Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Gandhi Visits England in I914

SGT. Major Gandhi
At the outbreak of the Great War, Mohandas Gandhi, who was visiting Britain, helped raise an Indian Ambulance Corps and would have served in it but for his health, which broke late in 1914. He had helped organize a similar unit in the Boer War, and had actively served as a sergeant major with the volunteers.

The argument  he made to defend the 1914 proposal  for a similar formation in the Great War shows  a long-term  political strategy meshed with  Gandhi's undoubted humanitarian impulse.  The suggestion that the Empire’s crisis was India’s chance did not impress him. As he put it: "I knew the difference of status between an Indian and an Englishman," he wrote later, "but I did not believe that we had been quite reduced to slavery. I felt then that it was more the fault of individual officials than of the British system, and that we could convert them by love. If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need."

Gandhi in Britain, 1914

The Indian volunteers received medical training over the next two months and were assigned in October to the  Royal Victoria Military Hospital outside Southampton.  Not much is available on their service subsequently. In late 1914 Gandhi sailed to India because of his pleurisy.  Later in the war he would help recruit Indians as actual combatants rather  than stretcher bearers.


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