General Studies Paper 1 (World History): World War 1

World War 1

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1(World History)

World War 1 was a fight for colonies and also involved colonies as parties in it. In the context of this statement discuss the role played by India in World War 1.



First World War (1914-1918) is considered as one of the largest wars in history.  The war started mainly because of four aspects: Militarism, Alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. It has been 100 years since the  end World War 1 and the first India built war memorial in northern France was inaugurated to pay tribute to thousands of Indian soldiers who fought and made scarifies during world war 1. India being under a colonial rule at that time provided its support by providing both Men and material.

Why World War 1 was a fight for colonies and involved colonies as parties?

Colonial rivalry was the cause for First World War. The acquisition of colonies was one of the causes of the war. World War I began in 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and lasted until 1918.

  • Colonial rivalry led to strained relations among European powers. In Africa, all the European powers except Austria and Russia had colonies there. There were many clashes among France, Britain, Germany and Italy.

Ex: France rivalled with Italy over Tunis and with Germany over morocco.

  • Germany had watched as Great Britain and France snatched up most of the best colonial regions those were India, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa for the British and Morocco, Algeria, and much of West Africa for the French.
  • Colonial rivalry led indirectly to the formation and strengthening of alliances and ententes. Alliances showed a great dent in World War one. In 1914 the six most powerful countries in Europe divided into two opposing Alliances (sides/teams). The Triple Alliance consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy which was formed in 1882. The Triple Entente included Britain, France and Russia which was formed in 1907.
  • Colonial rivalry led to intensification of arm race. Also led to much hostility among powers.
  • Colonies provided valuable resources and people during World war 1. Colonies like the Belgian Congo gave useful materials like rubber, while other colonies like British India gave huge numbers of troops.


Role played by India in first world war.

  • Men and material

1.5 million Indians participated directly in the war as soldiers and carriers. As the nature of the war is a total war, the entire resources of the empire were put at the disposal of war effort turning it in to a global conflict.  The total Indian military casualties were 75,000 soldiers.

  • Fronts fought

India dispatched 7 expeditionary forces overseas during the war. Indian soldiers participated in all the theatres of the war like German East Africa (Burundi, Ruanda), Gallipoli campaign (Turkey), French trench warfare, Mesopotamian front in Middle East.

  • Princely states contribution

Indian princes contributed to the British War effort with money, resources and army. Many princely states rulers were recruited into the British army in honorary positions.

  • Contribution of nationalist leadership

Gandhi ji participated actively in recruiting the volunteer forces to support the British war effort. Most of the moderate leadership led by the Grand old man Dadabhai Naoroji gave unconditional support to British War effort. Gandhi was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind medal.

  • Economic support of India

Many Indians were forced to prescribe to the war bonds and Indians faced higher taxes and material shortages.  The total Indian contribution to the British war effort is a loan of 2 billion dollar equivalent according to modern estimates.

  • Contribution of women

Queen Alexandria’s imperial military nursing service was established and Indian women were recruited for tending to the wounded and maimed in the war.


Effect on India

  • Attempts at using British weakness for Indian advantage: Ghadar Movement

The war years were also witness to increased political turbulence with intensifying revolutionary activity. Particularly on the part of the revolutionary Ghadar Movement which aimed to gain India’s independence, by violence if necessary. The war had drained India of troops and at one point a mere 15,000 soldiers were physically present in the subcontinent. For revolutionaries, like the Ghadar, this weakness was ripe for exploiting and their violent activities flourished – particularly in Punjab and Bengal.

  • Attempts by revolutionary terrorists to take help of enemies of British like Germany

The Provisional Government of India was a provisional government-in-exile established in Kabul,Afghanistan on December 1, 1915 by Indian nationalists, during World War I with support from the Central Powers, the provisional government was composed of Mahendra Pratap as President, Maulana Barkatullah as Prime Minister.

  • Price rise

During the war prices of food grains rose by 93%, Indian made goods 60% & Imported goods 190%.
These rise in prices were caused by the disruption of war to normal trading patterns, exchange rate problems, and diversion of food to the war effort and the demands of the military.

  • Industrial expansion

A group of entrepreneurs who bagged war supply contracts, however, made windfall profits in a short time. Britain understood the need for an independent industrial base in India and its strategic advantage. This created opportunities for Indian industrialists to set up war goods oriented industries in the country. As a result, a good number of factories sprang up in centers like Bombay. This created employment and benefited the economy. First World War gave the newly established and ailing Tata steel plant a shot in the arm.

  • Political suppression
    • The British imposed the repressive Rowlatt Act, which vested the Viceroy’s government with extraordinary powers to quell “sedition” against the Empire by silencing and censoring the press, detaining political activists without trial, and arresting without a warrant any individuals suspected of treason against the Empire.
    • Public protests against this draconian legislation were quelled ruthlessly. The worst incident was the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre of April 1919, when Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to fire without warning on 15,000 unarmed and non-violent men, women and children demonstrating peacefully in an enclosed garden in Amritsar, killing as many as 1,499 and wounding up to 1,137.
  • National disillusion

Sir Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood to the British in protest against “the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India” because of the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacare.

  • British policies

The principle of self-government to India in the future was promised by the Montagu declaration.

  • Indian Muslim sentiments

The harsh terms imposed by Treaty of Severs on Ottoman Turkey and the taking away the control of holy places from the Caliph led to a disillusion among Indian Muslims leading to the khilafat movement.

  • Monument commemorating dead soldiers (India gate)

The India Gate was originally named All-India War Memorial and it was built to pay homage to the soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives fighting for the British Empire in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. India Gate was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and is at New Delhi’s Raj Path.

  • Transition from responsive co-operation to non-cooperation

The excesses post war converted Gandhi from responsive Cooperation to non-Cooperation. As it would be impossible to handle an intransigent enemy who responds to cooperation by repression, leading to the non-cooperation movement.

  • The aura and glory of western civilization was lost beyond redemption

As the advancements in west which earlier evoked awe and inspiration of Indians, now evoked in them a sense of revulsion looking at the enormity of the casualties brought about by modern warfare.



World War I was truly a war without winners. Every country involved was decimated by the extreme loss of life, and most countries continued to experience severe economic troubles years after the end of the war. The war also crushed the spirit of millions of people around the world. Many had hoped that the rising tide of industrialism and world trade would create a more prosperous, peaceful future. But World War I only proved that nations would use advances in industrial capacity and technology to sponsor widespread destruction and killing.

India played a significant part in World War One. Approximately i.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War 1 and over 74,000 lost their lives. However, India’s part in the war is frequently overlooked by world. Though it has been 100 years to the end of World War 1, still the wars are continuing among nations, For Ex: WTO Attack, Mumbai attack Kashmir issue. Hence end of world wars further led to destruction than the peace among nations.


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