With the centenary of the beginning of World War One almost upon us I have brought together these fine photographs from the British Library of the Indian troops that served in France.

The text is from the BBC.

The Indian Corps in France

cavalry brigade on the march [Crecqy, France] 2 Aug 1915
Cavalry brigade on the march [Crecqy, France] 2 Aug 1915
In August 1914, as the German Army advanced through France and Belgium, more Allied troops were desperately needed for the Western Front.

The Indian Army, 161,000 strong, seemed an obvious source of trained men, and the Lahore and Meerut infantry divisions were selected for service in Europe.

In October, shortly after they arrived, they were fed piecemeal into some of the fiercest fighting around Ypres. Losses were heavy.

The average Indian battalion had 764 men when it landed; by early November the 47th Sikhs had only 385 men fit for duty.

The fighting came as a shock to soldiers more used to colonial warfare.

Indian infantry bombing party [St Floris, France].
Indian infantry bombing party [St Floris, France]
One man wrote home ‘this is not war; it is the ending of the world’.

The troops were taken out of the line and rested in early 1915, but were soon back in the trenches and involved in the heaviest fighting.

Garhwalis lining reserve trenches
Garhwalis lining reserve trenches

The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March, and the Lahore Division was thrown into the counter-attack at the Second Battle of Ypres in April.

Indian infantry in the trenches, prepared against a gas attack [Fauquissart, France]
Indian infantry in the trenches, prepared against a gas attack [Fauquissart, France]
Morale seemed to pick up in the spring of 1915, only to decline towards the end of the summer when it became clear that an end to the war was not in sight.

The Indians again took heavy losses at the Battle of Loos in September.

The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.

The two Indian infantry divisions were withdrawn from France in December 1915, and sent to Mesopotamia.

Arguably they were moved because their morale was fragile, and it was thought unwise to expose them to another winter on the Western Front.

[39th] Garhwali Riflemen on the march in France [Estaire La Bassée Road]
[39th] Garhwali Riflemen on the march in France [Estaire La Bassée Road]
But it also made strategic sense to concentrate the Indian Army in the Middle East, where it was easier to send reinforcements and supplies from India.

 

Two Indian cavalry divisions remained on the Western Front until March 1918, when they were transferred to Palestine to take part in the offensive against the Turks.

Indian wounded in Brighton, Britain
Indian wounded in Brighton, Britain