Saturday, 9 May 2020

Seventy Fifth Anniversary of VE Day: The Muslim Contribution

It was the 75th anniversary of VE day yesterday (Victory in Europe), commemorating the sacrifices and hardship or a generation now mostly gone.  I sometimes think that if the role of the former colonies and their people in the world wars had been properly recognised, perhaps we might have been made a little more welcome here.

For context, the Muslim contribution to World War Two includes:
In North Africa against the Italians and Germans
In Italy against the Germans and
In Burma against the Japanese
In total 65% of all regiments serving in North Africa, Italy and Burma were Muslim (from The Indian Army 1914-1947 by Ian Sumner)  
Two of those 65% would have been my grandad and his brother in Burma.
Another was my husbands great grandfather in Italy.

A breakdown of the British Indian Army in 1939-1945 gives us the following figures:
Gurkha’s - 110,000
Hindu’s – 900,000
Muslims – 700,000
Sikhs: 150,000

The graves across Italy are testament to these figures.
Italy is home to the graves of some 122 Indian soldiers aged between 15 and 17.
90 out of the 122 are Muslim
89 of them belong to areas within pre-partition Pakistan.
Because of the dip in Hindu and Sikh enlistment between 1940 – 1942, Britain came to rely heavily upon the Muslim population.
Most of the adult population were already fighting in Britain's wars which meant that an increasing number of teenagers were accepted into the military.

Image source: Muslim headstones from the First World War in Notre Dame de Lorette French national cemetery. In the background are Christian headstones. David Crossland / The National

In a letter addressed to US President Franklin Roosevelt, dated 4 March 1942, Winston Churchill wrote: ‘We must not on any account break with the Moslems, who represent a hundred million people, and the main army elements on which we must rely for the immediate fighting’.

Bit of a history lesson, but an essential history for those of us who have been made to feel unwelcome here on occasion. I wonder what our elders who fought and are now gone from this world would have thought of how far we have come in some ways from the time they came here and how far we still have to go in others.

You can find out more about the Muslim contribution to the World Wars at the sources below:

Archive commemorating overseas WW1 Victoria Cross recipients - Pakistan (gov.uk)

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