North African and Indian soldiers in the First World War in Palestine and Syria, 1917-1923

  • Sneha Reddy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis explores the experiences of North African and Indian soldiers in the First World War in Palestine and Syria. In 1917, Britain’s and France’s manpower shortages faced them with the dilemma of whether to continue deploying colonial soldiers against their co-religionists in the Ottoman Empire. They also confronted the risks of enemy propaganda and war weariness. What then persuaded them to rely on colonial troops? And what consequences did that dependence carry for empire? Crucially, how did the soldiers see and experience the war in Palestine and Syria? Contrasting the incentives for the North African and Indian soldiers to serve, and their operational capabilities in the field, offers a rich canvas for comparing the two colonial armies. It also helps gauge war’s capacity to shape the position of the military within a society. The thesis demonstrates that the threat from the Ottoman jihad provides an inadequate framework for looking at these issues, given the hybrid and complementary identities of the soldiers, as members of their own tribes and communities and as colonial subjects. In turn, the soldiers’ own wartime experiences influenced their subsequent military identities.

Conventional chronology has limited our understanding of the transformative nature of the Great War, and the colonial experience of it, by framing it as ‘la Guerre de 1914-1918’, an event with a definite beginning and end. Soldiers’ letters and officers’ memoirs argue otherwise. This thesis breaks new ground through its engagement with the Marginal Front, conceptualised here as the war’s lesser-studied intersectional aspects–the East-West connections, the colonial home fronts, and the Middle East battlefields, between 1917 and 1923. With International Relations increasingly questioning the origins of power in global politics, at the heart of this research is an investigation of the nature of knowledge, and the enduring influence of colonial constructs on the social sciences.
Date of Award29 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorStephen Robert Tyre (Supervisor) & Hew Strachan (Supervisor)


  • North Africa
  • South Asia
  • Palestine
  • Syria
  • First World War in the Middle East
  • Colonial knowledge and power
  • Ottomans
  • British and French colonial history
  • Postwar politics
  • Marginal Front
  • Jihad

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 8th February 2026

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