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October - November 2006

Political News

What did we do in defeating fascism?

by Baroness Shreela Flather

The lack of knowledge about what the Undivided India contributed in men and materials to World War II has to be one of the best-kept secrets. The present day Indians seem to have decided that as World War II was a so-called “colonial war” no one needs to learn about the Indian contribution in schools. The Pakistanis believe that it is all about Undivided India and Pakistan’s history starts only in 1947. It is not the war that it is important, it is not the political attitude after independence which is important, what we have to recognise is what the world would have been like if the fascists had not been defeated. What would the world have been like with the Germans under Hitler in the West and us under the Japanese in the East. Oh yes, some people probably still believe that the Japanese would have handed over a prize like India to Subhash Bose. I, for one, find it impossible to accept that a fascist imperialist nation like Japan would have been so unbelievably generous.

So what did we do? We provided over 20 million volunteers and the whole of India was turned into a giant provider of materials. My father had a cutlery factory and during the war he was making bayonets. Every other such industry was utilised in a similar way. We had rationing of food and clothing. There were a lot of groups, particularly of women, who made blankets and other warm clothing which the soldiers needed. In other words India was crucial to Britain’s survival in World War II.

It was the Indians in large numbers who saved the day in the two major turning points of World War II, in North Africa and in Burma. North Africa was fought before the Americans had entered the war and had it not been for the Indians it would certainly not have been the success it was. A German friend of mine recently told me that when his uncle was being sent to North Africa he was told “do not worry because you will only be fighting the inferior races”. The reality turned out to be somewhat different! To begin with there were both Australian and New Zealand troops in North Africa but the Australians left because of the threat from Japan. It is the commanding officer of the New Zealand troops, General Kippinburger, who in his autobiography wrote about the contribution and valour of the Indians to the success of that campaign. Did Montgomery also write about the Indians? I think not.

Finally, we have to look at the Burma campaign under Field Marshall Slim. He put together a one million-strong army out of which 700,000 were Indians. Without the Indians there would have been no way of defeating the Japanese. We only have to see that out of the 27 Victoria Crosses awarded during the Burma campaign, 20 were won by the members of the Indian armed services.

The Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill are a lasting symbol of what we, the Indians, did for the British in the last war. Had we not been there it is very unlikely that Britain would have been able to sustain itself until the Americans joined. It is also likely that the outcome of the war itself may have been different. The Memorial Gates are about inclusiveness, we were all together fighting against the evil of fascism. It is unthinkable what the world would have been like had Hitler succeeded. We need to take pride in our contribution, particularly as I believe World War II to have been a just war and make sure that our children know that it was their grandfathers and great grandfathers who came to the aid of this country when it most needed them.

The annual commemoration at the Memorial Gates will take place on Friday 10 November at 10.30am

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