The head of a group commemorating the 74,000 Indian soldiers who died in the First World War has urged people not to forget their “enormous contribution".

Davinder Dhillon is chairman of the Chattri Memorial Group. The society takes its name from the South Downs monument on the site where Hindu and Sikh soldiers were cremated after dying in Brighton war hospitals in 1914-15.

Twelve thousand Indian soldiers wounded on the Western Front were taken to hospitals across Brighton, one of them based in the Royal Pavilion.

Today, Mr Dhillon will lay a wreath in Old Steine in their memory. He said: “It’s a reminder to everybody that there was an Indian presence, and that arguably, if it wasn’t for their support, we could have lost the war in Europe. Indian soldiers had an enormous impact. They came to the rescue, and they held the line.”

More than 1.3 million Indian soldiers fought alongside the Allies in the First World War on battlefields across Europe, North and East Africa, and the Middle East.

Their vast contribution to the Allied victory has only recently been acknowledged for what it was. In addition to more than 74,187 Indian troops who lost their lives, 67,000 were injured fighting overseas. Among them were children as young as 10 who joined up to support soldiers serving in appalling conditions on the Western Front.

For decades, Indian soldiers were largely written out of the story of the First World War, and their decisive role is only just coming to light.

Davinder said: “Frankly, this is due to the persistence of groups like us who have been highlighting these matters for years now.

“We hold a service at the Chattri memorial on the second Sunday in June, with a wreath-laying service in Punjabi and Gujarati. But we tend not to do anything separate at this time of year: Remembrance Day is about everyone, not just the Indian soldiers.”

Indian troops fought in some of the most crucial battles of the war, including the Somme, Flanders, Gallipoli, and the East African campaign. They also worked as grooms, sappers, and engineers.

Mr Dhillon said that by the end of 1914, almost one in every three soldiers on the battlefield in France was from India.

He said many of them were rushed to the front line without proper training: “Arguably, Indian soldiers should never have been in the trenches. Lots of them weren’t trained for the conditions. They had to get used to modern rifles, mortars, bombs, and grenades, the like of which they had never seen before. Initially, many of them didn’t even have adequate uniforms.”

Mr Dhillon said he had only recently found out about his own family’s involvement in the conflict.

“When I first became chairman of the Chattri Memorial Group, I didn’t think my family had been affected”, he said.

“But then out of the blue, my mum told me a story about my grandfather.

“My great-uncle actually died fighting in the First World War, and the message came back to the family village in Punjab.

“A little while later, his brother – my grandfather – said he was going to join the war too. In the end he did, but not before his whole village turned up at the house and pleaded with my grandfather’s parents, telling them not to let him not to go. ‘You’ve already lost one son’, they said, ‘and who’s going to help us bring in the harvest?’

“I go to lay a wreath on November 11 each year in memory of soldiers like him.”