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The Great War’s Forgotten Soldiers

NEW DELHI – One hundred years after the start of World War I, the world has been commemorating that seminal event. Described as “a war to end all wars,” the Great War, as it was called at the time, failed to live up to its billing. Those who fought and died in it would not have expected its sequel just 25 years later.

But while the war took the flower of Europe’s youth to premature graves, snuffing out the lives of a generation of talented poets, artists, cricketers, and others whose genius bled into the trenches, it also involved soldiers from faraway lands that had little to do with Europe’s bitter traditional hatreds.

The role and sacrifice of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and South Africans have long been celebrated in history books, novels, and award-winning films like “Gallipoli.” But the world hears very little about the 1.3 million Indian troops who served in the conflict, which claimed the lives of 74,187, with another 67,000 wounded. Their stories, and their heroism, have long been omitted from popular histories of the war, or relegated to the footnotes.

India contributed divisions and brigades to the European, Mediterranean, West Asian, North African, and East African theatres. In Europe, Indian soldiers were among the first to suffer the horrors of the trenches. They were killed in droves before the war entered its second year, and they bore the brunt of many German offensives.