From the Team

This is the fourth of a series of posts by Joseph James, an M.A. student at McGill University, and a research assistant for the Raising Hope project.

The Loyal Subject: Depictions of Indians in Children’s War Literature

By Joseph James

Throughout the literature discussing the endeavours of the soldiers of the British Empire, there are some familiar tropes which pervade the descriptions of soldiers. Words such as brave, courageous, loyal and noble are some of the most common and concomitant with the never deviating narrative that these soldiers are firmly committed to the ideals of the British Empire: Justice, fair play, honour. Indeed, the British Empire and its soldiers were described as somewhat of a brotherhood, a family of nations in which Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and Britons were all equal components within the noble struggle against Germany. However, the language used to describe Indian soldiers and indeed non-white soldiers of the Empire is far different, with the depictions leaning far less heavily, if at all, on the concept of an equal brotherhood. Instead they were depicted as willing, loyal subjects, thoroughly orientalised, whose mysterious and exotic traits were to be put to use in service of the Empire. Such depictions are of course very much fitting of the period, with writers such as Rudyard Kipling bringing vivid and exotic descriptions of the East of the Empire to mass audiences in the West. Indeed, such discourse as surrounds the Indian soldiers in the children’s books can be seen as the reformulation of such widely held perspectives for a younger audience, to further render the war an adventure, by adding some exotic side characters that could further serve to capture the young people’s attentions.

This quotation from a children’s book called Brother Britons, published in 1919 as a recounting of the war serves as a succinct illustration of this:

The Great War came…but the people of India did not turn against us. Instead of this, thousands of them begged to be allowed to fight for us; and those who could not fight went to their temples to pray to their gods that we might win.

This provides a fair overview of the way in which Indian attitudes to the war are portrayed in literature. They begged to be included, because they are a subjugated people and therefore could not make demands. They went to their temples to pray, thereby underscoring their exotic nature as they prayed in their different buildings to their many gods. This sort of objectionable language, par for the course during this era, is revealing in determining how such tropes interacted with depictions of the war.

The attributes of the Indian soldiers were indeed celebrated in some of the literature, when their differences were marshalled so as to show their great prowess and indirectly that of the British Empire for subjugating them and conquering them. As this recounting of an Indian unit’s bayonet charge against Germans, from the same book, recounts, “the Germans must have been terrified of these dark flashing eyes, the gleaming bayonets, and the terrible cries of these dark-skinned warriors.” Here we have the qualities that make the Indian soldiers apparently so different from the other soldiers, but weaponised and turned against the Germans, who are no match for the Indian soldiers’ terrible cries – seemingly the soldiers capable of uttering terrifying noises far beyond anything capable of European soldiers. Indeed, attributes that might otherwise be seen as negative or threatening are here seen as providing a deadly edge against the Germans. So the young reader is able to learn about the strange exotic ways of the Indians, whilst still remaining within a discourse that upheld the victorious and mighty Empire, by looking at the strangeness and prowess of its subjugated peoples.

It is not just through the written descriptions of Indian soldiers that young Canadians were woven into a discourse of imperial power and orientalism. The usage of images within the books also provided a tool that was used to further drive home the message of the loyal oriental subjects.

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Indian troops camping in a London park

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Types of our Indian soldiers” Sikhs are seen above and cavalry below


Both these photos are derived from Edward Parrott’s The Children’s Story of the War. Both pictures show groups of Indian soldiers, although the first takes a more casual as opposed to professional approach. Indeed, the first image seems to be attempting to render the Indians as more approachable or relatable, although despite this one of them still has his scimitar drawn, perhaps reminding the reader of Indians’ possible threat as well as their exoticism. The second image’s caption is particularly instructive with the use of the possessive pronoun ‘our’, letting readers assure themselves that these soldiers are owned by the Empire, as the word suggests, and that they march (or ride) in such a formation. They are of course soldiers, so this is expected of them, but the first image shows us another less directly controlled image of the soldiers. The two photos, however, serve to further depict these Indian soldiers within a specific discourse that portrays them as a dangerous other that has been conquered, subdued and now controlled by the might of the civilising British Empire. Indeed the uniforms of the soldiers can be seen as physical manifestations of this control and the binding of the Indian people by the British Empire, physically enveloping them and presenting them as subjects. For the young reader one could argue this aims to present them with a sufficiently exotic portrayal of Indian soldiers so as to match their preconceptions from other books, whilst also placing them securely within a frame of understanding that underscores the Empire’s might within the context of the war. One would expect indeed that many of the young people who gazed upon such images would feel some cheer that these ‘exotic’ warriors bound to the Empire were also fighting against the Germans.

