Between 1945 and 1947 the Director of Public Relations, War Department, Government of India, published a series of short publications covering the individual histories of the WWII Indian Divisions. They followed a consistent format, having between 44 and 48 pages within illustrated soft card covers. They have an average of 50 monochrome photographic illustrations, and each has a full colour centre-spread depicting a scene from the Division’s wartime operations (drawn by official war artists). They were printed at various presses in Bombay and New Delhi, and each contains at least one map.
As condensed histories they are useful – particularly those which relate to Divisions for which no other record was ever produced.
The British Indian Army during World War II began the war, in 1939, numbering just under 200,000 men. By the end of the war, it had become the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in August 1945. Serving in divisions of infantry, armour and a fledgling airborne force, they fought on three continents in Africa, Europe and Asia.
This Army fought in Ethiopia against the Italian Army, in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria against both the Italian and German Army, and, after the Italian surrender, against the German Army in Italy. However, the bulk of British Indian Army was committed to fighting the Japanese Army, first during the British defeats in Malaya and the retreat from Burma to the Indian border; later, after resting and refitting for the victorious advance back into Burma, as part of the largest British Empire army ever formed. These campaigns cost the lives of over 87,000 Indian servicemen, while another 34,354 were wounded, and 67,340 became prisoners of war. Their valour was recognised with the award of some 4,000 decorations, and 18 members of British Indian Army were awarded the Victoria Cross or the George Cross. Field Marshal Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British Indian Army from 1942, asserted that the British “couldn’t have come through both wars (World War I and II) if they hadn’t had British Indian Army. “British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also paid tribute to “The unsurpassed bravery of Indian soldiers and officers.”