Saturday, 26 December 2015

Muslim Soldiers fighting for Britain

Recently read a page on the Armed Forces Muslim Association website about the exploits of Muslims serving in British forces in past conflicts.

A typical example is that of Ali Haider (see also here) who, according to AFMA :

"...served as a Sepoy (Private) in the 13th Frontier Force Rifles. In 1944, his platoon was tasked with crossing the River Senio under heavy enemy fire. The crossing was part of the Allied spring offensive and much depended upon the assault. However, the banks of Senio had been built up three metres high, and whilst Haidar’s assault section travelled in vulnerable boats, the Germans were securely dug-in and heavily armed. The Rifles were cut to pieces by intense machine fire, and only Haidar and two fellow soldiers survived the crossing – the rest of his men laid injured or dead in the water.

Undaunted, Ali Haidar seized the initiative, and covered by his two colleagues, charged the nearest machinegun post. He threw a grenade but was met by another, thrown by the enemy. He sustained a severe wound to his back, but in spite of this, continued his attack, silencing the machine gun and taking four Germans prisoner. Not content, he charged onto the next machinegun nest, sustaining further injuries in the right leg and right arm. Weakened by the loss of blood, but utterly determined to continue the battle, Haidar crawled closer and lobbed in another grenade, destroying the enemy position.

Having subdued immediate opposition, the river was crossed and a vital bridgehead established. Haidar’s bravery and devotion to duty saved the rest of his company. Found lying on the ground next to the river, Ali Haidar was carried back to his regiment with serious wounds. He recovered sufficiently to receive his Victoria Cross from King George VI at Buckingham Palace in October 1945.

His Victoria Cross citation read: “The conspicuous gallantry, initiative and determination, combined with a complete disregard for his own life, shown by this very brave Sepoy in the face of heavy odds, were an example to the whole company. His heroism saved an ugly situation which would, but for his personal bravery, have caused the battalion serious casualties at a critical time and delayed the crossing of the river.”

He returned to Pakistan after the war, where he and his wife worked at a small farmstead. He died in 1999, at the age of 86, a short while after his wife’s death, leaving behind no children."

Ali Hairdar VC

BFTF looked up the 13th Frontier Force Rifles (formed from the 55th Coke's Rifles, 56th Punjabi Rifles, 57th Wilde's Rifles, 58th Vaughan's Rifles and the 59th Royal Scinde Rifles and others) and found this archived list of their battle honours:

WW1 : La Bassée 1914, Messines 1914, Armentières 1914, Festubert 1914 '15, Givenchy 1914, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres 1915, St. Julien, Aubers, Loos, France and Flanders 1914-15, Suez Canal, Egypt 1915-17, Gaza, El Mughar, Nebi Samwil, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Sharon, Palestine 1917-18, Tigris 1917, Kut al Amara 1917, Baghdad, Mesopotamia 1916-18, Persia 1918-19, Aden, E Africa 1916-18, NW Frontier India 1917, Baluchistan 1918, Afghanistan 1919

WW2 : Gash Delta, Barentu, Keren, Ad Teclesan, Amba Alagi, Abyssinia 1940-41, Deir ez Zor, Raqaa, Syria 1941, Gazala, Sidi Rezegh 1942, Gambut, Mersa Matruh, North Africa 1940-43, The Trigno, Tufillo, The Sangro, Impossible Bridge, Villa Grande, Cassino II, Gustav Line, Pignataro, Advance to Florence, Gothic Line, Monte Grande, The Senio, Bologna, Monte Sole, Italy 1943-45, North Malaya, Kota Bharu, Johore, Gemas, The Muar, Singapore Island, Malaya 1941-42, Pegu 1942, Taukkyan, Monywa 1942, Shwegyin, North Arakan, Point 551, Mayu Tunnels, Maungdaw, Ngakyedauk Pass, Imphal, Litan, Arakan Beaches, Myebon, Ramree, Mandalay, Myinmu, Meiktila, Nyaungu Bridgehead, Capture of Meiktila, Defence of Meiktila, Taungtha, Myingyan, The Irawaddy, Yenaungyaung 1945, Magwe, Rangoon Road, Pegu 1945, Sittang 1945, Burma 1942-45

It is worth noting that many of the units in the British Indian Army comprised soldiers from a variety of faiths

129th Baluchis near Holobeke (Battle of Messines)

Focussing on WW1, and so far as BFTF's limited research has been able to tentatively determine, here is some more information:

The Battle of La Bassée - 12th October - 2nd November 1914
British Forces : 2nd Cavalry Brigade; 3rd Division and 5th Division of II Corps; The Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade, and the Lahore and Meerut Divisions of the Indian Corps

The Long,Long,Trail website records despatches from Field Marshall French comment that :

"...On the 24th October the Lahore Division of the Indian Army Corps, under Major General Watkis, having arrived, I sent them to the neighbourhood of Locon to support the Second Corps. Very early on this morning the enemy commenced a heavy attack, but, owing to the skilful manner in which the artillery was handled and the targets presented by the enemy's infantry as it approached, they were unable to come to close quarters. ..

... The 8th (Jullundur) Infantry Brigade (which had come into line on the left of the Second Corps) was also heavily attacked, but the enemy was driven off....

... I have already referred to the excellent work performed by the battalions of this [Lahore] Division which were supporting the Cavalry. The remainder of the Division from the 25th October onwards were heavily engaged in assisting the 7th Brigade of the Second Corps in fighting round Neuve Chappelle...

...the line held by the Indian Corps has been subjected to constant bombardment by the enemy's heavy artillery, followed up by infantry attacks. On two occasions these attacks were severe...

