British Empire Troops. First World War

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Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust

British Empire Troops First World War

in the

Empire and other troops

More than 1,500,000 ethnic minority troops contributed to the work of the British Allied Forces during World War I.

They came from countries across the globe, including:

India The Caribbean Africa China

and from countries not part of the British Empire, including:



Indian troops

Of Britain’s colonies, only India had a standing army when war broke out.

In total, over 1 million men were recruited from India.

140,000 saw active service on the Western Front: 90,000 on the front line and 50,000 in auxiliary battalions.

70,000 served in the Mesopotamian campaign in the Middle East.

13,000 medals were won – including 12 Victoria Crosses.

47,746 Indians were killed or missing, and 65,126 wounded.

Sikhs formed just 2% of India’s population but 20% of Indian Forces.

Khudadad Khan was the first Indian to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Caribbean troops

British West Indies Regiment formed in September 1915 to group together increasing numbers of volunteers from the Caribbean.

Over 15,500 volunteers, 2/3 from Jamaica and 1/3 from other countries including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Grenada.

For the most part they had the filthiest and most dangerous jobs – loading ammunition and digging trenches; many were not given a rifle.

The Regiment saw active service on the front line in Palestine, Jordan and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), and provided essential support in France, Italy and Egypt.

More than 1,200 were killed or died and 2,500 wounded.

81 medals were awarded for bravery.


African troops

55,000 men from the British Empire’s African Colonies served as combat soldiers, many thousands more as auxiliary troops and carriers.

Countries of origin included Nigeria, the Gambia, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya and the Gold Coast.

Many saw active service in the campaigns to capture the German- controlled territories of Togo, Cameroon, German West Africa and German East Africa.

An estimated 10,000 were killed or died.

166 decorations were awarded.

Chinese troops

Britain actively recruited men from its territories in China and South East Asia for its Chinese Labour Corps.

Recruits came to Europe from China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Recruits were used to support troops in the front line but were not themselves allowed to fight.

The work was hard, including carrying heavy loads, transporting equipment, running railways and working at docks.

As the war progressed recruits became skilled mechanics, repairing tanks and other vehicles necessary for the war effort.

1,000 Chinese died as part of the Allied War effort.


Nepalese troops

The Kingdom of Nepal had allowed Britain to recruit men from its Gorkha hill region since the end of the 1814-16 Anglo-Nepalese war.

200,000 Gurkhas fought with British Allied Forces in World War I.

Gurkhas fought at battles throughout the war, including at the battles of Ypres, Loos and Gallipoli.

One detachment fought with Lawrence of Arabia, riding camels in pursuit of the Turkish army.

There were an estimated 20,000 Gurkha casualties in the war.

Gurkhas were given more than 2,000 awards for gallantry in the war.

Kulbir Thapa was the first Gurkha to be awarded a Victoria Cross.

Soldiers’ Stories


Lieutenant Walter Tull

Born 1888, Kent – one of six children.

The first Black professional footballer.

Played for Tottenham and Northampton.

Enlisted in 1914; made Sergeant in 1916.

May 1917 commissioned and sent to the Italian Front where he led his men in the Battle of Piave and was mentioned in despatches for his

‘gallantry and coolness under fire.’

1918 transferred to France and was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

Commemorated with honour on the Arras Memorial, France.

Walter Tull Memorial Garden opened next to Northampton Town’s Sixfields Community Stadium in 1998.

Khudadad Khan

Born 1887, Dabb Village, Punjab State.

At outbreak of war, joined army as a Sepoy (Private) soldier and served as a machine gunner with the 129thBaluchis.

Baluchis sent to France in 1914 to help exhausted British troops.

Baluchis pushed back and all gunners killed apart from Khan who was badly wounded but who helped prevent the German army reaching vital supply ports.

For this and his bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross – the first .native-born Indian to receive the honour.

In 1956, Khan visited England to mark 100 years of the Victoria Cross.


Kulbir Thapa

Born Palpa, Nepal 1889.

On his first active service, as part of the preliminaries for the Battle of Loos, Thapa breached enemy wire and, though wounded, dug in to hold his position.

He rescued two injured soldiers from his own regiment and one from the Leicester Regiment in broad daylight and at great risk to his safety.

Thapa was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions – the first .Nepalese recipient of the medal.

Thapa is remembered in the Regimental Museum of the Royal .Leicestershire Regiment and at the Gurkha Museum, Winchester.

Buckam Singh

Born Mahilpur, Punjab, 1893.

Migrated to Canada in 1907, age 14.

Enlisted 1915, one of only nine Sikhs who served with Canadian troops in the war.

Wounded during action in Flanders, 1916.

Admitted to the 2ndWestern General Hospital, Manchester, in July 1916 to recover .

He recovered from his wounds but had developed a serious cough .which was confirmed as tuberculosis in March 1917; he died in Ontario .in 1919, aged 25.


Manchester’s Military Hospitals

Between 30 and 40 hospitals for military casualties existed in Manchester during World War I.

Ambulance Trains were built to transport wounded soldiers north from Southampton to the newly-created hospitals in a journey lasting some seven hours.

Each train had tiered bunks, a dispensary and a small operating theatre.


Manchester military hospitals included the 2ndWestern General Hospital and Nell Lane Military Hospital for prisoners of war.

Buckam Singh was just one of many troops from the Dominions – Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – who were treated in Manchester.

A screen wall at Southern Cemetery bears the name of soldiers who died while at Manchester military hospitals.


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