BRUCE Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley, paid tribute Tuesday in the British Columbia legislature to members of the Indian Army who fought alongside Canadians on the western front in Europe during World War One.
The Indian Army recruited soldiers from across India, yet the Punjab, although only 10 per cent of the Indian population in 1914, formed 66 per cent of the cavalry, 87 per cent of the artillery, and 45 per cent of the infantry.
Ralston also acknowledged the work of Surrey resident Steven Purewal who tells this important story by creating the exhibition: Duty, Honour, and Izzat: the call to Flanders Fields.
Many Canadians proudly trace their roots to ancestors who served in the Indian Army, Ralston added.
Bruce Ralston’s speech: Recognizing Indian soldiers’ contribution in World War 1.
The main branch of Surrey Public Library in Surrey City Centre recently hosted an historical exhibition entitled Duty, Honour and Izzat: The Call to Flanders Fields. The exhibition tells the history of India’s contribution to World War I and of the soldiers who came disproportionately from the state of the Punjab. Soldiers were recruited from across India, yet the Punjab in 1914, although only 10 percent of the Indian population, provided 66 percent of the cavalry, 87 percent of the artillery and 45 percent of the infantry.
In 1914 the Indian army was second in size only to Britain within the Empire. The origins of this recruitment could can be traced to the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1846 and 1849. British officers were so impressed with their Sikh military opposition that they raised two regiments, the 14th Ferozepore Sikhs and the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs as well as the Punjab Frontier Force. Other Indian regiments from the Punjab fought on the Western Front in 1914, and later the 14th Sikhs served in Gallipoli in 1915.
After the British army encountered a massive German force in 1914, an urgent appeal was made to support the Empire. A Canadian expeditionary force of 30,000 arrived in England in October 1914 and later saw action on the Western Front in 1915.
The Indian Expeditionary Force first entered combat in the First Battle of Ypres, where they were joined with British troops to hold that part of the Flanders territory of Belgium and France. Six months later, Canadians landed and fought jointly with Sikh soldiers in the Second Battle of Ypres.
It was of this battle-torn region of Flanders that John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields. Ultimately, over 73,000 Indian soldiers were killed in World War I — a heritage shared with Canada, which lost 66,000 lives during the same war.
Steven Purewal, a Surrey resident, was moved to create the exhibition to tell the unrecognized story of that shared military connection. “We have a joint heritage, a joint history. By not recognizing it, it undermines our ability to have a better common future,” he said.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I and prepare to remember on November 11, we can acknowledge that common heritage.