Every Anzac Day, when hundreds march the streets of Melbourne, there is a small contingent of retired Indian armed forces men making their presence felt among the sea of marchers. Not many may be aware of the Indian connection to Gallipoli but the fact is, on the day of the Gallipoli landing, the Anzacs were supported by Indian artillery units. And according to Australian historian Professor Peter Stanley, the contribution of Indian soldiers is larger than previously thought.
While the Gallipoli story is all about the courage and sacrifice of soldiers, what is also true is the fact that the Indian Army made a significant contribution. “The greatest contribution was with the Mule Corps, which carried all the water, supplies and ammunition to the troops at the front line. The muleteers sheltered their animals in an area that became known as Mule Gully. Everyone knew Mule Gully and it featured in many Anzac photographs and drawings. It came under constant sniper fire during the day so most of the work had to be done at night,” says an ABC report.
Throwing more light on the Indian contribution, Melbourne-based Major General (retd) Ranjit Nadkarni and Col (retd) Samir Roychowdhury, state that in April 1915 Indian expeditionary force “G” was sent to reinforce the Gallipoli campaign. It consisted of the famous 29th Brigade serving away from its parent 10th Indian Division. The brigade was despatched from Egypt and attached to British 29th Division which had been decimated in earlier battles.
The Indian brigade was held in reserve for the second battle of Krithia advancing on the left; the brigade was quickly halted along the Aegean seashore where the 1/6th Gurkha Rifles managed to advance. The 14th Ferozepure Sikhs (Royals) advancing along the floor of Gully Ravine was almost wiped out, losing 380 men out of 514 and 80 per cent of their officers.
Gen Nadkarni and Col Roychowdhury say that the Allied Forces that landed in Gallipoli to fight the Turkish Ottomans in 1914 consisted of a massive Indian contingent of 16,000 Indian soldiers who fought gallantly along with the Anzacs for the entire eight long months of close battle. Indian soldiers embodied on the same theatre as part of British offensive.
Indian forces comprising mainly Sikhs, Punjabis and Gurkhas developed a very positive relationship with Anzac troops, say Gen Nadkarni and Col Roychowdhury. The Anzacs were highly impressed with the Indian valour, comradeship and total dedication with high military morale and found mention in war despatches.
Therefore, in honour of the sacrifices made by all soldiers of the world, the Indian contingent in Melbourne has been taking part in the Anzac Day parade as a sign of solidarity and respect for not only the Australian and New Zealand troops who fought and died at Gallipoli but for the many Indian soldiers too who took part.
It is a matter of great honour and pride to be a part of the Anzac parade for Nadkarni, a celebrated Indian army officer, who has been a part of the parade for the past ten years, and Roychowdhury, who has, since 2014, been mobilising the participation of retired Indian army men.
Roychowdhury says there is a growing enthusiasm of participation and this year saw the highest participation with about 22 soldiers taking part in it.
Nadkarni, who served 38 years in the Indian army in infantry, says, “Over the years, we have formed some kind of a loose organisation here to get together all the ex-Indian Army, Navy and Air Force officers and this has worked well because now we find that the parade has been subscribed to quite well. Today’s parade was exceptionally well subscribed to with all the ex-officers coming and it was really a matter of pride for all of us to represent India.”
Roychowdhury hopes this will continue in the future to set a tradition which will be continued by everybody who follows them. He also thanked Flora Indian Restaurant at Flinders Street for welcoming the participants with tea and snacks before the start of the parade and opening their restaurant before scheduled time.
Truly a moment of pride, this is what some of the participants had to say:
Naresh Abbott of Gurkha Regiment: I have been living here since 2004 and attending the Anzac Day parade since. My battalion during World War I fought alongside the Anzac. We were part of the British Expeditionary Force. This parade is a great event for retired officers like us to come and be a part of. Congratulations to the Australian government for organising this event so beautifully. India too should have functions like this to celebrate its victory of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. I took part in the 1971 war.
Gordon Seller I have come mainly in memory of my father. I was born in 1946 in Madras (now Chennai) and lived in Jabalpur (city in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh). My father Benjamin Seller was from London and he was attached to the Signal Corps at their Signal Training Centre in Jabalpur. We left in 1954. My mother, grandmother and my ancestors on that side were from India, they had come out probably as early as 1817 as part of the British East India Company army. I have been participating for the last four years in celebration of my heritage.
Mukand Lal Kaushik: I landed in Australia 15 years ago on a ship called INS Delhi (it is the lead ship of her class of guided-missile destroyers of the Indian Navy). We touched Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Singapore. It was a good experience. Fifteen years later I am wearing my medal to proudly represent the Indian Navy here at the parade. It is a great day to remember and pay respect to the fallen diggers of Australia and other World War heroes. We have to make the Indian community aware of the contribution of Indian soldiers.
Col (retd) Harbhajan Singh Parmar: I served in 49 Armoured Regimentfor almost 41 years. I migrated to Australia in 2011. The Anzac Day parade makes you recollect your memories of India, you feel like home among all the servicemen, you remember the sacrifices of the soldiers in World War II and you feel immense respect.
Major (retd) Harpal Singh Sandhu: I was with the 3rd Punjab Regiment and left the armed forces in 2009. I came to Australia just few months ago so I am probably the baby of the group. It’s really good to be here and be part of the Anzac contingent. It was a moment of pride for us and gave us a feeling of being celebrities. I am so happy to connect with my brothers from the armed forces. It’s a good feeling.
Lt Commander (retd) Gurpreet: I served in the Indian navy for around seven years. One of the best parts about the marching was when people were clapping; it was a proud moment for us. Today I realised that serving in the forces was actually very good, you get recognised not just in India but in Australia too.
Major (retd) Sandeep Atre: I am a gunner from regiment of artillery. I have been in Australia for three years now and it feels fantastic to be marching down the streets amid the applause. It is really nice that the Australian government has invited us to be part of it considering the Commonwealth’s contributions. I am wearing my grandfather’s medals, he was from the Royal Army Service Corps during the British era, he retired as Lt Col and I am proud to be wearing his medals as well. Few people were inquisitive about the medals and it felt good telling them that my grandfather served in World War II.
Major (retd) Kunal Singh: I served the 17th Sikh Regiment for six years before coming to Melbourne. I grew up as an army kid as my dad was in the army, so being part of the Anzac Day parade is a proud moment and a celebration of my heritage. The Sikh regiment has an Anzac legacy that I am so proud to be a part of. It is so lovely that so many people get together on this day. The army is all about its traditions, values and ethos, so we all come from similar background; we look different but the culture is the same. Everyone upholds their integrity and honesty, so that brotherhood is there.
Lt Col (retd) Bikar Singh Brar: I feel very proud and honoured to take part in the Anzac Day parade, reason being that I always want to pay homage to the fallen who had sacrificed their lives for the community and the world. That’s why every year I make sure that I take part and it’s an occasion to showcase my turban too on this day.
Col (retd) A K Sharma: I am from 37 Coorg Regiment of Artillery. Anzac Day Parade for us veterans from India is like a brotherhood of armed forces personnel. I take pride in walking behind the banner of the Indian army flag, it still gives me a feeling that I am fit and can contribute reasonably well to this new culture.
Col (retd) Neeraj Joshi: I have served the Indian army for 24 years. The Anzac parade is a solemn occasion for everyone. To see so many veterans marching together with the same precision we used when we were much younger is something even youngsters can’t beat us to. It’s a great honour to be here and a much cherished day in the calender.
(By TIW team)