Muslim Soldiers: The Two Great Wars
By Maj Hussain,
Four years ago Britain marked the centenary of the Great War. World War I started in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This war saw the emergence of new technology and weapons which caused mass destruction and death for millions of people all around the world. Britain, France & other allied nations were in a conflict with their arch rival Germany which was led by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
This war was so devastating that there was a total loss of life of around 18 million. There were approximately 11 million military fatalities and around 7 million civilians who lost their lives during the conflict. This war changed the dynamic of world geo politics and engrained scars in the psyche of people which still have reverberations to this day.
At the time the First World War began the British Empire was beginning to lose parts of its holdings across the world. However at this time India was still part of the British Empire. The British Raj may have seen its glory days gone by but it still had control of a changing India. The British Indian Army had seen 1.3million people from India volunteer by 1918. There were more than 1million Indian troops who were serving in overseas regiments during World War I.
More than 400,000 Muslims fought in the trenches of WWI yet their sacrifice is hardly known across wider society. Alongside their other fellow countrymen from India this part of the world provided more soldiers for the war effort than most of the other regions combined. Many of the Muslim soldiers were on the frontline fighting directly against German forces on the Western Front playing a crucial role in strengthening British forces.
The warfare that the Indian troops had arrived into was totally new for many of them in terms of the mechanical nature and different aspects of military machinery such as aeroplanes and machine guns. Many of these Indian soldiers never returned home after fighting in different parts of the world such as Neuve Chappelle in France and in other places such as Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. There was some recognition to the Indian soldiers who fought in WWI, where eight individuals were awarded the highest honour of the Victoria Cross.
Muslim Soldiers: The name that stands out and has legendary status in the annals of history is of Khudadad Khan. He belonged to the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchi’s regiment being born in the Jhelum District in what is now the Potohar region of Pakistan. Khudadad was actually the first Indian military personnel to be awarded the Victoria Cross for military gallantry. Khan’s regiment came into direct action in 1914 at the very beginning of the war in Belgium at the first battle of Ypres.
The Baluchi regiment was brought in to support the struggling British forces. The German’s far outnumbered the two Balochi squadrons and eventually overran them although they fought bravely. Khan manned and ran one machine gun unit whilst the other was destroyed by a bomb attack from the Germans. Khan’s resilience and bravery delayed the German breakthrough. Eventually heavily outnumbered Khan’s machine gunners were all overrun and all killed. Khan suffered multiple injuries and was left for dead. Badly injured Khan was able to crawl back to his fellow soldiers under the shade of the dark night.
7 Images Of Muslim Soldiers & Colleagues In The British Indian Army
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The sacrifice of the Baluchi’s and Khan was paramount in delaying the German breakthrough. This eventually impacted the battle as reinforcements arrived securing the ports and stopping the German soldiers in their tracks. Khan’s unparalleled heroic actions led to him receiving the highest military honour in the form of the Victoria Cross medal. The legendary Khan later died in 1971 having retired at the military rank of Subedar the equivalent of a British Captain ranking.
Thousands of Muslims fought as part of the British Indian Army in WWI & WWII and paid the ultimate sacrifice losing their lives. This is often forgotten and not widely known, however we have endeavoured to help rediscover the past and how thousands of Muslims were a part of the British forces fighting enemy troops all over the world. Their contribution should not be forgotten as it has impacted our freedom today and we should honour their memories alongside other troops who fought against tyranny.
In Memory of Pola Khan (1918-2001) who stood amongst the brave in the jungles of Burma in WWII