ARMY OF EMPIRE by George Morton-Jack


The Untold Story of the Indian Army in World War I
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Morton-Jack (The Indian Army on the Western Front: India's Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium in the First World War, 2014) reveals the extent to which the army of British India affected the outcome of World War I.

Historians have often declared that Indian soldiers suffered terribly in Europe’s bitter 1914 winter even though many came from mountain regions where cold, snow, and ice were the norm. They were also viewed as a weak colonial force only useful for easy border scrapes. On the contrary, writes Morton-Jack in this deep, dense history, the soldiers were seasoned professionals: well-traveled, politically aware, militarily skilled, and fully capable of employing their own tactics and enterprise. During WWI, the Indian Army was in a state of perpetual evolution. By 1916, the Indian cavalry in France was the British Expeditionary Force’s best trained and most experienced. The British knew the Indian Army needed to be well treated to hold them; in the first year in France, there were a record number of desertions and self-inflicted wounds. The British did all they could to provide the comforts of home, with special food, equipment, and arms—at least in France—but discipline was strict for deserters. The stories of the different forces and their successes and failures show the diversity of the war and the strong need for central leadership. Until the beginning of 1916, Britain’s military forces had divided controls between two separate departments and headquarters in London and India. Under Field Marshal William Robertson and Commander in Chief Charles Monro, the size of the Indian force was increased via improved pay, pensions, and promotions. With sufficient men and money, earlier losses were reversed. The author includes a helpful cast of characters and a glossary to define “durbar,” “kafir,” “sahib,” and many other terms that may be unfamiliar to general readers.

This highly detailed look at India’s global effort in their (mostly) patriotic devotion to the empire occasionally gets bogged down but usually picks back up quickly. World War I fans will appreciate the broad look.

Pub Date: Dec. 4th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-465-09404-2
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2018


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