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The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk [9780750993791]

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28 May 1940: Major Akbar Khan of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps marches at the head of 299 soldiers along the beach at Dunkirk - the only Indians in the BEF in France and the only ones at Dunkirk.

With Stuka sirens wailing, shells falling in the water and Tommies lining up patiently to embark, these men of the Indian Army, carrying their disabled imam, find their way to the East Mole and embark for England in the dead of night. 

On reaching Dover, the men borrowed brass trays and started playing Punjabi folk music, upon which even 'many British spectators joined in the dance'.

Who were these men? Where had they come from and why were they in France? And what happened to them after that?

With the engaging style of a true storyteller, Ghee Bowman reveals in full, for the first time, the story of these soldiers, from their arrival in France on 26 December 1939 to their return at war's end to an India on the verge of partition.

It is one of the war's hidden stories that casts fresh light on Britain and its empire.

'An incredible and important story, finally being told' - Mishal Husain, presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme

AUTHOR: Ghee Bowman is a PhD student at the University of Exeter. His interest in the little-known Indian presence at Dunkirk turned him on to a forensic journey of research that has spanned five countries and hundreds of lives. THE INDIAN CONTINGENT is his first book and the culmination of five years' research. He is a seasoned public speaker and has spoken on Force K6 of the British Indian Army numerous times over the past few years. He lives in Exeter.

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  • 5
    The Indian Contingent

    Posted by Rebecca Michel on 12th Jun 2020

    What makes the Indian Contingent such a good read is that it combines solid history with fascinating human stories. The Punjabi soldiers of Force K6 really come alive and their narratives are variously gripping, charming, interesting, funny, poignant, sad and, most importantly, untold until now.
    I don’t normally read non-fiction, so it was a joy to read a book that relates a story (and personal histories within the story) that advances chronologically. So many novels today jump about in time to piece together the narrative. Being so exclusively a reader of fiction, I was a bit daunted to read a book about military history. I was afraid of lots of details of troop movements, battles and strategy. I needn’t have worried. Those elements are there in Ghee Bowman’s book, but they are told in a really engaging way, with interesting contextualisation (Punjab, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Wales and mules!) and with fascinating insights into the ways in which these soldiers interacted with the communities they were stationed (or imprisoned) among. The fact that there is little evidence of the soldiers of the Indian Contingent encountering racism in Britain certainly puts the hideous comments by the bigoted so-called comedian on TV that are mentioned at the end of the book into sharp contrast. It also makes us think about the way Muslims and South Asians in the UK today suffer daily micro-aggressions and worse. It is certainly an important contribution to the current interest in the colonial history of Britain and its legacy today.
    I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in 2nd World War history and to anyone who isn’t!

  • 5
    The Indian Muslim soldiers of World War 1 and World War 2 played a big role in the British/Allied victories against the Axis forces. But sadly , in the past, they have been neglected by historians. This book is a brilliant effort to bring some of the

    Posted by Zainab Salim Khan on 12th Jun 2020

    This book is a one with a fine aim, to bring to light the contributions of Indian Muslim soldiers of World War 2 (specially the Force K6 who were present at Dunkirk in WW2) and to highlight the need for recognising the role they played . This book is very relevant to the histories of three countries today - UK, India and Pakistan. I think even high school students should be made to read this in class as part of their recommended course of study.

  • 5
    "The Indian Contingent" - a WW2 book with new information, and highly relevant today

    Posted by Hamish Johnston on 6th Jun 2020

    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?

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