Thursday, April 25, 2019


Today 25 April is ANZAC Day commemorating the Battle of Gallipoli (World War 1) in which a large number of Indian Soldiers fought and sacrificed their lives along with ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) Troops.

I am sharing an article by Srikant Kesnur on Gallipoli (with the author's permission)

It is about time that we learn about our glorious military history.


(Note - This is a reproduction, with minor *variations and some additions*, of an article written over previous years, on the *Indian connection with the Battle of Gallipoli, in World War 1*. Since we observed the centenary of the end of the Great War, just a few months ago, in Nov 2018, this piece, arguably, continues to be relevant. *In any case, I believe, that History can gain salience only if characterized by presence, persistence and prominence.* Kindly read on, if interested.)

Some battles of the World Wars achieve great fame and recall value. Flanders, Kohima, Alamein, Midway to name just a few. And some are destined to oblivion. Gallipoli would perhaps rank the foremost among them where India is concerned. *And yet we must recall it, if not for anything, at least to remember the Indian contribution. At least today, 25 Apr, which is commemorated as the Gallipoli day. Or ANZAC day as it is known in Australia and New Zealand*.

The campaign has an interesting history. In early 1915, the WW 1 had reached some sort of stalemate on the Western Front. Russia was also facing difficulties in sustaining herself and accessing supplies through the frozen seas in the north. When the Ottoman Turks decided to side with the Central powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary), the Black sea route was also threatened. So Britain hit upon opening a new front in the Dardanelles to seize the Bosporus and ultimately take over Istanbul. *Hence, the plan to launch an amphibious attack on the Gallipoli peninsula, the European part of Turkey.* (Linked Map reference for ease of understanding given at the end). It was also designed as an out flanking manoeuvre by the Brits to penetrate Germany through its 'soft underbelly'. The Ottoman Empire derisively referred to as the 'sick man of the world' was in decline and hence it was presumed that they would just roll over. Another factor suggested in a recent book ‘Great Battles – Gallipoli’ by Jenny Macleod (OUP, 2015) was the British need to defend Egypt, the strategically significant Suez Canal and the route to India. The implication was that drawing Ottoman forces to Dardanelles would reduce the threat to Egypt.

But the invasion of Gallipoli that commenced on *25 Apr 1915 as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) was a disaster*. *Led by the British it consisted of troops from Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand and above all India*. For nine long months, until 09 Jan 1916, the campaign trudged along but the Turks fought hard and would not give up. Both sides took heavy casualties.  *The unexpected (at least to the Allies) loss had far reaching consequences**Winston Churchill lost his job as the First Lord of Admiralty and the idea of approaching Germany from East was put in cold storage. *For the Turks, the victory formed the basis of their new nationhood and their leader at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal went on to become the first President of the newly formed Turkish Republic*. A grateful nation went on to christen him Ataturk (Father of the Turks).

The Brits, French and Irish perhaps preferred to forget the war, but to the Aussies and New Zealanders it was a great heroic loss, which in some ways defined their nationhood too. *That’s why 25 Apr is commemorated as the Anzac day in both these countries and observed with due ceremony, dignity and remembrance of the departed*. This battle formed the basis of ANZAC culture which is a strong theme in these nations even today.

*What about India? India was a part of the ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) division. More than 5000 Indians took part in the war of which a staggering 1926 were killed and 3863 injured (I have not got my math wrong. Some were injured more than once).* As may be obvious, these *numbers vary a little*. Macleod suggests a slightly higher figure participation figure and slightly lower casualty figure, while noted Australian military historian Peter Stanley actually suggests that *the figure of those who took part is around 15,000* (‘twice or thrice more than previously thought’ to use his own words).

India's Expeditionary Force G (Gallipoli) consisted of 29 Infantry Brigade supported by two Artillery Batteries of 7th Mountain Artillery Brigade. (Mountain Artillery was the only Indian Artillery between 1858 and 1935). Further, Mule Corps from ASC and Transport Corps and 108 Field Ambulance Unit serviced the entire ANZAC division. *In pro rata basis Indians arguably had the highest casualty rate in the ANZAC division because the Aussies and NZ had higher numbers in this theatre.* They had a casualty rate of about 14 % of troops deployed and we about 30 to 40%.

The Indian units that took part in the campaign were 69 Punjab (now 2 Punjab and 1st Bn Bde of Guards. *It is the Seniormost Infantry Battalion of the Indian Army*), 14 KGO Ferozpur Sikh (now 4 Mech Inf) and 1/5 Gorkha Rifles (FF). The other units viz. 89 Punjab and the two Arty elements viz. 1 Royal (Kohat) Mountain Battery (FF) and 3 (Jacob's) Mountain Battery (then manned by Sikh and Punjabi Muslim troops) went to Pakistan, while 1/6 GR and 2/10 GR went to Britain after the partition. And 29 Inf Bde continued to be in the Indian Army's ORBAT (Order of Battle).

