Learning Curve, The Great War
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Useful notes: Source5
Report from the London Gazette newspaper on the actions of Jemadar Mir Dast, June 1915
(Catalogue ref: ZJ 1/622)
  • Indian troops (from what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) had been the backbone of British armed forces throughout the empire since the early 1800s. Around 1.45 million Indians volunteered to fight in Indian and British armies in the Great War.
  • Indian troops were some of the first to fight in France in September 1914. They fought in the first Battle of Ypres in November 1914. In these early stages of the war they made up about 25% of the British forces on the western front. As the war went on, fewer Indians fought on the western front because it took too long to transport them from India. They fought in the Middle East instead.
  • Nepalese troops also served with the British Army. They were known as Gurkhas. Around 100,000 men joined the Gurkhas Brigade. They served on the western front and in the Middle East with great distinction. They were also stationed in India to replace troops of the British Indian Army who had gone to fight in Europe.
  • Jemadar Mir Dast (or Jemadar Mir Dost) was born in 1874 at Maidan, Tirah in India. He enlisted in the 55th Coke's Rifles in 1894 and had already received several medals for bravery by the time he was attached to the 57th Wilde's Rifles.
  • Mir Dast went 'over the top' to try to drive back the Germans near Ypres, but he was soon caught up in the confusion caused by a gas attack. Almost all the British officers that led the attack were wounded or killed. Mir Dast stayed behind on the battlefield while thousands of others were retreating. He gathered as many wounded men as he could, despite suffering from the effects of the gas, and carried on defending his position until the order was given to retreat. On 29 June 1915, Mir Dast was awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest and most prestigious military award for bravery in the face of the enemy.
  • Despite suffering the effects of the gas poisoning, Mir Dast carried on fighting on the western front until June 1915, when he was wounded. He was sent to Britain to recover, but the effects of the gas poisoning were growing. He returned to India, but never fully recovered.
  • Mir Dast was one of 15 Indians who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War.
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