Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Black Pepper is Very Pungent

In the early stages of WW1 the Lahore and Meerut divisions of the Indian Army took part in some of the fiercest fighting around Ypres in 1914. Losses were heavy and the fighting came as a shock to soldiers more used to colonial warfare. One man wrote home, "This is not war; it is the ending of the world." The Indian Corps provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, and the Lahore Division was thrown into the counter-attack at the second battle of Ypres in April. The Battle of Loos in September meant further heavy losses. Two divisions were moved to Mesopotamia in December, where it was easier to send supplies and reinforcements from India, but two remained on the Western Front until March 1918, when they were transferred to Palestine.

Although no letters (usually dictated as most of the troops were illiterate) have survived, excerpts, attached to the chief censor's report, can still be read. The soldiers soon became wise to the censor's monitoring and found creative ways of getting round it. One man wrote; "The black pepper is very pungent, but only a little remains," indicating to the recipient that it would be unwise to enlist as the Indian troops had suffered heavy losses. The bravery and loyalty of the Indian soldiers could not be doubted though, and most letters talked of fighting for the King or for honour, rather than for India. One soldier had written that his name would be written in letters of gold and inscribed in the list of the brave. His prophecy came true when by 1927 the last of the reminders of the sacrifice made by the Indian Corp was completed.

By November 1918, some 827,000 Indians had enlisted in addition to those serving in 1914. Official figures suggest that 64,449 Indian soldiers died in the war, their names carved on the massive memorial arch in New Delhi, on the Menin Gate at Ypres and on the main memorial to the Indian Corps at Neuve Chapelle.

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week was of a kitchen in a hospital train in WW1. I had come across these interesting British Library images a few weeks ago and this seemed an ideal opportunity to share them; many have been been allowed in the public domain through Wikimedia Commons.

There are WW1 hospital and kitchen images aplenty to choose from, but instead of a train we have a charabanc outing. I wonder what the Indian passenger leaning over the side is saying to the nonchalantly posed soldier.

I am also indebted to the BBC's History website and an excellent article by Dr David Omissi,  India and the Western Front in providing the information and quotes above. I can recommend it for further reading. The images are of The Dome Hospital Brighton, The Kitchener Hospital, Brighton (follow the link for more pictures) and Mont Dore Hospital in Bournemouth.

Click on the images to enlarge or view as a slideshow in Lightbox.

Why not climb aboard the Sepia Saturday charabanc and see what other contributors have made of this week's prompt? If you are a Facebook user you may be interested in our Sepia Saturday group page too.


  1. Sepians are allowed to wander in their thoughts, even in their comments.

    As a child I travelled the A52 between Derby and Ashbourne constantly with my mother, to visit my grandmother. On the route is the park of Osmaston Manor (the manor house since demolished). My mother would tell me that during "the war", actually WW2, "Indians camped there...". Of course what she meant was that certain Indian Regiments were, at certain stages of the war, stationed in a camp built in the park. But to this day the small boy in me sees "red indians...wigwams and all..billy cans over burning fires", each time I pass that way. It makes me laugh that I cannot expunge the erroneous and charming image from my mind. It is so bizarre a mistake I don't think I even tell my wife and children as I drive past. It's a rather personal secret.

    Sadly I cannot find any internet reference to Indian Regiments in the park 1939-1945, so I seem to know a tiny bit of very forgotten history. To be honest I really do want to know the history, and that we should remember the contribution made by Indians troops to WW1 and WW2.

    So thank you... a new project...I am always looking for something new and unusual to investigate.

  2. It would have done no one any good to write in code to me. I wouldn't have understood the point of the black pepper. Your pictures and story are eye-opening because this is a side of the war I know little about.

  3. I didn't know that Indians fought in the World Wars. The hospitals in your blog sound a lot better than the one described in the letter in Nigel's blog.

  4. What very interesting images, Nell, andI have been looking for hospital train pictures. Thanks for the link, and also for the Indian link. Somehow one does not think of it, usually, and that is all wrong - the names should be written in letters of gold indeed.

  5. Actually Marilyn I cannot find any images of hospital trains, although I am probably just searching in my usual inefficient way!

  6. Always good to read about a side of life you have never really thought about - and makes you wonder, a bit like the Australian Aborigines going to war for England when they weren't even allowed to vote in Australia.

  7. Excellent and as informative as ever, Nell.

  8. Indian troops fighting in France and Belgium, I didn't know that. Looking at Bal Bahadur I can imagine they were fierce fighters. Interesting photos, especially the X-ray room with the 'modern' science.

  9. I had no idea. Thanks for filling a huge gap in my knowledge Bob.

  10. Like Wendy, I would not have understood the code.

    Many parts of my grandfathers letters WWII)have been cut out as he must have said something that identified where he was.

  11. More interesting history...I did not hearken to the WWI aspect of the prompt but many of you Sepians across the sea have...I have learned more reading this about the Indians.

  12. Whenever Right-Wing Thugs go amarching..they are ignorant of the sacrifices made by Asian troups during the Wars.A timely reminder .

  13. I suppose from their headdress that they must all be Sikhs. Those in the first photo seem too young to be soldiers. The image of the beds in the Dome Hospital is almost ludicrous in the way it has been posed - I envisage the head matron telling all the patients who can to get out of their beds and sit to attention for the photographer.

  14. This was fascinating. My knowledge of WWI is sadly lacking, but now a bit broader.

  15. A fascinating set of photos that I have not seen before though I knew the history. Britain had a very small military force in 1914 compared to Germany or France, but its real strength came from the troops brought in from around the empire. Seeing these photos reminds us that India made a major contribution to the war effort and expected to be rewarded for its effort with more independence after the war. Unfortunately it took a few more decades and another war.

    Even more horrifying is that Indian soldiers returned home with the dread influenza in 1918 and millions died.

  16. We forget too easily the role played by soldiers of the Commonwealth in both World Wars. Fascinating photos; I learnt a lot from the background story.

  17. Between the luxury of places like the Dome hospital
    and the indignities of war, I find it a little ironic
    to see the two together. Those men would have rather stayed home
    with their loved ones in a nice quiet life.
    I can't grasp why it is so important for some to carry on wars,
    that they would find it their only mean to make a point or settle a situation.
    You'll guess that I am a pacifist, but I remain grateful to those warriors
    among us that will rise and defend our values, otherwise, people like me would easily be wiped out...
    Great post!!


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