The Project


© IWM (Art.IWM ART 2346)


Volunteers researched the forgotten stories of Indian soldiers (sepoys) and their British officers serving on the Western Front during the first year of the Great War.

Complementing this initial archive research, in partnership with Citizen Historians of UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA), Tara held workshops to guide volunteers in interpreting these discoveries, exploring soldiers’ day-to-day routine of life in the front line in France and their emotional reactions. A blog of their discoveries and insights was published here.

From these hidden histories, Tara Arts commissioned Avin Shah to write and record a radio play. On and a downloadable education pack and the finished play, to BBC broadcast standard. Excerpts were used on the BBC documentary, Forgotten Heroes.

Our primary sources were  museum collections, archives and unpublished war diaries of British Indian Army regiments during 1914-15, plus a collection of uncensored letters from sepoys at the front.

The Heritage

Indian Army Western FrontSubterranean Sepoys examined the forgotten contribution on the Western Front of Indian soldiers of the British Army, specifically the period of holding and maintaining trenches on the Western Front in France during the first year of the Great War.

We researched how they adapted to the reality of trench warfare and the detail of surviving together almost underground.

Volunteers interpreted how these young Indians and Brits adapted to both their extremely demanding circumstances and their mutually alien cultures.

Unearthing their changing expectations, details of trench life, reaction to combat and their coping strategies, including incidents of cross-cultural compassion such as the Christmas Truce.

The routine, discipline, hardships and fraternity within the trenches and how they functioned as working communities were explored: from mundane, daily activities to the realities of combat.

Our major sources were war diaries and archives of the Indian Army Corps from August 1914 until late 1915 plus largely uncensored sepoys’ letters from the anthology ‘Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers Letters’, compiled by Professor David Omissi and ‘Between Self & Sepoy’ by Dr Gajendra Singh (Oxford & Exeter University Fellow).