"The Indian Contingent" - a WW2 book with new information, and highly relevant today
In 1942 such places as Aviemore, Ballater, Dalwhinnie, Dornoch, Golspie, Lairg, Loch Ewe, Nairn and Muir of Ord were all hosts to companies of Force K6 of the Indian Army. Thirteen of their men died in Scotland and are buried at Kingussie, Dornoch, Banff and Aberdeen.
Who were they? Why were they here? What were they doing here? What happened?
Dr Ghee Bowman answers these and many more questions in his new book 'The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk', just published by the History Press.
Force K6 was originally four mule transport companies and their support units who came to Europe in late 1939, sent to help the British Expeditionary Force face the Nazi army in north-east France. The men were Muslims from north-west India - now Pakistan. Most of the officers were white British. Their mules could carry supplies in terrain that the British Army's trucks could not cross. After the Phoney War came the Blitzkrieg in May 1940, and the 'Dunkirk Miracle'. One K6 company was captured, but the others escaped to Britain. In 1942 the whole of K6 was in Scotland, helping British infantry train for Operation Jupiter - Churchill's unfulfilled brainchild for a new front in Norway to help protect the Arctic Convoys sailed between Loch Ewe to Murmansk carrying supplies to help the Soviet Union maintain pressure on Nazi Germany's eastern front. Scotland was the ideal training ground for Norway. Ghee Bowman has undertaken unique research in archives in Britain, France, Germany and Pakistan, and doggedly searched out and interviewed people with K6 connections, even learning Urdu before going to Pakistan. His searches in Germany revealed how some captives remained loyal to King and Empire, while others were persuaded to accept the support of the Nazi regime which sought to destabilise India, where there was pressure for independence from the Empire.
Bowman tells the full story of K6 from its inception to its return to pre-partition India in 1944. Throughout the war K6 companies and their support units were often widely dispersed in Britain. Despite that complexity, Bowman's clear narrative, always properly sourced, paints the big picture of K6 in context of the War, written in a manner that will satisfy those looking for wholly new information about World War 2 presented in an authoritative manner.
But there is much more. Bowman weaves into the history the experiences of a number of the men themselves, not just as soldiers, but as human beings, experiencing British culture and life for the first time. He describes how the K6 men were welcomed by the communities where they were located, and the friendships - sometimes very intimate - that were formed. Bowman does this so well that the reader can almost enter their world.
As I write this review, USA is in flames over the killing of George Floyd by a white policeman abusing his power. There is much in this book that is relevant in our modern world. Despite decades of multi-culturalism in Britain and elsewhere, racism has not been displaced, and has probably increased. Yet the world described by Bowman was much less racist, even though the cultures were unknown to each other.
Quite apart from the intrinsic historical interest of the military story of Force K6, there is much in this book that is thought provoking. If, as I hope, this book will be widely read, it can lead to people properly grasping that soldiers of colour from the colonies helped Britain win World War 2. Would not that understanding, if it happens, help defeat racism in modern society?