Poetry, Parables and Codes

Translating the Letters of Indian Soldiers
  • Hilary Footitt
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Languages at War book series (PASLW)


The Indian army on the Western Front between 26 September 1914 and Boxing Day (26 December) 1915 (some 138,600 men) was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and above all multilingual organization, with at least seven languages spoken among its troops. Censoring the letters written to and from these soldiers thus represented a task which was enormous both linguistically, and in the sheer volume of letters sent every week — from the families in India to troops on the Western Front (at least 10,000 per week), from Indian troops in France to India (about 20,000 per week) and from wounded Indian soldiers in Britain to India (between 1500 and 4000 per week).1 As far as censorship was concerned, by the time the letters reached the chief censor’s office at the India Base Post Office in Boulogne, it was expected that a preliminary security-type censorship, of varying degrees of efficiency, would have operated at regimental or local level. The job of the office was thus less the suppression of material, and rather the monitoring of states of mind and morale — that of the Indian troops at the front (it was the first time that Indian regiments had been deployed in Europe), and that of public opinion back home in India, in particular looking for signs of increased subversion as a result of anti-war sentiment.


Sheer Volume Multilingual Organization Sacred Tree Indian Corps Western Front 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Apter, Emily (2006) The Translation Zone, Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Das, Santanu (2011a) ‘Imperialism, Nationalism and the First World War in India’, in: Jennifer D. Keene and Michael S. Neiberg (eds), Finding Common Ground: New Directions in First World War Studies, Leiden and Boston: Brill, pp. 67–85.Google Scholar
  3. Das, Santanu (2011b) Race, Empire and First World War Writing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Greenhut, Jeffrey (1983) ‘The Imperial Reserve: The Indian Corps on the Western Front, 1914–15’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 12(1), 54–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Morton-Jack, George (2006) ‘The Indian Army on the Western Front, 1914–1915: A Portrait of Collaboration’, War in History 13(3), 329–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Morton-Jack, George (2014) India’s Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium in the First World War, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Omissi, David (1999) Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters 1914–1918, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Pratt, Mary-Louise (2008) Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. VanKoski, Susan (1995) ‘Letters Home, 1915–16: Punjabi Soldiers Reflect on War and Life in Europe and their Meanings for Home and Self’, International Journal of Punjabi Studies 2(1), January-June, 43–63.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hilary Footitt

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations