Forget them Not

A war memorial built by the Indian government and USI will be inaugurated in France

Yunus Dar

The fact that India had worked hard to win recognition for the stellar role played by its army during World War I (WWI) was stressed upon by Lt Gen. P.K. Singh (retd), director of the defence and national security think-tank, United Service Institution of India (USI), at a press conference held in New Delhi recently. He said that India is now in the process of identifying locations across European cities where Indian soldiers fought and building memorials to popularise their role in the Great War.

WW I Heroes

Speaking at a presser in New Delhi to mark the centenary of the WWI, Singh said that India is looking at promoting battlefield tourism at the places Indian soldiers fought in European countries so as to help create awareness about India’s involvement in the war. He added that the French authorities were very keen for India to erect a monument celebrating the achievements of Indian soldiers in a war. He said that USI is collaborating with travel agencies to boost battlefield tourism and make historical war locations more popular across the world.

Under battlefield tourism, the United Services Institute (USI) is spearheading a campaign to popularise the historical sites where Indian soldiers have fought and died over the ages. Battlefield tourism is significantly helping economies in many nations across the world, whereas in India, this sector is still unexplored.

Singh said that the aim of the centenary commemorations was to revive the memory of the brave Indian soldiers in WWI and to build bridges with partner nations through acknowledgement of a shared past. He said that it was also important to highlight the futility of war and refrain from using it as an instrument of dispute resolution.

India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, had in June this year, announced the construction of the war memorial, through the USI, at Villers Guislan, a town about 200 km from Paris, to honour the sacrifice of Indian armed forces during the war. The memorial is scheduled to be inaugurated on 10 November 2018.

Villers Guislan had witnessed a major WWI battle, in which the British Indian regiments fought decisively, liberating the town on December 1917. Dafadar Gobind Singh received the Victoria Cross for his bravery at this battlefield, along with six other Indian armed forces personnel in different locations. This battle also witnessed the first mass use of tanks in warfare.

Sq. Ldr Rana T.S. Chhina (retd), secretary USI, and member USI-MEA Steering Committee overseeing the centenary commemorations said that the memorial will be the first to be built by the Indian armed forces dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in France in WWI. Another WWI memorial in Europe dedicated to the sacrifices of Indian armed forces is in Nueve Chappelle, which was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

To a question on how India itself had benefitted from the war, Chhina said, “It’s not true that the war did not benefit India in any way. In fact, when the war came to an end and the British authorities reneged on their promise of self-rule or dominion status, it fuelled a renewed cry for the fight against the British rule. The war acted as a catalyst for the freedom struggle that ultimately helped India to gain her freedom.”

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