patriotism — well, is that any diffirent to the motivations of today’s professional soldiers?

    Sometimes you can be tooooooooo clever.

  51. Jai — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:48 pm  

    The most interesting part of the story is how the Sikh soldiers beheaded Bahadur Shah Zafar II and his immediate family, and then went to Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and offered the severed heads at the doors.

    I’ve certainly never heard that “part of the story” before. Bahadur Shah Zafar II was not killed by Sikh soldiers — he was exiled by the British to Rangoon in Burma, where he died a few years later.

  52. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:56 pm  

    It was actually the heads of the Emperor’s sons which were severed, then presented to the Emperor.

  53. El Cid — on 9th November, 2007 at 4:57 pm  

    In west Africa, the returning soldiiers were also at the forefront of subsequent independance movements.
    So they fought for the Empire — a factually correct statement — and subsequently helped to dismantle it.
    In some respects, it’s a bit like the surprise election of a Labour Government after WW2.
    After the war comes the a deeper assessment of why the war was fought.
    It’s nonetheless not a contradiction to be proud of the initial war effort.

  54. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:15 pm  

    Justforfun,

    Mazumadar is a peculiarity, a burden we must bear with fortitude (if only because he also has entertainment value).

    It seems the Indian historian in question does seem to have his sources. It would make a fascinating thread.

  55. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:22 pm  

    Telefonica

    Given there is such disparity between what you say and what Jai says, can you please offer links ie reliable sources.

  56. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:25 pm  

    Justforfun, It was India-wide according to the article:

    ‘Misra’s analysis breaks new ground by claiming the fighting stretched across India rather than accepting it was localised around northern India. Misra says there were outbreaks of anti-British violence in southern Tamil Nadu, near the Himalayas, and bordering Burma. “It was a pan-Indian thing. No doubt.”‘

  57. justforfun — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:54 pm  

    Telefonica – This is common knowledge. Although I would hardly call it a ‘wahabist plot’.

    Fair enough.

    I distictly remember on the programme, the commentary saying that the Hindu sepoys went home after a few days, leaving the Muslim sepoys and the Wahabist plotters to fight on, and that after the supression of the Mutiny the British took more revenge on Muslims than Hindus. However this claim does not seem to tally with the fact that after the Mutiny, Rumbold mentions the Hindu proportion went down in the King’s Army and the Muslim proportion went up. I believe by Independance was 30% or more (I can’t remember the exact figure off hand but it is in some link I posted a few months back)

    Having read Refresh’s link to the Guardian I think that this historian and the programme I saw were linked as the claims were the same.

    Looks like we are in for a plethora of new histories on the “Freedom Struggle”. I blame the swelling Indian middle class providing a good market for books.

    Dan Brown – if you read Pickled Politics – your next book should not be on the Knights Templar but the hidden knights of the …. sh – you didn’t think I give away my historical novel that easily.

    We will all have merry fun sifting fact from fiction. It will make for much more exciting history lessons, not like the boring dull South African freedom struggle where for the most part men stepped back from the brink and recognized the humanity in the other and negotiated a peacefull transition.. Thats too boring and will not make good movies and already been done by Dickie Attenborough.

    Refresh @ 56 – saw that in the article – Looks like I’ll have to read his book now and, god forbid, change my mind… or perhaps I’ll find the anti-British violence he has dug up were simple things like pissing on a British Officer’s dhobi :-)

    Rumbold
    An idiocy made doubly unforgivable because of the fact that most generals of the independent Indian army served in WWII. Just look at the number of chiefs of staff that fought for the British.

    The blame for the way the ex-service men have been treated lies squarely with politians and people who want to foster the idea that the Independance Struggle was a war were the Britishers were ALL bad and the Indians were all good, and especially all those Indians who can now pat themselves on the back as they vote for politians who spout this simplistic view of the Independance Struggle. The Indian Army itself never forgot these men and has helped were it can, but it was/is limited by funds and their British trained loyaly to civilian control. Now that might be a bit of a mealy mouthed position to some and is not really a comfort to those abandoned by the state in their old age.

    Justforfun

  58. aDM — on 9th November, 2007 at 5:54 pm  

    Interesting post – we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who fought however. Hitler was a force that everyone had to stand up to: his blonde haired blue eyed race idea is the clue. You may as well say Poland owes the sub continent a debt of gratitude. Or the Jews.

    I was fortunate to meet many Sikh veterans at the 2005 anniversary which was just after the July terrorist attacks. Theirs was a shared sense of victory for humanity. Pity you had to spoil this memory with this post title and little poke. For once it would be nice to see a move away from the ‘them and us’ mentality on this site.

  59. Rumbold — on 9th November, 2007 at 8:14 pm  

    Justforfun:

    “The blame for the way the ex-service men have been treated lies squarely with politians and people who want to foster the idea that the Independance Struggle was a war were the Britishers were ALL bad and the Indians were all good, and especially all those Indians who can now pat themselves on the back as they vote for politians who spout this simplistic view of the Independance Struggle.”

