Honouring the shared heritage of India and Canada this Remembrance Day

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horgan-JohnBy John Horgan, Leader, B.C. New Democrats

Each year, as we observe Remembrance Day, we honour the sacrifices of the men and women who died in service to our country.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. It’s an anniversary that should give us all pause as we consider that time, a century ago, when hundreds of thousands of young Canadians were preparing to leave home and join the war effort. Many would never return.

During four years of war, from August 1914 to November 1918, Canada contributed some 620,000 men to the fight in Europe. By war’s end, 61,000 had been killed. Another 172,000 had been wounded, gassed or psychologically damaged by the war.

For a country of not yet eight million, it was an enormous undertaking, and an enormous sacrifice.

Of course, Canada was not the only country to face an incredible loss in the First World War.

A recent exhibition shines light on India’s contribution to the war – a heritage our two countries share.

Duty, Honour and Izzat: The Call to Flanders Fields is at the Surrey Archives Building until Nov. 15 and tells the little-known story of India’s soldiers, who were recruited from across India, but particularly from the Punjab region. While Punjabis made up only 10 per cent of India’s population, they comprised 66 per cent of the country’s cavalry, 87 per cent of the artillery and 45 per cent of the infantry.

In the legislature this week my colleague, Bruce Ralston, the MLA for Surrey-Whalley, spoke about this important exhibit and the story it tells.

It is a compelling story, and one that should be more widely known.

After the British army encountered a massive German force in 1914, an urgent appeal was made to support the Empire. Like Canada, India answered the call.

The Indian Expeditionary Force first entered combat in the First Battle of Ypres. There, along with British troops, they held that part of the Flanders territory of Belgium and France. Six months later, Canadians landed and fought jointly with Sikh soldiers in the Second Battle of Ypres.

That joint fight is something we should consider this Remembrance Day, as we wear our poppy and hear the words of In Flanders Fields.

By war’s end, India would send 1.1 million men overseas – a force second only in size to the British within the Empire. More than 73,000 Indian troops were killed in the war, and that loss was particularly acute in the Punjab region.

On this Remembrance Day, I hope you will join me in remembering not just the thousands of Canadians who were preparing to leave for war a century ago, but also the Indian troops, particularly the Punjabis, who fought alongside them.

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