Thus the depiction of Indian soldiers to children in the First World War served as a tool to further reinforce and mould the understandings of the young people of Canada. With such depictions they were pushed to see the might and the right of their Empire through the strange and exotic peoples it had subjugated and to feel great pride that such peoples were both so loyal to the Empire and fighting side by side with its ‘normal’ troops; who no doubt did not utter ‘terrible cries’. Therefore, the descriptions and depictions allowed for a melding of various common tropes and discourses that were so prominent at the time, orientalism met jingoism and brought forth a particular understanding of the Empire’s Indian subjects’ contribution to the war.


This is the third of a series of posts by Joseph James, an M.A. student at McGill University, and a research assistant for the Raising Hope project.

Teachers as soldiers and the vicarious war

By Joseph James

The First World War was an unrivalled time of jingoism throughout the British Empire and there were many ways in which this manifested. One way was through the education system. In interactions between teachers and students, students were encouraged vicariously to take part in the conflict, both through the interweaving of the war with lessons, but also through the relating of the exploits of teachers who had signed up to fight. This meant that the students were given a more direct stake in the war as they could link it in directly to their lived experiences and see how it related to people they already knew. That this was so prominent with their teachers serves to reinforce how even whilst absent from their roles at the school the teachers continued in their pedagogical role by setting a ‘shining example,’ of the worthiness of patriotism and self-sacrifice for one’s ideals.

This extended pedagogical role was something that the education ministries themselves acknowledged, with the Ontario Education ministry report of 1917, in a report from Inspector Hoag noting,

During the year the great war has been uppermost in the mind and heart of everyone. In our schools, teachers and pupils have followed the mighty struggle from day to day by means of maps, newspapers and other publications. This has been done not so much as a preparation for the inevitable examination in History as from a sincere interest in the progress of our Empire’s fight for the preservation of liberty. Then, also, every school has one or more names on its Honour Roll of those who have gone to do ‘their bit.’

Here we can see clearly how the inspectorate of the Ontario Education Ministry sought deliberately to weave together education upon the particulars of the war with a broader civic education that sought to instill the values of the era, the values of ‘going to do your bit.’ Thus, British values were instilled by keeping students up-to-date with the happenings of the conflict and expanding pedagogy so as to allow the teachers who had gone to do their bit to teach by their examples in the field of battle and the course of the war as a whole. Indeed, by doing so the pupils were showing their interest in the ‘preservation of liberty’ and therefore also demonstrating their own patriotism and enthusiasm for the war. The pupils, as their own small way of contributing to the war, showed their diligence and enthusiasm to add to the fighting spirit of the country. The significance in the eyes of the ministry of teachers who had ‘gone to do their bit’ is particularly illustrated by the fact that the section of reports from inspectors is prefaced by 8 pages of listings of teachers who have joined the armed services.

A similar notion appears in the opening remarks of the report of the Ontario Education Ministry of 1916. The head inspector notes that:

The war has given a marked stimulus to the work done in history, geography and literature. The teachers have been diligent in inculcating the lessons of patriotism illustrated so potently by the great trial through which the British Empire is passing in its splendid effort on behalf of liberty, humanity and civilization.

Here we have another succinct summation of the way in which the war serves a pedagogical role in that students can learn of patriotism so clearly illustrated by the war, an almost self-catalytic effect by which the war occurs and further inspires young people, who in turn are even more fervent in their desire to pursue the war. It’s also very clear, once again, that the war serves as a potent reminder and signifier of the values that the British Empire supposedly stood for. One can imagine that they had yet to read Wilfred Owen.

Within reports and recounting from Quebec on the other hand, mention of the war itself is far more sparse, let alone discussion of the students’ fervour for its prosecution. Nonetheless it does crop up, with a report from Protestant schools in the province in 1917:

I desire to call your attention to the fact that the elementary schools of this district, from the teachers to the oldest and youngest pupils, from the sturdy youth, longing to reach the required military age to the little tots, just able to wave the Union Jack, are at war with the Empire against Prussianism and frightfulness. Every school has contributed to the Red Cross fund, teachers and pupils are knitting for the soldiers, the girls and boys are sending boxes to their brothers on the front, nearly every teacher and pupil is directly interested. We were never more loyal to our King and Empire.

