The Indian Army formed and dispatched seven expeditionary forces overseas during World War I. The largest Indian Army force to serve abroad was the Indian Expeditionary Force D in Mesopotamia. Kut Al-Amara was a town nestled in Iraq.⁣

The first unit sent in November 1914, was the 6th (Poona) Division and they were tasked with guarding British oil installations in and around Basra. As part of the Mesopotamian campaign they served under the command of Major General Barrett and then under Major General Townshend.⁣

After a string of early successes, the campaign was delivered a setback at the Battle of Ctesiphon in November 1915 due to logistical constraints. ⁣

Following this engagement, the Poona Division withdrew back to Kut, where Townshend made the decision to hold the city and the Siege of Kut began.⁣

The Ottomans surrounded Kut on December 7 and launched a series of attacks. Enemy fire was not the only killer. Food supplies were running out and, with no relief force in sight, Townshend cut rations by half in late January 1916. Their food would last three months, but only if his men took to eating the horses and mules that served as the 6th Division’s pack animals.⁣

The first ration of horsemeat was issued on January 28, but the Indian soldiers refused to touch it. They were given an extra ration of atta in its stead, but this was meagre allowance.⁣

It was not religious dogma, however, that had united Hindu, Muslim and Sikh soldiers against horseflesh – it was fear of social ostracism. As a lieutenant with the 66th Punjabis observed, the men “declared that every village pundit would be against them on their return to India and that… no one would give them their daughters to marry”.⁣

Malnutrition began to reduce soldiers to sickly skeletal figures. Beds at Kut’s makeshift hospital began to fill up with sepoys afflicted by scurvy, jaundice and pneumonia.⁣

By April Kut was out of options and food. Townshend began negotiations with the Ottomans. The surrender came on the morning of April 29.⁣