Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday inaugurated the first India-bulit war memorial in northern France to pay tribute to thousands of Indian soldiers who fought selflessly and made supreme sacrifices during the World War I.
Naidu, who is on a three-day visit to Paris starting Friday, also interacted with French armed forces veterans and children at the inauguration of the Indian War Memorial at Villers Guislain.
“Extremely happy to unveil the Indian Armed Forces Memorial at Villers-Guislain town in France today. It’s a great tribute to several thousands of Indian soldiers whose gallantry and dedication have earned worldwide recognition,” Naidu said in a tweet.
The memorial is the first-of-its-kind built by India in France after the country’s Independence. The announcement to construct the memorial was made by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her last visit to Paris in June 2018.
“India contributed immensely to the war effort in terms of both men and material. Her soldiers served with credit and honour in numerous battlefields around the globe: in France and Belgium, in Aden, Arabia, East Africa, Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Persia and Salonika,” he said.
“We therefore share a bond of sacrifice that joins us to French soil and society. The final resting places of these soldiers are spread over 158 cemeteries across various communes and cities of France. Their blood is permanently mixed with the soil here,” he said.
Naidu said despite India’s significant role in the World War I, it was frequently “overlooked” as a result of the horrors experienced in trench warfare and by Europe’s tendency to home in on battles such as those fought at the Somme and Verdun, which many assume only Europeans fought in.
Vice President Naidu also addresses local community and members of Indian Diaspora after inaugurating the memorial.
“I consider it my privilege to have this honour to be amongst you today and inaugurate the first War Memorial constructed by the GoI in France and to pay homage to the Indian soldiers who fought selflessly and heroically during World War I and made the supreme sacrifice,” he said.
Indian troops were on Western Front by winter of 1914 and fought at the first Battle of Ypres. By the end of 1915, they had sustained many casualties along with casualties from sickness, the decision was taken to withdraw Indian Corps from front line duty at the end of 1915.
Naidu said 800,000 Indian troops fought in all the theatres of the war with 1.5 million volunteering to fight.
They fought in most theatres of war including Gallipoli and North and East Africa. In all 47,746 were classed as killed or missing with 65,000 wounded, he said.
The Indian Corps won 13,000 medals for gallantry including 12 Victoria Crosses. Khudadad Khan won the Corps first Victoria Cross. Such was the cost of the war, that India’s economy was pushed to near bankruptcy, Naidu said.
Vice President Naidu is in Paris to represent India at the Armistice of World War I centenary commemoration.
Heads of state or government of over 50 countries and their representatives are expected to participate in the centenary activities.
On Sunday, the vice president will attend the ceremony to commemorate the armistice of World War I at Arc de Triomphe, presided over by French President Emmanuel Macron.
He will speak at a high-level panel discussion titled ‘Dialogue of the Continents on Global Governance’ and will also hold a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum, the ministry of external affairs said in statement.