K.J. Charles's Reviews > The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk

The Indian Contingent by Ghee Bowman
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bookshelves: ww2, indian, non-fiction

This is excellent. A social rather than military history of the Indian soldiers--mostly Muslim, some Sikh and Hindu--who came over to France in 1940.

Many were evacuated at Dunkirk, and spent much of the rest of the war in the UK training for Churchill's planned Norway raid that never came off, which meant they spent a lot of time in some quite remote communities. These stories are incredible, often deeply warming--Scottish and Welsh villages taking these men far from home to their hearts (literally--there are several babies, and one incredibly moving lasting love story told in detail). There's surprisingly little record of racism, though of course it would have been about.

Others were trapped in France. Some spent years as prisoners of war (there is a fantastic story of a white officer who actually escaped while being sent to officer prison to return to his imprisoned Other Ranks men and masqueraded as an Indian for a year to stay with them before escaping for good). Some were recruited to fight for Germany as the Indian Legion under Subhas Chandra Bose's direction on the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' basis. On which, can we have a massive round of applause for mule-driver Mahmud Khan, who joined the Indian Legion, seduced both the daughter of the German officer who ran the training camp *and* one of his good-looking male orderlies, and promptly escaped to Switzerland. Sir, we salute your indefatigability.

The book covers the Indian contingent from sweepers and mule-drivers to Major-Generals, giving a really good sense of the scale and sweep of the Indian presence, their lives, how they fitted in to Britain and the British army and how those adapted (or failed to) to them. And indeed what it was like to return home after what was often years in a very different environment, only to have home ripped into two.

This is such an important book. The author makes the point that we're not gone till our traces have vanished from the world: well, these men deserve to be remembered and to have their places marked, not whitewashed by ignorance and selective memory. A great history, fluently written with an incredibly amount of research behind it, and a great read about humanity in its many forms. Strongly recommended.
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Reading Progress

May 14, 2020 – Shelved
May 14, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
August 3, 2020 – Shelved as: ww2
August 3, 2020 – Shelved as: indian
August 3, 2020 – Shelved as: non-fiction
Started Reading
August 4, 2020 – Finished Reading

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