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In Focus: The Indian Soldiers of World War II by

“I always say, Britain didn’t fight the Second World War, the British Empire did” – Yasmin Khan, author of The Raj at War.

2.5 million Indian soldiers enlisted in the British Indian Army during World War II. 87,000 soldiers died, 35,000 were wounded and almost 68,000 were taken as prisoners by German, Italian and Japanese forces. Against the backdrop of a growing call for independence back home in British India, the British Indian Army — the largest volunteer force in history — remained dedicated to the British cause and defeating Nazi Germany.

The involvement of Indian forces during the war was not simply confined to Europe. Indian servicemen undertook their duty wherever they were required: from Ethiopia to Egypt; Libya to Tunisia; Algeria to Iraq; Syria to Lebanon; and Hong Kong to Indonesia. At the end of the war, Indian personnel received 4,000 awards and 31 Victoria Crosses, the highest military decoration.

World War II was the final time the Indian Army fought under British rule. Unbeknown to them, the collective Indian effort would go on to mark the end of British rule in India. Independence and partition soon followed in 1947. From one horrific event to another, Indians soon found themselves fighting for their own nation state.

This article is part of Project Empire, an editorial series designed to explore the history of the British Empire. See the full collection here »


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