Narendra Modi, the first Indian PM to visit Israel, came to Haifa to unveil a plaque at the Indian War Cemetery
"There is a slice of history in the city of Haifa that is very dear to my country. This is the final resting place for 44 of the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives during World War I to liberate the city," Said Indian PM Narendra Modi on his historical visit to Israel.
Photo: Reuven Cohen
At the Indian War Cemetery in Haifa, Modi and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu laid wreaths on the monuments commemorating the Hindu and Muslim soldiers who fell during the battle. The two unveiled also a plaque that commemorates "The brave Indian soldiers led by Major Thakur Dalpat Singh MC, who laid down their lives in the Battle of Haifa on 23 September 1918 and thus contributed to the liberation of the city. This is the only known case in history where a cavalry on the gallop captured a fortified town. On that day, whilst the Mysore Lancers were clearing the rocky slopes of Mount Carmel, the Jodhpur Imperial Service Lancers took over the fortified town of Haifa in a daring day light cavalry charge. Major Dalpat Singh MC, who was leading the Jodhpur Lancers in battle, fell gallantly during the charge and has since been called Hero of Haifa".
"I am deeply honored to stand here today to salute the valiant soldiers, who laid down their lives for the liberation of Haifa during the First World War," wrote Modi in the visitors' book.
The Great War, later called WWI, erupted on 1 August 1914. Its main battleground were in Western Europe; The Middle East, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, was a secondary front. In early 1915 and again in early 1916, Ottoman-German integrated forces tried to invade via Sinai and disconnect the Suez Canal, a strategic traffic axis for the British. Despite the failure of the attacks, the British understood that in order to protect the Canal, they must move the frontline further east and create a partition area. This resulted in a long series of battles.
Mysore Lancers march into Haifa in 1918 along with Jodhpur Lancers
Before the Battle of Haifa erupted, the city served as port for unloading reinforcements and supplies, and there was no plan to capture it. However, on September 22, the British received an errant reconnaissance report, which indicated that the Turks were quitting Haifa. Hastily, the British organized a column of armored vehicles and stormed into town. In Balad al-Sheikh (today's Nesher) they came under hellish fire, and managed to escape only after four hours. Having failed to capture the city, the British Command entrusted the 15th Indian Cavalry Brigade with the conquest of the city.
That battle that took place in the city was one of the most spectacular displays of bravery in World War I. On September 23, 1918, the 15th Cavalry Brigade, comprising lancers from Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore, carried out the assault on the fortified city of Haifa, which was protected by a joint force of Ottomans, Germans and Austro-Hungarians.
The battle of Haifa is a milestone in India's military history and tradition. It is celebrated is ceremonies across India and as of 2010, the Indian Embassy, in collaboration with the Haifa History Society and Haifa municipality, conduct an impressive memorial service for the Hero of Haifa and his comrades, who fell in the battle to liberate the town after 402 years of Ottoman rule.
In 2012, the municipality of Haifa decided to immortalize the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers, by including the stories of their valiant efforts in school curricula. In addition, the municipality, in collaboration with the Haifa History Society and the Indian Embassy, decided to conduct an annual ceremony to commemorate the role of the Indian Army in liberating the city from the Turks. "The move is a part of Haifa Municipality's efforts to preserve the city's history and heritage," said Hedva Almog, Deputy Mayor of Haifa.
Prime Minister Modi said the centenary of the Battle of Haifa, which falls next year, would present another opportunity to mark the enduring bond between India and Israel.
A few months prior to PM Modi's visit to Israel, the Teen Murti Chowk and the Teen Murti Marg were renamed Teen Murti Haifa Chowk and Teen Murti Haifa Marg, as a tribute to this lesser known aspect of the history of India-Israel relations. Teen Murti House, one of the most famous buildings in Teen Murti Marg, became the official residence of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Today the building houses various institutions including Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
Talking to Mayor Yona Yahav, PM Modi stressed the importance he attaches to the historic cemetery in Haifa, and said he will work to encourage tourism from India to Haifa.
Mayor Yahav said, "Haifa and India have a deep historical bond. We welcome the Prime Minister of India and expect to tighten the relationship between us and the Indian people who is dear to our hearts."
* Historic details taken primarily from an article by Yigal Greiber, member of the Haifa History Society