In the First World War, Indian soldiers serving in Europe revealed a great deal about their experiences through their letters home. Censors monitored what they wrote and kept a record with translated excerpts which allow us access to their thoughts to this day. The original letters may not have survived.
The India Office Records (IOR) held the censors' reports along with the extracts. The IOR now forms part of the Oriental and India Office collections at The British Library. Grateful thanks to them for use of their document pack 'Indian Soldiers in the First World War.'
Many Indian troops came from rural backgrounds so may not have been able to read or write. In this case, they would have asked scribes, like company clerks, to write their letters for them and to read the replies.
It goes without saying that their individual thoughts are as diverse as the men who wrote them, ranging from enthusiastic optimism to fearful despondency.
David Omissi has selected and commented on many of these letters in his excellent book, Indian voices of the Great War: Soldiers' Letters, 1914-18, (Macmillan, 1999).
Check out the navigation bar on the left to see just a few of the letter extracts from the IOR
No such collection of letters appears to exist from the Second World War. It would be fascinating to compile examples. We would be delighted to receive scans and transcripts of letters to add to this site.
With grateful thanks to his family, here is a letter from Dodla Ranga Reddy, a young pilot in the Indian Air Force who died, aged 22, when his plane was shot down over Burma in 1944.
'Namaste to my Goddess Laxmi-like mother, from your son who is writing this letter.
I am quite well here. What is the situation at your end? I have been paid this month's salary. I have sent 100 rupees via money-order to Mr. Narayanji. If you need any money then take 50 rupees. If Mr. Narayanji needs any more money then I shall send an additional 100 rupees by money order next month.
I have been paid 530 rupees this month. This month I have quite a few requirements. It will cost me 200 rupees to purchase my uniform but I have not been paid enough to purchase a uniform as yet. I will be paid this next month, around 400 rupees.
I am now flying independently by night in my aircraft. Tamashass looks beautiful. The ground dwellers who look up must be dumbstruck by the sight they see. But we are not scared. Now we get to fly by day as well.
In the next two months we are going to fly in aircrafts that go at the speed of 250 miles per hour...'
(Dodla Ranga Reddy)
Find out more about Dodla Ranga Reddy's life and death here.
As primary sources for the purpose of historical research, letters are invaluable.
Here is a letter from a prominent British Muslim, Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah, dated January 1st 1940, addressed to the Secretary of the Army Comforts Committee.
It concerns meeting the needs of Indian Muslims serving in France. It is fascinating to learn that Mr. Shah 'was for some time attached to the Indian General Hospital at Brighton during the last Great War.'
The reply from Lt Col. R. W. Hills, commanding officer of Force K-6, listing requirements - including gramaphones, gramophone records, mittens and hockey equipment!
With thanks to www.ww2talk.com
Again, we would be very happy to receive more such examples to add to our resources.