Force K6 – The Indian Contingent

In 2022, in a partnership between Storylands Sessions and Colourful Heritage, I co-ordinated The Force K6 – Indian Contingent Story at the Badenoch Heritage Festival.

Me with Colin Hexley, Sonia Imran, Hamish Johnston, Saqib Razzaq, Ghee Bowman, Tayjul Islam & Hamish Napier

Read more in the text below and from these sites:

Dr Ghee Bowman, of Exeter University, author of The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk wrote a moving account of the events at the Festival.

The story was featured recently on the Antiques Road Trip and in 2020 on Landward.

Force K6, later re-named The Indian Contingent, were a detachment of the Indian Army briefly stationed around the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland during WW2. Part of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, Force K6 came mainly from what is now Pakistan, and arrived in France in 1939 – with their mules – to provide animal transport for the Allies. In the blitzkrieg, one company was captured, while the others were evacuated from Dunkirk and other ports. After postings in England and Wales, they were stationed in the Scottish Highlands. From June 1942 they had several camps in Badenoch and Strathspey from where they joined winter warfare training in the Cairngorm mountains.

The soldiers were popular in the local communities, helping on farms, playing with children and sharing chapatis and stories. After postings in other locations in the Highlands, they returned to India by early 1944. Fourteen of the Force K6 men died in Scotland, with nine of them buried in Kingussie New Cemetery. Their graves there have been tended for over 70 years by local lady, Mrs Isobel Harling, whose own brother lies in a war grave in Belgium. In 2020 she was awarded a British Empire Medal for her service. For outstanding duty in France, members of Force K6 received one OBE, one MBE, one Indian Order of Merit, three Indian Distinguished Service Medals and one Mention in Despatches.

This fascinating but little-known story of a mainly-Muslim force in the Cairngorms is part of the wider story of the substantial Indian Army contribution to the Allies in both World Wars. But more than simply a story of the South Asian men stationed here, it celebrates the regard they earned from their British colleagues and the warmth of welcome from the Highlanders they lived beside.

Our remarkable, one-off event brought together several voices with unique knowledge of their story. These included Dr Ghee Bowman, of Exeter University, author of The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk; Hamish Johnston, author of A Corner of Pakistan in Scotland; Colin Hexley, the son of Lt Col. T.W.P. Hexley MBE, who served with Force K6 and was a POW with them; the story of Mrs Isobel Harling and more.

The performance included original images and footage of the Contingent from The Imperial War Museum and British Pathé and live music highlighting Islamic verse and song alongside Speyside folk musician, Hamish Napier.

My upcoming book The Hidden Fires: A Cairngorms Journey with Nan Shepherd includes the story of these soldiers.