Monday, July 31, 2023

Indian Regiments marching in Paris Bastille Day Parade, 14 July 2023

(Notice: I have not written a post in almost three months, but am making up with this post...) Time has gone by very quickly since my last post in early May on my trip to the North Georgia Mountains. When I returned to my house in Cobb County, GA., the water heater needed to be replaced. Then in June I traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to spend time with my daughter Celine and her family. I had planned to write a post on this visit but had to return to my house in Georgia in early July because two trees had fallen on the roof.
As I am writing this post my air conditioning unit stopped working on Friday in the upper part of the house in Nashville. My bedroom temperature went up to 97 F (36 C,) making it difficult to have a good night sleep. The Weather Forecast Channel on TV just told us to expect more warm days coming up - feeling like 117 F (47.2C) in Nashville. Scientists are saying that this month of July 2023 has been the warmest on record so far and might even be the warmest the planet has experienced in 120,000 years! But, no fear, my hairdresser in Georgia told me last week that there is no climate change, it's just a "liberal" plot ... (Cartoon courtesy New Orleans The Times Picayune.)
Through the plantation shutters next to my laptop desk I can see little birds getting a relief from the heat in the small water dish I placed on the front porch. It is the bottom dish of a large planter. I also placed a "Mosquito Dunk" tablet in it to avoid mosquito larvae (non toxic to birds, pets, animals or humans) that I purchased on Amazon. I like watching all the different birds having a good time, sometimes up to 6 or 8 of them at a time.
In spite of my house problems I was able to watch the Paris 14 of July celebrations on the French Military Armed Forces website and also on the Mayor of Paris website. The French National Holiday is called "Le 14 Juillet" (14 July) but English speaking people call it "Bastille Day" after the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 during the French Revolution (however, in France, no one would know what you mean if you asked about Bastille Day.) What people don't realize here is that there were only 3 prisoners in the huge Bastille jail then. The people had stormed it because it contained arms and ammunitions, not to free the 3 prisoners. In previous posts I explained the history of the holiday; please look under Bastille Day on the right side of my blog.
The celebrations start on the evening of July 13 with a torchlight procession, that is, participants in many cities and villages walk down streets holding torches or lanterns/lampoons in their hands, following a local band, then go on to a public square for public dancing. On the morning of the 14 there is the traditional Défilé Militaire du 14 juillet, or Bastille Day Military Parade, down the Champs-Elysees. Started in 1880, it is one of the oldest military parades in the world. It is the main official event honoring French military regiments and includes each year different invited foreign guests and regiments. This is one of the main occasions when you will see many French flags all around. French people respect their flag but the rest of the time they don't have it on their cars, or flown from their houses, etc. You will see it in official places like schools, police stations, customs check-points, and in support of the national teams during international competitions but you won't find it in front of a commercial business, or on tee-shirts, baseball caps, clothes or other decorative objects. As in many European countries (apart from the UK that is a constitutional monarchy)people placing out too many national flags are frown upon and considered to be extreme-right extremists, or uber nationalists. In addition, there is no "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag" in France like in the United States. Again, most European citizens of democratic countries would find it quite bizarre, not saying undemocratic, incredibly creepy and borderline fascistic.
For 2023, the Bastille Day parade included 6,500 people (5,100 of them marching,) 64 planes, 28 helicopters, 157 ground vehicles, 62 motorcycles, 200 horses and 86 dogs. Nearly 15 countries were invited to the parade including India, this year guest of honor. Prime Minister Norendra Modi watched the parade alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. It was also the 25th anniversary of the India-France Strategic Partnership and the 70th anniversary of the Patrouille de France. The Patrouille had their traditional aerial display that included French-made Indian war planes. Vehicles on display included the Caesar anti-missile batteries that France is providing to Ukraine, and Ukrainian officials were also invited to join Pres. Macron in the VIP seats. Below Patrouille de France (courtesy Ministeres des Armees.)
Another highlight were students from partner African military schools (Benin, Congo-Brazzavile, Gabon, Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Senegal) marching with residents of French military schools. Below photos of two of the African military schools in the parade, from Madagascar on top photo and Ivory Coast on the bottom. (Courtesy Madagascar Tribune.)