Here we have many of the same tropes of loyalty and fervour sprouting from the pupils and teachers’ engagement with the war. The language goes even further than the vicarious wording of the Ontario reports: pupils are not fighting through following the exploits of their teachers, but even the ‘little tots just able to wave the Union Jack are at war.’ This would seem a somewhat hyperbolic manifestation of what has been discussed in the two previous excerpts with the schooling system fully locked into the struggle of the war as depicted as right against wrong. With the values of the British Empire here contrasted against ‘Prussianism and frightfulness,’ it is clear that the Education system is further enforcing the ‘moral’ lessons of the war and instilling this element of war propaganda in even the ‘little tots,’ whilst they too are brought into the war effort through their knitting and sending of boxes.

These are just three main examples of often occurring reports of the role of the war within the schooling in Ontario and to a lesser extent in Quebec. The war was presented within schools in such a way as to further support for it both by integrating it within existing subjects and educational topics, but also to a certain extent by making the war a subject in of itself, so as to best encourage students to follow it and to learn the ‘correct’ patriotic and civic lessons. In this respect the war then served as another pedagogical tool, through which young people were further drilled in the virtues and norms of the Empire to which they belonged.


This is the second of a series of posts by Joseph James, an M.A. student at McGill University, and a research assistant for the Raising Hope project.

By Joseph James

The war Continues: Military Allegory and the Temperance Movement’s Hope to Forge a more Sober Canada in the Post-War World

We have great reason to be thankful for the unity of the Empire in the past four years and for the fine and growing spirit amongst the allies, which made possible a united command which added largely to the glorious victory which we won…We have been delivered from the invasion of war and all its terrors and devastations, and we are surrounded by plenty. We have the joy of being the first land that was free from drink. It has proved such a blessing to our country that everyone except the liquor men is high in praise of it.

July 1919 edition of the White Ribbon Tidings

For those who made up the temperance movement in Canada this situation also provided an opportunity to marshal some of the momentum and emotion that the war had created in order to advance their cause. This meant that after the conclusion of the war the temperance movement made great efforts to utilise the war as a rhetorical tool in order to support their cause.

The conflation of the temperance campaigns’ battle against alcohol with the travails of the war took place in a number of different ways. One of these was easily grasped, as at the end of the war and shortly after there was a countrywide ban on alcohol, which was put in place as an emergency war-time measure. This meant it was easy to conflate the supposed glory of the successfully prosecuted war with the prohibition measures that had been put in place, as shown in this quotation from the July 1919 edition of the White Ribbon Tidings, the newspaper of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Now one would perhaps anticipate that after four years of brutal fighting a relaxing of restrictive laws could be expected or wished for. Not so it seems. Indeed, if one is to believe the author of this article, an unnamed staff-writer for the paper, then the only way to continue the glorious and hopeful trajectory instigated by the war, was to continue the ban on alcohol. The writer clearly suggests that the achievements of the war, as they are described, are keenly linked to prohibition and that its continuation is a key component for a hopeful future.

Educating the young on temperance was seen as a clear link between a positive outcome from the war’s prosecution and a bright future. A letter in the February issue of that year, from a reader from Barrie, argues that, “to a great extent the measure of prohibition we have is a direct result of education, brought to a definite culmination through war necessities. To combat the insidious propaganda of the enemies of temperance we must fortify our Canadian youth with the greatest weapon – knowledge.” The use of language of the war, along with an acknowledgement that prohibition was largely achieved due to necessities of war closely intertwines the two endeavours. This in turn shows the extent to which the letter writer sees the two as contiguous struggles and indeed to look at her word choice to see temperance as a continuation of the same struggle that took place during the war, to achieve a better world and a better Canada. In making this type of argument the letter writer suggests the moral alignment of the prosecution of these two separate struggles, using the popular legitimacy and sacrifice of the war and transferring it to the temperance movement.

