On 'Haifa Day,' India Salutes WWI Troops

In contrast to Haifans, the Indian military annually marks "Haifa Day," the day in which the Ottomans were ousted from the city.

Along Haifa's Jaffa Street, just south of the row of fast-food and shawarma restaurants for which the city is famous, lie two cemeteries widely known as the final burial places of British soldiers who were killed in the pre-state Mandate during both world wars.

Indian soldier, Hagai Frid
Hagai Frid

Historically, Haifa became the most important city during British rule in Palestine after World War I. Its main seats of power in the country were located in the northern coastal city.

But few know that one of the cemeteries on Jaffa Street is actually a memorial site to honor Indian fighters whose ashes were scattered in a river back in their homeland. Even fewer are aware that those who liberated Haifa from the yoke of Ottoman rule in September 1918 were Indian horsemen who overran Turkish positions armed with spears and swords.

In contrast to Haifans, the Indian military annually marks "Haifa Day," the day in which the Ottomans were ousted from the city. This year, however, the state made amends. On Wednesday, ceremonies were held to recognize the anniversary of the battle that put an end to 400 years of Turkish suzerainty over the city with an impressive memorial attended by Indian diplomats, Haifa municipal officials, the defense minister's adviser Amos Gilad and foreign military attaches.

Yigal Greiber, a member of the Haifa Historical Society, told how the British Empire recruited Indians, who were subjects of colonialism, to the armed forces to fight in World War I. These warriors were dedicated and courageous on the battlefield.

"Haifa was a secondary target for the British army," Greiber said. "The main target was Nazareth, and from there, Damascus. But on September 22, the British received an errant reconnaissance report which indicated that the Turks were quitting Haifa. The British then made preparations to enter the city. In the Balad al-Sheikh region [today known as Nesher] the British came under heavy fire."

After the British regrouped, the commander of its forces decided to send an elite unit comprising Indian horsemen. The three platoons were tasked with attacking the Turkish positions on the flanks and overrunning their artillery guns placed in the center of Mount Carmel.

One of the commanders of the force was Colonel Takur Dalpat Singh, who was killed at the start of the battle and has been recognized by the Indian armed forces as "hero of Haifa." His deputy, Bahadur Aman Singh Jodha, took control and defeated the Turks.

The ceremony on Wednesday was attended by Colonel M.S. Jodha, the grandson of the man who went on to lead the horsemen. Jodha and the remainder of the Indian delegation toured the city and visited areas in which his grandfather fought.

The Indian ambassador to Israel, Navtej Sarna, noted in his speech that the soldiers fought valiantly for the British while they were engaged in a struggle against the British for independence.

Shlomo Gilboa, a member of the Haifa city council, said that few in the city are aware of the history and the municipality would officially mark the occasion annually.