The Indian sailors recruited by Britain’s merchant navy died in their thousands during two world wars. Most of them weren’t even commemorated at all
Sometimes the public remember the dead – the “glorious dead”, as the war memorials describe them – and sometimes we forget them completely. Sometimes, in fact, we never knew who they were in the first place. The whole business is so arbitrary, depending not only on questions of where, when and how people died, but also on the question of what rank or race they were. To die in the service of Britain or the British empire doesn’t necessarily guarantee a public display of gratitude. A good way to understand this is to take a short walk from three stations on London’s Docklands Light Railway, as I did this week on a damp, oppressive afternoon that turned the city grey.
I began at the line’s end in Woolwich, where Lee Rigby, a 25-year-old soldier with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was stabbed and hacked to death on 22 May. Woolwich is an old military town that once had a famous arsenal and a royal dockyard and still has a barracks, and it never lets …read more