'Indian sweets became talking point during WW I'

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London, Nov 6: Craving for home-made sweets among the Indian soldiers fighting in the trenches of France and Belgium during World War I became a matter of discussion for the British empire, according to a new book.

Fighting battles in foreign lands, the soldiers suffered such nostalgia that even later it was suggested that a man be flown in from India to make the sweets in France, according to 'For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-18', which was released here last evening.

WW I: Indian sweets became talking point

"The suggestion that a sweetmeat maker be imported from India and make fresh sweets for the troops in France was turned down...Later another attempt was made to see if 'sewai' or 'kheer' cooked with vermicelli and milk could be prepared for the soldiers.

"The Comfort Sub-Committee in London had meeting after meeting mulling over the issue," says Shrabani Basu, author of the book. She has based her writing on the account of the estimated 1.5 million Indians who went to the frontline as part of the British Indian Army during the Great War.

She also spent two-and-a-half years on research spanning regimental diaries, officers' reports, official letters, newspaper articles, letters written by soldiers, interviews with descendants and other documents from the National Archives and the British Library.

"It was very important for me, that as the centenary of the First World War was observed, people needed to know that it wasn't just the Tommies (British soldiers) on the Western Front. There were Sikhs, Garhwalis, Gurkhas and Pathans in the same muddy trenches.

"The war was not of their making, yet they fought side by side with their English officers and died in the same fields,” saya Basu, who previously authored acclaimed titles including 'Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan' and 'Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant'. "I have always been interested in the stories of Indian soldiers who went thousands of miles from their homeland to fight in the two World Wars.

I covered the Second World War in 'Spy Princess' and this time I wanted to write about the First World War and the ordinary soldiers – peasants, farmers, illiterate labourers – who crossed the 'kala pani' for the first time a hundred years ago. The fact that there were Maharajas as well as cooks and cleaners was fascinating. It was released by Lord David Richards, former UK chief of defence staff.

PTI 

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