World War II and Sikh Soldiers - Recording Their Stories

Serving across many theatres of war, across three continents, Indian forces and those they supplied helped defeat two f...

 Sikh, Punjabi and (undivided) Indian soldiers, sailors and airmen played a major role in WW2. With over 2.5 million men, the Indian Army of the Second World War became the largest volunteer army in history. Many of our direct forefathers, or people who would have been very close to them and their villages and towns, were part of this historic force, at a crucial moment where the world could have taken an almost unimaginable turn.

 The men (and many women in uniform) sent far from home were a crucial part in winning this war, and it is a heartening point how their stories have slowly started to become more familiar after many decades of sporadic semi-invisibility. Though, sadly and ironically, this is happening at a time when fewer of them can benefit from the recognition they deserve. 

 As well as providing the fighting edge abroad, India also operated several supply and training bases, and provided huge quantities of material, food and other war essentials to Allied forces across the world. This involved the hard work of hundreds of thousands of men and women in war work, war production and contributions (e.g. the Spitfire funds in India).

 Serving across many theatres of war, across three continents, Indian forces and those they supplied helped defeat two fascist regimes, often facing gruelling odds across six hard years of fighting and surviving in hostile conditions.

To take just one example of their range, the Fourth Indian Division were sent to North Africa, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus, then Italy, and finally to Greece. The Indians who served in the Allied merchant navy went further than most and served across the globe, often on ships or convoys with little protection. 

 The toll was high. Over 36,000 Indian members of the armed forces were killed, or were classified as missing in action, and almost 65,000 were wounded during the conflict. Indian personnel also received 4,000 awards for gallantry, and 31 Victoria Crosses.

Many others died in factory or dock accidents, or in training for armed conflict.

 Sadly there are very few of these brave veterans still with us, and this lends an urgency to hearing what they have to say. 

 As a very small part of that process I am taking part in an amateur oral history project, and am focusing on these ex-serviceman. My aim is to capture some of their stories, to be shared on sites such as this, and more widely. I hope that those reading this would know someone who served who would be willing to talk about their experience (via the help of his family or friends). The talks themselves could be conducted via skype or phone, and would not need to take too much time. Questions would be able to be shared beforehand, along with more details of this project.

 I’ve been in touch with other organisations who have been very helpful (e.g. Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, New Delhi) but want to spread the net wider.

 If anyone has any contacts, advice and links I would be very grateful if you could email me at [email protected]

 With many thanks,

 Chenab Singh Mangat,


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