25 November, 2020

Your Son, From A Trench In Flanders

Soldiers’ letters bore the taste of cordite and a complex smell of fears, expectations

Getty Images (From Outlook 31 March 2014)
Your Son, From A Trench In Flanders

“This is a devils’ war. When will it end?” Thus wrote a wounded Sikh soldier in England to his father back home in February 1915. In fact, the war had only just begun. When Germany invaded France in August 1914, the Lahore and Meerut infantry divisions set sail from Karachi and Bombay, landing in Marseilles in late September and early October. From there, they were rapidly despatched to the frontlines to press back the billowing German offensive between Ypres and La Bassee. Writing three years later, Lord Curzon observed that “the Indian Expeditionary Force arrived in the nick of time...it helped to save the cause both of the Allies and of civilisation.” Indeed, without the Indian army holding a third of the British front until Christmas, Germ­any may well have emerged victorious in 1914. Curzon went on to write that the “letters of the Indian soldiers to their folk at home would stand comparison with any that the official post-bag has conveyed to England from our own heroes at the front, in their uncomplaining loyalty, their high...



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