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Of Unsung Heroes

Syed Ata Hasnain

By Santanu Das
Gallimard Ministere de la Defense-DMPA, 2014, pp. 155, Rs. 1850.00


2014–15 is the centenary of the commencement of the commitment of India’s unsung heroes to one of the world’s greatest human tragedies—the First World War. A number of books have been published and a few high profile events have been conducted at India’s national capital to mark the event, principal among them being the efforts of the British High Commission, the United Service Institution and the Indian Army. The Minsitry of External Affairs has also been doing yeoman service in projecting the role of India and Indians in the effort towards the Great War. Against the above backdrop, this work by Santanu Das could not have come at a better time; it captures the moment through this publication, under the French Government’s initiative under the First World War Centenary Partnership Program, in partnership with other prominent heritage related institutions of France. The publication is a 150 page book which could pass as a glossy coffee table book at first glance but a perusal would probably classify it more as a fine reference book. Santanu Das, a Reader at Kings College, London, is involved with several projects on the Great War which we will see emerge over the next four years, but is equally known for his already published works titled, Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge 2006) and Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge 2011), which he edited. The book is divided into seven main chapters and is essentially focused on the Western Front although the first chapter covers the war generically. The figures, in terms of participants and the casualties are mindboggling; 621,224 combatants and 474,789 non-combatants served overseas between August 2014 and December 1919 when they finally returned. Seven Expeditionary Forces were sent abroad by India with IEF (A) being the one to Western Europe. Being the defenders of mainland Europe this Force drew the maximum focus. Das has us know that while the research material on the experiences of the Indian troops is scanty there is more such material still emerging. The reason for this is that there were no Indians in the officers class of that period. In fact it was Field Marshal Cariappa who entered the British Indian Army as one of the first Indian King’s Commissioned Officers in 1919. There are interesting facts in this chapter; that the Indians actually contributed 100 million pounds to the war effort; of the approximately 1.4 million men ...

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