ANZAC Day observance ignores Indian soldiers

Carl Gomes

Auckland, April 24, 2018

“It is not just the sons of the Europe that rest in the cemeteries on this peninsula, but also those of Asia, Africa and North America. This is a powerful testament to the true international nature of this conflict” – (John Key, Prime Minster of New Zealand at Gallipoli on ANZAC Day, 2010)

On April 25 every year, tens of thousands of New Zealanders observe ANZAC day with reverence at home and far across the oceans at Gallipoli, Turkey.

This is the day the nation remembers her forefathers (many of who never returned home) who fought in wars far away from home in the two World Wars and in other campaigns in more recent times.

Building bridges

ANZAC Day builds bridges across communities and unites generations of Kiwis, who gather at war memorials all over the land to commemorate those who gave their lives for their country, to honour those war veterans who made it back home and to pay tribute to the serving members of the Armed Forces.

Anzac Day is seen and celebrated today as marking a very important episode in New Zealand’s history. Official publications state that the Gallipoli campaign helped New Zealand define itself as a nation, in that after Gallipoli, New Zealand had a greater confidence in its distinct identity and a greater pride in the international contribution it could make.

It is also held that the mutual respect earned during the fighting formed the basis of the close ties with Australia that continue today.

Government officials from Australia and New Zealand as well as most of the last surviving Gallipoli veterans, and many Australian and New Zealand tourists travel to Turkey for a special Dawn Service at Gallipoli.

The Anzac Day Gallipoli Dawn Service attracts more than 15,000 people.

Part of ANZ culture

Anzac is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The word Anzac is part of the culture of New Zealanders and Australians.

People talk about the ‘spirit of Anzac’; there are Anzac biscuits, and rugby or rugby league teams from the two countries play an Anzac Day test.

The word conjures up a shared heritage of two nations, but it also has a specific meaning. It may have led to a military defeat, but for many New Zealanders then and since, the Gallipoli landings meant the beginning of something else – a feeling that New Zealand had a role as a distinct nation, even as it fought on the other side of the world in the name of the British Empire.

About Expeditionary Force G

Despite being synonymous with Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC was a multinational body. In addition to the many British officers in the corps and division staffs, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps contained, at various points, elements of the Indian Expeditionary Force G.

Expeditionary Force G consisted of the 29th Brigade, serving away from its parent 10th Indian Division. There was also an Indian mule cart train of the Indian supply and transport corps whose services were vital for the operations of the entire ANZAC.

The lone Indian muleteer who stayed back to provide logistic support to Kiwis is part of folk lore to date. All of these were served by the 108th Indian field ambulance.

The brigade was dispatched from Egypt and attached to the British 29th Division which had been decimated in the earlier battles. Held in reserve for the Second Battle of Krithia, they played a major part in the Third Battle of Krithia.

India Gate Memorial

The India Gate in New Delhi, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens is a national monument and is one of the largest war memorials in India. Originally known as All India War Memorial, it is a prominent landmark in Delhi and commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the erstwhile British Indian Army who lost their lives fighting for the British Indian Empire, or more correctly the British Raj in World War I and Afghan Wars.

Names of those who sacrificed their lives at Gallipoli are also engraved at this memorial.

As stated earlier, despite being synonymous with Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC was a multinational body.

In addition to the many British officers in the corps and division staffs, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps contained, at various points, the 7th Brigade of the Indian Mountain Artillery, Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps troops, the Zion Mule Corps, four battalions from the Royal Naval Division, the British 13th (Western) Division, one brigade of the British 10th (Irish) Division and the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade.

The forgotten facts

What is forgotten is that, while ANZAC is associated now only with Australia and New Zealand, a number of other Infantry Battalions were rerouted to Gallipoli while on their way to France. The core of ANZAC was the Australian 1st Division and the ‘New Zealand and Australian Division’. This New Zealand and Australian Division itself contained the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade.

However a British or dominion division normally contained three brigades and what is largely unheralded is the contribution of the third Brigade of this Division, which was the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Major General Vaughn Cox.

Indians ignored

ANZAC Day celebrations tend to ignore the contribution of the Indians, plausibly due to the fact that as an erstwhile colony, India’s military contribution was taken for granted as it had no independent political resonance to back it up.

The Indian participation in Gallipoli was substantial and contributed immensely to the operations. The fighting component of ANZAC comprised of 23 Infantry Battalions, 15 of which came from Australia, 5 India and 3 from New Zealand.

Special mention needs to be made of Mule Cart Train of Indian Transport and Supply Services, which provided logistic transport service to whole ANZAC. Few realize that the much celebrated achievements, as well trials and tribulations of ANZAC at the Dardanelles, which have been hailed as a defining point in New Zealand and Australian history, were also shared by a large contingent of the Indian Army Corps.

Politically, colonial rulers in India would not have been at all keen to commemorate a battle where they had lost, since the ruler’s ploy always had been to project that as a ruling class as they were invincible in order to keep the Indian masses in check.

Heavy Indian casualty

The Indian Army in its history from 1757 to 1914 had on many an occasion suffered much heavier casualty where whole battalions were wiped out e.g. retreat in winter after First Anglo Afghan War. Thus by Indian army standards, Gallipoli was not such a major milestone for the Indian Army as it is for ANZAC.

India and New Zealand have had a long history of joint military operations, which unfortunately have slipped from public memory and been all but forgotten in official discourse. The Indian participation in Gallipoli was substantial and contributed immensely to the operations.

It is not commonly known that the very first operational sortie of the IAF against the Japanese in World War II was carried out jointly with a couple of New Zealander personnel of the RAF.

This came about during the First Burma Campaign. Later, a RNZAF pilot, Squadron Leader GS Sharp, on deputation to the RIAF, was to win one of the 3 DSOs awarded to the RIAF, whilst in command of No 4 RIAF Squadron in Burma in February 1945.

For nine long months New Zealanders, Australians and Indians with allies from France and the British Empire battled harsh conditions and resolute Turkish opponents who were desperately fighting to protect their homeland. By the time the campaign ended, over 120,000 men had died: more than 80,000 Turks, and 44,000 Allied soldiers.

In the history of the Great War, the Gallipoli campaign made no large mark. The number of dead, although horrific, paled in comparison with the number that died in France and Belgium. But for New Zealand, along with Australia and Turkey, the Gallipoli campaign left a lasting impression on the national psyche.

Carl James served the Indian Navy from 1967 and following retirement in 1990, was employed in Merchant Navy. He lives in Auckland.


Photo Caption:

The New Zealand Sikh Society in Wellington was among the participants in the Anzac Day celebrations held in the capital on April 25, 2004 (Indian Newslink, May 1, 2004)

(File Pictures)

Related posts

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: