The venue was perfect, the hospitality warm and the audience attentive. This just about describes the very inspiring and informative event on 30 January, The Centenary Meeting, at the Imperial War Museum. It was one of the 2500 events, between now and 2018, to mark the Centenary of the First World War (1914-1918).
The Imperial war Museum is leading a network of regional, national and international cultural and educational organisations. working together, they plan to connect current and future generations with the lives, stories and impact of the First World War. However one group remains under represented in the national scheme of presentations. The Indian Army. Before partition this was representative of soldiers from modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sadly the same is true for other Commonwealth soldiers such as those from Africa and the West Indies.
Dr Kusoom Vadgama, the founding Co-Chair of Indo-British Heritage Trust, expressed sadness that these soldiers are never allowed to share the limelight when tributes are paid to the British war efforts. For her, their absence at the annual Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Festival Hall is unacceptable. She later added that she had written to the person in charge of the programmes at the Royal Albert Hall, requesting that Indians be included in their timetable for the next four anniversaries. Even after a month her letter remains unacknowledged. Vadgama now wants the Commonwealth High Commissions and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to take up the issue and show that these soldiers did not die only to be forgotten.
There are many incredible stories of bravery and sacrifice that need to be heard. One of these involves an Indian soldier named Alhaji Grunshi. He fired what is thought to be the first shot of the war whilst he was stationed with the Gold Coast Regiment in the modern country of Togo, West Africa. He went on to survive the war becoming a recipient of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The First World War was the first major conflict to be photographed and some of the most striking images were of Indian soldiers. During the war Brighton Pavilion was donated by the King of England to be used as a hospital for injured Indian soldiers. He felt that his exotic residence would aid in the recovery of the men. A display of these images, at the actual Brighton Pavilion is one of the few events being staged to commemorate the contribution of these troops.
The whole experience of the day, surrounded by actions and events in film and fighting machines of the war was unforgettable. Not only for what was discussed but also for what was not- the Soldiers of British India.