Date: 24 Mar 2015



My Senior Cabinet Colleague, Sh. Manohar Parrikar, Senior Officers of Defence Forces, Excellencies,

Let me welcome all of you to this commemorative exhibition marking India’s contribution to the First World War. It is befitting that this exhibition has been mounted in this building named after one of our greatest soldiers, Field Marshall General Sam Manekshaw.

As you know, Prime Minister had visited this exhibition a few days ago. He was so moved by the graphic and poignant exposition that he asked for its duration to be extended – to allow more people to see and learn from it. As he said later, it is important to salute the sacrifices of each and every soldier during the war.

This indeed is our solemn duty. I am happy that we have all gathered here to do so.

Many regard the Great War as a European Affair – a product of battle for supremacy among imperial powers of Europe. However, as this exhibition will tell you, this is not entirely true.

Even though we were not a free country then, we made a very significant contribution by way of men, material and finance to this war effort. No less a leader than Mahatma Gandhi, who had then just returned to India from South Africa, supported the war effort and actively sought to build support among the Indian public to contribute to this endeavour.

In fact, the centenary commemoration around the world of the First World War from 2014-2018 has awaken us to these new facts. It is important that we pass this on to our younger generations - not only to learn of the great sacrifices made by our forefathers, but equally to understand and appreciate the sheer futility of war, its horrific consequences and the value of peace.

Not only India as we know today, but the entire Indian sub-continent, including areas that are fall in Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, took part in this conflict. Some estimates suggest that nearly 1.5 million participated in the war from the region. India contributed more soldiers to the war than South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada combined. Some experts have estimated that every sixth soldier that Britain sent out to fight was from the Indian Empire. These brave soldiers fought in alien climate and conditions far away from their homeland. Starting in August 2014, when the Indian Expeditionary Force set sail for the western front in France, Indian troops presence expanded over the next four years to theatres in Persia, Mesopotamia, South Arabia, East Africa, China, Macedonia, Gallipoli, North Africa, Sinai & Palestine and Russia.

As many as 74,000 never returned home. For their families the wait never ended.

The Indian contribution to the war went beyond the blood and valour of our soldiers. It included non-combatants who served as doctors, paramedics, cooks, and labourers. Yet another facet was the huge financial contributions to fund the allied campaign by people in India. Support was also provided by the ships of the newly created Royal Indian Marine, which accompanied vessels of the British Royal Navy in operations in Mesopotamia. Indian Merchant vessels, too, helped to maintain important transportation and supply lines. Hundreds of thousands of horses, mules and other livestock along with their handlers were sent from India to be used on the battlefield.

Everywhere the Indian troops fought, they distinguished themselves by their chivalry, gallantry, and professionalism. The valour shown by Sikhs and Gurkhas in the Gallipoli front or the part played by the Meerut and Lahore Divisions at Neuve Chapelle are still the stuff of legend. The 11 Victoria Crosses, 5 Military Crosses and numerous other honours are a testimony to their bravery and commitment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the modern tradition of discipline, bravery, competence and professionalism in the Indian Armed Forces is perhaps a legacy of the First World War. The tradition of serving in far off lands has also been carried forward through our substantial contributions to UN peacekeeping in different parts of the World today.

Friends, without further ado, I will now invite you to proceed to see the exhibition. The four themes on which the exhibition has been organised is Faith, Gallantry, Sacrifice and Heritage. You will find many moving and heart-rending stories; how they fought the war in most difficult conditions – in unfamiliar surroundings, in most inhuman environs and against forms of warfare they had never encountered or trained for. We have recreated the trenches in which they fought and the inhuman living conditions they suffered. You will also see how in face of such adversity they held on to their cultural and religious symbols. There are many letters and memoirs that tell us about the feelings and sentiments of the soldiers in face of untold hardships and dangers. They were martyrs who fought to ensure a better future for us. They are examples of exemplary courage and valour in face of most dreadful adversities. Let us remember them once again. Let us offer them our salutations.

                                                                                         Thank You!