Delhi War Cemetery is a hidden and little known place in Delhi that was established to commemorate soldiers of Indian, British and Dutch origin, who lost their life in World War I and World War II fighting for Allied Forces and especially British Empire. It’s a profound reminder that we ought to be respectful to our ancestors for their sacrifices in protecting the world and making it peaceful for us. Hundreds of neatly placed tombstones in Delhi War Cemetery and War Memorial evoke the images of World Wars reminding us of our duty to preserve the legacy of upholding true human values.
Delhi War Cemetery & War Memorial
Quietly hidden in Delhi’s cantonment area, Delhi War Cemetery was commissioned in 1951 by UK government’s organization Commonwealth War Grave Commission and now maintained jointly with Government of India. Graves from many cemeteries in northern India viz. Allahabad, Kanpur, Dehradun, Meerut and Lucknow, were collated and moved to Delhi cantonment area to ensure a permanent resting place for the fallen ones.
At the entrance, The Delhi 1939-45 War Memorial stands tall commemorating the lives of soldiers who fought bravely at many fronts across globe under the aegis of British Empire. Since, the last rites and disposal of remains varies as per religion, the memorial is erected for those who are not buried specially Hindu and Sikh soldiers from Undivided India. A Roll of Honor in Hindi and Urdu is, however, at the site that records the names of those the memorial has been built for.
The beautifully designed cemetery spreads over 10,000 square meters having a total of 1154 graves with the remains of citizens of the United Kingdom, India, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland from the ugly era of World War I and World War II. Interestingly, it also houses a rare tombstone of a female soldier, Maureen from Women Auxiliary Services who was believed to be a Dutch Woman.
In the middle of the graves, there stands a tall cross and a huge stone podium where wreaths are placed in memory of all the dead. This quaint and hidden patch also houses Delhi 1914-18 Memorial, commemorating 153 casualties buried in the Meerut Cantonment where graves could no longer be maintained.
Annual Remembrance Day at Delhi War Cemetery
November 11 is observed as Remembrance Day in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the World War I to remember members of their armed forces who died in the line of duty. Every year on second Saturday of November, British High Commission organizes Remembrance day at Delhi War Cemetery where invitations are sent to the families of the buried ones. A small event is hosted with complete British honor as token to ensure fallen ones are not forgotten.
Commonwealth War Grave Commission
Delhi War Cemetery was established in 1951 and maintained by UK government’s organization Commonwealth War Grave which is mandated through a royal charter issued in 1917 to commemorate all those Commonwealth servicemen and women who lost their lives during the World War I, and subsequently extended to World War II.
With a mission to ensure that the war deads are never forgotten, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) honors the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars by preserving their remains or erecting memorials to commemorate their war sacrifices.
In last 100 years, with their continuous efforts, which are still on, CWGC has done commendable job across 23000 location in 150 countries by building more than 2,500 war cemeteries , erecting headstones over graves and inscribing the names of the dead on permanent memorials where the remains could not be found.
In India, Commonwealth War Grave Commission, maintains many cemeteries and memorial at places like Delhi, Chennai, Ranchi, Imphal, Kolkata, Shillong, Saharanpur etc which confirms the contribution of Indian Forces in both wars. The CWGC commemorates some 74,000 Indian servicemen who lost their lives between 1914 and 1921 and more than 87,000 people who lost their lives during the Second World War.
Contribution of Indian Army in World War I
As a crown jewel of British Empire, India made a vital contribution to Allied success in the First World War(1914-1918) which was then called The Great War, a war to end all wars. Indian forces fought under the Aegis of British Empire for allied forces and earned remarkable distinction in many theaters of war: the Western Front in France and Belgium, Aden and Arabia, East and West Africa, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Persia, Gallipoli in Turkey and Salonika in Greece.
As per records, the Indian force grew from some 150 thousand in 1914 to nearly 1.4 million by 1918. As many as 74,187 Indian servicemen died and many more were wounded. Their stories, tales of valor and immortalized heroism still reverberate across glob. They, collectively, were honored with more than 9,200 decorations for bravery including 11 Victoria Crosses.
Contribution of Indian Army during World War II
With 2.5 million enrolled personnel, the Indian Army of the Second World War was the largest volunteer army in history and they fought on three continents in Africa, Europe and Asia. Indians served remarkably in ensuring thumping success for Allies of World War in theaters of war across the world. Their contribution resulted in crucial wins for Allies has been recognized world over. Some remarkable theaters of war where Indians were pivotal were India and Burma; Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong; the Middle East and North Africa; Greece and Italy. They also served at sea and in the air, as well as contributed to support and medical care.
As per CWGC site – Indians took part in the struggle between Allied and Axis forces in the deserts of North Africa, including the crucial Battle of El Alamein in October 1942, followed by the pursuit of enemy forces into Libya and Tunisia in early 1943. They also fought in East Africa, including the actions around Keren in Eritrea. They led the assault on the German defensive lines, including the Battle of Monte Cassino and the pursuit of German forces northwards. The Indian Army would later play a vital role in halting the Japanese advance at the iconic battles of Kohima and Imphal in the north-east of India in 1944. India actually bailed out the west in World War Two by its superlative support with men and material.
These war campaigns cost the lives of over 87,000 Indian servicemen, while another 34,354 were wounded on various war fronts, and 67,340 became prisoners of war especially in Hong Kong fighting with Japanese forces. Their courage and valour was recognized with the award of some 4,000 decorations, and 18 members of the Indian Army were awarded the Victoria Cross or the George Cross, the then highest gallantry award of the world. Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from 1942, asserted that the British “couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.” World must remember, Britain didn’t fight World War II — the British Empire did.
In last 100 hundred years since the end of first World War, humanity has seen a lot and organization such as the failed League of Nations and United Nations have done things for the betterment of our world. No matter what we have achieved collectively, the brave efforts of the war heroes in that vile era of unprecedented devastation would always remind us of the fragile side of Humanity. Places such as Delhi War Cemetery and War Memorials are the rightful place to commemorate and thus immortalize the soldiers who fought for the future generation i.e. us. They were heroes, some recognized but mostly unsung.
Delhi War Cemetery is indeed a heritage site of India which very few know about and for that matter very few know about our contribution and role in two World Wars. Time has come, when Indian government should also recognize the role of our brave soldiers and make the world recognize India’s game-changing contribution in Great Wars. During my visit to Delhi War Cemetery, I felt deeply moved for those brave soldiers who fought for the unknowns like us, sacrificing lives and demonstrating true spirit of Humanism.
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