    It really is sickening isn’t it?

    aDM:

    “Pity you had to spoil this memory with this post title and little poke. For once it would be nice to see a move away from the ‘them and us’ mentality on this site.”

    Actually, I was trying to do the very opposite of what you charge me with. I was trying to remind people that we shared a common bond and debt.

  60. sonia — on 9th November, 2007 at 8:50 pm  

    yes rumbold has good intentions and hasn’t spoilt anything for anyone, no need to be so mean.

  61. sonia — on 9th November, 2007 at 8:57 pm  

    37 justforfun – very interesting post that. very thought-provoking

  62. El Cid — on 9th November, 2007 at 9:37 pm  

    um…was something deleted?
    if so, #7 should too

  63. douglas clark — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:06 pm  

    Och, I’m getting old and confused. First I reply to Muzumdar, and then his post is deleted. Then I reply to Morgoth, and his post is deleted. Then I reply to aDM and his post, and my reply, are deleted.

    You do realise this makes me look like an even bigger idiot than I actually am?

    If it weren’t for Sonia’s comment at 60, I’d think I’d completely lost it.

    Sonia, as you are my internet buddy, (well, I like to think so), am I going completely ga-ga, or what?

    I am not that sensitive! I do not need this degree of protection. Agreed, this is not a thread for an arguement, it is supposed to be about good things.

    Still….

  64. El Cid — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:14 pm  

    I’m tempted to say something but something else might get deleted and then it will look odd.

    But on a separate matter, I saw some parallels in the following link. Bravery is bravery and should be saluted, which is why it can be a catalyst for social change, as I’ve alluded to already.
    Here’s the link (it’s Spike Lee’s perspective that drew my attention):
    http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article3143278.ece

  65. douglas clark — on 9th November, 2007 at 10:37 pm  

    Refresh,

    Point taken. I too, enjoy arguing with Morgoth for he is, IMVHO an escapee from Harry’s Place, ’cause they thought he was too right wing! But not an idiot. Cue the boy…

    Muzumdar is fun too. As is anyone with an arrogance based on zero. I’d far rather debate someone than ban them, unless, of course, it just becomes boring and repetitive.

    And if either you or I were to fail, not that we would, Jagdeep would rip either of them to shreds.

    I am for talking to folk. Remember, there are lots of folk that read and don’t write.

    And you and I can disagree in a – relatively – civilised manner, can’t we?

  66. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 11:25 pm  

    I have been deleted. I think.

  67. Refresh — on 9th November, 2007 at 11:31 pm  

    I give up. Especially since I’d enjoyed writing that last post.

    Yes Douglas, you and I can disagree in a civilised manner – I don’t really know any other way.

  68. douglas clark — on 10th November, 2007 at 12:31 am  

    Refresh,

    I have always thought of you as a considerate and reasonable human being. Now that you are being censored it is quite clear that you are a shape shifting son of evil. See what censorship does?

    I agreed with your deleted post. I think. Perhaps not, is this what it’s like to be in Room 101? You think you know what someone said, but, really you’re not too sure?

    Fooling around, apart, I do see you as a good guy. But if you are censored, your voice restricted, how am I ever going to get to know the real you?

    Sunny, please read 1984 again.

  69. Refresh — on 10th November, 2007 at 1:42 am  

    Douglas, you are too kind. I think.

    I am glad you saw it – for a fleeting moment I wasn’t sure I’d written it.

    It was really written to tell Mazumadar that I saw him as no more than a theatrical prop. So you could say I was being smug, perhaps that’s why I enjoyed putting it together.

    I am not too concerned it was deleted.

  70. El Cid — on 10th November, 2007 at 9:21 am  

    Sunny, please read 1984 again.

    Dougie, I think you’ll find “Big Blogger” is copyrighted from a previous thread. :)

  71. douglas clark — on 10th November, 2007 at 10:07 am  

    El Cid,

    Heh!

  72. Refresh — on 10th November, 2007 at 10:28 am  

    Douglas,

    In fact that experience has given me an idea: how to change the balance of power in the blogging world.

    I see a revolution brewing. In my head.

  73. Ashutosh — on 10th November, 2007 at 5:08 pm  

    Great piece about forgotten heroes, and they deserve all the eulogies they can get. But don’t you think it is a little too much to speculate that Britian could have lost WW2 and we would all be speaking German now had it not been for the Indian soldiers? If not for any other reason, for the reason that it’s really without American and Russian help that Britian would probably have lost.

  74. Rumbold — on 10th November, 2007 at 6:57 pm  

    Sonia:

    “yes rumbold has good intentions and hasn’t spoilt anything for anyone, no need to be so mean.”

    Thanks, I appreciate that.

    Douglas:

    “You do realise this makes me look like an even bigger idiot than I actually am?”

    No it doesn’t Douglas (heh).

    Ashutosh:

    “But don’t you think it is a little too much to speculate that Britian could have lost WW2 and we would all be speaking German now had it not been for the Indian soldiers? If not for any other reason, for the reason that it’s really without American and Russian help that Britian would probably have lost.”

