Armed Forces, House of Lords, Speeches

First World War: Centenary

Posted by LordSheikh

My Lords, I pay particular tribute to the contribution of our Indian soldiers during the First World War, as the significant part they played is not widely acknowledged. This is of personal significance to me as my grandfather served in the Indian Expeditionary Force E in Palestine. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army of 1.5 million during the First World War. They provided crucial support to our expeditionary forces and fought directly alongside British troops in various battles which took place in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Indian contributions were not just confined to the Army; they also served in the Royal Indian Marines, Indian merchant services and in the Army nursing units. Indian troops were awarded more than 9,200 decorations, including 11 Victoria Crosses. The first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, who fought in Belgium in 1914. He was in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment during that period.

More than 74,000 Indian troops were killed or declared missing in action. A memorial site called the Chattri exists on the South Downs at Patcham, which commemorates the Indian soldiers who gave their lives during the First World War. In particular, it is associated with 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose remains were cremated at that very spot, and a memorial service is held there every year.

The commitment of these brave men to the war effort often emerged from a strong sense of personal duty to the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.

I have long advocated the need for an emphasis on what we share in maintaining a stable and successful multicultural society. There can be few things more unifying than honouring the sacrifices which our British and Indian ancestors made, fighting and dying together 100 years ago. Finally, I ask that we consider acknowledging the contribution made by Indians in the First World War during the commemoration next year.

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