World War One
Soldiers from the British Indian army in Iraq during World War One

by REENA KUMAR

A HISTORY project is hoping to shed new light on the experiences of Indian soldiers who fought in World War One, in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire regiment.

Priya Atwal, a history consultant at Oxford University, told Eastern Eye that the project entitled The Indian Army in the First World War: An Oxfordshire Perspective, aims to highlight the British Indian army’s role in the war on the Eastern Front in Iraq, which was formerly known as Mesopotamia.

Organisers of the exhibition are calling on members of the Asian community to share stories and memorabilia belonging to their ancestors who may have fought in the war to highlight the British Asian contribution.

A travelling exhibition will showcase the findings, providing insight into the shared history of British and Indian involvement in the war.

It will also explore the experiences of Indian soldiers, British officers and Iraqi prisoners of war through a collection of photographs which have not been publicly displayed before.

Atwal said: “For every English soldier, there were three Indian soldiers, they fought in Basra and Iraq. It was before the Partition of India and there were Pakistani and Bangladeshi men involved too.

“We’re looking at local family stories from Oxford to bring that to light but we also want to highlight the British Asian contribution, we want families to get in touch with us.

“Stories get passed down, we want to hear from people who have chatted to older relatives and have heard conversations and stories about that time which were passed down.

“It is hoped that this research will bring to light a forgotten aspect of local history about Indian military collaboration with soldiers and officers.”

Priya Atwal

To bring the project alive, volunteers and researchers will study previously unseen military heritage collections relating to Indian Army activities in Mesopotamia between 1914 to 1918.

Atwal added: “It is hoped that this research will reveal new insights into the wartime activities and experiences of British and Indian armed forces fighting in the Middle East.”

Even the Asian community is not fully aware of the contribution of Indian soldiers in both world wars according to Atwal, who believes their role in the conflicts is not reflected in the media.

“It is not taught in our history classes, we are hoping to empower schools and provide educational resources for teachers off the back of
the project.”

In total, approximately 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War One, and over 74,000 of them lost their lives.

“For some it was glorious, they were bestowed with honours and medals but for others it was extremely traumatic, and some were even driven to rebel against the British,” Atwal explained.

The Soldiers of Oxfordshire (SOFO) Museum and Oxford University’s history faculty jointly received a £12,000 funding grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council “Voices of War and Peace” WWI Engagement Centre to deliver the venture.

The exhibition will open to the public from November at Wycombe Museum, before moving to Banbury Museum in December and then to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum for a six-month run from 2018.

If you would like to share a story, contact sofoindianarmy@gmail.com