In tribute to the 80th anniversary of the disappearance of Jean Moulin, the French civil servant hero who created the National Council of the French Resistance, musicians played the "Chant des partisants," a song that is a symbol of indomitable spirit against evil. This was the French Resistance anthem during World War II. Jean Moulin, 1899-1943, the leader of the Resistance, was tortured by the Nazis in one prison after another and died in 1943 in a train taking him to Germany. An international orchestra, made up of 80 musicians from France and 14 partner countries (Canada, The Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States) played for the parade until the Patrouille de France flew over.
The parade included a 269 member tri-services contingent of the Indian Armed Forces with 77 marching personnel and 38 band members (including the Rajputana Rifles Regiment Band,) led by Captain Aman Jagtap. The Indian Navy contingent was being led by Commander Vrat Baghel, while Squadron Leader Sindhu Reddy lead the Indian Air Force contingent. The Punjab Regiment had been selected to represent the Indian Army for this Bastille Day celebrations. The Punjab Regiment, one of the oldest Infantry Regiments of the Indian Army that traces its origins to 1761, had participated in both World Wars as well as post-independence operations. Historically, 107 years ago, the Punjab Regiment had marched down the Champs-Elysees for the 14 July 1916 parade, after taking part in some battles of World War I. (Photos courtesy Ministere des Armees, La Ville de Paris, and the Élysée Palace.) Please click on collage to enlarge.
Below are vintage photographs and postcards of the Punjab Regiment at the 14 July parade of 1916 and at the rail station Gare du Nord (below right.) Top left photo is a French lady pinning a flower in gratitude on one of the Indian soldiers' lapel.
World War I began on August 4, 1914, after Great Britain declared war against Germany. When the British Army requested military support from their Indian colony, Sikhs, Pendjabis and Gurkas arrived in Marseille, France. On September 26, 1914, the British Punjab's 20th troop of the Lahore Division and of the 129th Baluchis of pre-partition India were the first colonial force to deploy in Europe. They trained in Marseille while waiting to be sent to the front lines. Below are vintage postcards of the Anglo-Indian regiments in Marseille, France in Sept. 1914.
Then these Anglo-Indian troops went to Toulouse and Orleans, France, on their way north. Between September 1914 and October 1918, 140,000 Indian troops arrived to fight in France and Belgium. Below are vintage postcards of them in France.
As you can see there were quite a few Indian troops in the First World War, but I have never heard about them in the US - they must have been forgotten here. I tried to find books in English on this subject, but could not, but I did find books published in France. Below a couple of them plus an article on the Excelsior Journal published in France on December 14, 1914, showing injured Indian soldiers.
In the north of France they took part in an offensive near Neuve-Chapelle from March 10 to 13, 1915, earning the Battle Honors "Loos" and "France and Flanders" - over 8,550 were killed and as many as 50,000 more were wounded. In total about 10,000 Indian soldiers died in France during the First World War. Several monuments in their honor were erected in France, notably the Neuve-Chapelle Memorial. It was inaugurated on 7 October, 1927, by Marshal Foch, and attended by the Maharaja of Karputhala, Rudyard Kipling and a large contingent of Indian veterans representing units that fought in France, including Sikhs, Dogras and Garhwalis. Marshal Ferdinand Foch (French, 1851-1919,) the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces (and generally considered the leader most reponsible for the Allied victory,) gave a speech, including this: "Return to your homes in the distant, sun-bathed East and proclaim how your countrymen drenched with their blood the cold northern land of France and Flanders, and how they delivered it by their ardent spirit from the firm grip of a determined army; tell all India that we shall watch over their graves with the devotion due to all our dead. We shall cherish above all the memory of their example. They showed us the way, they made the first steps towards the final victory." Speaking after the war, Marshal Foch said the Indian Army had delivered the war's first decisive steps to victory; they were critical in stemming the tide of the German invasion of Belgium and France. Without their early arrival, the port of Calais would not have been saved, the Western Front would have been breached and the British Expeditionary Forces annihilated. Below photos of the Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial.
Again in World War II, 1.5 million Anglo-Indian soldiers (including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs) came to defend Africa and Europe. 130,000 of them came to France where thousands died or were wounded. They earned 16 Battle Honors and 14 Theatre Honors. On May 28, 1940, 300 Indian soldiers (all of them Muslims) and 23 British troops evacuated the city of Dunkirk, but their story has been mostly forgotten, as well as in movies about Dunkirk. Read about it here or on the BBC report here. (World War Two: The forgotten Indian soldiers of Dunkirk.) Numerous soldiers hailing from former French trading posts in India - now in present day Pondicherry/Puducherry - also fought in France. France never forgot the suffering and heroism of all these men. President Macron tweeted "This 14 July, soldiers and Rafale aircraft from India are marching and flying alongside our troops. We honor the memory of those who fough with the French in the two World Wars." Photo below British Indian Army Service Corps on parade in France in 1940 (courtesy Wikipedia.)
