‘A Soldier of the Great War’ – The Headstone of the Unknown Soldier Part Four

The Indian Army, or at least the infantry divisions of the Indian Army, would only see action on the Western Front for a year – from October 1914 to October 1915 – but nonetheless you will still come across the graves of many Indian soldiers, both known and unknown, in the British military cemeteries in France & Flanders, with once again many small variations in the headstones that mark their final resting places. 

‘An Unknown Indian Soldier of the Great War’, in the centre, flanked by two variations (in this case the positioning of the inscription) of ‘A Soldier of the Great War’, both men from an unknown Indian regiment.

Unknown Indian soldiers (left & centre) & an unknown Sikh pioneer (right),…

…unidentified Hindu soldiers (above & below),…

…three from the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles), with a fourth, at the far end, from the 39th Garhwal Rifles,…

…as is the man on the right here, with an unknown Hindu soldier of 9th Gurkha Rifles on the left.

Unidentified Mussalman (Muslim) soldiers (above & below),…

…and two unidentified Indian soldiers with, in the centre, an unknown Naik (or corporal, to you and me).  And there would be men of another nationality serving with, or at least under the auspices of, the British Army later in the war, when the Chinese would arrive on the Western Front,…

…and today you might occasionally see a headstone like this in a British military cemetery, although with no Chinese script at all, I suspect that this is a very unusual headstone indeed.

‘An Indian Soldier of the Great War’

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15 Responses to ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ – The Headstone of the Unknown Soldier Part Four

  1. Filip Jacques says:

    That’s why it was a World War…

  2. Alan Seah says:

    Is there a body buried under the headstone ‘A Hindu Soldier …’? If I am not wrong, in Hinduism, the dead are cremated. Or might they have simply been buried due to the difficulty of administering the proper rites given the situation at the front.

    • nicholas Kilner says:

      I wouldn’t have thought it was practical to cremate bodies close to the front. It would have required a purpose built crematorium, and the smoke would have soon attracted the attention of the German artillery.

      • Magicfingers says:

        Well, it’s an interesting subject. The Hague Convention of 1907 formalised the treatment of soldiers’ bodies, and included the term ‘respect for’. On the outbreak of the Great War, the British needed the men of the Indian Army on the Western Front and they needed them there quickly. However they also needed to ensure that the Indian soldiers were well treated – the last thing required at the time was trouble back in India because of treatment of their soldiers in France – and this included treatment of the dead. What you may not know is that one Indian, General Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, GBE, KCB, GCStJ (phew!) was a member of the Imperial War Cabinet and he insisted that the correct customs should be used with regard to Indian dead, thus Muslims should be buried, and Hindus & Sikhs cremated. So in actual fact, despite the difficulties (including, doubtless, smoke attracting German artillery as Nick suggests) – and I am not even sure cremation was legal in France back then – this was carried out wherever possible. So there are actually cremated remains beneath the Hindu & Sikh headstones.

        • nicholas Kilner says:

          Well now that is interesting! I presume they must have transported the bodies to a rear area, somewhere well behind the lines for cremation.
          General Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, GBE, KCB, GCStJ – known to his friends as Bob hahaha

          • Magicfingers says:

            Lol!!! Very good! I honestly have no idea how or where the cremations took place – when was smokeless fuel invented………?

  3. nicholas Kilner says:

    I had no idea that the Indian Infantry had served for such a short time on the Western front.

  4. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    now then there are 2 Indians buried in Dornoch Proncynain cemetery – both died of TB in 2WW – I have always assumed that the bodies were there too…I understand that there are 7 Indian burials in Kingussie – maybe your visit there in summers past might tell is there are bodies but in the Highlands until relatively recently cremation was not really possible as the nearest was Aberdeen or Perth – that was the case until Inverness got its own crematorium for the Highlands

    • Magicfingers says:

      I suppose it depends on what religion the Indians at the cemetery you mention practised. Unfortunately I did not see the burial ground at Kingussie and thus didn’t see the Indians there – there are nine, actually, out of eleven WWII casualties – but they are all Muslims, thus they are all indeed buried there.

      • Morag Sutherland says:

        Good morning. I stand corrected re numbers in Kingussie. Someone in area is going to check things out. I understand from a friend that 2 deaths in Dornoch took place in an Indian hospital. .which has reverted to a hotel. There was actually a building in Lairg used as a mosque….I have ordered a book about this and will see if it provides any answers but an interesting topic….thank you

  5. Margaret Draycott says:

    This has been a fascinating and informative read. Astonishing with all the carnage going on that the requirements of the various religions were abided by, I thought attempting to bury so many of the dead was a monumental task in itself but to then provide cremation also prior to burial it unless there was enough clothing or items available to identify this would not be possible.
    These have been very interesting posts, when I’ve wandered the cemeteries I’ve never really registered the differences on the headstones, describing who is buried in that grave. Be they unknown or have some indentifiable markings. I shall pay more attention in the future whenever that may be. Thanks M.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Excellent, M. I am really glad this series is proving of interest. There’s a few more posts to come yet, because there really are so many headstone differences to spot once someone (like me) points them out.

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