Launch of "Les Hindous – The Indian Army on the Western Front 1915 – 1919"
Speech by His Excellency Mr. Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India.
New Delhi, 22 November 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s an immense pleasure to welcome you all, tonight, at the French Embassy for an evening dedicated to history and remembrance. The book we are going to launch tonight is in important one. “Les Hindous, the Indian Army on the Western Front” pays tribute to the presence of the Indian troops in Europe, France and Belgium particulary, during the World War.
I am very honored we can have with us tonight its author, Rana Tej Pratap Singh Chhina, one of the best specialists in military history in India, and a veteran of the Indian Air Force.
Born and raised in New Delhi, your were selected for the National Defence Academy in 1976.
You then went on to serve with distinction as a helicopter pilot in all sectors in which the Indian Air Force was operational. Your are one of a very small group of Indian officers to have been honored by the prestigious MacGregor Medal for valuable military reconnaissance, which is not a surprise when one knows that you actually hold the record for a high-altitude flight (landing) for a medium-lift helicopter.
Since retiring from active service in 1997 as a Squadron Leader, you have become a leading historian of the Indian Air Force and the former British Indian Army, responsible for organizing the Indian Air Force archives at Air Headquarters.
You are currently Secretary of the USI Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, Vice President of the Indian Military Historical Society, UK and in charge of coordinating international and national commemoration of India’s participation in the First World War in connection with the centenary of the conflict.
The book we are going to launch tonight, thanks to you outstanding work and research, is a long expected one. It pays tribute to the sacrifice of Indian soldiers in a war, the First World War, that was a watershed event in modern world history.
India immensely contributed to the first world war effort, in terms of both men and material. Her soldiers served with credit and honour in numerous battlefields around the globe: in France and Belgium, in Arabia, East Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Persia, Salonika, Russia, and even in China.
By the end of the war 1,3M Indians had served overseas at the cost of 74,000 dead. Of the 138,000 Indians who served in France and Belgium, almost 9,000 died.
The stories of those 1.3 million Indian soldiers who fought the First World War had to be told. As a matter of fact, this period of Indian military history still is too little known, and doesn’t account for the immensity of the sacrifice of those soldiers who left for an unknown distant land.
I would like to seize this occasion to renew, in the name of France, our immense and eternal gratitude, to those who fought – and for those who died- on our land for the sake of our freedom. France paid tribute to those Indian soldiers when it inaugurated the Neuve-Chapelle memorial, in 1927. And I would like to recall the promise made at that moment by Maréchal Foch: “we will watch over their graves with the same devotion that deserve our dead. ".
The book we are launching today is substantial contribution to keeping this memory alive. And the date we have chosen for this evening is not a coincidence: this week, we are celebrating the century’s anniversary of the end of the Battle of Somme, which took place between the 1st July and 18th November 1916. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. More than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
Rana Chhina’s book highlights the role played by Indian soldiers and aviators on the Western Front during the First World War. Despite terrible climate conditions, which they were not prepared to face, these men were instrumental in halting the German advance towards the channel ports in October/November 1914.
This book touches upon the many facets of the Indian experience in Europe in 1914-1919, through the medium of visual imagery, including many rare photographs.
I am especially grateful to Rana Chhina for this book, which illustrates and underlines the close historic ties between France, India and Belgium. Our thanks go also to the United Services Institution of India, editing the book, and all Indian and foreign individuals who have contributed to this project.
I’ll now give the floor to my good friend, H.E. Mr. Jan Luykx, Ambassador of Belgium./.