History

British enlisted Indian children as young as 10 during World War-I, new book reveals

British enlisted Indian children as young as 10 during World War-I, new book reveals

Britain’s World War-I army included Indian children as young as 10-years-old fighting against the Germans on the western front, according to a new book on the role of Indian soldiers in the Great War.

The youngsters were shipped over to France from the far reaches of the British Empire to carry out support roles, but were so close to the front line that many were wounded and admitted to hospital, according to ‘For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-18’.

The account by writer and historian Shrabani Basu is based on official papers at the National Archives and British Library.  Some of the Indian children, including a 10-year-old “bellows blower”, and two grooms, both 12, provided support to cavalry regiments, a ‘Sunday Times’ report said.

One of the youngest boys involved in direct combat was a “brave little Gurkha” called Pim, 16, who was given an award for valour by Queen Mary while he was recuperating in hospital in Brighton. Basu believes many of the children came from poor families and that they would have lied about their age at recruitment offices in India, where they were encouraged to sign up for a monthly salary of 11 rupees.

“In the case of a 10-year-old, it should have been pretty obvious that they were underage,” she told the newspaper.

This embarrassment was shared by some British officials.

In one dispatch to Lord Kitchener, secretary of state for war, Sir Walter Lawrence, a civil servant tasked with overseeing injured Indian troops, wrote: “It seems a great pity that children should have been allowed to come to Europe.”  About 1.5 million Indian soldiers fought for Britain in the First World War, with a handful being awarded the Victoria Cross bravery medal.

Basu’s book, to be published by Bloomsbury on November 5, also reveals that British nurses were barred from treating Indian soldiers in war hospitals and were allowed only to supervise orderlies, leading to claims of discrimination. 

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  • “They lied about their age at the recruitment station”.The officer in charge was suffering from malaria and was blinded by fever and a raging temperature.Hence its not our fault its the Indian mosquitos to blame.
    FYI Victoria crosses were awarded to 153 members from 1857 to 1947. Indias contribution WW1 was 1 Million soldiers with close to 74187 dead and 67000 wounded.WW2 by 1945 to 2.5 million the largest “VOLUNTEER” army in the world with 36000 dead and 34354 wounded. Ive not included cost of weapons,ammunition,food stocks etc.FYI we havent et been paid for the same YET.

  • You should also know that our great “Father of the Nation” was employed in India as a Recruiting Sergeant for the British Army form 1914 to 1919. So much for the greatness! Monetary incentives and targets made sure that he also overlooked the underage of the children.

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