The Great War: From India to Woking

More than a million Indian soldiers fought for Britain in the First World War. This virtual display, produced by Woking Borough Council, Horsell Common Preservation Society and the Shah Jahan Mosque, demonstrates the importance of Woking as both a site of worship and a final resting place for Muslim troops of the British Indian Army. The display has been uploaded to this website by popular demand.

Click on the images below to see larger copies of the display panel then click on the right or left side of each image to move forward or backwards through the gallery.

The Indian Army in the First World War

57th Wilde’s Rifles in France, 1916<br/>(Courtesy of the British Library)

57th Wilde’s Rifles in France, 1916
(Courtesy of the British Library)

Before Independence in 1947, India included all countries of the sub-continent – Pakistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The British army recruited solders from different ethnic and religious groups, including Gurkhas, Pathans, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.

When war broke out in 1914 Britain did not have a large army ready to go to France. Reinforcements were needed and the Indian Expeditionary Force, on its way to Egypt, was diverted to France. Indian soldiers were involved in some of the earliest battles of the First World War including Ypres and Flanders. 140,000 Indian soldiers served on the Western Front and 7,000 of them died.

Troops on their way to the Front Line, 1916<br/>(Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Troops on their way to the Front Line, 1916
(Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

By the time the war ended in 1918, India had sent over one and a half million troops to fight in every location: France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Persia and Africa. Official figures suggest nearly 64,500 Indian troops died. Some suggest nearer 72,000 is more accurate.

Indian troops were ill equipped and unacclimatised to trench warfare, mud and gas attacks. However, they fought hard and were awarded six Victoria Crosses on the Western Front alone. By 1918, the Indian Army had won more than twelve Victoria Crosses and 1200 awards for bravery.

Memorials at Neuve Chapelle, France, and in Britain commemorate their contribution to the First World War. On the South Downs at Patcham, the Chattri is dedicated to the memory of all Indian soldiers ‘who gave their lives in the service of their King-Emperor in the Great War in grateful admiration and brotherly affection’.

(Text courtesy of The Lightbox)

For more Indian Army Facts click here.

  • Discover the history of Woking’s Muslim Burial Ground, commissioned in 1915 for those who had fought on the front line. And find out about the exciting new plans for the future of this unique memorial.

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