(Transcript from World News Radio)
The role of what were then British Indian forces in the First World War has been described as an important but often overlooked contribution.
Now fresh efforts are being made to acknowledge a century-old alliance forged in battle
Karen Ashford has the story.
The shores of Gallipoli saw slouch hats shoulder to shoulder with Sikh turbans.
However, former Indian army officer Vikram Madan is wondering why there’s so little public awareness of that.
“Indian army played a very important role at Gallipoli; in fact they were the first troops to land alongside Anzacs. And why aren’t we anywhere on the scene? Why is this subject so neglected?”
For many years it has been believed that around 5,000 Indian troops served at Gallipoli, with about 1600 killed.
Military historian Peter Stanley says his recent research at the National Archives of India shows the degree of Indian involvement was higher than initially thought.
“There was just a brigade of mountain artillery which fought with the Australians and a brigade of infantry – a total of about 16,000 men including many mule drivers because the Indian forces provided all the transport for the allied troops on Gallipoli.”
Illiteracy meant few Indians were able to send letters home recording their feats, but Professor Stanley says friendships forged with Anzacs have enabled accounts of their deeds to survive.
“They formed particularly close bonds with individual Australians and perhaps the best known Australian is John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the man who went down in history as Simpson and the donkey. And he lived not with his own unit, the Third Field Ambulance, but with the Indian mule drivers of the mountain artillery, and he lived in the mule camp with them, he shared rations with them, and he left of the 19th of May to bring casualties down and of course was killed on that day.”
General Madan served with India’s Gurkha regiment for 40 years before migrating to Australia.
He’s been leading the charge to raise the profile of India’s role at Gallipoli in his home state of South Australia.
Adelaide’s Anzac Day march is arguably the most traditional in Australia – open only to Australian veterans or their direct descendants.
General Madan has been campaigning to open up the march to acknowledge other nations that fought alongside Australia in the Great War.
He says the 17 Indian veterans who are members of the state’s Indian Defence Veterans Association may not have direct ties to Gallipoli, but this shouldn’t inhibit their desire to see their nation represented.
“We are few but it all matters to us to be part of this big celebration of, I would call it a celebration of our achievement, really. But it’s a commemoration for the Anzac Day.”
The chair of South Australia’s Anzac Day Committee is the RSL’s Bill Denny.
Mr Denny says special effort has been made to preserve the integrity of Adelaide’s Anzac march compared with those elsewhere.
“It’s a balance between wanting to honour the work of these allies a hundred years ago, somehow representing them, and not compromising what’s been in place here for a hundred years. It is very difficult because the other states, their marches are more along the lines of pageants and parades – ours is very clearly a commemorative march.”
Mr Denny says the Anzac Day Committee has come up with a compromise which allows representatives of Australia’s allies to join the march for the four years of the Anzac centenary.
“There were a number of allies. Of course we had New Zealand, we had the French empire, the Indian, British Indian empire, the Russian empire, and Newfoundland and they were in fact our allies at Gallipoli. Over the years those states have changed and the current nation states are India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Canada representing Newfoundland, New Zealand of course, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Russia.”
The opportunity to march has delighted Indian veterans like Lieutenant Colonel Jitender Passan.
“This Anzac spirit is not only Australia and New Zealand, it’s all the allied forces, that’s what it symbolises and embodies.”
A former Lieutenant Commander with India’s submarine fleet, Akhilesh Verma, says the decision is a mark of acceptance.
“We have adopted this country as our own now so we would like to integrate with it, and marching in Anzac is one way of integrating with it and feeling for the cause.”
A pair of husband and wife medics are travelling 300 kilometres to march.
Dr Mylapanahalli Shivashankaraiah is a former Indian Army major who is now a doctor at the outback town of Port Augusta.
“So many of my patients, they are veterans and all the time they’ve been asking me as to why I’m not marching with them. And already so many of my patients they actually want to come to Adelaide because we will be marching here in Adelaide, and they want to take part with me.”
His wife, Anupama Shivashankaraiah, is a former group captain.
“We’ve been attending the Anzac marches for the last 10 years, we’ve just gone there and watched people march – this year I’ll be able to march.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith has applauded the RSL’s Anzac Day Committee for striking a balance.
He says it acknowledges allies for the centenary period, but preserves the integrity of the Adelaide march beyond that.
“We acknowledge the service of our Indian comrades during that campaign – I’m pleased that the RSL has also acknowledged that, and they’ll be included on Anzac Day during the march.”