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  • Sikh soldiers shoulder to shoulder at Gallipoli. (Australian War Memorial) (Provided)Source: Provided
This year, April 25 marks the centenary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) troops in Gallipoli, a military campaign during WW1 which lasted eight months and claimed at least 125,000 lives. Many regard April 25, 1915 as the day that Australia truly forged its national identity, rather than 1 January1901, when Australia federated as a nation. And as Australians prepare to mark this centenary with great respect, to honour those who fell in battle, the contribution of Indian troops in Gallipoli is also being remembered.
Manpreet K Singh / SBS Radio Punjabi

25 Apr 2015 - 12:27 PM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2016 - 8:45 AM

The Indian troops in Gallipoli comprised Gurkha and Sikh battalions from India, and thousands of mule drivers who literally “moved” the British forces and their allies.  But their vital contributions to the Gallipoli campaign has been largely overlooked until now – and the well known Australian historian and researcher Prof Peter Stanley is about to change that, with his latest book “Die in Battle, Do not Despair, The Indians on Gallipoli 1915”.

Although there were at least a dozen Indian Australian soldiers who took part in WW1 as Anzacs – meaning that they enlisted as soldiers in the Australian Imperial Forces, but none of them took part in the Gallipoli campaign, since they joined the AIF after 1915. Even so, their names are inscribed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and they are paid homage to, as Anzac troops. A private collector in Canada has preserved two medals awarded to Private Ganessa Singh, described as an Indian Anzac, who returned safely back home to South Australia after completing his deployment in WW1. But as mentioned earlier, none of the Indian Anzacs fought in Gallipoli.

According to Professor Peter Stanley, there were four Gurkha battalions, one Sikh infantry battalion (of 14th Sikhs which suffered 80% casualties in June 1915 alone) and many thousands of Punjabi mule drivers in Galliopli. Unfortunately, none of their personal experiences seem to have ever been documented. This maybe attributed to the old saying that those who create history, seldom have the time to write about it, or as Stanley believes, “Most Indian troops were either illiterate and didn’t maintain any records, or if they did, those records haven’t survived”. Which is why their stories have never been accurately told - until now! He adds, “To understand the Indian experience of Gallipoli, you must search the Anzac records – the diaries, photos and letters of Anzac soldiers who wrote endearingly about their Indian mates”.


Medals awarded to Private Ganessa Singh, an Indian Anzac, who fought under the Australian flag in WW1.


Stanley asserts that the close ties between Australia and India can be traced back to the landings at Anzac Cove, where Australians and Indians stood together resolutely, shoulder to shoulder.  Traveling to New Zealand, India and Nepal to obtain more records, Stanley found that 16,000 Indian troops fought alongside the Anzacs in Gallipoli, of whom 1600 became casualties of war. Stanley's book lists the names of these 1600 fallen Indians, predominantly Gurkhas or Sikhs, who were also cremated in Gallipoli after they fell.

Trawling through the Anzac records, Stanley found multiple mentions of the bravery of an Indian infantry man named Karam Singh. Many Anzacs wrote about Karam Singh with great awe, who is said to have continued to issue orders to his troops, even after he had been hit by an artillery shell and blinded by it.

Stanley tells us that even the most famous Australian Anzac John Simpson Kirkpatrick (popular in Australian folklore as Simpson and his donkey), used to stay with the Indian mule drivers in the battlefields of Gallipoli, because he preferred the fresh food cooked by the Indian troops much more than the bully beef that was supplied in the Australian rations.  There are mentions of Simpson enjoying “chapattis” and freshly cooked curries, just two weeks before he himself succumbed to the war.

Listen the author’s audio interview with Professor Stanley HERE.

Letters sent by Anzacs show that they had the highest regard for the courage and professionalism shown by the Indian troops. One Anzac even sent a photo with his Indian mate, which was published in the Sydney Mail in 1916 with the title “Best Chums”. The two Australian soldiers pictured in that photo, were killed soon after in action, but it is truly remarkable that they posed for a photo with a Sikh soldier in the battlefields of Gallipoli, and sent it back home to introduce him to their families “as a mate”. Says Prof Stanley, “That photo truly stands out for me,” adding, “the true friendship between Indians and Australians can be traced back to the fields of Gallipoli -- a friendship that must be commemorated in this centenary year”.

Professor Peter Stanley currently works at the University of New South Wales, and previously, worked for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra for nearly three decades. He has authored many books already and his new book  “Die in Battle, Do not Despair, The Indians on Gallipoli 1915” will be released shortly – first in London, then in Australia on August 6, and later in New Delhi.