Neuve Chapelle Centenary March 2015: France pays tribute to role of Indian troops

Posted on on 22 February 2015
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Events are being held in France in March 2015 to remember the Indian soldiers who fought alongside the British Army at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle a century ago.

A programme of exhibitions, talks, guided tours and drama will be hosted by the villages of Neuve Chapelle and Richebourg, near Lille, from March 10th.

The date marks the 100th anniversary of Britain launching its first set-piece offensive against the Germans in 1915.

L'Inde dans las Grande Guerre aims to explore the story of the Indian forces sent to the Western Front, as well as contemporary Indian culture.

Troops from British-ruled India arrived in France in September 1914 to reinforce the British Expeditionary Force in the fighting along the French/Belgian border.

They played a significant role at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, overrunning German positions in the early stages of the attack. 

But the advance stalled, hampered by poor communications. Trench warfare advantaged defence over attack. Delays allowed the Germans to reorganise and bring up reinforcements.  It was to become a familiar pattern. 

The official Neuve Chapelle commemorations take place on March 13th, the centenary of the battle ending with only minimal British gains. Details of the events are awaited.

The Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle commemorates more than 4,700 missing soldiers and labourers from undivided India who lost their lives on the Western Front (Photo © Centenary News)

The programme for 'India in the Great War' includes:

*Exhibition: “Les Troupes Indiennes en France en 1914-1918” (Indian Troops in France during the First World War)

Every day from March 10 to 29, from 2pm to 6pm - Neuve-Chapelle, salle polyvalente, 85 rue de la Vieille Bombe.
Exhibition produced by the association Les Comptoirs de l’Inde. Display of work produced by a whole class of pupils aged 8 to 10 from Neuve-Chapelle School.  

*Exhibition: “Les soldats indiens sous le regard de Paul Sarrut” (Indian soldiers as seen by Paul Sarrut)

Every day from  March 10 to 29, from 2pm to 6pm - Richebourg, espace Paul Legry, rue de la Briqueterie.
In partnership with the Archives Départementales du Pas-de-Calais. Display of work produced by a whole class of pupils aged 9 to 10 from Richebourg School. 

"Military Liaison Officer and interpreter between the Indian and British troops, Paul Sarrut made a large number of drawings and portraits, precious testaments of life behind the lines in the Béthune area for the Indian soldiers."  

*Guided visits: “Coup de projecteur sur le Mémorial Indien” (Focus on the Indian Memorial)

Sundays 15 and 22 March from 11am to 11.45am – Indian Memorial, route d’Estaires.

"Sole site dedicated to the memory of the Indian Army in France and famous for its two tigers symbolising protection, the names of the Indian soldiers who died in France and in Belgium during the First World War can be seen on the Memorial."  

*Presentation: “L’Inde dans la Grande Guerre” (India in the Great War)

Friday 20 March at 8pm - Neuve-Chapelle, salle communale, 65 rue de la Vieille Bombe.

By Douglas Gressieux, author of “Les troupes indiennes en France 1914-1918” (The Indian Troops in France, 1914-1918).

“Les Comptoirs de l’Inde” association invites you to discover the involvement of the Indian Army through a presentation: arrival in Marseille, daily life, the troops fighting, the battle and memorial of Neuve-Chapelle."  

*The work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

Every day from 10 to 29 March, from 2pm to 6pm - Neuve-Chapelle, salle polyvalente, 85 rue de la Vieille Bombe.

Exhibition presenting the work of the CWGC in 23,000 sites around the world, including Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial. 

Sunday March 15 at 3pm - Mairie de Richebourg.

"Martial Delebarre, a CWGC gardener, will give a talk about the work of the organization which commemorates over 575,000 Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in France."

*Presentation: “Les combattants des 1001 nuits : images de l’autre 1914-1918” (Soldiers of 1,001 nights: images of others, 1914-1918)

Friday March 27 at 8pm - Mairie de Richebourg (Richebourg Town Hall).

By Bertrand Lecomte, author of “Les combattants des 1001 nuits : images de l’autre 1914-1918”

"In 1914 and 1915, thousands of Indians and Nepalese occupied the part of the front defending access to the Netherlands. There were mixed reactions among civilians and soldiers when they first saw these men ranging from fear to curiosity. However, as time went by the people from two continents gradually got to know each other."   

*Guided coach tour: “Les troupes indiennes sur le front” (Indian Troops on the Front)

Sunday March 29 from 2.30pm to 5pm – Neuve-Chapelle, place de la mairie.

"Your guide will take you to a series of remarkable places of remembrance to help you better understand the involvement of the Indian Army in the First World War and life for soldiers in the Artois area."
Route designed in partnership with the “L’Alloeu Terre de Batailles 14-18” association. 

The full programme, and booking information, can be found on the Béthune-Bruay Tourist Office website.

Information and poster image supplied by Béthune-Bruay Tourist Office

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News