Times of India
West celebrates WWI cavalrymen India forgot
Manimugdha S Sharma,TNN | Mar 31, 2014, 12.21 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Popular culture in India has glorified the martial traditions of the Rajputs. One of which was saka, in which fighting men of a defeated state rode out for a final, suicidal battle dressed in yellow. That antiquated Rajput code has survived in the yellow ceremonial uniform of one of Indian Army's oldest cavalry regiments, the 1st Horse or Skinner's Horse. Over two centuries after it was raised by a "white Mughal" — James Skinner — who was denied a commission in the Honourable East India Company's army owing to his mixed blood (his mother was Rajput), very little of the regiment is known in India outside the armed forces. In the West, though, it continues to fire up popular imagination.
For the last six years or so, a group of some 30 Englishmen and women — all heritage enthusiasts — has dedicated itself to the "recreation of the dash and glamour of one of the most famous Indian cavalry regiments of the time of the Raj". No, they have nothing to do with the Indian Army regiment; they are but a group of heritage enthusiasts. "We felt the need to educate the British people about the role and contributions of the Indian Army to what have always been perceived as Britain's wars. The British people have great admiration and respect for the Indian Army, but it is important to make our present generations aware of what the Indian Army did for us: we couldn't have won the two world wars without Indians," says Mike Trevor, who has assumed the rank of major.
While Skinner's Horse's history is of great interest to the group, it is also dedicated to raising awareness about India's role in conflicts that are wrongly considered the white man's war. The group recently received funding from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund, and with 2014 being the centenary year of the First World War, the team plans to use the money to fund a memorial ride — "From the Sea to the Somme".
The journey will commence in August at Nieuwpoort in Belgium and culminate at the river Somme, the scene of heavy fighting during WWI, in France two weeks later. En route, there will be a memorial service at the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial in France to mark the sacrifice of the 4,742 Indian soldiers and labourers killed on that front.
But there is a problem. "We haven't found any Asian rider to join us on this memorial ride. It's very important that we find some. I am sure we wouldn't have faced this problem if we had done it in India; the 61 Cavalry would have certainly helped us," says Trevor, who got married at St James' Church in Delhi a few years ago in full regimental uniform.
Over 1.3 million Indian soldiers had participated in the First World War to defend, quite ironically for a colonised nation, liberty and democracy in Europe. Seven Indian expeditionary forces named A to G took part in different theatres of the war — in Europe, the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Middle East, east Africa, and even China. Indian cavalry regiments participated with distinction and glory in the western front and the Middle East. In fact, the infantry divisions were withdrawn towards the end of 1915, but the cavalry corps stayed on until 1918. And in doing so, they left an indelible mark on European history: the last cavalry battles ever on western European soil were fought by Indian lancers and sabre men.
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