The Forgotten History of Indians at Gallipoli: Yes, Almost 1400 Were Killed There!

New research points about 15,000 Indian troops – almost three times more than previously thought – served at the Turkish battlefield side-by-side the Anzacs

As New Zealand paid tribute to the centenary of Gallipoli landings in April last year, followed by Chunuk Bair commemorative services in August, historians across the Tasman are calling for greater acknowledgement of the important role Indian troops played during the eight-month-long campaign.

In a new book titled, Die in Battle, Do not Despair: The Indians on Gallipoli, 1915, Peter Stanley, a military historian at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has challenged past historical records that had put the number of Indians who fought at one of World War I major battlegrounds at around 5,000.

Drawing from previously unpublished official and private records from the UK (including forgotten British officers' memoirs), Australia and the National Archives of India, Professor Stanley has now put a powerful argument for revising this figure to 15,000.

This contingent or Indian Expeditionary Force G – as it was called then - comprised of the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, the 7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade, and the Indian Mule Corps with over 4,000 animals at its disposal to transport supplies. According to Stanley, it is this mule contingent from India, which made the most important contribution by keeping the forces alive during the eight-months-long campaign.

Meanwhile, the soldiers came mainly from Gurkha, Punjabi and Sikh regiments - notably the 14th Ferozepur Sikh, 1/6 Gurkhas, and 69th and 89th Punjabis.

To get a sense of the human cost involved, New Zealand's Ministry for Culture and Heritage estimating the country-wise total casualties put the figure at 4,779 for India. Of this, 1,358 died and 3,421 soldiers were wounded, the ministry says.

Most disastrous was the Third Battle of Krithia in which the 14th Ferozepur Sikh regiment lost 80 percent of its men, according to reports published in Indian newspapers at that time.

Though to be sure, Indians are not the only ones to be left out of Gallipoli remembrance and tributes.

In an earlier published book - Gallipoli: A Ridge Too Far - fifteen historians from Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, India, and Turkey, collaborated and noted that while the French suffered almost twice as much as Australians in terms of casualties, they have always been left out of the Gallipoli story.

The chapter on Indian troops in this book was contributed by Rana Chhina, a military historian at the Delhi-based United Service Institution of India.

Chhina also recently teamed up with Professor Stanley and helped in organising photographic exhibitions at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi commemorating the role of India at Gallipoli.

“Gallipoli and the Anzacs are at the absolute heart of our collective sense of national identity in both Australia and New Zealand, and India’s important role in this campaign deserves a far greater audience,” noted Patrick Suckling, Australian High Commissioner to India, while inaugurating the exhibitions – Camera on Gallipoli, and Indians and Anzacs.

The exhibitions showcased 27 black-and-white photographs highlighting the Indian contribution to the Gallipoli campaign.

To view a collection of pictures digitised by the Australian War Memorial depicting Indian contribution at Gallipoli, please click here