A Meeting of Cultures

<p>Lieutenant Colonel William Malone with Naran Sammey. Photo courtesy of the Malone Family.</p>

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone with Naran Sammey. Photo courtesy of the Malone Family.

World War I is widely perceived as a pointless conflict that destroyed a generation. Petty squabbles between emperors and elites pushed naive young men into a nightmare of mud and blood that killed millions and left the survivors scarred and embittered. But a new book argues that view was largely constructed from the 1960s onwards and fails to consider myriad positive experiences that continue to shape our lives today. This edited extract from Experience of a Lifetime illustrates one overlooked aspect.

Indian and New Zealand troops first met in the Great War - indeed, ever - when the first contingents of the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force arrived in Egypt in December 1914. As the Australasian ships steamed up the Suez Canal, they passed the camps of the Indian formations deployed to protect the vital waterway. Anzac diaries and letters testify to the effect of this encounter with the military force of the empire.

Australasian troops saw Sikhs and Gurkhas as they passed through the canal, the former "fine tall men", the Gurkhas "very smart and soldierly". Although most were seeing "Indians" for the first time, many recognised Sikhs, Pathans and Gurkhas from sources such as illustrated newspapers, cigarette cards, and the popular literature of empire, from G.A. Henty and W.H. Fitchett to Rudyard Kipling, which many had imbibed from boyhood.

Indian muleteers and drivers turn up often in Anzac letters, diaries, memoirs and photographs, although usually anonymously. But in the diary of Lieutenant Colonel William Malone there is a detailed account of his meeting with an Indian driver, which is not only the longest single anecdote recorded by an Anzac diarist, but also one of the few that names the Indian, and the only one that includes a photograph of him. At Cape Helles, the day after the costly and, as it turned out, futile attack which the New Zealand Infantry Brigade made in the Second Battle of Krithia, Malone sheltered for the night amid an Indian transport dump. He crawled into a shelter between piles of ammunition boxes and other stores, encountering in the dark a man who welcomed him, silently gave him room and even pushed a blanket over him. Malone "snuggled up against the man" for warmth.

After waking, dry despite the rain that fell overnight, Malone crawled out and told an officer "what a Christian I'd struck", asking him to pass on two shillings to his benefactor. When the man then emerged, Malone was astonished to find that "he was an Indian as black as the ace of spades!" He was "so very black, with gold earrings!" Malone told his 8-year-old son, Denis.

Read the full extract on the New Zealand Herald website, where it was first published here.