The location of the memorial was specially chosen as it was at Neuve-Chapelle in March 1915 that the Indian Corps fought its first major action as a single unit.
The memorial commemorates more than 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers who lost their lives on the Western Front during the First World War and have no known graves.
The memorial was unveiled on 7 October 1927, by the Earl of Birkenhead. Lord Birkenhead (Frederick Edwin Smith), then Secretary of State for India, had served as a staff officer with the Indian Corps during the war. The ceremony was also attended by Sir Jagatjit Singh Bahadur, the Maharaja of Karputhala, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Rudyard Kipling, and a large contingent of Indian veterans.
This site also contains the Neuve-Chapelle 1939-1945 Cremation Memorial. In 1964, the remains of eight Indian soldiers, including two unidentified, were exhumed from Sarrebourg French Military Cemetery Extension and cremated. The names of the six identified soldiers are engraved on panels at the Neuve-Chapelle Memorial along with the following inscription:
1939 - 1945
IN HONOUR OF THESE SOLDIERS WHO DIED IN CAPTIVITY IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE AND WHOSE MORTAL REMAINS WERE COMMITTED TO FIRE
Thirty-nine members of the 1914-1918 Indian Forces commemorated here were cremated at Patcham Down, Sussex. In 2010, their point of commemoration was transferred back to Patcham Down when a new memorial was unveiled there.
In April 2015, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi visited the memorial and laid a wreath as part of the commemorations for the First World War centenary.
The Indian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front
The British government declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914. Just four days later two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade of the Indian Army were ordered to mobilise and prepare for overseas service. Units of the Indian Expeditionary Force began arriving in France in September and by late October they were involved in heavy fighting on the Messines Ridge in Belgium. It was at Messines on 31 October that Khudadad Khan performed the act of gallantry for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross, becoming the first Indian-born soldier to be so honoured.
The Indian Corps, which was composed of the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) divisions, went on to fight in some of the bloodiest battles of the first year of the war. At Neuve Chapelle, from 10–13 March 1915, Indian soldiers made up half of the attacking force and despite suffering very heavy casualties succeeded in capturing important sections of the German line. The officers and men of the Corps further distinguished themselves at St. Julien in the Ypres Salient in April 1915, at Aubers Ridge and Festubert in May, and at Loos in September before being redeployed to the Middle East in December. The Indian Cavalry Corps remained on the Western Front until the spring of 1918 and Indian labour companies, which had begun arriving in France in 1917, performed vital and often dangerous logistical work behind the lines until after the Armistice.
Over the course of the war, India sent more than 140,000 men to the Western Front – 90,000 serving in the infantry and cavalry and as many as 50,000 non-combatant labourers. They hailed from the length and breadth of British India: from the Punjab, Garwahl, the Frontiers, Bengal, Nepal, Madras, and Burma, and represented an extremely diverse range of religious, linguistic, and ethnic cultures. The officer corps was composed mostly of men of European descent. Of the combatants, more than 8,550 were killed and as many as 50,000 more were wounded. Almost 5,000 of the dead have no known grave and are commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ieper and here at Neuve Chapelle.