Mark Collins – India’s Forgotten Good War

The politicians prefer to ignore a gallant effort under colonial rule:

India’s Forgotten Soldiers

In July last year, the newly elected government of Narendra Modi announced that it would build a monument to India’s fallen soldiers, honoring a long-standing promise to the armed forces. Arun Jaitley, then minister for both defense and finance, set aside $15 million in his first budget for a National War Memorial. It would bear the names, he said, of “all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country after 1947,” the year of India’s independence.

India rarely cares to remember the soldiers of the Raj, especially those who fought in World War II, which ended in Asia exactly 70 years ago. Japan announced its surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, and two years later, to the day, India was free. Since then, the authorized history of the period has dwelt only on those who fought to be free of the Empire, forgetting the many who had fought to defend it.

It is often implied that the Indians who served during World War II were mercenaries, and deserve no part in the country’s military legacy. In fact, the war was the start of the army’s modern era, and the men who were tested by it helped build the Indian military into the professional force it is today…

This is not a minor omission. World War II remains the greatest military engagement in India’s history. Over two million Indians served — at that time, the largest unconscripted army ever — and 36,000 died or went missing, as far afield as Italy, Tunisia and Hong Kong. For the first time, large numbers of middle-class Indians were commissioned as officers, a privilege until then reserved for white men…

Raghu Karnad is the author of “Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War” [more here] and a contributing editor at

See also here, here, here and here (Imphal/Kohima 1944, a great victory over the Japanese).

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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