Cremation of Indian troops

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by Skoyen89, May 25, 2020.

  1. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    I have always been struck by the different CWGC memorials for Indian and other nationalities such as the Indian Cremation Memorial in Imphal. Does anyone know what the practice was for the cremation of Indian troops whose religion meant they were cremated rather than buried? Were they cremated 'on the spot' or taken to a central point? Who carried this out?
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  2. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    The Chattri memorial up on the Downs near Brighton has moved me since first visiting as a kid.
    Relying on dim memory, but think in that case they were cremated on the spot it now stands.
  3. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    Interesting question. Also worth mentioning the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chappelle in France. Obviously WWI, but I presume similar cremations took place there? You also find the odd Indian grave on the Western Front, usually for lancers who were killed later in the war, and a WWII Indian soldier is buried at Nederweert Cemetery in the Netherlands (he was a POW captured in North Africa). I do not know why they were not cremated. I await postings from someone who knows more about this topic than I do!
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
  4. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    Not all Indians were cremated. Christians, Moslems and Nepalese were buried. The British Indian Army recruited disproportionately from Moslem and Sikh minorities that it regarded as "martial races" which disproportionately served in combat units.

    The CWGC records 8026 Indian First World War dead in France 4653 are commemorated on the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial. The other 3400+ have graves with headstones. The proportion of India missing to dead is not that different to other British troops, given that all of the Hindus were cremated. It seems non Hindu dead were treated with appropriate respect. Many of the Indian dead were concentrated in cemeteries where Indians served. Several near Neuve Chapelle where the Indian Corps served 1915 and Rouen where Indian labour unloaded ships.

    Here is the story of Hindus and Moslems who died in hospital in the UK. “For this was the burning ghat of our Hindu troops”: An Excerpt From “For King And Another Country”
    On operations the dead who died in our lines would have been treated according to their customs over seen by a religious representative from their unit - at least that was the theory. The British had learned hard lessons about offending the religious customs of their Imperial subjects. That assumed that the body could be recovered by an Indian unit. Those that lay in no mans land or in ground occupied by the Germans were not accessible and could not be given funeral rites.
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
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  5. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    Thanks for the interesting responses. I am particularly interested in the practice in India and Burma where burials were often carried out on the spot, and the spot could be miles from a road.
  6. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Somewhere I've seen a figure for the wood ration for a cremation. I think it was 80lb, which doesn't seem a lot.

    I'd assume that battlefield practice would be burial first, cremation later but I don't recall seeing anything on it.
  7. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    The Indian Army's first designated burning ghat outside India was on the Sussex Downs above Brighton in 1915. The Chattri Indian Memorial was built there in 1921 and remains to this day. Brighton Pavilion was the original Western Front hospital for Indian soldiers. Large number of Indians died as a result of the early Western Front battles 1914 -1915 particularly Loos. The arrangements for Hindu and Sikh soldiers established then remained very much the model for all fronts in WW1 and 2 and there are cremation memorials in Belgium, France, Italy, Egypt etc. Burning ghats were established as close to the front line as possible (and prudent) and the Indian Army Service Corps would supply wood. Every effort was made to recover bodies and get them back to the ghat in exactly the same manner as other bodies would be retrieved and brought back to the CWGC cemeteries for final burial. This might involve temporary interment and some bodies might never be recovered however even in the last year or so Indian remains have been found in the jungle and brought back for cremation.
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  8. Jagan

    Jagan Junior Member

    You will find the odd exception - a grave to a Hindu soldier or airman. Fg Offr Sayanpuram Duraiswamy in France and WO R D Garware in UK are examples.

    I remember being told that if you are young and unmarried, you will end up being buried. But that assumes the burial is done closer to the family's ancestral home.

    On the other hand, many muslim personnel died in the indian subcontinent and were buried in cantonment /islamic graveyards, but their graves are too scattered for the CWGC to maintain and keep track of. So many are commemorated on the New Delhi Memorial /Register

    Parsis/Zoarastrians are not supposed to Cremate or Bury.. they leave their bodies up for nature to take care of on towers of silence. I am not sure if that practice was actually carried out in peacetime stations during WW2
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  9. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    Thanks for the info. I hadn't thought of the RIASC being involved. very interested in Robert-w's comments and would be very interested in the source.
  10. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    In 2016 I graduated at Wolverhampton with an MA in WW1 Studies. My dissertation was on the Indian Army in WW1 and the research included accessing their archives at the British Library which contained details of how they were set up on the Western Front 1914/15 including mail censorship, food that was compliant with Hindu and Moslem requirements and funeral arrangements ditto. Following up with CWGC material and some diary stuff (TNA and in the British Army Museum) showed that the same arrangements had been extended both to other theatres and to WW2
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  11. Skoyen89

    Skoyen89 Senior Member

    Many thanks Robert-w. I must get to the British Library and see what is in their Indian Army archive for WW2.

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