Valour At The French Quarter
The global community was experiencing a war worldwide for the first time. The war, originating in Europe, had rocked Asia and Africa, too. Britain and France were facing difficulties in tackling the German forces who just began to take control of Artois, the northern French city. Their main aim was to enter France directly from Belgium. The Germans could easily attain their goal as British and French soldiers were struggling at the battle fields! In fact, the Germans killed almost all the officers of the British Army and one-third soldiers stationed at the French border. At a time when the British Army informed London that it would not be possible for the Britons to protect the French border, an Indian supposedly changed the scenario with just 13 soldiers! After the Allied forces suffered heavy casualties at the hands of enemy forces, Havildar Maruti Jadhav – who was part of the 20th company of the then 3rd Sappers and Miners of British-Indian Army – took charge and successfully opened a front against German positions. It is because of him France managed to safeguard its territories. Later, France honoured Jadhav with the Medaille Militaire – a military decoration of the French Republic for other ranks for meritorious service and acts of bravery in action against an enemy force – for his gallant efforts in protecting the French border.
November 11, 1918… The Germans and the Allied Forces finally decided to end the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in northern France at 11am (local time). The Great War lasted from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918. With the end of the WWI, Europe breathed a sigh of relief. Since then, Remembrance Day is observed on November 11 in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of the WWI on that date in 1918. However, the world has seemingly forgotten the role of Indian soldiers in defeating the German forces. One such instance of this is Havildar Jadhav’s fight to defeat the German forces in Neuve Chapelle.
1915… The British Army had deployed several battalions in the northern border of France to fight against the Germans. The Allied Forces of Britain and France were taking on the Germans there. It was not clear to the British military officers in Khadki cantonment what was going on in the battlefields. The British Army sent a number of Indian soldiers to the battlefields in order to boost the strength of the Allied Forces. Upon their arrival in the battlefields, the Indians realised that the war had become a one-sided affair, as the British and French forces were struggling against the Germans. However, Jadhav held his nerve and launched a counter-attack with just 13 soldiers. His effort allowed the Allied Forces to make some recovery and (finally) to force the Germans to declare a ceasefire. Nearly, 5,000 Indian soldiers had sacrificed their lives in northern France!
Unlike the global community, the French people still remember the contribution made by the Indian soldiers. France not only honoured Jadhav, but also built a memorial for the Indian soldiers in Neuve Chapelle after the war. The Indian soldiers had taken part in the WWI for the British Army in different parts of the globe. The Indians were present in Europe, West Asia, Mediterranean, Africa… everywhere. Many believe that the participation of the Indian soldiers helped the Allied Forces defeat the Germans. At least one million Indian soldiers took part in the Great War and more than 75,000 (of them) sacrificed their lives. Unfortunately, Britain has always tried to underrate the Indians’ contribution. Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck was not like his compatriots, as the British Army Commander (during the WWII) and the Commander-in-Chief of the British-Indian Army in 1941 once said: “Britain couldn’t have come through two wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.”
This year, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile monument in Paris at 11am sharp on November 11 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice (or the end of the WWI). Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu were also present there on the occasion. It’s like the whole world deemed to be under one single umbrella.
11/11… Hundred years ago, the WWI ended on this day after claiming 20 million lives in four years (from 1914 to 1918)! To mark the moment that had come a century ago, the world leaders created another moment in Paris.
Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe! Built by Emperor Napoleon at the peak of his fortunes in 1806, the monument honours those – who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. From there, President Macron urged the global community to reject nationalism, describing it as a “betrayal of patriotism“. “By saying ‘our interests first and never mind the others’ you stamp out the most precious thing a nation has – its moral values,” stressed the French president. Some diplomats are of the opinion that President Macron indirectly targeted his US counterpart’s ‘America First‘ policy.
President Trump, who was standing next to Macron, seemingly ignored the French leader’s call. He said that the world needs a ‘strong Europe’. After the US president left the Arc de Triomphe, Chancellor Merkel made an impassioned plea for global co-operation at the peace forum, saying that the WWI had “made clear what disastrous consequences a lack of compromise in politics and diplomacy can have”.
Tower of London
Britons, too, marked the centenary of Armistice by lighting torches near the Tower of London. The ‘ceremonial guard‘ – standing outside the Tower – lit the first torch. Later, the torch was brought down from the tower, and Army personnel and members of some volunteer groups lit nearly 10,000 torches near the wall of the Tower. The torches will be there till the last day of ‘Memorial Week‘ celebration! Later, there will come a darkness and we will keep fighting wars…
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