Forces remember WW-I martyrs

NEW DELHI: The armed forces have kicked off a week-long commemoration of the centenary of World War-I, which saw over 74,000 Indian soldiers laying down their lives in battlefields spreading from Sonne and Flanders in France to Gallipoli and Canakkale in Turkey. 

President Pranab Mukherjee, accompanied by defence minister Manohar Parrikar, three Service chiefs and diplomatic heads of several nations involved in World War-I from 1914 to 1918, laid wreaths at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate on Monday. It came on the eve of the centenary of the battle of Neuve Chapple, which saw the maximum number of Indian soldiers being martyred. 

"On the centenary commemoration of World War-I, I join my fellow countrymen in paying homage to the brave and valiant sons of Mother India, who laid down their lives in the line of duty. I am sure that our great nation will continue to draw inspiration from the sacrifice of these bravehearts," said Mukherjee. 

A major exhibition, with war memorabilia from different regimental centres, will be inaugurated by Mukherjee at the Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment on Tuesday, which will also witness a veterans' heritage run. The exhibition has a "corner of remembrance", a "sacrifice hall", replicas of a dozen World War-I memorials from across the world, outdoor props depicting bunkers and trench-to-trench warfare, among other things. 

"This is an endeavour to commemorate the supreme gallantry and sacrifice that Indian soldiers showed in various theatres of World War-I, winning over 9,200 gallantry awards including 11 Victoria Crosses," said Major-General Narinder Pal Singh, chief of staff of the II Corps based at Ambala. 

"Over 1.5 million Indian soldiers were hurriedly recruited and taken to fight battles in foreign lands. Their sacrifice was tremendous, fighting for their regimental izzat (honour)," added Major-Gen Singh, whose own grandfather served in France for seven years during the "Great War''. 

All of the 30 regiments or units that took part in World War-I and are still part of the Indian Army, from Skinner's Horse and Madras Regiment to Gorkha and Garhwal Rifles, do also commemorate their own "Battle Honour Days" in their own unique way. "A soldier is a soldier, whichever the political dispensation that directs him to go to war may be...It's part of our regimental heritage," said a senior officer. 

The "Battle of Gallipoli" in 1915, for instance, is part of the institutional memory of the 4 Mechanised Infantry Regiment (1 Sikh), which was the 14 Ferozepore Sikhs during World War-I. "Over 15 officers and 371 troops of 4 Mech (1 Sikh) were killed in a single day, with the fearless Khalsas gallantly trying to clear one trench after the other in the bloody battle," said an officer. 

"As many as 36 IDSMs (India Distinguished Service Medal) and three IOMs (Indian Order of Merit) were awarded to the martyrs of the unit. The overall Gallipoli campaign, of course, ended in failure for the British," he added. 

The British raised many new Indian units with the advent of World War-I, including the first Kumaon battalion at Ranikhet, which successfully broke through the Turkish lines of defence in the "Battle of Sharon" to ensure Nahar-El-Falak could be captured in September 1918. "The battalion won nine gallantry awards, including two Distinguished Service Orders, two Military Crosses and five IDSMs," said the officer. 


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