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The Indian Contingent
The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk
'An incredible and important story, finally being told' Mishal Husain
On 28 May 1940, Major Akbar Khan marched at the head of 299 soldiers along a beach in northern France. They were the only Indians in the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk. With Stuka sirens wailing, shells falling in the water and Tommies lining up to be evacuated, these soldiers of the British Indian Army, carrying their disabled imam, found their way to the East Mole and embarked for England in the dead of night. On reaching Dover, they borrowed brass trays and started playing Punjabi folk music, upon which even 'many British spectators joined in the dance'.
What journey had brought these men to Europe? What became of them - and of comrades captured by the Germans? With the engaging style of a true storyteller, Ghee Bowman reveals in full, for the first time, the astonishing story of the Indian Contingent, from their arrival in France on 26 December 1939 to their return 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.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Groundbreaking ... On the trail of the Indian Contingent, Ghee Bowman has travelled thousands of miles across Britain, Europe, India and Pakistan. He has tracked down lost family archives and photographs from private albums, and conducted interviews with the descendants of soldiers who thought their family histories had been rendered irrelevant to the greater story of Britain's involvement in the Second World War. He has also written a riveting and moving account of these men's lives, which has enabled him to get much closer than any previous writer to understanding the Indian soldier's experience in Europe in the 1940s ... This book deserves a wide readership and to be in the vanguard of shaping new histories of the Second World War -- Yasmin Khan, author of <i>The Raj at War</i> The racist comedian Bernard Manning once remarked that 'There were no Pakis at Dunkirk'. Ghee Bowman does important and essential work exposing this lie, which itself fuels the myth that Britain's multiculturalism is a modern creation. The story of how our ancestors fought in massive numbers for the country that colonised them needs to be told again and again and again -- Sathnam Sanghera, author of <i>The Boy with the Topknot</i> This book is a fitting recognition of the contribution of Dunkirk's forgotten soldiers, including the British Indian Army. At a time of rising division and in the face of the hateful rhetoric of the far-right, now more than ever we need to learn the lessons of our diverse history -- Anas Sarwar MSP