19 July 2024

‘Lest we forget’ Indian soldiers who served & died alongside Anzacs

By: Gurbir Singh

Today – nearly 110 years after the Battle of Gallipoli, when New Zealand and Australia commemorate their soldiers who served and gave their lives, it’s also time to reflect on the vital contribution of Indian troops in Gallipoli.

Those who create history, seldom have the time to write about it’, this old saying could well be the reason that even to this day, most New Zealanders and Aussies are unaware of the vital contribution of Indian troops in Gallipoli.

Nearly 16,000 Indian troops, comprising mainly Gurkha and Sikh battalions, served and fought alongside the Anzacs in Gallipoli in 1915 that claimed at least 125,000 lives over the eight month period of war.

Indian soldiers of the 52nd Sikh Regiment
Indian soldiers of the 52nd Sikh Regiment

The Indian contingent comprised the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade, 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, one Sikh infantry battalion who fought shoulder to shoulder with Kiwi and Aussie soldiers on the front lines. In addition, there were medicos of the 108th Indian Field Ambulance and the Indian Mule Corps.

They served there from late April 1915, through the August offensive, until the final evacuation in December.

The contribution and heroism of the 14th Sikh regiment was particularly noteworthy. This regiment suffered 80% casualties in June 1915 alone when 371 Sikhs died on June 3 and 4, 1915. Their bravery is exemplified by the fact that Sikhs won 14 of the 22 Victoria Crosses awarded to Indian soldiers and many were awarded the Victoria Cross honour.

General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the Gallipoli operations paid glowing tributes to the heroism of the 14th Sikh soldiers when he wrote to the Commander-in-Chief in India:

In the highest sense of the word extreme gallantry has been shown by this fine Battalion. . .In spite of these tremendous losses there was not a sign of wavering all day. Not an inch of ground gained was given up and not a single straggler came back. The ends of the enemy’s trenches leading into the ravine were found to be blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the enemy who died fighting at close quarters”.

Similar tributes were paid by F. Yeats-Brown who wrote in Martial India (1945):

The history of the Sikhs affords many instances of their value as soldiers, but it may be safely asserted that nothing finer than the grim valour and steady discipline displayed by them on the 4th June has ever been done by soldiers of the Khalsa. Their devotion to duty and their splendid loyalty to their orders and to their leaders make a record their nation should look back upon with pride for many generations.”

Among the other unsung heroes of Gallipoli were the 650 men -mainly Sikhs, of the Indian Mule Corps of the Indian Supply and Transport Corps which managed supplies – including food and water, to troops using over 1,000 mules. If it hadn’t been for them, the Anzacs and the rest would not have been able to hold on in the manner that they did.

According to historians, more than 16,000 soldiers from the sub-continent participated with the Allied forces and almost 1,600 Indian soldiers died, and up to 3,500 were wounded in the war they fought in a strange land against an enemy they knew little about. Their sacrifice is immortalised in the Helles war memorial on the Turkish coast.

The ‘courage, comradeship & camaraderie’ of Indian troops at Gallipoli was documented perhaps for the first time in 2015 by Prof. Peter Stanley of the University of NSW.

Stanley’s book “Die in Battle, Do not Despair, The Indians on Gallipoli 1915” has the over 80 photographs and list of the names of these 1600 fallen Indian troops who were also cremated in Gallipoli.

Photos, diary entries and letters written by Australian soldiers also reveal the ‘Indian soldiers’ professionalism’ and how the close ties developed between the two countries despite initial ‘prejudices’.

Indian Armed Forces veterans in Melbourne’s Anzac parade (Photo/supplied)

Meanwhile, in Melbourne(Australia), the Indian Armed Forces veterans participated in the Anzac day parade under the Indian flag, to pay homage to to their fallen brethren.

Indian veterans commemorate Anzac soldiers (photo/supplied)

Nearly 80 veterans, family members and children of serving or veterans participated in the parade today. This was said to be the biggest ever marching contingent and included high ranking retirees such as Air Marshal Ajit Bhonsale, Maj Gen APS Sandhu, Maj Gen Ranjit Nadkarni, Brig TS Aulakh, Col PS Brar, Col Sameer Roy Chowdhury and Col SK Sakhuja.

Veterans wore their medals and Regimental caps during the parade. 

With more Indian diaspora in New Zealand and Australia also now gradually becoming aware of Indian soldiers’ role in Anzac, they have started making a connection to this national day and considering them to be a part as well.

2 comments;

  1. Newsviews had always been in front row for keeping informed/updated one and all. My appreciations for NewsViews & amazing job being done by it’s Editor. Bravo NewsViews

  2. I just wanted to say that you wrote a great article on the Sikhs at ANZAC. Thank you. We are trying to share it widely on LinkedIn and in our WhatsApp groups.

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