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Indian soldiers in World War 2

Why the heroic soldiers of the Indian Army should be remembered on VJ Day

Alex Cox Findmypast
Alex Cox
14 August 2020

The immense role Commonwealth countries like India played in World War 2 is too often overlooked. Here, we shine some light on their incredible efforts.

At the start of the Second World War, the Indian Army numbered just under 200,000 men. By Victory over Japan Day on 15 August 1945, it had become the largest volunteer army in history, with over 2.5 million men answering the call.

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Largely serving as infantry, Indian and Pakistani troops proved to be incredibly proficient and fearless soldiers, fighting their way across Africa, Europe and Asia. The majority of their forces doggedly held off the might of Japanese Military as The Allies were pushed out of Malaya, Burma and all the way back to the Indian border, before gathering their strength and advancing back into the jungle to liberate those regions.

Over 87,000 Indian troops paid the ultimate sacrifice in defence of both the British Empire and their homeland, while over 34,000 were wounded and a further 67,000 became prisoners of war, suffering horrific treatment at the hands of their captors.

When the war was finally won, their conspicuous bravery was acknowledged by those in power with Winston Churchill commending;

"the unsurpassed bravery of Indian soldiers and officers."

and senior military officials such as Field Marshal Auchinleck noting how Britain;

"couldn't have come through both wars if they hadn't had the British Indian Army."

However, in the years since, the vital role played by these brave men has not been given the attention it deserves, especially when you consider the importance of their role in securing victory over Japan.

British Indian Army, WW2

With that in mind, we have been searching our collection of Illustrated Victoria Cross records in order to shine a light on the heroic conduct of Sepoys (privates), Naiks (corporals), Havildars (sergeants), Jemadars (Lieutenants) and Subedars (captains) of World War 2. 

British Indian Army records

While Second World War records, especially service records, can be hard to come by, Indian soldiers are well represented in our collection of British Campaign, Gallantry & Long Service Medals & Awards. Over 4,000 decorations including 18 Victoria and George Crosses were awarded to Indian and Pakistani troops.

11 of these Victoria Crosses were awarded to those fighting in the Far East which, when you exclude RAF and Royal Navy personnel, was slightly higher than the number awarded to their British-born comrades. The illustrated records below, one for each of the 11 heroes, serve as a powerful reminder of the incredible debt of gratitude owed to all those who served.  

Indian Victoria Cross winners

Indian Army VC winners

Rao Abdul Hafiz Panwar VC

Indian Army VC winners

Bhandari Ram VC

Indian Army VC winners

Fazal Din VC

Indian Army VC winners

Gain Singh VC

Indian Army VC winners

Karamjeet Singh Judge VC

Indian Army VC winners

Jemadar Nand Singh VC

Indian Army VC winners

Prakash Singh Chib VC

Indian Army VC winners

Major Parkash Singh VC

Indian Army VC winners

Ram Sarup Singh VC

Indian Army VC winners

Sher Shah Awan VC

Indian Army VC winners

Umrao Singh Yadav VC

At the Commonwealth War Graves Commission war cemetery at Kohima in North Eastern India, where hundreds of Indian soldiers were laid to rest in their native soil, John Maxwell Edwards’ famous epitaph commemorates their sacrifice;

"When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today."

There could be no better tribute to the men of the Indian Army and, as Edwards so perfectly put, we all have a duty to ensure their sacrifice is remembered. Many of the freedoms we enjoy today were paid for with the lives of these men, so telling their incredible stories is the very least we can do. 

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