Sunday, November 13, 2016


More than half-a-million Poles served in the British armed forces in WW2. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Polish soldiers were not allowed to attend victory parades because the British were averse to offending the Soviets.

Around 1.75 million Indian soldiers fought for the British during the First World War and 2.5 million during the second, forming the largest volunteer army in history. 74,000 died in the first conflict and almost 90,000 in the latter.

Noor Inayat Khan, the Muslim daughter of an Indian nobleman, who served deep in German-occupied France as a radio operator for the French resistance. After betrayal to the Gestapo by a French woman, Khan was imprisoned, tortured, sent to the Dachau concentration camp, and later shot dead, refusing to provide the Nazis with information throughout the ordeal.

Sikh soldier Naik Gian Singh , single-handedly attacked a Japanese anti-tank emplacement in Myanmar, and was awarded a Victoria Cross.

Jan Bienkov's journey to becoming a navigator in the British Royal Air Force's 305 Squadron during World War II reads like a Hollywood screenplay. The young Pole began the war fleeing one of Stalin's gulags in Siberia and then trekking thousands of miles to an Indian Ocean port, surviving wolves, robbers, and sub-zero temperatures. Bienkov later took a boat halfway around the world and ended up in Britain where he signed up for the air force, taking part in bombing raids on Nazi-occupied Europe. His grand-son Adam Bienkov said, "When people talk about the second world war, I think there's an airbrushing out of the involvement of other nations and races. It's something that isn't taught a great deal at schools, and it's something a lot of people don't know about," he added. "It can be quite a powerful message that there is that unity across nationality and racial grounds."

One West Indian soldier was asked, "When are you going home?" immediately after he was demobilised. Another wrote, "It was as if it was OK to be over here while there was an emergency, but in 1945, we weren't wanted anymore."

"Such recruitment exposed the contradictions at the heart of the European empires," said Leeds University's Salman Sayyid. "Men were good enough to die for the 'mother country', but not good enough to enjoy full political and civil rights."

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