War Diaries of Indian Infantry Unit

The National Archives, Ministry of Justice, UK, recently released a set of previously unseen war diaries from the Indian infantry units. The diaries illustrate the experiences of Indian soldiers during the war and their lives on and off the ship. These diaries also elaborate their experience of bad weather, sea sickness and shark encounters during their journey to Europe.

During the First World War British India was a part of the allied forces.  Indian soldiers from the Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade and the Lahore and Meerut divisions joined the war. The Indian army of that time having never travelled to the sea and cold weather experienced sea sickness and ill health.

The writings also revealed how the religious requirements of the foreign fighters were met during their travel. Muslim soldiers were allowed to come to the Promenade deck to pray so that they could face the east towards Mecca during their prayers.

A diary entry dated 3 October 1914 explains how the Indian soldiers were given a ‘magnificent reception’ with fruit, coffee, biscuits, flags, and flowers by the French when they arrived in Marseilles.

The diaries also talk about the instances where Indian Soldiers were contacted by the enemy in the trenches asking them to join the war against British. How the enemies used a white screen tied to two poles with message reading – “Indian Soldiers. The Holy War has begun. Come and join us. Death to the Hated British” And how, many of these soldiers went on to fight one of the fiercest battles in the history, the Battle of Ypres.

National Archives military records specialist, William Spencer, said that these diaries provide interesting insights about how the Indian troops that fought war were mobilised and accommodated, The Telegraph reports.

To mark the centenary of the war National Archives has made thousands of digital copies of these diaries from the France of Flanders and made them public. They have requested the public to help uncover similar war stories from these digital files. These diaries have been added to the Operation War Diary, an online crowdsourcing project, and could be downloaded via the First World War 100 portal.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE