A hundred years ago, on 28 July 1914, the First World War started when Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia after a group of young pro-independence Serbian terrorists shot dead the Austro-Hungarian crown prince in Sarajevo one month earlier. Soon, millions were dying on the battlefields across four continents in what was termed the “first global war.” Although Afghanistan, under pressure to join by Germany and Turkey, remained neutral in the war, the country and some of its subjects were sucked into the killing. In the first instalment of a series, AAN Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig tells how he found the graves of three Afghans buried on a cemetery not far from his hometown, Berlin. He renders the – still incomplete – story of how they got there and how World War I (WWI) affected Afghanistan and the region.Afghan World War I casualty Yasinn (sic) Dad's grave at Zehrensdorf cemetary in Germany. Photo: Thomas Ruttig
One day about 99 years ago, in July 1915, Lalak, son of Baba, and Muhammad Amin, son of Kalim Shah, died behind barbed wire in Wünsdorf, a small garrison town in Brandenburg state 60 kilometres south of Berlin. Eight months later, on 16 March 1916, their comrade Yasin Dad, son of Zar Dad, passed away as well. The cause of their death is not documented but it can be assumed that they succumbed to illness – late Gerhard Höpp from Berlin’s Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) who has researched the Wünsdorf camp in detail, wrote that cholera (in the initial phase), tuberculosis, respiratory diseases and trachoma were the most common causes of death among its prisoners. (1) All three had become prisoners of war (POWs) in Germany, after their units had been sent to the Western Front in Europe during World War I. As part of the so-called Indian Expeditionary Force attached to British forces, they had come to help the French and Belgian armies after Germany invaded Belgium, in breach of that country’s self-declared neutrality, to outflank French defence installations at the French-German border.
After being captured by, or deserting to the German side – what exactly happened in the case of three is unknown – they were interned in the Wünsdorf Halbmondlager (Crescent Moon Camp). This name emerged from the camp’s structure; its barracks were grouped around its central square where, soon, a mosque with a capacity of 400 was built, the first one ever in Germany. (2) At its peak, in 1916, the camp had some 4,000 inmates, mainly North Africans from the French army and Indians – of all religions – from the British-Indian army. Nearby at Zossen, a second, much larger camp held 12,000 detainees. This so-called Weinberglager (Vineyard Camp) detained Russian Muslims, mainly Volga Tatars, Central Asians and people from the Caucasus. Eleven other but smaller so-called “special camps” for Muslim POWs were scattered all over Germany.
The 206 “Indian” prisoners who died in the Halbmondlager – Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, most of them soldiers but also some so-called lascars (a term then used for sailors in the mercantile marine; find the full list here – were buried at the cemetery of Zehrensdorf, (3) a nearby village. They were interred together with soldiers of the British, French, Russian and other armies as well as German civilians, but on a separate plot. All graves are adorned with white gravestones; Muslim graves on the WWI cemeteries are inscribed with hu al-ghaffur (“He is the All-Forgiver”) and some scant personal data, including name, father’s name, date of demise, regiment and identity number.
The graveyard registry available in Zehrensdorf – but not the one on the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC; link above) – also gives the place of origin of the deceased. And here we find what makes Lalak, Muhammad Amin and Yasin Dad stand out: the other Muslims among their 203 comrades buried in Zehrensdorf mainly hailed from places in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of British-India or the United Provinces in northern-central India. However, Lalak, Muhammad Amin and Yasin Dad’s entries carry the remark “of Trans-Frontier.” The British-Indian Army did not only recruit subjects of His Majesty the King but also citizens of neighbouring Nepal and Afghanistan (see here, p 2) and, according to British contemporary writer Morton-Jack (here, p 4), “Hazaras, refugees from central Afghanistan who had settled in the Indian province of Baluchistan.” Therefore, the “Trans-Frontier” soldiers Lalak, Muhammad Amin and Yasin Dad were likely either subjects of Afghanistan or hailed from what today is known as the Federally Administered Tribal Territories (FATA), governed by Pakistan but claimed by Afghanistan. It can be assumed that they stand for a higher, but unknown, number of countrymen who fought and lost their lives in the 1914–18 war.
Whether the three and their comrades interred at Zehrensdorf cemetery went voluntarily to war or not cannot be answered. Some might have been looking for income and maybe glory (as some veterans websites suggest). The BBC History website says the pay for an Indian infantryman “was a modest 11 rupees a month,” though it might have made a large difference for families in the tribal areas. Other contemporary British sources report that many ‘Pathans’ (4) from the NWFP joined the British-Indian Army in pre-war days to earn money to buy their own “state-of-the-art rifle” (here, p 303).
But, a 2006 article in the Indian weekly Outlook suggests otherwise: The historian Ranajit Guha says that while officially there was no conscription, the British rulers encouraged Indian landlords to prove their loyalty by recruiting under a quota system. “This soon developed into a sort of loyalty race with the provinces competing with one another” and a more-prosperous villager might pay a poor neighbour to send their son as the rich villager’s own contribution. In exchange, landlords were rewarded with khitabs (titles). “Not infrequently, muscle-men were combing the wards and mohallas, coaxing and arm-twisting tenants, farmers, small traders to send the able-bodied youth of their families,” Guha added, and coercion increased as news trickled in of large numbers of deaths and injuries, and young men began evading recruiters.
The first global war
WWI broke out 100 years ago, on 28 July 1914. It was called the Urkatastrophe of the 20th century (“original catastrophe”) by US historian George F. Kennan and, later, the “first global war” by some historians. Fought on four continents, it included battles in Europe, northern and sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Southeast and East Asia as well as in the South Pacific. The main underlying motif was the rivalry between the colonial powers Great Britain, France and Russia – the so-called Entente – and the economic late comers Germany and Austro-Hungary, with Ottoman Turkey – the so-called Mittelmächte (“Central Powers”) – that were vying to expand in Europe and for new markets overseas. In the four years of this war, 9.3 million soldiers were killed, 21.4 million were wounded and 7.6 million were taken prisoner or went missing (of 71.6 million mobilised in all participating countries) on its battlefields and oceans. It was the first case of so-called industrial warfare, with soldiers using machine guns, poison gas and submarines. In addition, 7.9 million civilians were killed, but military casualties still outnumbered them – a situation that changed in WWII.
According to various Indian sources, 60–65,000 of the 1.1 million soldiers from the subcontinent who served overseas were dead by the end of the war; but only the names of 54,896 are recorded (see here and here). The CWGC puts the number of Indian soldiers sent to the Western Front in Europe at 140,000 over the course of the war – 90,000 serving in the infantry and cavalry and 50,000 non-combatants in the so-called Indian Labour Corps. Of the combatants, over 8,550 were killed and as many as 50,000 more wounded.
In Afghanistan’s neighbourhood, Iran (then Persia) was officially neutral but partly occupied by British (mainly Indian) and Russian troops. Both countries had split Iran into spheres of influence with the 1907 Anglo-Russian treaty of St Petersburg; in south Iran, there were installations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. German agents who were trying to persuade the Iranian ruler, 18-year old Ahmad Shah, to join the Central Powers against the occupying powers, instigated uprisings of local tribes to wage a guerrilla war against the Entente troops and supported activists of the Persian democratic-constitutional opposition to join in. The Germans were supported by the Persian gendarmerie that was led by Swedish officers who sympathised with them. But when Turkish troops allied with the Central Powers occupied parts of northwestern Iran early in the war, also the German-Persian relationship suffered.
In Russian Central Asia, Kazakhs and other peoples rose up against their mobilisations for the war; until then they had been exempted from military service. The area also became a venue for POW camps for millions Austrian – including Czechs, Hungarians and others – and German prisoners of war.
German eyes on Afghanistan
Afghanistan was not a party in this war, but was indirectly dragged into the conflict. Its ruler Amir Habibullah Khan (ruled 1901–19), dependent on British subsidies, maintained its neutrality, despite Germany and Ottoman Turkey’s attempts to win him over as an ally and sympathies in his court for the Central Powers (and a generally anti-British mood). However, as shown above, soldiers from Afghanistan individually participated in the war.
