Thursday, 28 August 2014

2014 : 100yr commemoration of the start of WW1

WW1, particularly the horrific death toll and conditions of the Western Front, have been on BFTF's mind in 2014, as this represents the 100yr anniversary of the start of that conflict.

But it has not been the official events, Twitter feeds or TV dramas that have most affected BFTF. Rather it has been the testimony of the soldiers ,whether they were British or German that has really brought home why many wanted it to be the "war to end all wars"

And the complicated feelings that some Irish had about serving in the British Army (which many viewed as an army of occupation in Ireland).

One wonders how the 1.5 million volunteers from India (of whom 140,000 troops saw active service on the Western Front and another 700,000 served in Mesopotamia) thought about serving for an occupying force.
2nd Indian Cavalry Division during the Battle of the Somme.

The Mesopotamian Campaign, against the Ottoman Empire - the nominal centre of Islamic rule - also raises complex questions for Muslims of who, if anyone, was the "right" side in that theatre of conflict. Many of the issues are concisely overviewed in this article by Patrick Bishop, which shows how the conflict shaped much of the Middle East.

BFTF has been surprised to read about a British War Cemetery in Gaza, immaculately tended by the Gazans, although occasionally shelled by the Israelis.

The Indian Army, incidentally, was highly integrated, with Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims fighting - and dying - together. Indeed, the Brighton Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian troops wounded in the trenches of the Western Front. See also this collection of photographs of the Indian Army.

See also this article which focusses on the Muslim troops in the British Army, and this on the Muslim burial ground in Woking. Kudos also to Sikhmuseum.com for this related article. And also worth reading about the Brookwood military cemetery.

Aside from the huge contribution from the Indian Army, hundreds of thousands of troops from Australia, New Zealand and Canada also served the British Army - and their contributions formed a much larger proportion of their respective populations than was the case for India. And there were also 55,000 troops from Africa.

The French also drew troops from their colonies, as described in this article by Khaled Diab.

SSAFA's "Official Guide to WW1"
Whilst ambling along the books section at ASDA, BFTF recently noticed a publication by SSAFA (a charity who help current and ex service personnel). The book was entitled "The Great War 1914-18 : SSAFA's Official Guide to World War 1"
SSAFA's Official Guide to World War 1.


BFTF had a quick look through the book and found it to be rich in detail and pictures. BFTF considered buying it, but two important things seemed to be missing, so BFTF put it back on the shelf and sent this email to SSAFA :
"Dear SSAFA

I noticed your Guide to World War 1 on sale recently and was about to buy it when I became disturbed at how the contribution of the 1.5million Indian troops (as well as those from Africa and other colonies) seemed to have received little or no mention.

Given that the 140,000 Indian Army troops saw active service on the Western Front and another 700,000 served in Mesopotamia, one would have thought they would receive at least as high a profile as the well known contribution from ANZAC forces, but I could see no significant mention of it in the book.

It might be that I missed it, as I only skimmed through the pages. So I'm hoping you can advise whether you feel that the book does indeed give the Indian Army the recognition that they deserve.

Secondly, and on a very different note, I was disappointed that there was no mention of the book being printed on sustainably sourced paper (e.g. recycled or FSC certified). Given that even supermarket till receipts are now printed on paper that is from a sustainable source, I can't see why a publication such as the "Guide to World War 1" is not similarly published. Again, perhaps I have got this wrong, so I hope you can advise on this point"

Update 4th Oct:
SSAFA responded by stating that the book and editorial content was produced by the publisher and that SSAFA just receieved a percentage of the profits.

The publisher (CW publishing), in turn, responded by saying:
"... the SSAFA guide to WW1 primarily focuses on the British perspective, we have where prudent included contributions from some alternate countries, but not all participants are featured within the editorial fabric.

We did however make the effort to contact every single country that took part in the Great War, on both sides, all countries that decided to contribute a message have been included and had their kind words published.

The stock used for the WW1 book is virgin pulp, produced at a geothermal plant using sustainable materials; all of our suppliers have a sound environmental strategy in place and have achieved the required industry accreditations."

BFTF doesn't really get the feeling that, were CW to publish a similar book in the future - for example in 2018 - that they would do anything different. So sent this to both :
"Thanks for responding so quickly. I hope that any future publications on WW1 (or indeed on WW2) will do a better job of including the contribution made by over a million troops from India and other Asian and African parts of the British Empire - all of whom fought under British command, and many of whom died to protect the interests of the United Kingdom."

Image Sources
2nd Indian Cavalry

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