*For three years in Nairobi, I was a regular part of the ANZAC day commemorations at the most beautiful and tree lined Ngong Commonwealth war graves cemetery. (See accompanying picture where I am laying the wreath). Usually organised by the Australian High Commission, one of the most moving that I attended was a joint commemoration by Australian and Turkish Ambassadors.* ANZAC day is an early morning service at the crack of dawn, perhaps because the attack was launched at dawn. Once the poignant ceremony was over, we adjourned for tea and special ANZAC biscuits. Thereafter, the Defence Attaches would get together for breakfast and exchange notes. *And each time all the DAs and other guests would be surprised that India had such a large contingent at Gallipoli.*

*Why did the Indian contribution to this doomed campaign go unheard, unsung and unwept?* It was natural for Brits not to focus on it too much. They had lost to an 'inferior' race - the brown skinned Turks - and did not want their loss to be advertised among people of other colour. In any case, Gallipoli had no strategic consequences in the final outcome of the war. Macleod callas it a most *egregious loss that Brits failed to however acknowledge* until more than a decade later. *For Indian national leaders’ pre and post-independence, wars fought under a foreign flag were problematic and met with ambiguous response*. So a war that formed the foundation of nationhood of 3 countries viz. Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, became one of little importance for India. *Sad, because in such wars may be interred millions of heroic tales and poignant moments.*

In fact, I bought the OUP book on Gallipoli in anticipation of reading a great deal about the Indian participation and commemoration. Alas, I drew a blank as the references to India are very few and literature references/footnotes/bibliography/acknowledgements have barely any Indian sources or connection, *indicating how arid this area is as far as India is concerned*. The author herself acknowledges it when she says in her *conclusion “Too little is known about the Indian part of the campaign or of the traces of memory among veterans and their families”*. It is also something to ponder over that *the first dedicated book to Indians at Gallipoli has been written by Professor Peter Stanley, one of Australia's reputed military historians. Titled, “Die in Battle, Do Not Despair: The Indians on Gallipoli, 1915’,* the promotional blurb by the publisher (Helion & Company) *says ‘The Indian story of Gallipoli has barely been told before. Not only is this the first book about their part in the campaign to be published in the century since 1915, but it also tells their story in new and unexpected ways’*. It was published in 2015 but I learnt about it only recently. I have just ordered my copy of the book and hope to read it soon.

The centrality of Gallipoli to the Aussie psyche can be gleaned from the fact that for one tough Ashes series in England, Steve Waugh, arguably Australia's most inspiring Captain, took his team to Gallipoli enroute to England so that they could be motivated by the exploits of their forebears. Can you imagine something like this in India? *For all of Dhoni's brio and Viraat Kohli's aggro, I don't ever see them assembling at Kohima or Rezangla to get inspired. And if, per chance, any of our sportsmen did get into a venture like this, our chattering classes would be hauling them over coals for unnecessarily 'militarising' sport.*

Musing about this aspect of our amnesia to wars in India or India in wars, I recently came across a nice article by a veteran Army officer Maj Gen Balhara. Having received it on whatsapp I cannot be sure of its authenticity but it is what he says that is more important.  *Surmising that ‘It was not just  by chance that the Sun never set on the British Empire’*, (the title of the article) the officer states *that ‘’Every great nation in history, held their Armed Forces in high esteem*’ and …….. that ‘while *some (nations) will never forget their dead, some simply won't remember!*’  Specific to Gallipoli he recollects “Many years ago standing on the Rock at Gallipoli *I had wondered what these Brits & Aussies have in them, that even with a full half century and a quarter gone by they still throng to this desolate place* - thousands of miles away from their homes - only because their nation will never allow the memories of their martyrs to be forgotten. The annual ceremony at Gallipoli is an extremely poignant and emotional affair. 2nd and 3rd generation descendants - some who never even saw the men who fell at Gallipoli, stand in solemn silence grieving with moist eyes and a lump in their throats. Australia sends at least three to four ministers while senior representatives from their MoD as well as Defence Headquarters are also in attendance”.

We have just finished observing the centennial years of the Great War of 1914 to 1918. *It was a War that saw 62000 Indians dead and 67000 injured*. By World War 2, two decades later, we were *at 2.5 Million, the largest volunteer Army in the world*. *Gallipoli may be only a small footnote in the history of war or of Indian Army and it simply might be of no interest to our media and current elites, but to those to who died or were injured in the war, today we must pay homage.*

The last word on this must belong to Kemal Ataturk who told a visiting British, Australian and NZ delegation in 1934 "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side Here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, Who sent their sons from far away countries Wipe away your tears, Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." *Alas, even Ataturk did not know that the Indian Army not only had Mehmets and Johnnies but also Singhs and Gurungs and Kumars and Thambis, all who went by the name of Jawans. *For those wondering whose Gallipoli it was, we must also stake claim*.

*Srikant Kesnur*

First written 25 Apr 17

*Reproduced with minor corrections and additions on 25 Apr 18 and 25 Apr 19*

PS - I owe a debt of gratitude to *Cdr CH Gomes (Retd), my first Commanding Officer in the Navy and a man of many causes including Gallipolli.* He provided much of the content and context for this piece. *I also acknowledge some omissions of last year pointed out by veterans and have tried to incorporate ?them this year*. I will continue to update as I receive inputs and ideas.

PS 2 - Do read this piece below too, if interested for more info. Some facts seem to be at variance with what I have written but the spirit is the same Another nice piece is

PS 3 – Maps on Gallipoli can be easily accessed on Google, for example  see

PS 4 – *The  Last word*.  I have often wondered if writing or reminding of such themes has any salience. Does it carry any traction? Is it important to anybody? Does it matter? Is this pop history, a Maggi noodle version of a much complex subject? The answers come in different ways. A few weeks earlier, I was delighted to receive a package which contained a beautiful blue jacket. *It was a gift from my friend Cmde Rahul Gokhale*, who had just returned after a course from Australia. He said he had *picked it up in an ANZAC day sale for me specially*, since I had been writing about this subject. The jacket has the *words Gallipoli in English and Turkish inscribed on it*. I wore it and it fit perfectly. It I not only made my day *but injected the booster dose for this piece.

No comments: