Published On: Sat, Mar 7th, 2015 on 1:10 pm

Indian soldier who died fighting alongside Yorkshiremen in WW1 remembered

An old pair of spectacles in India have shed light on the story of a lone Indian soldier who fought on the Western Front among fellow Yorkshiremen.

Jogendra Sen

Left image and top right: Laurie Milner. Bottom left: BBC.

Jogendra Sen, a highly-educated Bengali who completed an electrical engineering degree at the University of Leeds in 1913, signed up to the 1st Leeds “Pals” Battalion in September 1914.

He remained the only known non-white soldier to serve with the 15th West Yorkshire Regiment during the First World War.

Despite his education, he was thwarted in his attempt to join up as an officer and unable to progress beyond the rank of private.

He was killed in action at the age of 28 near the Somme in May 1916 and is thought to have been the first Bengali to have died in the war.

Jogendra Sen

The Leeds Pals, Jogendra Sen in the far right. Image: Laurie Milner.

His story caught the attention of Dr Santanu Das, Reader in English at King’s College London and an expert on India’s involvement in the First World War.

On a visit to Sen’s hometown of Chandernagore in 2005 – which was once a French colony – Dr Das came across Sen’s bloodstained glasses in a display case in the Institut de Chandernagore museum.

“It’s one of the most poignant artefacts I’ve seen”

He said: “I was absolutely stunned when I saw the pair of glasses. It’s one of the most poignant artefacts I’ve seen – a mute witness to the final moments of Sen’s life. It was astonishing that something so fragile has survived when almost everything else has perished.”

A contemporary photograph was also discovered showing Sen relaxing with his fellow Pals – who knew him as Jon – wearing what is thought to be the same spectacles Dr Das found almost a century later.

Dr Das mentioned his discovery in India during a recent talk in Leeds as part of the University’s Legacies of War centenary project.

According to his obituary in The Times in September 1916, his commanding officer wrote: “His loss is felt very much throughout the whole of the company. He always showed himself to be a keen and upright soldier, and myself and the officers of this company thought a great deal of him.”

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