By Rekha Rajvanshi
Indian army pays homage to Gallipoli predecessors through historic march
Between 2014 and 2018, Australia is commemorating the Anzac Centenary, marking 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War.
In New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland’s major cities, Indian army personnel marched at the ANZAC parade on April 25, to pay homage to the many Indian troops in the British Indian Army who fought side by side with the ANZACs.
And now, for the first time ever in South Australia, Indian troops were a part of the Adelaide ANZAC march, largely through the efforts of retired Major General Vikram Madan of the Indian Army, who lobbied tirelessly to be a part of the event.
Recounted Major General Madan: I migrated to South Australia on March 27, 2007 to join my family after my retirement, arriving just a month before Anzac Day. I am an Army man but I only had a vague idea about the Gallipoli campaign. But on seeing the media coverage, the soldier in me was curious and I started reading about the Anzac story. I also witnessed the Commemorative March and read about the contribution of many other nations in that campaign.
But when I read with great interest that the Indian Army under the British had fought shoulder to shoulder with the ANZACs at Gallipoli and had made huge contribution to the war effort, I realized that this contribution was a neglected subject in both, India and Australia.
When the story of our non-participation broke in the media in August-September 2014, it made headlines in Adelaide and in India. As they say, the rest is history and are happy with this wonderful outcome, especially in the centenary year of the commemoration. We very proudly marched in the parade, paying silent homage to our forbearers who sacrificed their lives at Gallipoli and shed their blood in the trenches on the Gallipoli Peninsula, alongside the ANZACs. There is no doubt that the Indian Army will be a proud participant in ANZAC parades to come.
The Indian Army’s contribution in the Gallipoli campaign was huge by all military standards. Military historians like retired Wing Commander Chinna in India and Professor Peter Stanley of the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra have done amazing work to bring to light the significant contribution of the British Indian Army. The brave efforts of the Sikhs and Gurkhas of the 29th Infantry Brigade, 7th Mountain Artillery Brigade and the Indian Mule Corps are recorded in military annals in golden letters. Indian and Australian blood flowed together in the trenches of Gallipoli, and the world will remember this.
Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.) Day, officially celebrated on April 25 since 1916, is Australia’s most important national commemorative occasion, marking the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War in 1915. The Anzac Day Parade pays homage to those soldiers who died during the Gallipoli campaign, and celebrates the spirit of mateship, valour and sacrifice.
The contribution of the British Indian army is historically documented and according to Major HM Alexander, “Many accounts of Gallipoli remember the Indian Ambulance Brigade and the Indian Mule Transport. The Anzacs called every Indian ‘Johnny’ and treated them like a brother, with the consequences that the Indians liked them even more … I often saw parties of Australians and New Zealanders sitting in the lines, eating chuppatties and talking to the men.”
Professor Peter Stanley from the University of New South Wales stated on Punjabi SBS Radio, that the involvement of Indian troops in that campaign has been largely overlooked. “Close ties between Australia and India can be traced back to the landings at Anzac Cove and through the 8-month long Gallipoli campaign in 1915 that cost at least 125,000 lives. Fighting alongside the ANZACs and the allies were 16,000 Indian troops, of whom 1600 were killed. Amongst the Indian troops, there were four Gurkha battalions, one infantry battalion of 14th Sikhs, which suffered 80% casualties in May alone, and many thousands of Indian mule drivers in Gallipoli,” emphasized Prof Stanley. He believes that to understand the Indian experience of Gallipoli, one has to look at Anzac records – not the official ones but diaries, photos and letters of Anzac soldiers who wrote endearingly about their Indian mates and show that they had the highest regard for the courage and professionalism shown by the Indian troops. One Anzac even sent a photo with his Indian mate, which was published in the Sydney Mail in 1916 with the title ‘Best Chums’. Many Anzacs mention the bravery of the Indian infantryman Karam Singh, who continued to issue orders to his troops, even after he had been hit and blinded by a shell.
April 25 is recognized as an occasion of national remembrance, and is commemorated through dawn services held mostly around war memorials. Two minutes silence is also observed and a bugler plays ‘The Last Post’, concluding the service with ‘Reveille’, the bugler’s call to wake up. Later in the day, former servicemen and servicewomen participate in marches through major cities and smaller towns.