Sepoys’ Letters

Who wrote them? Who read them?Ganesh Letter to Wife

How did they fool the censor? How did they write an intimate letter?

Some Thoughts On Scribes

Would the scribes have much time or would they have to see several soldiers one after the other?
Would the letter be read back to the soldier so he knew what had been written?
Would the soldier be able to “sign” the letter in any way?
Where were letters actually written – in trenches or behind lines?

Researcher Terhi Manuel-Garner explores the rich dynamics of the forgotten world of the illiterate sepoys and the scribes by stepping into their shoes.

 Romances with French Women

How many Indians stayed in France after the War, to be with wives/girlfriends?

What happened to the mixed race children? How many were there? Did they stay in French villages? How were they treated? Did they just become assimilated with other locals over the years?


“Dear Mummy

I hope you and everyone at home is well. How are the crops doing? How is Auntie’s baby?

I am well. Everything is calm here and the weather is good, although not like at home. I am with the others from the village (names them). We are eating well and enjoying chapattis every day. We have a lot of spare time and we have been watching the Sikhs wresting. There is a great camaraderie between us and we talk about home often.

The British officers are kind to us. I have met many French people, who are also very kind. The French children are very cute and remind me of my cousins.

I will send you the money soon. Do not worry about me at all.

I look forward to receiving your letters.

Your loving son.”


Intention Behind This Letter and Miscellaneous Notes

I intended that this letter be from a young man, who has volunteered to go to fight in the War to earn money for his family. He is writing to his mother, who is old and worries a lot. She is looking after things at home and there are a lot of things for her to deal with.

She loves me a lot and I do not want to add to her worries, so I have not said anything negative about my experiences. (We have also been told by the Censor not to write about the War.) This is one of the first letters I have written to her since I have been out here and I may be more truthful about my feelings and the situation later on.

As well as, hopefully, serving to help my mother, I found that composing this letter (and having it written for me) made me feel better, albeit briefly. By thinking of my mother at home, with the family and crops, for a short while, it transported me back to India, and out of the terrible situation and conditions I have found myself in.

I wrote about food, as she is always concerned that I am eating well.

Further Thoughts On Food

Food is a comfort and has a close and strong association with family and home. Food from home seems to be a topic often mentioned by people who are away from their home lands.

Some British soldiers also seemed to be very concerned with writing about food in WW1:

E.g., Some extracts from: “For Love and Courage: The Letters of Lieutenant Colonel E W Hermon From the Western Front 1914-1917”, ed. By Anne Nason:

(p. 12) 30th April 1915 – Fontinelle Farm: “You might arrange to send us some good strawberry jam regularly and if you will send me a monthly bill I will send you a cheque from the mess. We want cakes, soup squares, Oxo, Bovril, etc and odd delicacies of sorts. We get plenty of good meat and bread and it is oddments we want at present. Cakes twice a week if possible as they (are) most acceptable.”

(p. 15) 4th May 1915 – Fontinelle Farm: “I want you to arrange with Harrods, or someone like that, to send us a £1 box of stores every week. We want potted meats; soups; sweets; peppermint, Mackintosh’s toffee de luxe. The jam is essential and must come without fail. We want chutney very badly too as it makes the ration meat go down better; rice and curry powder. Some tinned vegetables and perhaps some bottled Tiptree raspberries remnant. Cherry jam occasionally but the main jam supply to be Little Scarlets. The ‘Gentleman’s joy’ you sent went like wild fire and two or three pots a week would be fine.”

(p. 18) 8th May 1915 – Beury: “Tell Tiptree not to send us any more gooseberry jam or raspberry jam. We like the bramble jelly, strawberry and their Morello Cherry very much.”

As was mentioned in the Workshop, food is an especially important aspect of Indian life.

I think that having their own food and being able to eat it together, as a family, would have been especially important to the Indian soldiers; it would have strengthened bonds and made them think of home. Indian people are usually generous with food and love sharing it. Did the Indian soldiers share their food with any of the British soldiers? Did they ever sit down and eat together?

There is an interesting article here:

This includes this paragraph:

Curry, which was offered by army cooks, from influence of the Indian Army, was also introduced more widely by the war. By adding pepper and spices to stews, the dish became more palatable when served cold.”

Did the Indians ever eat anything that the British soldiers ate?

Were they influenced by western cooking?

Or did they just starve if they could not get their own food? This seems to suggest they did: (From: “The Crofton Diaries YPRES 1914-1915, Massacre of the Innocents”, ed. By Gavin Roynon

(p. 96) Saturday, December 26th 1914 (regarding Indians): “Then the food question is a difficulty. It is impossible to have the same facilities for preparing it, as can be got in peacetime, and the result is that they will eat nothing, and are therefore half-starved at times, for they only get a sack of oatmeal and tins of bully beef slung at them which they won’t touch.”

However, a passage in the article I sent you the other day:

implies that some Indians ate “bully beef” when the labels had been removed.