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LONG READ & VIDEO: The incredible story and sacrifice of Force K6 to be remembered in Kingussie


By Gavin Musgrove

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Many folk with close links to the incredible story of Force K6 will be attending commemorations and the unveiling of a monument in memory of the Indian soldiers in Kingussie later this year.

Their contribution to the Allies' effort during World War II will be told in a multi-media performance with storytelling, images, music and poetry right near where the soldiers camped 80 years ago.

Force K6, later re-named The Indian Contingent, was a detachment of the Indian Army briefly stationed around the Cairngorms during the war.

The Storylands Sessions and Colourful Heritage, an organisation that celebrates South Asian contributions to Scotland, will be bringing the story of these soldiers to the Badenoch Heritage Festival this September.

Members of Force K6 at one of their camps set up in the strath during World War II.
Members of Force K6 at one of their camps set up in the strath during World War II.

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 Highlands.

From June 1942 they had several camps in the strath from where they joined winter warfare training in the Cairngorm.

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.

Isobel Harling holding a wreath at commemorations in Kingussie's new cemetery in 2019.
Isobel Harling holding a wreath at commemorations in Kingussie's new cemetery in 2019.

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.

The Force K6 – Indian Contingent Story will be part of the Badenoch Heritage Festival 2022 and told in a special one-off performance bringing together several voices with unique knowledge of their story.

These include 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 Harling and more.

Lieut Thomas Hexley marching with the Indian Contingent through the streets of Birmingham in 1941.
Lieut Thomas Hexley marching with the Indian Contingent through the streets of Birmingham in 1941.

The performance will include original images and footage of the Contingent and live music highlighting Islamic verse and song along with Grantown folk musician, Hamish Napier.

The artistic director and project lead is author Merryn Glover, whose upcoming book The Hidden Fires: A Cairngorms Journey with Nan Shepherd includes the soldiers.

The event will take place at the Newtonmore Village Hall on Tuesday 20th September at 7.30pm.

Earlier on the same day, the first UK memorial to the soldiers and officers of Force K6, Royal Indian Army Service Corps will be unveiled in Gynack Gardens, Kingussie, organised by Major Heather Lawrie through ARC Kingussie.

This will be followed by a visit to the graves led by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The contributions and story of the soldiers so far from home has been honoured more widely in recent years.
The contributions and story of the soldiers so far from home has been honoured more widely in recent years.

The Badenoch Heritage Festival is an annual celebration of the history and culture of the region.

One of the organisers Graham Fraser said: "We in Badenoch Heritage are excited to be part of this commemoration of the K6 Forces who came to this area during the Second World War, and of those who did not survive.

"It is important that they are not forgotten, and the event is an ideal opportunity to make their story more widely known, especially to the generations who were born in later years."

Dr Saqib Razzaq, Project Officer with Colourful Heritage, said: “Scotland has been and still is a diverse country with the South Asian population being the largest ethnic minority group present.

"By sharing ‘The Force K6 - Indian Contingent Story’ particularly on the 80th anniversary of this mainly Muslim Force arriving in Badenoch during World War 2, it will educate the present and next generation about the unique connection of Force K6 with Scotland.

"This multimedia production will bring people together, highlight a shared common history and in turn raise the profile of this unique story."

Omar Shaikh and Saqib Razzaq, of Colourful Heritage, with Isobel Harling in 2019.
Omar Shaikh and Saqib Razzaq, of Colourful Heritage, with Isobel Harling in 2019.

Merryn Glover is a writer and facilitator based in Badenoch and one of the lead organisers of the commemorations.

She said: "Born and brought up in South Asia, I was fascinated to learn the story of these Indian soldiers camped right near my home at Loch Insh.

"In my walking and writing about the Cairngorms, I then discovered their mountain warfare training here and the Kingussie graves, and was hooked.

"As more pieces of this incredible story have emerged, through local people, historians, authors and Colourful Heritage, I felt compelled to draw all these threads together into a special evening of storytelling, images and music.

"Colourful Heritage have been the perfect partner to our local Storylands Sessions, and we are so excited to bring this unique event into being."

Hamish Napier, a traditional folk musician, composer and tutor based in the Strathspey capital, said he was delighted to be involved.

“Many different people arrived in Badenoch and Strathspey during the Second World War with countless fascinating stories, from the hundreds of Women’s Land Army workers to the farms, the Lumberjills (Women’s Timber Core) to the forests, along with many Canadian and Newfoundland foresters, to Norwegian elite Commando troops training in the hills above Glenmore," he said.

"But surely the story of The Force K6 Indian troops and their meeting and integrating with the local community is one of the most amazing of all!”

Ghee Bowman will be one of the speakers.
Ghee Bowman will be one of the speakers.

Dr Ghee Bowman is an historian, storyteller and Quaker Chaplain who did his PhD on Force K6 at Exeter University and wrote the book 'The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk'.

He said: “I’ve been researching and writing about Force K6 since 2014, and I never cease to be amazed at the stories that unfold. Theirs is a unique and fascinating story, that demands to be heard.

"I’m very, very pleased that they will be remembered at Kingussie and honoured to be part of that remembering!”

Hamish Johnston is the step-grandson of Major John Finlay MBE RIASC who commanded Force K6’s supply section, remaining with them throughout World War 2.

His booklet about the Force, A Corner of Pakistan in Scotland, is published by Colourful Heritage.

“I am very proud of my step-grandfather’s important contribution to the Force K6/Indian Contingent’s part in World War 2. I think their story, while very interesting in itself, is also most relevant to us today. It can help combat racial and religious prejudice in modern society.”

Colin Hexley will be one of those sharing his family links and knowledge of the story in Kingussie this Autumn.
Colin Hexley will be one of those sharing his family links and knowledge of the story in Kingussie this Autumn.

Colin Hexley is the son of Lt Col. T.W.P. Hexley MBE, who served with Force K6 in India and Europe and was a POW with them.

“The more I read and research the history of my father and Force K6, the more I realise how little we know about the men who served and how easily they could be forgotten. We have a responsibility to ensure their memory lives on.”

All bookings via Eventbrite. Search for The Force K6 – Indian Contingent Story or go to: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-force-k6-indian-contingent-story-tickets-384779384497

• The Force K6 - Indian Contingent Story event has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. The Storylands Sessions are supported by Creative Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.


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