The National Archives - First World War and India

October 01, 2014

Tagged with: Black, ethnic minority and mixed-race people

"Last week, [Network member] The National Archives made the 171 First World War diaries of the Indian Infantry units deployed to the Western Front available online to download via the First World War 100 portal.

From the 25th September, these war diaries will be added to Operation War Diary, the online crowdsourcing project, so that you can help us to reveal the many stories still waiting to be discovered.

These diaries cover the entire period of the units' involvement in the war, including their journey by sea from India and the reception they received on arrival in Marseilles, with the first two brigades docking on 26 September 1914.

Highlights include:

  • their long journey across the seas to what was an unknown destination at the time (WO 95/3926/1). Many men experienced sea-sickness and weather they had never encountered before. One diary even includes reports of a shark swimming around the ship on 1 September 1914 (WO 95/3920/1)
  • the 'magnificent reception' they received from the French upon their arrival in Marseilles where crowds greeted them with fruit, coffee, biscuits, flags and flowers (WO 95/3926/1)
  • how religious requirements were accommodated. One diary notes how Indian troops were allowed to go up to the promenade deck of the ship to pray, facing east towards Mecca (WO 95/3920/1)
  • the enemy in the trenches trying to communicate with Indian troops using a white screen inside their trench on two poles within inscription 'Indian Soldiers. The Holy War has begun. Come and join us. Death to the Hated British' (WO 95/3948)

Indian soldiers in the Indian Army came from the Lahore and Meerut Divisions and the Secunderbad Cavalry Brigade. In October, Indians took part in some of the fiercest fighting at Ypres.

We are encouraging people to take part in Operation War Diary to help uncover all of the many stories contained within the 1.5 million pages of the unit war diaries from France and Flanders. Join the project here:"

Information from Krishna Kaur, The National Archives, 1 Oct 2014.