'Far From the Western Front' - an exhibition researched by volunteers, at the Royal Geographical Society, London, until November 13 (Photo: Centenary News)

Update on 'Far From the Western Front' - exhibition focussing on South Asia's soldiers

Posted on centenarynews.com on 08 November 2016
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Centenary News visits a London exhibition highlighting the contribution of the men who served in the colonial Indian Army during the First World War and their families.

This well-presented display draws on a variety of personal stories, discovered in the archives and passed down through families, to give a flavour of how the peoples of pre-partition India responded to the challenges of a distant conflict.  

The almost Kipling-esque 'derring do' exploits of the Maharajah of Bikaner, leading a charge of his own camel corps in the Egyptian desert, may come as no surprise. For Ganga Singh, this was the 'opportunity of a lifetime', even if he found his initial deployment behind the lines in France so dull that he made arrangements to return home.

However, the 70 or so volunteers who've carried out the research for Far From the Western Front have also turned up the much less familiar.

There are expressions of anguish by the wives and families who were left behind as more than a million men from what are now India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka  went to war on behalf of Britain and its allies. 

While Satoori Devi, who was widowed at 14, treasured her late husband's Victoria Cross and encouraged future generations of young men to join up, other women begged their sons and husbands to come home.

The starvation suffered by the troops besieged in the Iraqi town of Kut for four months is graphically described by Sisir Sarbadhikari, a veteran of the Bengal Ambulance Corps. By the closing stages, he notes: 'For food all we had was a little horse meat and some flour mixed with dust'.

Sisir spent the second half of the Great War as a prisoner of the Ottomans. Nevertheless, he went on to join up again in the Second World War.

Supported by a partnership of community organisations based in North London, Far From the Western Front aims to present 'a more diverse picture of the First World War and its global impact.'

The exhibition is taking place at the Royal Geographical Society in London, just down the road from the Royal Albert Hall, home of the Royal British Legion's annual Festival of Remembrance. 

This revealing collection of personal stories, lavishly illustrated by archive photos, is timely in the run-up to this year's commemorations.

Far From the Western Front runs from 5-13 November at the Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR. Opening hours are 10am-5pm (weekdays), 10am-4pm (weekends). Entry is free.

Images: Centenary News

Posted by CN Editor Peter Alhadeff