Turkey – in practice ruled by the Young Turks, a group of constitutionalist military officers and civil servants that had taken power in a coup in 1913 – tried to woo Afghanistan by invoking the religious appeal of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet V. Reshad who – as the Caliph – also was the head of the worldwide Muslim ummah. On 11 November 1914, he declared jihad on the Entente powers. In a fatwa to the Muslim soldiers in the ranks of the opposing armies, he urged them to desert their colonial masters and to switch to the “Islamic side.” Young Turk minister of war Enver Pasha, who sought Afghan backing for Turkish territorial ambitions in Persia, the Caucasus and Russian Central Asia (with its large Turkic population), had already told the Germans in a secret message on 2 August 1914 that his country was ready to join the war on its side. Turkey’s first military engagement with the Entente, however, only came on 29 October 1914 when two of its ships – actually German vessels delivered to the Ottoman army and still with German crews – shelled the Russian ports of Odessa and Sevastopol. As a result, Russia declared war on Turkey on 2 November 1914, followed by France and Great Britain. (5)
Germany’s main target was British India. As the German Indologist Jochen Oesterheld writes,
German policy was aware of India’s importance as main pillar of British worldwide power, and individual [German] representatives were of the opinion that only by the liberation of India, Germany and its Turkish ally would come in the position to freely unfurl economically beyond Baghdad/Basra and Kuwait
a liberated India would be an economic factor of enormous importance for Germany and its allies.
While the war did not directly aim to occupy India (although individuals might have dreamt of it), Germany and its allies attempted to entice parts of the Indian population, particularly the ‘Pathans’ in the northwest, beyond the Afghan frontier, to rise up against the British, in order to pin down as many British forces as possible and keep them away from the European battlefields. (Britain left three divisions in India to protect the Afghan border.) The German kaiser, in an internal communication on 30 July 1914, two days after the outbreak of war, stated that “. . . if we shall perish shedding our blood, England must at least lose India.” (6)
The German attempt to win Afghanistan to its side (and all its activity in ‘the Orient’) was based on a memorandum that the famous German diplomat, traveller and archaeologist (his photo collection here), Baron Max von Oppenheim, submitted to the Kaiser in 1914 with the self-explanatory title Denkschrift betreffend die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete unserer Feinde (“Memorandum with Regard to Revolutionising the Islamic Realms of our Enemies”). Oppenheim pinned particular hope on Afghanistan, hoping that the country would participate in invading British-India, in an alliance with Turkey and Persia, not least to win back the Pashtun-populated areas in the northwest of India. He wrote:
Afghanistan is a firmly established statehood and, despite its small population, a power that should not be underestimated. . . . The population is belligerent and proud. . . . A large, general Indian uprising will only occur when Afghan troops will victoriously enter the Indus valley, naturally only after India itself has been prepared for revolution.
In this context, Oppenheim picked up a plan proposed by Turkish Minister of War Enver Pasha immediately after the start of the war to send a Turkish military mission joined by some Germans to Afghanistan. (*)
From “Trans-Frontier” to the “Killing Fields of Flanders”. . .
In the meantime, soldiers of the British-Indian army, including some from Afghanistan, showed up on European battlefields immediately after war broke out on 28 July 2014. Lalak, Muhammad Amin and Yasin Dad fought as ordinary soldiers (sepoy) in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment (7) that was part of the 3rd, or Lahore, Division of the Indian corps that was mobilised just four days after the UK declared war on the Central Powers on 4 August 1914. The division was sent to Europe, and its first brigades landed in the French port of Marseille on 26 September 1914. After some rest days, they were deployed to northwestern France and southeastern Belgium, an area that later became notorious as the Killing Fields of Flanders. It can be assumed that Lalak, Muhammad Amin and Yasin Dad were among them.
The Lahore division joined the action at the First Battle of Ypres, a Belgian town not far from the Atlantic coast and just north of the French border, in October and November 1914. The battle was part of a British offensive operation that started on 14 October 1914 but run into stiff German resistance, soon leading to murderous static-trench warfare. According to the Western Front Association, “the first military engagement of the Indian troops took place south of Ypres after dark on 25 October 1914,” successfully repelling a German attack, followed next day by their first attack. On 31 October, two companies of the 129th Baluchis bore the brunt of the main German attack and were overwhelmed after suffering heavy casualties. By 3 November, the Indian Corps had suffered almost 2,000 losses. (The British had 28,000 casualties altogether.)
