Review: Honour & Fidelity – Amarinder Singh

I was looking forward to this read – HOnour and Fidelity: India’s military contribution to the Great War 1914-1918, but less than a third of the way in, I was to be more than disappointed.

The chapter on East Africa (chapter 4) was short – very short: pages 64-71 of which at least 1/3 of a page was a map, and 1/2 a page on Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s life after the war.

Given a book on the Indian Army published in 2014, this can only be called a poor show. Errors abound in the chapter which readings of general accounts of the campaign would show. The focus is on Tanga and Longido – both November 1914 – nothing of the Indian Army at Salaita or its incredible longevity in the East African theatre.

Apart from supplying manpower, the Indian Army was in control of the military aspect of the theatre to 22 November 1914 when the War Office took over, but continued to supply material for the remainder of the war. Nothing is said about the Faridkot Sappers or any other Pioneer unit and the work they did in keeping the forces moving. I can’t comment on the other theatres Amarinder covers but given his research on East Africa would hesitate to recommend this.

The positives of the book are:

  • coverage of all the Expeditionary Forces in alphabetical order resulting in commentary on the Western Front, East Africa, Mesopotamia (by far the longest chapter), Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Gallipoli
  • lists of units involved at different times of the war
  • Awards made
  • some maps
  • diverse photographs, including one of Lenin. There are more photographs of the East Africa campaign than information on Indian involvement in the theatre.

The Epilogue provides a summary of India’s contribution to the war:

  • 104 Labour Corps each with 1,150 men
  • 1013 Porter Corps each with 576 men
  • 15 Syce Companies consisting of 210 men each
  • Followers/non combatants (shoesmiths, bakers, carpenters, cooks et) = 4.,737
  • 7 Expeditionary Forces with a total of 1,338,620 men serving.
  • Princely States supplied 26,099 combatants for overseas and 115,891 to the regular army
  • donations and monetary contributions totalling £146,356 million

If you are interested in discovering more about India’s involvement in the East Africa campaign, I recommend:

Review: Sideshows of the Indian Army in World War 1 – Harry Fecitt

Sideshows in the Indian Army in World War 1 by Harry Fecitt was published in India in 2017.
For those who know Harry’s writing, the 28 chapters or essays in this publication follow the same style and format as his web and other articles. Harry assumes his reader knows the military terms and structures as well as the basic context in which the action is taking place, so anyone new to the Indian Army and its role in World War 1 would do well to read a little more widely of the theatres concerned to obtain some context.

These are accounts for the military-oriented person, but are of use to social, cultural and other historians and students for a quick overview, a list of significant people involved and those who received awards.

The book for me felt a little disjointed, a random set of essays thrown together. However, a close look at the dates in the titles, suggests the book follows a broadly chronological approach. However, given that the Indian Army was active on so many fronts simultaneously, I wonder whether a regional chronological approach would have made it a more coherent read – especially for those of us who prefer to read a book cover to cover rather than to dip in, as I imagine was the logic behind this publication’s structure. Operations cover Aden, the North West Frontier, Somaliland, China, Suez and Egypt, Persia, Macedonia, East Africa, the Bolsheviks, Sinai, Kamerun, Senussi and Burma.

Some might take umbrage at the use of the term ‘sideshows’. As with the African ‘sideshow’, the fighting and experiences of those caught up in the conflict was as intense as for those in the main theatres. Although some might not have known what they were fighting for, they knew who they were fighting for and had their reasons for doing so. One could even argue that India’s involvement on the Western Front was for India a sideshow, while the actions on the North West Frontier were not… nomenclature when dealing with the wider war has its own challenges. Similarly, others might be annoyed at the use of World War 1 rather than First World War – for those working cross culturally either is acceptable. Those who seem to have issue with the use of World War 1 seem to be mainly British military historians looking at conflict from a British perspective.

At the end of the day, Harry’s book covers a wide range of actions and is a start at drawing attention to India’s wider involvement in the war in a way which George Morton-Jack’s Army of Empire: The untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 or The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to victory, the untold story of the Indian Army in World War 1 (both 2018) and Alan Jeffreys’ The Indian Army in the First World War: New perspectives (2018) don’t. While Ian Cordoza in The Indian Army in World War 1, 1914-1918 (2019) gives a basic overview of the various theatres, Kaushik Roy’s Indian Army and the First World War, 1914-18 (2018), a more academic text, covers the same theatres Harry does providing a greater context and understanding of the Indian Army in the war and is probably the best current complementary text.