Letters home to India during the first world war

Daljit Nagra in The Guardian:

Soldiers-009Our people have many lice in their clothes, and they bite terribly. They are worse than a rifle bullet. But there are no mosquitoes or other creatures which bite mankind, and no snakes or scorpions at all.” This extract is from a letter by an Indian soldier in 1915. He is in France and writing home to a friend. The letter comes from a collection of correspondence copied by British military censors, revealing the experiences of the many Indian soldiers who fought in the first world war, that has just been digitised by the British Library. The collection also contains the censors' summaries of the letters, revealing their concerns.

By the time of the Armistice, India had provided more than 1.27 million men. The Indian army at this time was drawn mainly from the middle peasantry, recruited from the north and north-west of India partly on account of the “martial races” theory of the British which suggested that some races or castes were inherently more warlike than others. Most Indian soldiers in France were Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs. My family are Sikhs from Punjab, and my maternal grandfather served in the Indian army in the 1930s. I don't know if my family had any further involvement in the first world war, but, for me, these letters provide a valuable link to the history of my ancestors and their positive involvement with the empire.

More here. [Thanks to Sujatha Sundar.]

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