Indian role in Gallipoli underestimated

Indian role in Gallipoli underestimated

Indian role in Gallipoli underestimated

Updated 24 April 2014, 19:08 AEST

Historians have underestimated the contribution of Indians to the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, according to new research by Australian academic, Professor Peter Stanley.

More than 11,400 Australian and New Zealand forces died in the eight-month Gallipoli campaign. The battle one of the most significant in Antipodean history, is remembered on ANZAC Day.

Professor Stanley, a military historian at the University of New South Wales argues that three times as many South Asians fought in the campaign than official estimates suggest.

Historical record has long put the number of Indian troops at Gallipoli at 5000 but Professor Stanley says he has found that the actual figure exceeded 15,000.

Professor Stanley arrived at the estimate after trawling through military records at the National Archives of India.

Indian's role at Gallipoli lesser known

He says that the role of Indians at Gallipoli has long been overlooked. “While Indians have been referred to in books about Gallipoli they have never been given their due."

Other contributors to Australian military campaigns in the region have increasingly received recognition over the years.

The so-called 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels' - Papua New Guineans employed by the Australian administration to carry supplies to the troops and helped evacuate the badly wounded and sick in World War II  – now have plagues and monuments around Australia recognising their place in this country’s history.

But the Indians in Gallipoli are lesser known and recognised.

The South Asian contingent comprised mostly Sikh and Gurkha who fought in three streams: the 29th Indian Brigade, the Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade and the Indian Mule Corps.

Prof. Stanley says the Mule Corps comprised the largest contingent of Indian troops. It relied on 3000 animals to transport supplies. “The Mule Corp basically kept forces alive for eight months of the campaign."

Prof Stanley compiled the research for a book Die for Battle, Do Not Despair, which is due to be published in mid-2015.

The book describes feats of bravery by Indian troops. One soldier, Karam Singh, was charged with shouting messages between parties. He was blinded by a ball of shrapnel but continued working for more than an hour despite his injuries.

Prof. Stanley also provides an Indian angle to the ANZAC legend of Simpson and his donkey. The stretcher-bearer John Simpson Kirkpatrick carried wounded troops on donkey-back from the front line to the beaches. According to Prof. Stanley, Kirkpatrick’s donkeys were most likely given over to the Indian mule handlers after his death.

Prof. Stanley estimates that about 10 per cent of Indian forces died on the peninsula. He based much of his research on the diaries of servicemen from Australia and New Zealand. He said that the Indian troops kept almost no records of their experience in Gallipoli because most of them were illiterate.

Rana Chhina, a military historian at the Delhi-based United Service Institution of India, says that the Indian troops, as professional soldiers, enjoyed the respect of the ANZACs. “They got on well. They had a cordial relationship of genuine respect.”

But he says that the Indians have generally been “sidelined” in Australia and New Zealand’s memory of Gallipoli.

“I hope that now the centenary is upon us we will be able to look back at all those who fought and died together.


On Friday 25 April, 2014, a special Anzac Day dawn service will be held at the Delhi War Memorial Cemetery, in Brar Square, Delhi Cantt