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Finally, the above picture depicts a ringing endorsement from a member of the Canadian armed forces in America. Surely if this officer and by proxy the Canadian military approved of temperance then indeed it must be a good idea. Indeed, Lieutenant-Colonel Bullock’s support for prohibition taken from the July 1919 edition of the White Ribbon Tidings – in the run up to a referendum on its continuation – is a highly demonstrative manifestation of the arguments and position that the paper provided. The paper drove home its argument that the struggle for temperance was intrinsically linked to the First World War. In doing this the authors had two main goals: for people to identify the moral cause for temperance with that of the war and its successful prosecution; secondly, they were attempting to harness any potential optimism and hopefulness that people associated with the end of the war and to direct these emotions towards their goals of temperance and a more sober Canada. In this respect then we can see one more way in which the First World War’s huge impact was felt in a perhaps slightly less expected place.


Imperial Indian Soldiers and their Depiction in British Children’s Books

This is the first of a series of posts by Joseph James, an M.A. student at McGill University, and a research assistant for the Raising Hope project.

By Joseph James

India, however, is not a British land peopled by men and women of British speech. It is a foreign land whose people speak several strange languages, and live in many ways quite different from ourselves. It is a land under our rule too, and the Germans say that if we are too busy to look after India some day, her people would turn against us. Well the Great War came and we were very busy indeed. But the people of India did not turn against us. Instead of this thousands begged to be allowed to fight for us; and those who could not fight for us went to their temples and prayed so that we might win.

Indian soldiers played a prominent role within the British Imperial army. Their exploits are now widely recognized, particularly in light of the centenary of the start of the First World War. And, indeed, at the time they were also widely recognized for their service to the Empire. This lead Indian soldiers, however, being to be presented within a very specific framework, one of orderly control and subservience to the Union Jack, with their otherness serving as a function of the range of power that the Empire was able to exert over the globe and the many different peoples whose land was coloured red on the map. These descriptions served to reaffirm to the viewer the power of the Empire and its sway over the territory it controlled, as the above quotation from the 1919 school pamphlet, Brother Britons, by Richard Wilson, suggests. The combination of the military and the exotic allowed for the combination of two of the arguably most prominent tropes in children’s literature, particularly when aimed at young boys. Considering the books were written at a time where literature such as Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book still shaped perceptions of the Orient it is not surprising that children’s authors would seek to incorporate some of the associated exoticism and wonder into their writings, as underscored by the reference to grateful Indians praying at their temples for British victory, enhancing the links between their otherness and their devotion to the Empire. So it went: not only will these strange people beg to fight for us, but they will pray to their strange Gods too.

There were also more direct references to the way in which the War did in fact bring the subjects of the Empire closer together. As Wilson mentions again in his book, “The Great War knit together all different parts of our Empire in one great brotherhood. The feeling of brotherliness had been there before the war had begun, but the fighting and the danger showed it up very clear to the world.” This is of course not an event exclusive to this particular context, with wars often serving as unifying forces for states or Empires. However the way in which it was manifested certainly was particular to the context, with descriptions of the soldiers serving to hone in on their otherness, as this quotation from Edward Parrott’s book The Children’s Story of the War written in 1916 shows, “In times of peace we maintain in India…a native army of about 160,000 men recruited from many castes and races. Chief among these are the Sikhs, a fierce warrior caste, whose home is the Punjab Long.” The passage then goes onto list the other types of soldiers in the native army, their homes and habits. This provides another example of how Indian soldiers are presented as elements in the imperial roster to be deployed against the Germans. By discussing their places of residence, ‘the Punjab Long,’ ‘The rugged tableland of Beluchistan,’ or the ‘mountains of Nepal,’ the author further highlights the soldiers otherness by evoking the mysterious and distant geography of their homelands, exoticising the soldiers and describing another group of people happy to submit to the Empire and loyally serve them.

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If an image is a 1,000 words then this image serves as a compact way to finish this blog whilst showing a revealing story. Above we have a picture taken of Indian soldiers billeted in Saint James’ park, taken from Parrott’s second volume of his The Children’s Story of the War. Here we have Sikh soldiers, wearing their soldiers’ uniforms, showing their service to the British Empire, but whilst also showing their cultural difference, allowing for a physical representation of the varied cultures of the Empire contained within the overarching Imperial ‘uniform’. That they are also billeted in St James’ park speaks volumes to what seems to be the ‘domesticating’ of the exotic Indian soldiers by the Empire. Overall these depictions serve to reinforce in their young readers notions of the might of the British Empire by allowing the Indian soldiers to serve as an exoticised prop through which the young readers could feel pride in the war effort and the Empire more generally.


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