    Thanks for the compliments. I think that Indian troops did play a key role in the sense that the other allied armies would have been heavily overstreached without them. I think if you took America, Russia or India of the war there would have been serious problems. If you had taken France out, few would have noticed (excepting their courageous resistance fighters of course).

  75. Amrita — on 11th November, 2007 at 5:55 pm  

    Oddly enough I just finished Peter Clarke’s The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire and came across a quote of Winston Churchill’s in it – about the massive war debt that Britain had incurred for the “privilege of defending India against the Japanese”.
    Having had family who served in the WW II, I immediately thought of all the other debts that Britain can’t repay for other privileges that they were all too happy to take. I’m glad someone remembered the ones who came before.

  76. Pablo — on 11th November, 2007 at 6:44 pm  

    I immediately thought of all the other debts that Britain can’t repay for other privileges that they were all too happy to take

    Nicely said Amrita. Not repaying them, though, is all part of the British privelige.

  77. Sunny — on 11th November, 2007 at 6:52 pm  

    I have always thought of you as a considerate and reasonable human being. Now that you are being censored it is quite clear that you are a shape shifting son of evil. See what censorship does?

    Douglas, Refresh: You guys are not censored. The problem is that you always end up replying to Muzumdar (and trolling by Morgoth) when I’ve explicitly said plenty of times that he will be deleted.

    It’s not hard to understand – Muzumdar’s post will be deleted (eventually) so don’t reply to them. I’m not going to edit posts here just to take out references to him. Hence I’ve deleted whole posts. Next time please just avoid feeding the troll.

  78. Desi Italiana — on 11th November, 2007 at 9:50 pm  

    Also, let’s not forgot the what else Indian soldiers “gave”(unbeknownst to them)when the Brits experimented on Indian soldiers for chemical warfare:

    http://italiandesi.wordpress.com/2007/09/02/one-of-britains-legacies-in-hindustan-using-indian-soldiers-as-guinea-pigs/

  79. KSingh — on 11th November, 2007 at 9:50 pm  

    It was actually Captain Hodson who killed the three princes. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Burma after a trial.
    Sikh soldiers were not concerned about the restoration of the Mughal throne as this was effectively dead already. They also had no love for the Indian sepoys who had attacked Punjab along with the British in the Anglo Sikh wars 1845-49.

    Picture of Hodson with the Princes.

    http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1800_1899/1857revolt/hodsoncaptures/hodsoncaptures.html

  80. Refresh — on 11th November, 2007 at 10:14 pm  

    Come on Sunny, censorship makes a better story.

    We were just pulling together an advance party (Douglas, Me and on Douglas’ recommendation Jagdeep) to emasculate Morgoth.

    But thinking about it, they’ve both managed to do that all by themselves.

    My interest in Morgoth lies in the fact that I am not convinced he is all he says he is.

  81. Parvinder — on 11th November, 2007 at 10:17 pm  

    No. 44. Telefonica wrote: The most interesting part of the story is how the Sikh soldiers beheaded Bahadur Shah Zafar II and his immediate family, and then went to Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and offered the severed heads at the doors.

    Jai and KSingh are both right. Bahadur Shar Zafar II was firstly not killed, he ended up in exile in Rangoon and secondly 3 of his sons were killed by the British.

    I’m intrigued though to know which of Bahadur Shah Zafar II’s sons were ‘beheaded by Sikhs’.

    Two of his sons, Zinat Mahal and Mirza Shah Abbas survived and shared with their father’s exile in Rangoon.

    And 2 other sons, Mirza Abdulla and Mirza Qwarsh were actually allowed to escape captivity by their own Sikh guards who felt sorry for the ill-fated princes.
    See:‘The Last Mughal’ (2006), William Dalrymple, p423.

  82. douglas clark — on 11th November, 2007 at 10:50 pm  

    Rumbold @ 74,

    I’ve being chortling – now there’s a good word – at your comment all day. I am truly, a bear of little brain :-)

    Sunny @ 77, I kinda knew that. Having hung around here for quite a while I actually agree with your policy.

    Just for the record, I think commentators like Refresh and Jagdeep are worth their weight in gold to a site like this. I’d have added Rumbold to the list, but he’s joined the management!

  83. KSingh — on 12th November, 2007 at 7:25 pm  

    Picture of Sikhs at the Remembrance event Ypres Belgium yesterday.

    http://www.sikhsangat.com/index.php?showtopic=32126&st=0&gopid=299658&#entry299658

  84. Rumbold — on 12th November, 2007 at 8:20 pm  

    Douglas:

    “I’ve being chortling – now there’s a good word – at your comment all day. I am truly, a bear of little brain.”

    Nonsense Douglas- you are one of the most intelligent individuals I have come across (especially for a Scotchman).

    “I’d have added Rumbold to the list, but he’s joined the management!”

    While you’re still in da street,keepin it real, innit. Safe.

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