Over a 100 years ago, humanity witnessed the greatest war that had ever occurred - World War I. Nearly 2 million men from across Asia were recruited to fight in the war. They were Indian soldiers from remote communities, Chinese farmers from rural outposts who worked as labourers, Vietnamese fishermen participating on behalf of their French colonial masters, and Japanese sailors in service of their emperor. But today, few remember them or their sacrifices. As the world prepares to commemorate the centenary of the end of The First World War, we will examine not just Asia’s contribution to the Great War, but also how the war changed Asia.
In 1914, India sent nearly 1.5 million men to fight alongside the British in World War I. When Britain denied the colony greater autonomy at the end of the war, the men were swiftly forgotten.
During WWI, 140,000 Chinese labourers were sent to Europe to help the Allies. Their participation had a profound impact on Chinese society, but their contributions have barely been recognised.
About 90,000 Vietnamese soldiers and workers joined the French Western Front in 1914 during WWI. This in turn sowed the seeds of revolution for the birth of modern Vietnam.