The South Asian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-1918

This tour follows the story of some of the many thousands of soldiers from south Asia who served in France and Belgium in the Great War. In October 1914 an army corps of 20,000 soldiers from the Indian sub continent landed to fight for the British on the Western Front. Over 8,000 did not go back and are buried or commemorated in Britain, Belgium and France.

Indian Soldiers landing in Marseilles France

The itinerary is in two parts. One is for the UK and requires a UK Visa. The second is for France and Belgium, and requires a Schengen Visa. It is possible to see a lot with a tour which just visits Belgium and France. Both parts of these tours could be combined with a visit to other cultural sites

Day 1 – London

Focus on the background to the Indian Army and the Great War

  • National Army Museum – The British Army, India and the Indian Army
  • Imperial War Museum – The Great War and India’s role in it
  • Indian Army Memorial – Green Park
  • Potential for cultural event with an appropriate London Community

Day 2 The Indian Army in Britain

Ambulances and Indian soldiers at the Brighton Pavilion Hospital
  • Brighton Pavilion – the Indian Army Hospital in the Great War. 14,000 wounded Indian soldiers passed through the hospitals in Brighton
  • Patcham Down Chattri Memorial
  • Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Indian Army Memorial Room
  • Brookwood Commonwealth War Cemetery, the resting place of the Muslim Indian Army soldiers who died in the UK

Three days – Belgium and France

Day one – The Indian Army at Ypres.

  • Flanders Fields Museum. Orientation to the Western front
  • The story of the Indian Army in the 1st Battle of Ypres in 1914. Stories of Indian soldiers who distinguished themselves including Khudadad Khan VC and Subedar Thakur Singh MC
2nd Rajput Regiment in Flanders1914-15
  • Preserved Trenches on Messines Ridge, close to where the young Adolf Hitler fought
  • The Indian army at the 2nd Battle of Ypres and the first use of poison gas. Story of Mir Dast VC
  • Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate and opportunity to lay a wreath at this ceremony

Day two – Neuve Chapelle and Loos

Indian Army memorial to the Missing Neuve Chappelle

• The Battle of Neuve Chapelle
• The Battle of Loos and the role of the Indian Corps. the story of Kulbir Thapa VC
• Zelobes Indian Cemetery
• Indian Army memorial and memorial to the Missing Neuve Chapelle

Day Three – The Indian Army Cavalry at Somme, Arras and Cambrai

Indian Cavalry somewhere on the Western Front
  • Technology and the Great War – The Historial Museum of the Great War (1914-1918) Peronne.
  • Thiepval memorial
  • The Indian Cavalry on the Somme, the charge of the Deccan Horse horses versus machine guns.
  • The Indian cavalry at Arras
  • Cambrai – The Indian Cavalry and Army and Tanks

“One dead for every kilometre home”
Anonymous comment in the visitors book, Neuve Chapelle, Indian Army Memorial France

What is New on the Old Front Line?

Just back from a well organised familiarisation tour to Flanders and the Somme organised and hosted by Tourism Ieper.  You might think that a year after the end of the centenary of the First World War that no one would be investing in developing First World War heritage.  But that is far from the case.  We saw a slew of new projects that enhance the experience for visitors.

View over the Passchendaele Battlefield
There is a panorama in each direction to aid orientation

It isn’t often that you see something on a tour around a familiar area that makes you change the way you plan a visit.  The high point (literally) of my trip was the visit to the Church Tower at Zonnebeke, which is open to the public. The website says it is free of charge, but you need a ticket from the Passchendaele Museum to operate the turnstile.  This offers an outstanding view of the Ypres Salient and is a good option to start a tour of the area.  Only worth doing if visibility is over two miles/ three km as there are 200 stairs to climb.

A fine collection of exhibits that would be improved with some explanation in the new app.

The Museé Somme Albert has a very fine and large collection of exhibits. A little unfashionably for modern museums these are mostly on display. An app is being written to allow visitors to find out more about the objects.  It is planned that visitors can download the app on smartphones.

Reconstructed trenches and panorama board on the site of Idiot Trench, illustrating why Hooge means “Heights”

I hadn’t visited the Hooge Crater Museum  for several years.  The owners have developed the museum to make it a one stop shop for visiting schools.  There are trenches demonstrating British and German trench designs on the site of the German 1916 front line and a good view over Ieper.  There is a gallery focused on medical services and a private room for a group. We were well looked after with a specimen student lunch (plus beer!)

There is a new museum dedicated to aerial warfare over Flanders and the great French air ace George Guynemer.  This is the Guynemer Pavillion Polecapelle

Yper Museum – model of the historic city

Yper Museum. The Yper Museum is situated at the other end of the Cloth Hall from the In Flanders Fields Museum. In Flanders Fields tells the story of Ieper in four years of war.  The Yper Museum tells the story of Ieper for the other 2,000 years of its history.  How the city grew and shrank with the wool trade, the sieges by the English and French.  Well supported by interactive exhibits, it is a reminder that the area is more than just a battlefield.

One nice feature of familiarisation tours is that they provide an opportunity for cafes and restaurants to show what they can do. The Depot did a great three course supper and Poppies Hostel at Albert and roof top terrace bar at the St. Bernardus Brewery Watou did a great buffet.  I hadn’t been to the brewery before. The view from the rooftop was also very worthwhile offering a panorama of the area west of Poperinge.

Another recent development is the local wine industry. Heuvelland is one of five Belgian regions recognised by a AOP Quality label.  The region claims to be the most northern wine growing region in mainland Europe.

Stefaan Vanderstreate on stage at the Clothe Hall gala singing and playing the guitar

This is the latest of a series of tours for representatives of the British travel trade.  The driving force has been the hotel businesses led by Stefaan Vanderstreate, the Ieper based entrepreneur who runs The Menin Gate accommodation business in Ieper and set up the Poppies hostel in Albert.  These are particularly well-run familiarisation tours.