Nearly 4,500 Indian soldiers laid down their lives defending the western front of Europe, primarily the Belgium, during the First World War, a century ago. As the world celebrates the centenary year, marking the end of one of the biggest events of the modern history, the Belgium King and Queen, during their on-going six-day visit to India, remembered the Indian soldiers who fought to defend the western European country. King Philippe and his Queen Mathilde today inaugurated an exhibition 'India in Flanders Fields', a region that witnessed fights between the Allied and the Central forces in a neutral country Belgium between 1914-1918. Yesterday, the king laid a wreath at the India Gate War Memorial, built in the honour of soldiers perished in the First World War. Belgian buglers and twin brothers Rik and Dirk Vandekerckhove were specially flown to Delhi to play the bugle at the India Gate War Memorial during the wreath laying ceremony. The King and the Queen devoted two days of their six-day visit to commemorate the work of the Indian soldiers in the First World War. The bond between India and Belgium became stronger after the war. King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth visited India in 1925 for their 25th wedding anniversary.
Belgium was one of the first countries in Europe to have diplomatic ties with India. Interestingly, the first Indian to fall in this war was solider named Lathuria from Hamipur in Himachal Pradesh, said Squadron. Ldr. (retired) Rana Chinna, a military historian, who was doing an extensive work on Indian soldier's participation in the World War. He said nearly 1.5 lakh Indian soldiers participated in the First World War, of which nearly 4,500 died in France and Belgium, mostly in the First Battle of Ypres and Second Battle of Ypres. Rana claimed that the very first use of chemical warfare was done at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. Aviator Hardit Singh Malik participated in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. Dominiek Dendooven, historian with the Flanders Field Museum, and whose focus of research has been Indian soldiers participation in the World War I, said Britain declared war on Germany after its forces entered Belgium, which was a neutral country. "But the British forces, however professional, but small in number, were decimated. So they decided to bring in the Indian soldiers," Dendooven said. The contribution of Indian soldiers was so significant that the Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award, were conferred upon Sepoy Khudadad Khan for his heroics in the First Battle of Ypres and to Jemdar Mir Dast for his bravery the Second Battle of Ypres.
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