Brave Sons of Undivided India
Vancouver. BC, June 10, 2010
By Lt Col (Retd) Pritam Singh Jauhal
There is a lone Memorial at Neuve Chapelle in France, built to honour more than 4,700 Indian soldiers, who died fighting bravely during World War 1.
The Indian Army’s contingent leading the march on the occasion of France’s National Day celebrations in Paris in the presence of the French President and the Indian Prime Minister made big news recently. Few recalled the sad chapter of the bravery of Indian soldiers, who died defending France almost a century back at Neuve Chapelle in France during the World War 1, and only a lone memorial erected there pays them silent homage.
The village of Neuve Chapelle is around 5 km north of La Bassee, and 20 km south-west of Lille. The memorial is 800 metres south-west of the village. One of the roads leading from the crossroads, the Rue du Bois, finds a mentioned in Alexander Dumas Three Musketeers.
Engraved on the memorial is the following inscription:
“ To the honour of the Army of India, which fought in France and Belgium, 1914-1918. And in perpetual remembrance of those of their dead, whose names are here recorded, and who have no known graves.”
A plaque in the memorial reminds the visitors that the memorial was constructed and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Just next to the memorial is another one — dedicated to the Portuguese, who died in the same battle there.
This memorial at Neuve Chapelle was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, with the sculpture by Charles Wheeler. It was unveiled by the Earl of Birkenhead in 1927. In 1964, a special bronze panel was designed to add to this memorial the names of 210 servicemen of undivided India, who died during the 1914-1918 war, whose graves at Zehrensdorf Indian Cemetery, East Germany, were considered "not maintainable." Incidentally, although this plaque still remains, these graves were reinstated following the renovation in 2005 of the German cemetery.
This site also contains the Neuve Chapelle 1939-1945 cremation memorial. In 1964 the remains of eight Indian soldiers (including two unidentified) were exhumed from Sarrebourg French Military Cemetery and cremated. The names of the five identified solders are engraved on panels at the Neuve Chapelle memorial, together with the following inscription:
“ 1939-1945 - In honour of those soldiers who died in captivity in North- West Europe, and whose mortal remains were committed to fire.”
Thirtynine members of the 1914-1918 Indian forces were commemorated here, who are now known to have been cremated at Patcham Down, Sussex.
Indian Armed Forces officers and men did exceedingly well and heroically made a name for them not only in World Wars but also in all United Nations Conflicts and Peace Missions throughout the World. India, undoubtedly is proud of their prominence as they are respected by all countries of the World.