The contribution of Indian troops to one of the first major battles on the Western Front has been all but forgotten by historians. Andrew Sharpe makes amends.
The year 2015 marks the centenary of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, fought over the 'most dismal, swampy and disgusting region of the British Front' between March 10th and 12th, 1915. The historian John Terraine wrote that Neuve Chapelle marked 'Britain's debut as a major land power', but that statement is only partially accurate. Half of the infantry that assaulted the German lines on the first day were from the Indian Corps and three quarters of those men were recruited from the subcontinent itself. They fought exceptionally well and gained all of their objectives, winning two Victoria Crosses along the way. Yet, to a large degree, both they and their heroic exploits have been airbrushed from popular history, for, as Terraine implied, if this was the end of the beginning for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front, it also marked the demise of the Indian Corps.