Sunday, 1 February 2015


[Based on an articles from 2005-there is now the Memorial Gates commemoration on Constitution Hill and with the WW1 centenary commemorations there has finally been acknowledgement of the sacrifice by all the members of the Commonwealth].

May 1940-the panzers have knocked France out of the war, the BEF is evacuated and Britain prepares for invasion. Over the next year, until Hitler's Drang nach Osten against the Soviet Union, Britain stood alone, shouldering the whole burden of the struggle against the Axis powers. Only it wasn't quite like that. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, East & West African colonies, and the West Indies provided the resources of the Dominions and Empire were put at our country's disposal. Churchill's wartime speeches were full of references to "our Empire and Commonwealth."
Fully one-third of our forces were from the Empire and Commonwealth, including 3 million from India. 70% of the British Army in Burma was Indian, winning 20 of the 27 VC's awarded for that campaign. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) cultivated an extra 20,000 acres to supply food. By 1944 the West African countries were providing 40% of Britain's fat ration. British Guyana increased Bauxite production to 2 million tons and Ceylon raised rubber production 100% to compensate for the loss of the Malayan supply after its capture by the Japanese. In India 50 million pairs of boots and 5 million parachutes were made for Allied forces. 

In WW1 the Empire mobilised 75 British, 17 Indian, 5 Canadian, 5 Australian, and 1 Newland divisions, plus soldiers from Africa and the Caribbean-the latter distinguishing themselves in Mesopotamia but shamefully used only as labourers digging trenches and carrying ammunition on the Western Front. Tens of thousands of Chinese from Hong Kong and men of the South African Native Labour Corps backed up the soldiers by providing logistical support. 

So why has there been a tendency to ignore such a significant contribution? Firstly, because until recently History has most often been White history with Black and Asian figures being conspicuous by their absence. Although at the time their efforts were reported, in such publications as Picture Post (for example a Sikh machine-gunner at Monte Cassino), school History has largely ignored them. WW1 course often concentrate on First Ypres and the Somme and describe Neuve Chapelle as a British battle when the lion's share of fighting and casualties fell on the Indians. Indian troops also fought at Gallipoli, Mesopotamia and in Palestine.

Secondly, since independence India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have not wished to honour members of a colonial army. In India veterans of Chandra Bose's Indian National Army received a pension, while the far more numerous soldiers who served Britain on so many fronts were ignored. 

Thirdly, there has been a strong feeling among the liberal/left establishment of "don't mention the war!" Moreover, the Empire and Commonwealth remind people of a heritage and relationship outside of the EU. 

In addition to the memorial to the Gurkha Soldier near Horseguards there is now a fitting reminder in the form of a domed pavilion and associated structures  between Marble Arch and Buckingham Palace. It is well worth a visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment