At the outbreak of the First World War more than 1,000,000 Indians joined Britain and its allies against the army of the Kaiser. In the summer of 1914, thousands of Indians were despatched to the Western Front (Belgium and France) where they fought valiantly and won numerous decorations. Khudadad Khan was the first Indian ever to win the Victoria Cross. Khan was a Muslim from the city of Jhelum now located in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. Macmunn, a British officer, exclaimed that the Punjabi Muslims ‘were the backbone of the Indian Army’ and were the largest single ethnic group to contribute from within British India.
During World War II, almost 2,500,000 Indians volunteered to defend Britain against the Axis of Alliance (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan). Five Indian divisions fought in the rough arid conditions of North Africa; Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
More than 1,500 Muslims gave their lives in the liberation of Italy; most surprising of all was the percentage of young deaths. Seventy-five percent of the youth casualties under the age of 17 were Muslim; all were from cities now located in Pakistan. The Germans finally surrendered in May 1945, the war came to an end and Indian soldiers were shipped back to British India. There was little mention of these distant heroes after their departure from Europe. Often learning this history instils a sense of confidence and pride in young Muslims, on which more information can be found in a special article byReuters.
In total more than 1 million Muslims served Britain through two World Wars, clearly the action of so many Muslims illustrates the shared history and sacrifice of all those forgotten heroes who fought to demolish Nazism. Their stories are brought to life on a website dedicated to Britain’s Muslim soldiers.