Indian war memorial unveiled in France

To honour soldiers who died in the First World War

Published - November 10, 2018 09:41 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Honouring sacrifice: Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu with officials at the War Memorial.

Honouring sacrifice: Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu with officials at the War Memorial.

As the world commemorates the centenary of the armistice of the First World War, an Indian War Memorial was unveiled at Villers Guislain, 200 km from Paris, on Friday to highlight the contribution of the Indian soldiers to the freedom of France in the Great War.

The memorial was unveiled by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, who is in France to represent India at the centenary commemoration.

“This is the first national memorial for the Indian soldiers who died in France during the First World War and features the Ashoka emblem,” said Sqn. Ldr. Rana T. S. Chhina (retd), Secretary, Centre For Armed Forces Historical Research at the United Services Institution (USI) of India. The memorial, constructed by the Government of India through the USI, is distinct from the Indian memorial at Neuve Chapple, which was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The First World War came to an end with the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918. India contributed more than 1.5 million troops, of which 1.3 million fought overseas across all theatres and, approximately, 72,000 were killed. India Gate in Delhi, which pays homage to the “unknown soldier”, has names of soldiers inscribed on it.

“It was a magnificent joint achievement, the successes of the First and the Second World Wars. The First world war, which we are commemorating now, involved a huge sacrifice and huge loss,” Lt. Gen. Sir Simon Mayall (retd), member on the council of the national army museum in London told The Hindu on the sidelines of a commemorative seminar organised by USI in the national capital.

Battlefield guides

The USI is preparing battlefield guides of India’s major wars before Independence to promote ‘battlefield tourism,’ a concept much popular in Europe.

“We realised that the local economy of a number of places in Europe is sustained by battle field tourism... Tourists nationally and internationally come to visit the sites where the battles were fought. There is spike in local economy because of influx of tourists,” Sqn. Ldr. Chhina said.

In France and Belgium, the theatre for major battles of the Great War, Sqn Ldr Chhina said, while battlefield tourism was big, there was no mention of the significant Indian contribution.

“So we thought that needs to be rectified. To that end we produced the guides to the battles of the Indian Army in the Western front in Europe in First World War,” he stated, observing that it links the “present to the past and tells the Indian story.”

Now, the USI is working on similar projects, such as the 1857 revolt, Kohima and Anglo-Sikh wars, on its own initiative.

Colour of remembrance

In addition, the common flower seen across India, the Marigold, is set to join the poppy as a uniquely Indian symbol of remembrance.

Since the end of the First World War, poppy was adopted as the symbol of remembrance in Europe as it grew widely grew in the Flanders fields in Europe where some of the major battles were fought.

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