How Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk' missed the chance to honour Indians’ role in WWII

Four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps were on Dunkirk’s beaches during the film’s period.
How Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk' missed the chance to honour Indians’ role in WWII
How Christopher Nolan's 'Dunkirk' missed the chance to honour Indians’ role in WWII
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Touted as a masterpiece, Christopher Nolan's war epic Dunkirk has been garnering rave reviews from film critics and movie watchers alike.

Set during the World War II, the film chronicles the evacuation of British soldiers who were cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) in France between late May and early June 1940. Nearly 4,00,000 men of the Allied Forces had been pushed there to the very edge of land by the Germans.

While Dunkirk has been hailed a cinematic showpiece, there’s a significant absence that has come to light since the film’s release – there’s no mention of the role that the Indian Army played in the events depicted and, by extension, in the war.

John Broich writes in Slate that there were four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps on Dunkirk's beaches in the time the movie is set.

"Observers said they were particularly cool under fire and well organized during the retreat. They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war. Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East," he observes in the piece.

Giving a brief timeline of events, Manimugdha S Sharma explains in The Times of India that in 1939, the British Army was probably the only fully mechanised army in the world. However, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had to rely on animal transport when it went to France.

"Unlike the British, the Indian Army was still not mechanised. It had 96 infantry battalions and 18 cavalry regiments with only two being ordered to give up horses for tanks a little before the war. So the pack animals and their handlers had to come from India," she writes.

Indian troops in Burma in 1944; By No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit, via Wikimedia Commons

That was how four Indian Animal Transport companies, called Force K-6 – which were part of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps – were dispatched to France in December 1936. These men were mostly Punjabi Muslims and Pathans primarily hailing from areas that now are a part of Pakistan.

While three of the four Force K-6 companies were evacuated, the personnel of one company were taken prisoner by the Germans, and are said to have died in their prisoner-of-war camps.

Their valiant effort was recognised in the form of a citation of Indian Distinguished Service Medal awarded to Jemadar Maula Dad Khan, who was a Viceroy's Commissioned Officer, the TOI report further states.

"On 24 May 1940 when approaching Dunkerque, Jemadar Maula Dad Khan showed magnificent courage, coolness and decision. When his troop was shelled from the ground and bombed from the air by the enemy he promptly reorganised his men and animals, got them off the road and under cover under extremely difficult conditions.It was due to this initiative and the confidence he inspired that it was possible to extricate his troop without loss in men or animals," the citation reads.

IANS inputs

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