‘Loyalty and Dissent’ – our new classroom resource on Indian soldiers in the First World War

You are the descendants of men who have been mighty rulers and great warriors for many centuries. You will never forget this! You will recall the glories of your race. Hindu and Mahomedan will be fighting side by side with British soldiers and our gallant French allies. You will be helping to make history. You will be the first Indian soldiers of the King Emperor who will have the honour of showing in Europe that the sons of India have lost none of the ancient martial instincts and are worthy of the confidence reposed in them.

Lieutenant-General Sir James Willcocks, March 1915

When the First World War broke out in 1914, as part of the British Empire, India rallied to the support of Britain. More than 1.4 million Indian soldiers and non-combatants served in the war, with over 138,000 Indian soldiers seeing action on the Western Front. They suffered heavy casualties, fought with courage and won eight Victoria Crosses on the Western Front out of a total of 11 awarded during the war.

Indian soldiers took pride fighting in a ‘white man’s war’ to prove themselves equal and their letters express loyalty and prayers for British victory – for many, their family honour was bound up with military tradition. But nonetheless their letters also reveal expressions of dissent. Some felt that Indians were used as cannon fodder and urged potential recruits not to enlist for service in Europe

Our new classroom resource, ‘Loyalty and Dissent’, is designed for Key Stages 3, 4 and 5. It will help students and teachers consider the role and treatment of the Indian Army in the First World War using original documents to give unique insights.

What were the views held by British soldiers of their Indian allies? How much did the imperial state take advantage of traditional Indian soldierly qualities to ensure their loyalty towards King and Empire? Did the Indian contribution in the war hasten the process of decolonisation?

Visit our new classroom resource to find out more.

Tags: first world war, India, indian army, WW1