Armistice 100: East Ham grandson of First World War seaman says not enough known about India’s contribution

PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 November 2018

Asif Shakoor holding a photograph of his Grandfather Mahomed Gama.

Asif Shakoor holding a photograph of his Grandfather Mahomed Gama.


Asif Shakoor’s grandfather, Mahomed Gama, left his native Mirpur in what is now Pakistan administered Kashmir in 1914 to work as a fireman on merchant ships that had been tasked to support the war effort.

Secretary of State for War, David Lloyd George, talking with Indian soldiers at the front. Pic: PA ARCHIVE IMAGESSecretary of State for War, David Lloyd George, talking with Indian soldiers at the front. Pic: PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

Mr Shakoor, 38, from Gladstone Avenue, Newham works as an independent researcher, specialising in the history of South Asian seafarers and is one of 10,000 members of the public to have been selected by ballot to participate in the Nation’s Thank You Procession in Westminster on Remembrance Sunday.

He said his grandfather first served on the SS Medina during the war, transporting cargo and passengers.

According to Mr Shakoor, Mr Gama then served on the SS Khiva after the Medina was sunk in British waters by a German submarine on April 28 1917.

Mr Gama was awarded the British War Medal and Mercantile Marine War Medal in recognition of his services to the SS Khiva.

Mr Shakoor with his grandfather's medal. Picture: Asif ShakoorMr Shakoor with his grandfather's medal. Picture: Asif Shakoor

Mr Shakoor said: “His role was to act as a fireman on the SS Khiva which was used to transport American troops American troops to Liverpool, Plymouth and London for the onward cross channel journey to France.

“He used to work on farmland, he like many others, found cheap work aboard the merchant ships, he was very strong and healthy.”

Mr Shakoor’s research has led him to believe that the SS Khiva transported an estimated 10,000 troops, and tonnes of military supplies from New York to the frontline in France between April 1917 and November 1918.

After the war Mr Gama was discharged and returned to Bombay.

Mr Shakoor said that not enough is known about the many Indian soldiers from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds who served during the war, many of whom come from modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh.

He said: “If you go to the Imperial War Museum, there’s nothing really there on the role of Indian seamen.

“The role of seamen is especially not known.”

He said it was important in the present climate with the rise of the far-right to understand how communities from different backgrounds came together to fight in the war and encouraged others from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds to look into the history of their families.

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