The Viscount of Khartoum, Lord Kitchener, became the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army from 1903-09. He wasted no time in instituting reforms that would allow the army to be more efficient in battle. In 1914, the Indian Army consisted of the largest deployable volunteer force in the world.
As Germany’s troops advanced through France and Belgium, of what was later to become known as, The Western Front – the Indian Army dispatched 150, 000 troops to La Bassée (1914), France and in 1915, the Meerut Division led an assault at the battle of Neuve Chapelle, where half of the troops consisted of Indian soldiers (many of whom were Sikhs).
They supported the rest of the coalition troops and were sent to some of the most inhospitable places, where intense fighting on the front-line culminated in heavy losses in: Belgium-Flanders (1914-1916), Auber’s Ridge, Festubert, Loos (1915), and Givenchy and Somme (1915).
Sikh Enlistment into the Army
In 1862, Sikh Military units comprised of up to 20 per cent of the Indian Army. By 1914 half of the recruits were drawn from Punjab and at the beginning of World War 1, 35, 000 of the 161, 000 troops were Sikhs. By 1915, the British Army’s, volunteers and reserves increased to millions. This was partly attributed to Lord Kitchener, who would later become Secretary of State for War in England.
By 1918, 827, 000 Indians had enlisted in the British Indian Army. The army had experienced heavy losses and recruits from the Sikh community were attracted through loyalty to King George V and in keeping with the tenets of their religion – helping the oppressed and fighting tyranny.
They also, to some extent, admired the British military for their bravery as was attested during the Anglo-Sikh wars. During the Second World War over 300, 000 Sikhs volunteered for service in the British Indian Army. In 2007 the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) were proposing an all Sikh regiment in England, but this proposal was abandoned after discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), who said that it may discriminate other groups from joining.
A Memorial to the Fallen
The British Indian Army had lost many soldiers through various conflicts. More than, 80, 000 Sikh soldiers lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars, fighting and supporting the Allied forces.
The names of those who perished during the First and Second World Wars are inscribed on the Delhi Memorial Gate in India.
The Sikh Information Centre
The Indian Army 1914-1947, by Ian Summer
The Origins of the Indian Mutiny, Episode 49, BBC Radio 4
The Second Sikh Wars : Battle of Chillianwallah, British Battles