Indian POWs in the Ottoman Empire during WWI

with Vedica Kant & Robert Upton

hosted by Chris Gratien

During World War I, over 600,000 troops from South Asia were part of the British army's invasion of Ottoman Iraq. Thousands were taken prisoner in this campaign and became part of a larger story that is the tragedy of the First World War, witnessing and sharing the plight of deported Armenians as they marched across Anatolia. In this podcast, Vedica Kant talks about the experience of Indian POWs in the Ottoman Empire as well as that of Ottoman soldiers captured by the British army and brought to India and Burma, with additional commentary by Robert Upton regarding military recruitment in British India and the complex relationship between imperialism, war, and nationalism for Indian intellectuals of the period.

Vedica Kant is a graduate of Oxford University's Middle Eastern Studies program
Robert Upton is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Oxford University
Chris Gratien is a PhD candidate studying the history of the modern Middle East at Georgetown University (see

Episode No. 86
Release date: 28 December 2012
Location: Feriköy, Istanbul
Editing and production by Chris Gratien
Images and bibliography courtesy of Vedica Kant

The audio clip at the beginning of the podcast is a rare recording of the voice of a Punjabi POW in Germany during World War I named Mal Singh. In the recording, which was made in December of 1916, Mal Singh expresses his desire to return home after having been imprisoned by the German army. To hear the entire recording, click here. (Source: Amin Mughal Links)

Note for the listener: This podcast is based on primary source research. It also makes use of publicly available information and draws from the following works below, which are also mentioned during the course of the episode. For the purposes of academic citation, we encourage you to consult these works as well. 

Select Bibliography

Santanu Das (ed.), Race, Empire and First World War Writing (New York: Cambridge. University Press, 2011)

David Omissi, Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldier's Letters, 1914-18 (Palgrave, 1999)

Cemalettin Taşkıran, Ana Ben Ölemedim: I. Dünya Savaşında Türk Esirlerleri (İş Bankası Yayınları, 2011)

S. D. Pradhan, ‘Indian Army and the First World War’ in DeWitt C. Ellinwood and S. D. Pradhan, India and World War I (New Delhi, Manohar, 1978).

Briton Cooper Busch, Britain, India, and the Arabs (University of. California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1971)

India's Contribution to the Great War (Calcutta, Government of India, 1923)

Select Images

Indian Troops Manning Lewis Gun on Mesopotamian Front, 1918
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive
Indian military engineers in Mesopotamia, World War I
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive
Moslem Indian Guard at the Mosque of Omar [Dome of the Rock], 1917
Source: Library of Congress
Indian cavalry passing through Haifa following the city's capture, 1918
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive
Indian Troops, World War I
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive
Indian Soldiers in France, c1914-15
Source: Library of Congress
Indian Troops at Gas Mask Drill, World War I
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive

Wounded Indian Soldier on Western Front, World War I
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive

Indian soldiers at Rufiji, German East Africa, 1916
Source: Imperial War Museum Photographic Archive
Ottoman Prisoners of War in Bellary, India, 1916
Soruce: 7/24 Magazin
Ottoman Prisoners of War in Burma, World War I
Source: Vedica Kant
Letter from Ottoman prisoner of war in Burma to wife in Istanbul, 1916
Source: K-Haber


omarali50 said…
This is a great podcast, but it would be even greater if 21st century crap about the "discomfort" felt in India about this topic was skipped. This "discomfort" was not what most of our ancestors felt (I am descended from several such soldiers) and it is unnecessary to project these modern fashions on to people who were very different people (and more honorable people).
Unknown said…
I usually enjoy your pod casts and find them greatly informative. But this one was very biased, and unfortunately you went along with it. A crumbling Ottoman Empire, fighting in 3 different fronts (west, east, and south) during WW I, would not place a welcome mat for the invading Indian army from the south and would not give their POWs a five star resort treatment! How inconsiderate! Perhaps Ms. Kant should investigate if and how the Ottoman POWs were dumped into acid ponds and blinded by the British in their Egyptian prison camps, and the countless Ottoman population and army perishing from hunger and misery while retreating from the advancing British front. We Turks are quite accustomed that our history is often analysed in the west with a eurocentric bias and selective memory. But I hope that you can remain as objective historians.
Al Kut 1915 said…
Yes commenters after all who remembers the Armenians? and how about your modern torture and murder of the Kurds? You were and still are a very nasty group of people.

Ottoman History Podcast is a noncommerical website intended for educational use. Anyone is welcome to use and reproduce our content with proper attribution under the terms of noncommercial fair use within the classroom setting or on other educational websites. All third-party content is used either with express permission or under the terms of fair use. Our page and podcasts contain no advertising and our website receives no revenue. All donations received are used solely for the purposes of covering our expenses. Unauthorized commercial use of our material is strictly prohibited, as it violates not only our noncommercial commitment but also the rights of third-party content owners.

We make efforts to completely cite all secondary sources employed in the making of our episodes and properly attribute third-party content such as images from the web. If you feel that your material has been improperly used or incorrectly attributed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us.