The Lahore and a second Indian division next took part in the Battles of Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert and Loos in spring of 1915. Of the 40,000 participating allied soldiers, 11,200 became casualties. Of the casualties, 4,200 belonged to the Indian corps; over 1,600 were from the Lahore division. One of its units was the 40th Pathans infantry regiment, originally, but only until 1901, the only all-Pashtun regiment in the British-Indian Army. Another was the 4th Punjab Infantry Regiment that included some so-called “trans-Indus Pathans,” ie Pashtuns from the NWFP and possibly FATA (Afridis were mentioned). According to a topical internet forum, it was composed of “1 company of Orakzais, a half company of Afridis and a half-company of Yusufzais, 1 company of Punjabi Musulmans and 1 company of Dogras [a non-Muslim ethnic group, mainly in Jammu and Kashmir and the Punjab].” There also were Mahsud from Waziristan, Wazir, Yusufzai and Khattak (see here, p 192) and Mohmand – some of them, as well as Afridi, ended up in the Wünsdorf POW camp. There, German researchers linked to the military, recorded these prisoners’ verses, short stories and songs for ethnographic studies in 1916 and 1917; today, the audio files in Pashto are kept in the Lautarchiv (Sound Archive) of Berlin’s Humboldt University.
The 40th Pathans regiment had been redeployed from Hong Kong to the European battlefield. At the end of their first day of combat, 26 April 1915, with 320 casualties, half of the regiment were either dead or missing in action. (For photos of their memorial at Menin Gate near Ypres in Belgium see here; a recent Indian reportage here.)
During the notorious Second Battle of Ypres on 25 April 1915, when the Germans used poison (chlorine) gas massively for the first time on the Western Front, “the Indian Corps had its first full exposure to toxic gas warfare.” Indian troops were trapped “in shell holes” by the toxic gas. One of the Afridi soldiers, Mir Dast, was later awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in this battle. According to the Western Front Association, however,
it was around this time that a serious decline in morale occurred in the Indian Corps. It was largely fostered by the enormous casualties that the officers and men had suffered in less than a year, exacerbated by the difficult climatic conditions of Flanders and Northern France
that is, the unfamiliar cold winter.
As a result, the Lahore and another Indian division were sent to Mesopotamia where they arrived in April 1916 shortly after the famous six-month siege of the British garrison in Kut-al-Amara by an Ottoman force. The Indian Cavalry Corps remained on the Western Front until the spring of 1918, and Indian labour companies, which had begun arriving in France in 1917, performed logistical work behind the lines until after the end of the war. The Indian Memorial at the French village of Neuve Chapelle commemorates over 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers who lost their lives on the Western Front and have no known graves. (Merewether and Smith made probably the most-detailed rendering of the various battles: The Indian Corps in France, 1919. Read here.)
. . . to Brandenburg as ‘privileged prisoners’?
Like the three Afghan sepoys of the 129th Balochis, some of the 40th Pathans missing in action in Ypres seem to either have become prisoners-of-war or, as contemporary German sources indicate, voluntarily surrendered to the Germans in order to grab the chance to fight against their British colonial masters. According to a contemporary German report quoted by Höpp, two groups – altogether 23 Afridi Pashtuns – led by commanding officer Jemadar Mir Mast [Khan Afridi], deserted to the German side on 2 and 3 March 1915. (Jemadar was the lowest rank for a commissioned officer in the British Indian Army.) They claimed that 300 others were planning to follow. Although official figures on desertions do not exist, Morton-Jack (here, p 303) speaks of 50 known cases from the Indian Corps, “ninety-four per cent [or 47 people] . . . Afridis, Orakzais and Mahsuds who had joined up as independent men from the Pathan tribal.” In his 1994 standard book, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940, David Omissi mentions that some 220 ‘Indian’ Muslims, most of them Afridi, crossed over to the Germans in spring 1915 in Flanders. According to another source, 50 officers and 3,148 soldiers of the Indian Corps in France were missing in action by 19 November 1915, (8) a number of whom ended up as POWs in Germany, and others (as the Lautarchiv proves) at the Halbmondlager.
