Joint USI-MEA India and the Great War Centenary Commemoration Project

The centenary of the Great War generated wider interest in the role played by India in the conflict and gave fresh momentum to commemoration in India and abroad. Within India, the United Service Institution of India (USI) took the lead and spearheaded the ‘India and the Great War’ centenary commemoration project (2014-2018) with the support of the Government of India Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), who supported it as a public diplomacy initiative. The project sought to examine both the role played by India in the conflict and also the social, political and military changes that resulted within India as a result of its involvement with the war. To this end, the project engaged with wide spectrum of partners, from governments down to individuals, including descendants of veterans of the Great War both in India and Pakistan.
The collective endeavours of a host of individuals, agencies and institutions over the past four years have shed new light on the Indian involvement in the Great War. They have allowed historians to record the manner in which community commemorations in different parts of the world shaped public perception of the conflict, with a special focus on the role of Indian diaspora communities in these activities.
Through the course of the four years, the project undertook and supported a number of commemorative activities, academic research, and community engagement projects, all of which have combined to influence the manner in which the war—with its colonial roots and postcolonial legacies—is viewed and understood within India. The project has significantly helped shape public perception of the Indian involvement in the Great War, both within India and abroad.
Apart from the Indian Great War Military Memorial, the USI-CAFHR supported the initiative of installing a plaque to commemorate the contribution of the Indian Labour Corps in France. The Secy CAFHR attended the inauguration ceremony, which was held on 22 Sept 2018 at the cemetery of Azelot. The staff and students of Lycee Arthur Varaquaux School in Nancy, France undertook this initiative. The Secy CAFHR also attended the re-dedication ceremony of the Indian Memorial Obelisk at Barton on Sea, UK on10 July 2018.
To mark the end of the WW1 Centenary, the USI-CAFHR organised a series of events from 9-11 November 2018 in collaboration with the British High Commission, New Delhi. A one day international seminar titled “India and the Great War” in Research, Memory and Commemoration was organized at the USI on 09 November 2018. It saw the participation of scholars from India, UK, New Zealand and Canada and was attended by USI Members, Scholars, diplomats and students. At the seminar the Inaugural address was delivered by Lt Gen IS Ghuman, AVSM, Deputy Chief of the Army Staff (IS&T), while Mr Tom Tugendhat, MP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, UK delivered a Special Address and the Valedictory Address was delivered by Ambassador Asoke Mukerji, IFS (Retd).
On 10 November 2018, a commemorative military band concert followed by a reception was held at the British High Commissioner’s residence on the evening of 10 Nov 2018. At the reception WW1 Indian Army War Diaries were presented by General VN Sharma, PVSM, AVSM (Retd) to the retired Colonels of the Regiments.
In addition, the USI-CAFHR also assisted a French production house in making a documentary on the Indian Contribution in WW1. The documentary film by Ms Mandakini Gahlot titled “India-The Forgotten Army” was screened at the Embassy of France in New Delhi on 13 Nov 2018 and was subsequently aired on Channel News Asia.
Even though officially the India and the Great War Centenary Commemoration Project has ended, the USI-CAFHR will continue to work on the subject as it still requires attention.