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Villers-Guislain: Why This Town In France is Getting an Indian War Memorial

The town in France was the site of a pitched battle during World War 1.

Did you know that India will construct a war memorial at Villers-Guislain to honour the valour and sacrifices of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought during the First World War?

Well, this memorial will be the first of its kind, because of the use of the Ashoka emblem. A similar Indian memorial of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission built decades ago is located at Neuve Chapelle in France.

The announcement of the war memorial was made by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, according to this TOI report.

France has also gifted India land to conduct the memorial for Indian troops at Villers Guislain, which is close to Cambrai, where the troops were fighting. The bronze Ashoka emblem and a bronze marigold wreath and plaque will honour the Indian soldiers who died in World War 1.

But, why is India constructing a war memorial for soldiers in France?

Villers-Guislain, a town in France, with an Indian Army war memorial. Image Credit Shantanu Rai
Villers-Guislain, a town in France, with an Indian Army war memorial. Image Credit Shantanu Rai

Well, these are the brave souls who died during the Battle of Cambrai, fought here. Read on, to find out why.

The tiny, sleepy town of Villers-Guislain is important for historic reasons. It was the site of a pitched battle between the Germans and the Allies, including an Indian cavalry regiment fighting on the British side.

This battle marked several firsts, like:-

1. It was an ‘all arms battle’, including artillery, infantry, cavalry, tanks and aircraft.

2. It saw the first mass use of tanks.

3. It was the first time that the British artillery used ‘silent registration’ to acquire targets, instead of firing range-finder shots.

The Indian regiment fighting from the British side put up a brave resistance, but faced terrible losses in the end due to poor cavalry organisation.

According to the account of Captain Reggie Carr-White (Indian Army), who was in reserve with Hodson’s Horse, the cavalry trotted for miles and came into contact with German shells bursting in among them. Most of the troops got direct hits, and the unit took heavy casualties.

The battle account also speaks of horses rendered rider-less galloping about, while many more lay dead along with their riders.

According to this account in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Battle of Cambrai was a brief and bloody engagement, with more than 80,000 soldiers wounded, dead or missing at both sides. The attack ultimately achieved little to nothing for the British army, but it was a battle that shaped the way wars were fought.

As aircraft, infantry, artillery and tanks all came together for a special ‘combined arms’ operation, it proved that even the strongest defences could be penetrated.

The tactics that were used at this battle would play an important part in the eventual victory for the Allies in November 1918.


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According to Lt Gen PK Singh (Retd), Director, United Service Institution of India (USI), in the Economic Times, the Indian Army was the largest standing voluntary army during the two world wars. Around 1.5 million Indian soldiers had fought during WW1, and 74,000 had lost their lives.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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