As a bugler sounded "The Last Post", President Pranab Mukherjee today paid tribute to thousands of Indian troops killed in World War I by laying a wreath at a monument for unknown soldiers in the Belgian capital.
The mood was sombre as the President, the supreme commander of India's armed forces, arrived at the Colonne du Congrès. Silently, the 78-year-old Mukherjee walked up to the pillar and rekindled the flame that burns in memory of the soldiers.
As Mukherjee placed a wreath, a Belgian soldier sounded "The Last Post", signifying the end of the troops' journey in life. A minute’s silence was observed in their memory. Mukherjee later wrote in the visitors' book at the monument: "I pay my respects at the Unknown Soldier's monument which commemorates the sacrifices of soldiers who fought in World War I. Amongst them were Indian soldiers who fought valiantly on the battlefields of Europe during this war to whom I also pay homage. As I stand here, I am constantly reminded how the devastating consequences of war exemplify the universal and eternal relevance of Mahatma Gandhi's message for peace: 'There is no way to peace, peace is the way'."
The Defence and External Affairs Ministries are looking at involving the Indian government in building a monument for unknown Indian soldiers who died during World Wars I and II, officials said. One million Indian troops served overseas during World War I and over 74,000 of them died fighting.
Belgium's monument to the unknown soldiers is located at the base of the Colonne du Congrès or the Congress Column. After the end of World War I, the Allied countries - Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy and the US - found the bodies of many soldiers killed in battle could not be identified. They decided to honour the anonymous soldiers by building monuments in their memory.
The bodies of five unidentified soldiers were exhumed from the five largest battlefields of World War I - Liége, Namur, Antwerp, Flanders and the Yser, where many Indian soldiers were also killed or wounded - and one was buried in Belgium's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on November 11, 1922. Two bronze lions stand guard over the base of the column and the eternal flame burns nearby.