Indian troops and 'racist' saluting rule

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by tmac, Jun 17, 2020.

  1. tmac

    tmac Senior Member Patron

    In a Sunday Times article about Churchill’s alleged racism, Max Hastings says: ‘Churchill decreed that while Indian officers were obliged to salute British soldiers, British soldiers were not required to return the compliment. It would be abhorrent, said the prime minister, to oblige white men to suffer “the humiliation of being ordered about by a brown man”.

    Is this true? Or did this supposed rule apply to all colonial forces – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc - and not just India? That is, British forces did not have to return their salutes?
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  2. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Putting aside a British PM's authority to dictate Indian Army customs and traditions, it looks like Hastings' wilful misunderstanding of British other ranks not being required to salute Indian Officers, later Viceroy's Commissioned Officers. Jemadars, Subedars and Subedar-Majors did not hold King's Commissions, they were more like super-warrant-officers.

    The name change became necessary when King's Commissions began to be granted to Indians in the 1930s, so 'proper' officers that happened to be Indian had to be differentiated from the traditional 'Indian Officers'. I don't think a BOR would've got very far if he failed to salute the King's Commission regardless of the shade of the holder.

    So, I'd say it's bollocks. Hastings is shit-stirring and should hang his head in shame. It's one thing sucking up to the Yanks to sell books but, at a time like this, it strikes me as a stupid move from someone supposedly so intelligent.
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  3. tmac

    tmac Senior Member Patron

    Thanks for that, Idler. Just to be clear, British ORs would not have to salute non-commissioned Indian soldiers, but they would have to salute Indian commissioned officers? Do you think Hastings has got the Indian NCOs mixed up with Indian commissioned officers?
  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Almost certainly. Just a question of whether it's through ignorance, accident or design.

    British soldiers would have to salute King's Commissioned Officers of all nationalities and shades as the King's representative.

    Viceroy's Commissioned Officers (and Gurkha Officers, who kept their 'brand' because there were no Gurkhas with King's Commissions) were not saluted but were to be treated with due respect.

    I take it no source is given for Churchill's 'quote'...
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  5. tmac

    tmac Senior Member Patron

    No source - I've Googled it in vain. But the quote has already been picked up and used by other websites and will become accepted truth unless proved otherwise. It does seem a glaring blunder (if blunder it be) by Hastings.
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  6. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    I was serving with 1/2 GR in the 80s and the Battalion had a Nepali Sandhurst-trained Major. As a Lt at the time, I did not hesitate to salute him. He held a Queen's Commission and therefore had my respect. End of.


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  7. idler

    idler GeneralList

    And a kukri, which might've had something to do with it...
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  8. Wessex_Warrior

    Wessex_Warrior Junior Member

    tmac quotes "In a Sunday Times article about Churchill’s alleged racism, Max Hastings says: ‘Churchill decreed that while Indian officers were obliged to salute British soldiers, British soldiers were not required to return the compliment".

    The Officer doesn't initiate a salute, but the OR, NCO does as a mark of respect to the fact the officer holds the Kings/Queens commission providing the officer is wearing headdress. The officer merely has to acknowledge the salute either verbally, by waving a swagger stick or by saluting back. In the field no saluting is performed but all officers are addressed as "Sir". Saluting an officer whilst he is riding a bicycle and in motion was always fun.
    He may have meant that British Officers don't have to salute Indian Officers which is an entirely different matter.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2020
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  9. mcan

    mcan Active Member

    The quote is from page 215 of the book "Winston's War" by (I assume) the same author. Can anyone who has the book provide more context?

    Winston's War

    Racism and discrimination against Indians did exist in the army (i.e., "No Dogs or Indians"), civil service, and general British Indian society, but these predate the war and even Churchill himself. He certainly has his quotes during this period but I don't think Churchill had contributed anything to policy.
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  10. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    A quote with no footnote for that? Hmph.
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  11. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It has to be remembered that Indians weren't particularly tolerant of other Indians, either. Indian troops were of sufficiently high standing that they had followers to do the menial jobs. Compare that with British troops at home... Followers were employed by British units in India to meet local cultural expectations. It was a result of the of Indian snobbery more than British racism. And I think things have changed a lot more here than they have there...
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  12. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    I've had a quick look for the quote on line tonight but couldn't find anything that ties up with it. If Churchill did say it, he may well not have been PM at the time as it sounds more like something someone would say when the 'Indianisation' of the Indian Army was being discussed in the 1920's.

    Incidentally, I did find that according to Jonathan Fennell's "Fighting the People's War" (p.449) in June 1943 "Indian officers" (by which I think he means King's Commissioned Officers) were finally given 'powers of punishment over British Army personnel'. Churchill was PM at the time, obviously.