In November 1914, the Auswärtiges Amt (German Foreign Office) and the German General Staff set up – also at Oppenheim’s initiative – the Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient (NfO; Orient Intelligence Office) to analyse the situation in the region, distribute propaganda and mobilise POWs as soldiers for the Central Powers. The Wünsdorf camps became part of this effort. The Foreign Office instructed the camps’ personnel on how to treat the prisoners:
Means of propaganda are: exert religious influence; instruction through discussions and presentations, lessons, group excursions into the camp’s surroundings, good treatment, subsistence and clothing; expansion of workshops for home industries and traditional handicraft, imparting the achievements of the German industry.
As a result, the camp had good hygienic conditions with sufficient washrooms and latrines. The inmates were exempted from forced labour and were allowed to grow their own vegetables (the British government sent seeds); keep sheep, chickens and pigeons; celebrate their religious holidays; and obtain halal meat. The Hague Conventions of International Humanitarian Law were strictly enforced. German speakers of ‘Eastern’ languages were recruited as translators, censors and propagandists. Ottoman emissaries and revolutionaries from the diaspora were invited to give speeches and lectures. The initiative for the mosque construction, however, came from the Grand Mufti in Istanbul. And, except for guided propaganda tours to the capital Berlin and neighbouring villages, the prisoners were not allowed to leave the camp.
The Kaiser’s failed jihad
But the German propaganda was not very successful. According to German researcher Heike Liebau, also from Zentrum Moderner Orient, only some 800 prisoners from Crescent Moon Camp and some 1,000 from Vineyard Camp agreed to go to Turkey by September 1915. Höpp says that only 49 (of around 1,000) of them were ‘Indian’ Muslims who were held as POWs all over Germany during the entire war. He speaks of five transports between 8 February 1916 and 11 April 1917, altogether including 1,100 Tatars, 1,084 Arabs and the 49 South Asians. (He also mentions a sixth detachment, in December 1915, elsewhere.)
The first group, including 15 or 24 Afridi, according to different sources, (9) went to Constantinople; four of them – for their knowledge of ‘Persian’ (Dari) – were attached to the planned Turkish-German mission to Afghanistan; some became members of the Turkish Sultan’s guard; and others served under the Colonel Arthur Bopp, who led the German covert anti-British and anti-Russian operations in Persia. He was based in Kermanshah from January 1916 and established communication channels via Iran toward Afghanistan for the planned German military expedition to Kabul. (*) The last group of ‘jihadists’ from Wünsdorf consisted of 114 members, mainly North Africans and four South Asians. (10)
Other Afridi deserters in Wünsdorf volunteered to join the Turkish-German mission, too, but apparently were not considered. They were probably part of a group of 23 Afridi who had deserted in March 1915 and demanded their release from Wünsdorf in May 1915, protesting that, by interning them at the camp, the Germans had broken their promises (distributed at the fronts by leaflets) which had made the Afridi change sides.
In some cases, POWs rejected the proposal of cooperation outright and, as a result, were isolated from their comrades by being scattered over other camps. Ravi Ahuja cites the case of subedar (native captain) Muhammad Arefin, “a 33-year old Pashtun from Afghanistan” who had been in the Indian army for 14 years before being deployed in Europe and had served in British-Somaliland; after rejecting to go to Turkey, he was interned in a POW camp for officers in Heidelberg.
While some of the Wünsdorf detainees found their way back home – some deserted back to the British side in Mesopotamia, claiming they had been held POW, according to contemporary British intelligence reports – others remained in Germany, fearing persecution for their desertion if they fell into British hands. Ten Afridi from Wünsdorf were sent to an agricultural farm in Cadinen, in Eastern Prussia, in December 1918, based on a decision by the Wünsdorf Soldiers Soviet that had been established after the November Revolution that had toppled the German monarchy. Each was given free board and lodging and ten marks per month in exchange for helping on the farm. Ahuja writes that they had belonged to a group of 14 members that went to Turkey in 1915 but was sent back to Germany in 1918. The Germans contemplated recruiting them for the German colonial police in East Africa, today’s Tanzania, but the colonies were lost as a result of the defeat in the war by the end of the year.
