A statue commemorating the role of Indian soldiers in World War I was unveiled on November 11, 2018 in the town of Laventie, France to mark the end of the First World War in 1918.
Another memorial was inaugurated by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu at Villers Guislain in France on November 10, 2018. The main motif of the Indian War Memorial at Villers Guislain is the Indian national emblem that has four Ashoka lions.
|The memorial at Villers Guislain is the first such memorial built by the Indian government in France and the historic occasion was witnessed by the representatives of Indian French armed forces and locals amidst severe rain.
On the other hand, the seven-foot bronze statue in Laventie, is the first of 57 similar commemorative sculptures planned by the Inter-Faith Shaheedi Commemoration Association (IFSC) to be unveiled near cemeteries around France where Indian soldiers who fought for the British Indian Army have been buried.
• The Bronze statue was unveiled at a spot allocated by the Mayor of Laventie, Jean-Philippe Boonaert, adjacent to a 12th-century church, St Vaast, in the French town.
• The town of Laventie was chosen as the site of the commemorative statue after the remains of two soldiers belonging to the 39th Royal Garhwal Rifles were identified and reburied with military honours in 2017.
• The unveiling marks the commencement of the project to establish 57 such statues near all cemeteries where Indian soldiers lie buried in France.
• The martyred Indian soldiers largely went undocumented as the forces sent from the subcontinent at the time were either British Empire soldiers or soldiers of Indian princely states.
• The IFSC has now commenced work to establish a 12-tonne brass statue adjacent to the Indian war memorial at Neuve Chapelle in Richebourg, France.
• The memorial commemorates over 4,700 soldiers and labourers from British India who lost their lives on the Western Front during World War I and have no known graves.
• A spot has been allocated by the local French authorities for this large sculpture, which is also expected to be unveiled in 2019.
Speaking on the development, IFSC president Ramesh Chander Vohra said, “The First World War is a relatively unnoticed event in an otherwise historic timeline of Indian events. This colossal effort in the most difficult circumstance is not entirely forgotten nor actively remembered and needs to be portrayed in the correct perspective globally and in India.”
In fact, Vohra has written a book on the subject titled ‘Unsung Indian Heroes of World War I’, which is set to be released next year alongside an exhibition of newspaper articles from the World War I period of 1914-1918.
A series of commemorative events were organised across UK and Europe in recent weeks to mark the contribution of Indian soldiers in the war effort, alongside millions of others from around the world.
This included a special event at Westminster Abbey in London, which was attended by the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry), who witnessed a wreath of marigolds shaped in the symbol ‘Om’ being laid in honour of Indian soldiers at the ‘Indian Army pre-1947 Memorial Plot’.
The South Asia Centre of the London School of Economics (LSE) also organised a special event, celebrating the launch of the commemorative Khadi poppy to mark the centenary of the end of the war on November 11, 1918, or Armistice Day.
Around 2 million Indian servicemen, workers and labourers travelled West for World War I as they helped secure victory for the Allied Forces, which included Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States of America.
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India’s role in the First War has always been downplayed and under-documented for a number of reasons. India did not gain freedom till the Second Great War making the First a distant memory. Since there was no Indian nation yet, any forces sent from the subcontinent tended to be Empire soldiers or soldiers of princely states – both notions making them somewhat less than Indian for later commentators.
The First World War is a relatively unnoticed event in an otherwise historic timeline of Indian events. This colossal effort in the most difficult circumstance is not entirely forgotten nor actively remembered and needs to be portrayed in the correct perspective globally and in India.
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