The Price of War

It was the largest force assembled in the history of mankind during WW1. Around 1.4 million Indians served during the war with around 74,000 fatalities. But other than manpower, India offered a substantial amount of financial and material aid which again is not well profiled in the history books or the press.

Indian ranks recruited from the outbreak of war up to the 31st December 1919:

Combatants 877,068
Non-combatants 563,369
Total 1,440,437

Source: The following statistical data has been extracted from India’s Contribution to the Great War, Calcutta, India, Authority of the Government of India, 1923.

India’s Financial Contribution

For a country that was under colonial rule, and struggling to feed its own people, India provided an astounding amount of financial aid to the British war effort. The contributions from Indian revenues towards the cost of the war amounted to £146.2 million by the end of 1919-20. In today’s terms, these would amount to around £14 billion.

Non Combatants / Followers

Those Indians who were not involved in a combat role were classed as non-combatants (followers). They included a whole host of professions including bakers, blacksmiths, butchers, carpenters, cooks, hammerman, gardeners, herdsman, shoemakers, shoeing smiths, packers, sweepers, syces, tailors, washermen, weighmen etc.

The demand for the non-combatant professions was so hight that the British established five Followers Central Depots and one Syce Corps Depot. A total of 63,830 followers were enrolled and 43,737 were supplied.


The total number of animals sent overseas during the same period were around 184,350. These included horses, ponies, mules, camels, draught bullocks and dairy cattle

Theatre Horses Ponies & Mules Camels Draught Bullocks Dairy Cattle
France 31,075 8,970 - - -
East Africa 536 793 172 - -
Egypt 7,208 4,553 6,393 - -
Mesopotamia 44,288 45,577 3,026 4,649 4,986
Other theatres 2,846 5,505 1,190 412 636



The approximate value of supplies sent overseas during the war to the various forces dependent on India was:-

To France 704,000
To East Africa 1,485,000
To Mesopotamia 24,842,000
To Egypt 6,554,000
To Persia 460,000
To Aden(half) 363,000
Total 34,408,000

Some items deemed more important than others which were shipped from India up to the end of March 1919 for Indians were:-

Rice 219,889
Flour 133,025
Atta 322,587
Daal 48,650
Ghi 26,214
Sugar 35,602
Tea 6,502
Tinned Meat 10,763
Jam 5,977
Biscuits 7,905
Firewood 603,223


The contribution of the Imperial Service Troops

At least a third of British India was comprised of the Princely States that maintained some autonomy with a dedicated army of their own. The Princely States too contributed a huge amount of resources to the war effort in both men and material.

The extent of the contributions of various states was as follows:

Princely State No. of combatants set overseas
Alwar 1,502
Bahawalpur 326
Bharatpur 1,581
Bikaner 1,164
Faridkot 444
Gwalior 2,597
Hyderabad 1,075
Indore 681
Idar 20
Jaipur 1,256
Jind 1,116
Jodhpur 1,342
Kathiawar 472
Kapurthala 689
Kashmir 4,983
Kaipur 147
Malerkotla 520
Mysore 1,355
Nabha 538
Patiala 2,695
Rampur 567
Rutlam 5
Sirmur 561
Tehri 457
Udaipur 6

Additionally, the Indian States and their Maharajas recruited a large number of combatant and non-combatant men for service in the regular Indian army as well.

Was a bonus given to combatant recruits for the service rendered during the war?

Yes, a sum of Rs 50 was temporarily offered. In addition, they received a further Rs 15 on completing their training, or on proceeding overseas. From the 1st June 1918, a war bonus was given every 6 months’ service completed after that date, the rate for every such completed period being Rs. 24 in the case of Indian other ranks and Rs. 60 for the highest grade of Indian Officers

Source: CAFHR-United Service Institution of India

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