Höpp mentions another “12 Afridi and four Afghans” who received a one-off sum of 3,000 or 4,000 marks each “to build themselves a livelihood” in Germany by the Auswärtiges Amt November 1919. “Whether and where they succeeded, is not covered by the available documents,” writes Höpp. (11) A last sign of life from the group in Eastern Prussia came when two of them, Mirbaz Khan and Mirza Mir, wrote to the British India Office in 1920 asking for amnesty and a return home for themselves and 23 other Afridi deserters (probably a sign that they had remained in contact with others elsewhere in Germany). Their request, however, was rejected.
(*) We will follow up on these aspects in later dispatches.
Ludwig W. Adamec, Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs to the Mid-Twentieth Century, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974.
Johannes Glasneck and Inge Kircheisen, Türkei und Afghanistan: Brennpunkte der Orientpolitik in zweiten Weltkrieg, Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1968.
George Grassmuck, Ludwig W. Adamec, Frances H. Irwin (eds), Afghanistan: Some New Approaches, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1969.
Werner Otto von Hentig, Mein Leben – eine Dienstreise, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963.
Gerhard Höpp, “Die Wünsdorfer Moschee. Eine Episode islamischen Lebens in Deutschland, 1915–1930”, Die Welt des Islams, Berlin, 36 (2) 1996, 204–18.
Gerhard Höpp, Muslime in der Mark. Als Kriegsgefangene und Internierte in Wünsdorf und Zossen, 1914–1924, Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 1997.
Oliver Janz, Der große Krieg, Frankfurt/New York: Campus, 2013.
Rudolf A. Mark, Krieg an fernen Fronten: Die Deutschen in Zentralasien und am Hindukusch 1914–1924, Paderborn et al: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2013.
Lt Col Merewether and Sir Frederick Smith: The Indian Corps in France, 1919, reprint by Naval and Military Press, 2009. (here).
George Morton-Jack, The Indian Army on the Western Front: India’s Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium in the First World War, Cambridge Military Histories, reprint 2014, (here).
Jochen Oesterheld, “Zum Spektrum der indischen Präsenz in Deutschland von Beginn bis Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts”, in: Gerhard Höpp, Fremde Erfahrungen. Asiaten und Afrikaner in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz bis 1945, Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 1996.
Franziska Roy, Heike Liebau, Ravi Ahuja (eds), Soldat Ram Singh und der Kaiser: Indische Kriegsgefangene in deutschen Propagandalagern 1914–1918, Heidelberg: Draupadi, 2004.
Hans-Ulrich Seidt, Berlin, Kabul, Moskau: Oskar Ritter von Niedermayer und Deutschlands Geopolitik, München: Universitas, 2002.
Different Wikipedia articles, mainly about the history of the various units and their battle order in Europe.
(1) Despite better conditions in the Wünsdorf Halbmondlager, some 1,000 of the interned soldiers – representing around one quarter of them all – died in captivity. In October 1915, mortality among the Indian prisoners registered 16.5 per cent, more than tenfold of the Arabs’ and the Zossen camp’s rates. See: Höpp, Muslime in der Mark, p 50 (also see literature list). This has been attributed to the fact that the South Asians were not accustomed to the cold Central European climate – this, however, also should have applied for Arabs. As a result, most inmates of the Crescent Moon Camp were transferred to camps in Romania in 1917, while in the most severe cases, the POWs were exchanged.
(2) The mosque opened on 15 April 1915 with the beginning of Ramadan. Technically, Germany’s first mosque had been built much earlier, in 1785 in the southwestern castle of Schwetzingen by Kurfürst (elector) Karl Theodor of Baden, but it was used by just a single person, a Muslim slave-concubine he has brought back from his travels in the ‘Orient.’ The Wünsdorf mosque was still used by Berlin’s Islamic community and remaining POWs (the last Tatars left the camp in 1922) after the 1918 armistice but, as it was made from wood (and the Berlin Muslims lacked funds), it lapsed and had to be wrecked in 1930.
(3) As Zehrensdorf cemetery was inaccessible between 1945 and 1994 while it was a Soviet garrison in East Germany, the CWGC created another memorial for the 206 ‘Indian’ soldiers buried there at the French site of Neuve Chapelle. The Indian cemetery in Zehrensdorf was rededicated in 2005.
