Israel Issues Commemorative Stamp to Honor Indian Soldiers Who Died During WWI
Not many people are aware that the Indian army then was known as the British Indian army made a significant contribution in the victory against the Central powers led by Germany of which Turkey was an important constituent. More than a 1.5 million Indian soldiers fought in these battles. They played a bigger role in the Middle East and in battles at Haifa and Gaza. They broke the back of the Turkish army and thus sounded the death knell of the Ottoman Empire. The majority of the Indian soldiers who fought at Haifa and Gaza were Sikhs.
The Indian army and notably the Indian government has been chary of acknowledging these battles. One reason for this was that the political leadership that came to power in India under Jawaharlal Nehru had an antipathy to the military which they considered a remnant of the Raj. Nehru would have been happy if the British Indian army did not exist. He had the mistaken notion that India did not need an army and a police force was all that was needed.
His balloon was pricked and he came crashing down and the result is that he has saddled India for generations to come with perpetual problems in Kashmir, Ladakh and the erstwhile North East Frontier Agency( Arunachal Pradesh). In addition, he has the dubious distinction of losing over 30,000 square miles of Indian territory to China in Aksai Chin. The sad part is that even the Indian army which claims a heritage of 200 years and acknowledges the British Indian army as the mother has done precious little to commemorate the great battles fought by the Indian army from Peking( Boxer Rebellion), Saragrahi, France and Mesopotamia.
Despite the apathy of the top brass of the army and the political leadership, the state of Israel has acknowledged the contribution of the Indian soldiers in battles in the area which now forms part of Israel. This entire area was part of the Ottoman Empire and the Turks ruled with a heavy hand.
Israel has sometime back issued a postage stamp commending the heroic performance of Sikh and other Indian soldiers who fought and won the battle of Haifa. Haifa is now one of the principle ports of the state of Israel. It is only social media that highlighted the issue of this stamp, even as the Indian leadership and army remained silent.
The issue of the stamp in recognition of the heroic effort of the British Indian army needs to be commended. I am glad somebody has recognized this great contribution.
The historical moment of issuing the stamp to commemorate the Indian troops who fought during the 1914-18 war needs to be understood. Indian troops fought TurkishGerman armies at Gallipoli, the Suez Canal, Sinai and Palestine, Damascus, Gaza, and Jerusalem. On the Sinai-Palestine front, nearly100,000 Indian soldiers were deployed and thousands died in the battles.
The Indian troops formed an essential part of the cavalry, camel corps, mule corps, infantry, signals, and logistics units. The British commander leading Indian troops was General( Later Field Marshal), Edmund Allenby. He respected Indian soldiers very much. He realized the important role the British Indian army played. One can remember that he personally saluted them at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on Dec 11, 1917.
On 23rd September 1918, the 15th Imperial services brigade comprising Indian soldiers carried out remarkable cavalry action resulting in the recapture of the city of Haifa, in Palestine. How many know about it in India?
The exceptional bravery of Major Dalpat Singh and his men earned him the coveted Military Cross and the entire story of his bravery is mentioned in the textbooks of Israel. He was anointed as ‘Hero of Haifa’.
Similarly, there are many other stories of gallantry and initiative displayed by many other Indian / Sikh soldiers like Captain Aman Singh Bahadur, Dafadar Jor Singh, Capt Anoop Singh, and Lt Sangat Singh, who was also awarded Military Cross.
A letter of appreciation dated October 2, 1918, reads as follows: “Just some time back we were fighting an enemy of 80-90,000 Turks and Germans but today app 60-70,000 of them are prisoners".
According to the Commonwealth War graves commission, a large number of Indian soldiers were cremated or buried in cemeteries across Israel. General Sir Edmund Allen has in a document commented “the marvelous strength of Indian soldiers” was one of the major features of this battle.
It's a matter of regret that in India the deeds of the erstwhile British Indian army which in essence was the Indian army is generally neglected. The army top brass has a lot to answer for it. Till the soldier is given his due and the history of the past remembered and disseminated to India's youth and children, the army will go down many notches more vis a vis its civilian counterparts.