In a bid to pay homage to thousands of Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Belgium’s freedom in Flanders’ fields around Ypres during the First World War (1914 to 1918), Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde last week, on Wednesday, inaugurated India in Flanders Fields exhibition in the Capital. The royal couple was on a seven-day maiden visit to India till 11 November.

The exhibition showcases unique objects from private and military collections in India and official collections from Belgium. The inauguration of this exhibition also marked the royal couple’s first state visit to India and underlines the long-standing ties between the two nations. Focusing on the unforgettable experiences and realities of war, the exhibition tells the story of that war as it was lived by those who went through it.

Similarly, the In Flanders Fields Museum Ieper (Ypres) is an award winning museum on the First World War that pays honour to India’s brave soldiers. In this exhibition, one can witness many fascinating possessions such as a rare colour photograph of Indian cavalry troopers from the Punjab in France, 1917; German postcards showing Germans fighting with Indian troops in Belgium; and various artefacts such as a GorkhaKhukri, different types leather headgears, Belgian medals and decorations and many more.

Interestingly, a coffee table book, which is a compilation of the same exhibits, titled India in Flanders Fields’ was also launched by the royal couple at Manekshaw Centre on the same day. The book highlights the sacrifices of Indian soldiers and showcases the pictures of artefacts and decorations displayed in the exhibition.

The exhibition will be open to the general public from 13-30 November, at the National Museum, where the book will also be available. Belgian historian DominiekDendooven, from the In Flanders Fields Museum (Ypres) and Indian Military Historian RanaChhina (United Services Institution of India) have cowritten this book that brings to fore the chronology of events during the war along with unique pictures from private and military collections of the two countries, for the first ever time. Speaking on the occasion, Chhina informed that the first Indian to fall in this war was a solider named Lathuria from Hamipur in Himachal Pradesh.

He also said nearly 1.5 lakh Indian soldiers participated in the First World War, of which nearly 4,500 died in France and Belgium, mostly in the First Battle of Ypres and Second Battle of Ypres. Besides, he also informed that the very first use of chemical warfare was done at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. The book was launched in the presence of Union Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh and Army Chief General Bipin Rawat.

Moreover, this year marks 70 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations as Belgium was among the first nations of the world to establish diplomatic relations with independent India. The cultural and social interactions of Indian troops on the Western front with locals are understood to have started interesting debates in India then, providing an impetus to the freedom movement.

King Albert I, King Philippe’s great-grandfather had played a key role on the Western Front, not far from where the Indian troops fought. Earlier, King Philippe laid a wreath at India Gate and paid respects to soldiers, who laid down their lives during the First World War.