(4) ‘Pathans’ is a British-Indian variation of Pashtuns. It has often been used for those Pashtuns living under British colonial rule in India, but also – mainly in contemporary literature – to distinguish them from the Pashtuns in Afghanistan.
(5) See: Seidt, Berlin, Kabul, Moskau, p 54.
(6) Quoted in Mark, Krieg an fernen Fronten, p 19 and Adamec, Afghanistan’s Foreign Affairs, p 16.
(7) Lalak’s registry entrance also mentioned the 127th Queen Mary’s Own Baluchi Light Infantry; he seems to have switched regiments.
(8) Ravi Ahuja, in: Roy et al., Soldat Ram Singh und der Kaiser, pp 30, 34.
(9) Wolfdieter Bihl, “Zur Indien-Politik des Osmanischen Reiches im Ersten Weltkrieg”, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 82(1992), 62.
(10) [This footnote was added on 25 September 2020, after receiving new information.] Blogger ‘Barmazid’, administrator of the Tarikh-i-Pakhtunkhwa website, tweeted on 24 September 2020, that “six Pashtuns were recruited as an armed guard to protect the German-Ottoman mission to Afghanistan.” He gave their names as Mir Mast Afridi, Itbargul, Mohabat Khan, Seyed Ahmed, Abdur Rahman Khan and Abdul Subhan Khan and provided a photo. It is possible that not all of them were POWs in Germany and some joined via Turkey. In another blogpost of him, he gave more detail about Jemadar Mir Mast Khan Afridi, including that he was a Qambarkhel Afridi from the Tira valley in today’s FATA. According to this source, his trench diary is houses in the National Archives of Delhi. Barmazid further notes that Mir Mast made it back to his home village in Tira where he continued his anti-British activity, supported by two Turkish emissaries who had arrived there in June 1916 from Afghanistan where they were instructors of the Afghan army. They declared they represented the Ottoman Sultan, acted also on behalf of the Afghan government and promised weapons, ammunition and money. They reportedly recruited 400 Afridi fighters and tried to link up with the neighbouring Momands who were actively fighting the British under Fazl Wahid, better known as Haji Saheb-e Turangzai from Charsada (1858-1937; a paper about his background here and about his anti-British jihad here). Under British pressure, pro-British Afridi tribal leaders were able to remove the Turkish agents from their area in September 1916 but they continued to be active in the area of the Kukikhel Afridi up to June 1917 when they returned to Afghanistan.
(11) One more Afghan – his name given as Schawachan Lalagei – who had deserted in France, lived in a Berlin hospital and had apparently not received any German compensation, is on the records for writing to German authorities on 10 December 1919:
Ich habe keine Kleider und kein Geld. Ich bin ein Fremder hier und kann nicht die Sprache. Für meine Existenz möchte ich gern eine Sicherheit haben. Ich möchte gern einmal Geld bekommen, daß ich ein Geschäft eröffnen kann, denn viele andere haben kleine Läden aufgemacht und ich möchte auch gern das tun.
(“I have no clothes and no money. I am a stranger here and am unable to speak the language. For my subsistence, I would like to have a guarantee. I would like to receive some money, so that I can open a shop, as many others also have opened small shops and I would like to do the same.”)
After some bureaucratic back-and-forth, a German authority informed on 22 April 1920 that “the mentioned man has been clothed and provided with a job.” Lalagei one more time appeared on the members’ list of the Berlin Islamic Community on 4 November 1922, then headed by the Indian Muslim Abdul Jabbar Khairi (1880–1958), one of those who had received German compensation (here, 135–6). Khairi, together with his brother Abdul Sattar Khairi, were Indian Muslims from Delhi who graduated from the Muslim Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh and later studied in Baghdad, Cairo and Beirut. At the outbreak of the First World War, they were in Istanbul. From there, in 1917, they contacted the Kaiser proposing to start a tribal uprising in Kashmir and the North-West Frontier against the British. They moved to Berlin and worked with the German-supported Indian government-in-exile but the uprising never materialised.
This article was last updated on 25 Sep 2020