Another unsung hero coming from India was Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) the descendant of Indian royalty. She was the daughter of an Indian Sufi mystic, Inayat Khan, born in Bombay. He lived in Europe as a musician and teacher of Sufism where he became the head of the "Sufi Order of the West." Her mother was an American, Ora Ray Baker, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Noor, also known as Nora Baker, was an SOE agent under the French Resistance, her code name was "Madeleine." She was the first female wireless operator sent from the UK to aid the French Resistance during World War II. She was betrayed, captured, tortured then executed at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. On January 16, 1946, French President Charles de Gaulle awarded her the Croix de Guerre (highest civilian honor.) She was also honored with the British S. George Cross. There is a plaque (shown below) outside her family home in Suresnes, France. A band plays there every year on Bastille Day. A square in the city of Suresnes has been named Cours Madeleine after her. Photos courtesy the National Archives and Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust: top left Noor and her mother Ora, next to Noor playing her veena instrument; bottom photo of Noor's family.
A school in Suresnes, a city 9.3 km (5.7 miles) from the center of Paris, is named after her.
French history with India is a long one, over three centuries, from 1674 to 1954. I remember when I was a small girl studying in Paris public primary school, France still had trading posts in India. I had to memorize their difficult to pronounce names. They sounded so exotic - I dreamed of visiting these far-away places. I have not yet, but it's still on my list... In 1673, under the reign of French King Louis XIV, France purchased Chandernagore from the Mughal Governor of Bengal. The following year France purchased Pondicherry from the Sultan of Bijapur, and other parts of south India. After the Treaty of Paris of 1763 France only kept five "comptoirs" (or trading posts) in India: Pondicherry, Chandernagor, Karikal, Mahe and Yanaon. (I still remember their names!) When India obtained its independence from the UK in 1947, talks were taken to return four of the French comptoirs to the Indian Union. This was done on November 1, 1954. However the people of Pondicherry were pro-French and feared the overpowering weight of the Indian administrative machinery. After several years of negotiations, an agreement was reached between France and India and a treaty was ratified by the French Parliament in July 1962. By this treaty Pondicherry became Indian Territory and its inhabitants Indian nationals. However, France gave them a six-month opportunity to obtain French citizenship - 8000 of them signed up. It was difficult for them to decide as they were Indians but also went to French schools, spoke French and had been imbued with French culture.
Of course, now sixty-two years later, the French influence in Pondicherry is fading away, but retains some French culture, for example the headgear of the policemen represents the design adopted in France. There are many French-style houses left along the Bay of Bengal. Pondicherry has a large "French" area in town, with French city streets, cobblestones, restaurants, etc. French is one of the official languages of the Pondicherry's government. A French church, built in 1855, offers mass in three languages - Tamil, French and English. Many streets have retained their French names. There are still 5,500 French-Indian and French people living there, many retire there from France as well. A few years ago the film "The Life of Pi" was filmed in Pondicherry, starting with a scene in the shaded and peaceful Jardins Botaniques. (Photos courtesy Pondy Tourism.)
Pondicherry, Pondichéry in French, Pondy for short or Puducherry, as it is officially known, is not a large town. It is about 150 miles from the large city of Chennai (was Madras) on the south eastern coast of India. It's a little bit of France in India. The French Quarter is reminiscent of the New Orleans French Quarter. There is a French Consulate (see their sign in the heading photo) French school and college, The Alliance Francaise, French bakeries and shops and, of course, the celebrations of the 14 of July, or Bastille Day in India.
Bastille Day is a yearly festival in Pondy. On the evening of the 13th there is a lantern march along the Beach Promenade followed by a public dancing for 600 people. Several buildings are illuminated in blue, white and red after the French flag. The police band plays national songs of India and France as part of the celebration. On the 14th, there is a march to the monuments honoring French-Indians and Indians who died in the wars and also to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi (that is illuminated in the tri-colors.) In the evening of the 14th traditional fireworks are fired in front of the French Consulate. I don't think another foreign country in Asia (or anywhere else) sponsors an official French Bastille Day.
Meanwhile, in Paris, on this July 14, 2023, the crowd attended the usual free concert followed by the fireworks shot from the Eiffel Tower. (Photos courtesy City of Paris.)
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