An iconic room dedicated to remembering the 2.5 million soldiers who fought in the British Indian army has re-opened at the elite military academy Sandhurst following a significant refurbishment.
There are now more than 100 objects on display dating back to the 18th century at the Indian Army Memorial Room inside the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey with many having come out of storage from the UK’s National Army Museum after more than 60 years.
World-class objects visible now include prototypes of all the medals ever issued to the British Indian army, memorabilia brought back by British officers when their regiments disbanded post 1947, rare portraits of Indian soldiers from the 1850s to the 1940s including of a Pathan sowar of the 25th Cavalry, stained glass windows depicting all the campaigns the British Indian army was ever engaged and of the coats of arms of the East India Company, silver, swords, regimental badges, memorial plaques, ceramics and ornaments brought back from the officers’ messes in British India.
“After WWII and after the Indian Independence an appeal was made by Sir Claude Auchinleck, the last commanderin-chief of the British Indian army, for money and objects to be donated to honour the sacrifice of the British Indian army. Officers responded as did the army headquarters of the new armies in India and Pakistan. Standard Chartered Bank sponsored the stained glass windows,” explained Brigadier Justin Maciejewski (Retd), director at the National Army Museum in London. Many items in the collection were donated by officers who had served in the British Indian army or their families.
In 1950, the room, once a chapel at Sandhurst, was officially dedicated as the Indian Army Memorial Room.
Apart from serving as permanent memorial to the British Indian army and its regiments, the beautiful grand room, with its huge chandeliers, is the main room used to host dignitaries and heads of state at the college.
Maciejewski is hoping that members of the Indian diaspora will now visit it via the Sandhurst Trust.
More than 40 original coats of arms of commanders-inchief of the British Indian army between 1756 and 1947 are also on display.
“Auchinleck took the plaques with him from his summer Shimla bungalow back to Britain,” Maciejewski said.
Links between the military in India, Pakistan and Britain run deep. Many officers of the British Indian army were trained at Sandhurst and many Indians and Pakistanis still come here to train. The first commander-in-chiefs of both the Indian and Pakistan Armies — KM Cariappa and Ayub Khan — both trained at Sandhurst.
The Indian Army Memorial Room at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has over 100 objects on display dating back to the 18th century
‘Refurbishment shows our close Indo-UK partnership’
Post the war, the British Army owes far more to the British Indian army than it knows at the moment,” said author Brigadier Allan Mallinson, who was present at the unveiling of the refurbished room on Friday, alongside diplomats and dignitaries.
“I hope the renewed interest in shared heritage will recognise that. After 1947 many unemployed ex-British officers from the British Indian army joined the British Army and brought a wealth of experience, in particular, how to interact with soldiers. Bill Slim’s notion of a soldier was formed almost entirely by his experience in the British Indian army,” added Mallinson, referring to the first British officer in the British Indian army to be appointed head of the British Army.
Brigadier Ben Edwards, defence adviser at the British high commission in Pakistan, who was also present, said: “A lot of Pakistan regiments today have long-standing associations with UK regiments and it is through those that we maintain influence when we want to modify some of the more extreme views that may run geopolitics in the region.”
“This refurbishment is an entirely appropriate demonstration of the close historic, present and future partnership between our nations,” added the UK’s defence adviser in India Brigadier Gavin Thompson.