    Churchill certainly seems to have had a blind spot for India as argued by Raymond Callahan in his chapter "Did Winston Matter? Churchill and the Indian Army, 1940-1945" in the book 'The Indian Army, 1939-1947' edited by Allan Jeffreys and Patrick Rose. He points out how little Churchill ever had to do with India previous to becoming PM (just a few years as a junior officer), how he made disparaging remarks about the fighting effectiveness of Indian troops and how little he mentioned the Indian Army in his history/memoir of the Second World War. It appears it was only after representations by 14th Army veterans to the little space he gave to their campaigns in the early volumes that he gave the campaigns in Burma a little more space in later volumes. Callahan also points out that at no point does Churchill mention that about 85% of that army was made up of Indian or African troops.

    Callahan summarises by calling it a 'sad story' and goes on:

    "Nowhere else in his public life did Winston Churchill display such a depressing lack of generosity of spirit - or refusal to accommodate realities - as he did on this subject […] this much is clear: the remarkable war effort of the Indian Army took place in spite of lack of support from the top at the time - or appreciation (or even acknowledgement) in retrospect."

    I don't know if anyone has used the PREM and Churchill papers to provide a detailed view on Churchill's relationship with India or, to be honest, whether in the production of the Churchill documents volumes any circumspect editing took place to censor some of his less attractive uses of the English language.


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  13. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Well there are two kinds of Indian officers, beside VCOs. King's Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIO) who finished the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and who were equal with British Officer in every way and Indian Commissioned Officers (ICOs) who came from the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun and who could only command Indian troops. With time ICOs become more equal with KCIOs in regard that ICOs could also command over British officer in the Indian Army, but with one major difference - ICOs did not have power of punishment over British other ranks. During the war this was also changed.
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  14. tmac

    tmac Senior Member Patron

    The ‘brown man’ quote by Hastings apparently comes from the memoirs of Leo Amery (The Empire at Bay: The Leo Amery Diaries 1939-1945, published in 1988). Amery was India Secretary during the war.

    In his his book Finest Years, which I think was initially called Winston’s War, Hastings recounts Churchill’s antipathy towards Indians.

    He says Amery found Churchill ‘a strange combination of great and small qualities … he’s really not quite normal on the subject of India.’ The Prime Minister opposed, for instance, granting Indian commissioned officers disciplinary powers over British other ranks. He expostulated against the humiliation of being ordered about by a brown man.’

    The footnote gives the reference P. 882 27/7/42.
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  15. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    "Phoenix from the ashes" by Daniel P Marston, states that there ware two major issues between ICOs and BOs, equality in pay and power of punishment over British other ranks.

    First issue was mostly fixed early in 1942 when pay for both Indian and British officers was brought on the same level. There is one difference as British officers were also eligible for oversees bonus but this was also resolved by 1945, mostly thanks to Auchinleck.

    In 1942, Amery, supported by Linlithgow and Wavell, send letter to the Secretary of State for War, London, requesting that ICOs should be allowed to sit on court martial of British soldiers.

    ... A response, sent in early July 1942, clearly illustrates the British government's opinion. The letter stated unequivocally "that ICOs should not have power of punishment over white men" and commenting that "Gandhi is on the verge of breaking out again." The absurdity of this statement is magnified by further assertion that "while India Command agree with making it easier I expect their predecessors were saying the same kind of thing on the eve of the [Indian] Mutiny." ...

    ... The British government maintained this position for another six months, but the issue was formally resolved by Indian Army orders 237-238, January 1943, followed by an official communique on June 5, 1943, stating that Indian officers were to have powers of punishment over British army personnel. ...
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  16. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Good for Leo Amery.
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  17. Jagan

    Jagan Junior Member

    I have somewhere a letter/observations by some senior cabinet member of Churchills who expressed similar reservations when it came to granting the power of punishment to indian officers. Fortunately there were level headed and saner british officials in the India Office and the Air Ministry who swatted away objections. I will post the details tomorrow.
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  18. Jagan

    Jagan Junior Member

    Actually This sounds familiar and is very likely the letter i mentioned in my previous post! I do remember the secretary of war reference
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  19. tmac

    tmac Senior Member Patron

    Thanks, everyone, for your helpful responses. I've found that Churchill's outburst against British soldiers being ordered around by 'a brown man' was made at a Cabinet meeting in July 1942 (Amery diaries).

    But I can't find anywhere any reference to Hastings's assertion that Churchill 'decreed that while Indian officers were obliged to salute British soldiers, British soldiers were not required to return the compliment'.

    Is this even possible, let alone likely? As Idler indicated, surely a prime minister wouldn't be able to issue such a decree relating to army protocol and tradition?

    If anyone can find any information on this supposed saluting 'decree' - confirming it or debunking it - I'd be very grateful.
  20. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    I don't think Hastings knows what they are. Sensationalist newspaper hack.

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