Service and Sacrifice: Colonial Troops and the First World War

A seminar given by Professor Sonya O. Rose on 14 March 2012

This post was contributed by John Siblon, a part-time MPhil/PhD history student at Birkbeck College.

Professor Rose is Emeritus Professor of History, Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and Honorary Professor of History at the University of Warwick (UK) and a Visiting Fellow of Birkbeck College.

What did it mean to serve in the Colonial armies of the British Empire in the Great War? Were those who volunteered conscious of a ‘national project’ for which they were prepared to pay the ultimate price? Is sacrifice an appropriate concept to explore the colonial participation in the war effort? Did colonial subjects actually volunteer for war service? These were some of the questions that Professor Sonya Rose raised in her paper. For the purpose of the seminar, a comparison was made between the service of Indian and Irish troops. Historical scholarship has recently afforded more effort to the study of the colonial war service in the Great War. These studies have outlined the importance of the colonial contributions to the eventual outcome of the conflict. The rhetoric of sacrifice and service therefore applies as much to the colonies as to British and dominion forces.

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