Indian Army Facts

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  • At the outbreak of the First World War, the Indian Army was 161,000 strong.
  • Native Indian rulers contributed huge amounts of money to the war effort. The Nizam of Hyderabad gave £400,000, and the Maharajah of Mysore, £333,000.
  • Indian troops were recruited from the so-called ‘peasant martial races’, e.g. Sikhs, Pathans, Dogras, Jats and Rajputs, and Gurkhas from Nepal.
  • Land grants and financial rewards called ‘jaygia’ were given by the Indian rulers to those who had served over the generations. For many, the motivation to enlist came through recruiting parties and private recruitment drives.
  • All private soldiers (‘sepoys’) were from the Indian sub-continent, the majority of officers were British.
  • The Indian Corps was formed in France in September 1914, under Lt-Gen. Sir James Willcocks.
  • 1.5 million Indian volunteer soldiers served in the First World War, nearly 700,000 of them in the Middle East.
  • Nearly 900,000 soldiers and 600,000 non-combatants were recruited from the villages and towns of British India to serve the Empire.
  • More than half the soldiers came from the recruiting grounds of the Punjab, which supplied 190,000 Muslim, 97,000 Sikh and 83,000 Hindu soldiers.
  • The first military engagement involving Indian troops took place near Ypres on 25 October 1914.
  • The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at Neuve Chapelle, in March 1915. More than 500 were killed and 1,450 wounded.
  • Indian Labour Corps provided invaluable support to fighting troops, performing essential tasks such as baking, laundry, and tailoring.
  • 140,000 Indian soldiers served in France and Flanders. 60,000 were mule corps, stretcher bearers and camp followers.
  • The Lahore Division fought at the 2nd Battle of Ypres, in April 1915, experiencing toxic gas attacks.
  • The Indian Corps sustained heavy losses at the Battle of Loos, September 1915, and were transferred to the Middle East.
  • Two Indian cavalry divisions remained on the Western Front until March 1918.
  • 140,000 Indian soldiers served on the Western Front. 7,000 of them died.
  • The Indian Corps won 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 12 Victoria Crosses.
  • Official figures suggest nearly 64,500 Indian troops died. Some suggest nearer 72,000 is more accurate.

Compiled from the following sources:

The Western Front Association

The Long, Long Trail

Dr David Omissi, India and the Western Front

Dr Santanu Das, The Indian sepoy in the First World War (British Library extract

Dr Santanu Das Soldiers of Empire, BBC Radio 4 programme

Guide to tracing sources for the Indian Army – click here to download a pdf (PDF) copy.

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