Indians who died defending Western democracy

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Indians who died defending Western democracy

Army of Empire: The Untold Story of the Indian Army in World War I by George Morton-Jack, Basic Books, US $40.00 Pp 582, December 2018 ISBN 978-0465094042

Some 34,000 Indian soldiers died in World War I, approximately 2.25 percent of the Indian Army’s total of servicemen. It was a big number but, in view of the total war effort, it was not very significant as only the armies of Greece and Portugal lost fewer soldiers than India. But, they played a significant role in fighting World War I as some 1.5 million Indian soldiers took part in World War I on the side of the Allies. Unfortunately, the role of the Indian soldiers does not get mentioned the way it should. When World War I broke out in 1914 the British had in the Indian Army a professional force ready, willing and ready to fight for the Allies. In Army of Empire, George Morton-Jack says that the Indian Army was the Allies’ most widespread army of 1914-18, serving in foreign lands across Africa, Asia, and Europe that today number more than fifty different counties.

George Morton-Jack says that the British took the Indian Empire to war in 1914 as Germany and Austria-Hungary invaded the free nations of Belgium, France, Serbia, and Montenegro, and Poland as partitioned within the Tsarist Russian Empire. The Prussian/German pitiless militarism was apparent from August 1914 when they invaded Belgium where German Army burned down villages, towns, a university library, and even a cathedral, and killed several thousand civilian men, women, and children, many of them lined up and shot in town squares. As German troops rampaged into France, killing hundreds of more civilians on the road to Paris, at stake in British eyes was civilization itself on the basis that Europe had been its cradle since the ancient Greeks invented democracy. The British government embarked on World War I against Germany as a war of survival between ideas of civilization.

The men of Indian Expeditionary Force A to France went to liberate German-occupied territory in the name of democracy. George Morton-Jack says that some 85,000 Indian soldiers and 50,000 non-combatants served with Force A on the western front. In the wider world, the Indian Army served extensively to shut down the German colonial empire, partly as a natural adjunct of the British cause against Prussian militarism in Europe, and partly to secure British colonies.

George Morton-Jack says that the greatest Indian numbers overseas, however, were involved in the war against the Ottoman Empire covering most of the Middle East. Approximately 430,000 Indian soldiers and 330,000 non-combatants invaded the region, making Indian Army by 1918 the single largest Allied force on Ottoman soil. Turkey had been neutral until the end of 1914 when it picked sides by sending warships over the Black Sea under a German admiral to bombard Tsarist Ukraine. By November 1918, the British had a stranglehold over the Ottoman Empire resembling the grip of an enchanted giant squid, its master the Prime Minister in London, its main body the Indian Empire, and its two longest tentacles Indian Expeditionary Forces. But, in spite of their role, the Indian Army remains an army of forgotten heroes.

Army of Empire shines a light on the role of the Indian Army in World War I and how they helped the Allies win the war. It explores an important but least understood subject. It is a tribute to Indians who died defending Western democracy and freedom. Army of Empire is a carefully-researched and brilliantly-written book that makes history interesting for even laypeople. It fills the hole in scholarship on World War I. It is essential reading for both the students and historians of World War I.

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