The Second World War was not fought by Britain, but by the British Empire. In The Raj at War Yasmin Khan has revived the many lost voices of the war fought by India, at home and abroad, creating a rich portrait of a continent at war, told by the many Indian soldiers and civilians whose lives were upturned by war. The non-combatants, the lascars, the prostitutes, nurses, refugees and peasants. We hear from-
- Three soldiers, imprisoned as 'traitors to the Raj', released to a hero's welcome - A small Muslim boy arrested in Lahore for singing anti-recruitment songs - The cooks on board army boats, preparing chapattis on petrol burners on deck amidst howling gales - The family huddled round the wireless listening to German radio broadcasts, with the shutters closed and a servant keeping guard - The first Indian soldier to receive the Victoria cross, Premindra Bhagat, writing to his sweetheart Mohini.
It is a narrative of loyalty and rebellion, oppression and protection. India did indeed come to the aid of its colonial master, but it was the wartime transformation of India that ultimately led to Indian independence and the partition of the subcontinent, as the Raj unravelled under the pressure of war.