First World War (1914-1918)

28 Jun 1914
End date: 
11 Nov 1918
Event location: 



Although the trigger for the First World War was seen as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914. As Britain and France waged war against Germany in Europe and in Africa, Britain called upon help from her Imperial troops. Indian soldiers in the Indian Army arrived in Europe from September 1914. The first of these Indian troops arrived in Marseilles on 26 September 1914. They came from the Lahore and Meerut Divisions and the Secunderbad Cavalry. In October, Indians were fed into some of the fiercest fighting at Ypres. In March 1915, Indian troops provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which was the costliest in terms of lives.

By 1918, India had sent over 1 million soldiers to fight in the War, not including Imperial Service Troops from the Princely States, Sailors and Indian Labour Corps. 138, 608 Indian soldiers (two infantry divisions, two cavalry divisions and four field artillery brigades) saw action on the Western Front. Here, 7700 Indians died, 16,400 were wounded and 840 went missing or were taken prisoner. Of the twelve Victoria Crosses awarded to Indians after the War, six were for those who had fought on the Western Front. The main memorial to the Indian Army on the Western Front was that designed by Sir Herbert Baker, and opened in 1927 at Neuve Chapelle.

Wounded Indians who had fought in France were sent to Britain to recover. In Brighton, the Royal Pavilion was transformed into a military hospital for Indian soldiers. During their time spent recuperating, Indians were visited by the King and the Royal Family. Tours were also organized for them to visit London and see the sights. The religious needs of the soldiers was taken into account, with nine kitchens erected to cater for the various dietary regulations of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and areas were cordoned off for worship. Various other buildings were also converted into nursing homes for these soldiers. Two memorials exist in Brighton to commemorate the Indian soldiers who came through during the War - the Chattri on the South Downs and the Pavilion Gateway (unveiled by Bhupinder Singh in 1921).

People involved: 

Sikh Soldiers including those who were awarded Victoria Crosses: Mir Dast, Gobind Singh, Khudadad Khan, Darwin Sing Negi, Gobar Sing Negi and Kulbir Thapa.

Fighter pilots including Indra Lal Roy and H. S. Malik.

Indian Princes including Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala.

Published works: 

Bibikova, Massia, Our Indians at Marseilles (London: 1915) 

India and the War, with an introduction by Lord Sydenham of Combe (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915) 

Mereweather, Lt-Colonel J. W. B. and Smith, Sir Frederick, The Indian Corps in France (London: John Murray, 1917)


Journal of the National Indian Association

Asiatic Review, including articles by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and D. N. Singh, July 1914 - January 1915.

Secondary works: 

Collins, Joyce, Dr Brighton’s Indian Patients. December 1914 - January 1916 (Brighton: Brighton Books, 1997) 

Das, Santanu, Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Ellinwood, D. C. and Pradhan, S. D., India and World War One (New Delhi: Manohar, 1978)

Greenhut, Jeffrey, ‘The Imperial Reserve: The Indian Corps on the Western Front, 1914-15’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History XII. 1 (Oct. 1983)

Omissi, David, 'Europe Through Indian Eyes: Indian Soldiers Encounter England and France, 1914-1918', The English Historical Review 122.496 (2007)

Omissi, David, 'India and the Western Front' on the BBC website:

Omissi, David, Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers Letters 1914-1918 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2007) 

Omissi, David, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian army, 1860-1940 (London: Macmillan, 1994)

Patiala & the Great War: A Brief History of the Services of the Premier Punjab State (London: Medici Society, 1923)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Visram, Rozina, 'The First World War and Indian Soldiers', Indo-British Review XVI (June 1989), pp. 17-26.

Archive source: 

Archives, Imperial War Museum, London

India Office Records, L/MIL series, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras 

India Office Manuscripts, Mss Eur F143 series, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Lady Wasteneys collection, 'Indians in Kitchener's Hospital, Brighton', Mss Brit Emp s.22 (G370), Rhodes House Archives, Oxford