...Since their arrival in this country, and their occupation of the line allotted to them, I have been much impressed by the initiative and resource displayed by the Indian troops. Some of the ruses they have employed to deceive the enemy have been attended with the best results, and have doubtless kept superior forces in front of them at bay. The Corps of Indian Sappers and Miners have long enjoyed a high reputation for skill and resource. Without going into detail, I can confidently assert that throughout their work in this campaign they have fully justified that reputation. The General Officer Commanding the Indian Army Corps describes the conduct and bearing of these troops in strange and new surroundings to have been highly satisfactory, and I am enabled, from my own observation, to fully corroborate his statement..."

The Defence of Givenchy - 20th - 21st December 1914
Indian Corps : Meerut Division, Lahore Division and 1st Division

Here despatches shown on the Long,Long Trail site state that:

"...The attack of the Meerut Division on the left was made on the morning of the 19th with energy and determination, and was at first attended with considerable success, the enemy’s advanced trenches being captured. Later on, however, a counter attack drove them back to their original position with considerable loss. The attack of the Lahore Division commenced at 4.30 a.m. It was carried out by two companies each of the 1st Highland Light Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 4th Gurkha Rifles, of the Sirhind Brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel E. W. H. Ronaldson. This attack was completely successful..."

"...From daylight on the 20th December the enemy commenced a heavy fire from artillery and trench mortars on the whole front of the Indian Corps. This was followed by infantry attacks, which, were in especial force against Givenchy, and between that place and La Quinque Rue. At about 10 a.m. the enemy succeeded in driving back the Sirliind Brigade, and capturing a considerable part of Givenchy, but the 67th Rifles and 9th Bhopals, north of the canal, and the Connaught Rangers, south of it, stood firm. "

"...In my last despatch I had occasion to mention the prompt and ready help I received from the Lahore Division...The Indian troops have fought with the utmost steadfastness and gallantry whenever they have been called upon..."

"Indian reinforcements who fought at Givenchy in December 1914" by Unknown

Battle of Neuve Chapelle - 10th March 2015
Here the Long,Long Trail site comments that

"...Three infantry brigades were ordered to advance quickly as soon as the barrage lifted from the front line at 8.05am. The Gharwal Brigade of the Indian Corps advanced successfully, with the exception of the 1/39th Gharwal Rifles on the extreme right that went astray and plunged into defences untouched by the bombardment, suffering large losses..."

The Battle of Aubers Ridge, 9 May 1915
Listed on the Long,Long, Trail site

"5.30am:...In the area of the Indian Corps, the lead battalions of the Dehra Dun Brigade of the Meerut Division (2/2nd Ghurkas, 1/4th and 1st Seaforth Highlanders) were so badly hit by enemy fire that no men got beyond their own parapet and the front-line and communications trenches were soon filled with dead and wounded men."

"3.57pm:...Meerut Division orders Bareilly Brigade to advance, even though it is clear that conditions are unchanged: few men even reached a small ditch 20 yards in front of their own front line, and the Brigade suffered more than 1000 casualties within minutes."

The Meerut Division suffered 2,629 casualties, out a total of some 11,000 British casualties on that day. There is no memorial to this battle.

The Battle of Loos, 25 September - 19 October 1915
Despatches listed on the LongLongTrail site state that :

"...The Indian Corps atacked the Moulin du Pietre; while the 3rd Corps was directed against the trenches at Le Bridoux. These attacks started at daybreak and were at first successful all along the line. Later in the day the enemy brought up strong reserves, and after hard fighting and variable fortunes the troops engaged in this part of the line reoccupied their original trenches at nightfall. They succeeded admirably, however, in fulfilling the role allotted to them, and in holding large numbers of the enemy away from the main attack. The 8th Division of the 3rd Corps and the Meerut Division of the Indian Corps were principally engaged in this part of the line..."

Battles of Jerusalem (1917)
According to Wikipedia :

"...On 19 November the 75th Division infantry moved up this road; their 232nd Brigade had left Abu Shushe at 07:30 to occupy the deserted town of Amwas and by 11:00 the Indian 58th Vaughan's Rifles (Frontier Force) of 234th Brigade had fought their way up [against Ottoman forces] to reach the heights of Bab el Wad..."

"Capture of Jerusalem 1917d" by American Colony Photo Department (Jerusalem), photographer not named - Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-13291-00030

Battles of Megiddo and Sharon, Palestine(1918)

According to Wikipedia, "After forces of the Arab Revolt attacked the Ottoman lines of communication, distracting the Ottomans, British and Indian infantry divisions attacked and broke through the Ottoman defensive lines in the sector adjacent to the coast in the set-piece Battle of Sharon."

In the Battle of Sharon:

"...The 7th (Meerut) Division's 19th Brigade consisting of the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 28th Punjabis, 92nd Punjabis and 125th Napier's Rifles, with the 1st Guides and 20th Punjabis (21st Brigade) and the 134th Machine Gun Company attached, were formed into two columns in front of the British wire, each column on a frontage one battalion wide. The initial attack by the 28th and the 92nd Punjabis, under cover of the creeping barrage, was completely successful..."

Related Content
Muslim Soldiers - The Elephant in the Room
100yr commemoration of WW1
Muslim Merchant Seamen in WW2
Forgotton Heroes
Noor Inayat Khan

External links
Commonwealth Contribution
An Indian Sepoy in WW1
Short video on the Muslim contribution to Britain in WW1
Image Sources
Ali Haidar, 129th Baluchis, Givenchy, Jerusalem

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