FEATURE: British Indian Army were ‘young, tough and brave’

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Part two of our new, weekly series focusing on Asian nostalgia, following the 70th anniversary milestone for India and Pakistan.

The Second World War began on September 3, 1939 when Britain, for the second time within three decades, along with her huge empire, declared war on Germany.

To fight this powerful German war-machine, the British Isles also asked for help and support from the hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Sikhs whose older siblings in the last war had made up the bulk of the ‘British Indian Army’.

Young, tough and brave, they had proven themselves as 
first-class soldiers in the trenches. An estimated two million men from the Indian Sub-Continent volunteered to fight as soon as war was declared.

They signed up to join the British-Indian Army (exactly as their older brothers and fathers had done in 1914).

The Indian soldiers who fought on Britain’s side had a very strong sense of duty, and were fiercely proud soldiers with a deep sense of loyalty to the crown.

Besides fighting in France at Dunkirk, British-Indian divisions made up a large part of Montgomery’s Eighth Army that in summer 1942 pushed back the Germans and defeated them at El-Alamein.

A few months later, these same Indian soldiers set sail from North Africa on Allied ships to invade and liberate Italy.

Indian regiments were likewise attacking the Japanese in the disease-ridden jungles of Burma and Malaya.

Scorpions and deadly snakes turned out to be the other enemy in this tropical environment.

The British-Indian Army was also involved in the Normandy landings.

One local Head-Imam’s father from the Jamia-Al-Saeed Mosque in Hanging Heaton, Batley, was the first ever Indian to parachute himself over the Normandy beaches.

He was Subedar (Warrant Officer) Sain Khan who also helped out as an Urdu interpreter to train other Indian paratroopers as well to jump out of aeroplanes on D-Day.

Over 36,000 Indian soldiers died, and another 34,354 were fatally wounded in the Second World War.

More than 67,340 were brutally beaten and starved in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

At least 38 British-Indian Army soldiers earned the Victoria Cross or George Cross medals for exceptional bravery, whilst another 4,000 gained other military honours.

The Second World War left a lasting impact on British-India.

It would lead to the migration almost a decade later of this same wartime ‘first’ generation that arrived into our local area during the 1950s and again in the 1960s.

As former-soldiers, they were encouraged to come by different British governments of that time to help fill up the severe 
labour shortages inside our local mills.

For those who served in it, the British-Indian Army became an important part of their cultural heritage and way of life. A striking feature of their “army days” was the long moustache!

It is these brave Muslim men from the Second World War whose children and grandchildren are at the moment settled in the towns of Heckmondwike, Batley and Dewsbury.