In the early twentieth century, the British were convinced that the South Asians of the British Indian army needed their control and leadership to fight effectively. According to this colonialist construction, they ‘were supposed to be gallant warriors but ineffective leaders – men who could fight but not to think (Das 2018, 186) because they lacked certain character traits which, in this case, would allow them to be efficient on the battlefield on their own (Sharp 2008, 37). Even the Gurkhas, who could fit into the image of ‘noble savages’ (Sharp 2008, 51), or rather their military version of ‘warrior gentlemen’ (Caplan 2009), were nobilitated through military service under the British. ‘The cult of the British officer’, which was indispensable to the functioning of the colonial army, affirmed that ‘the white officer was essential’ (Omissi 1994, 104).

The view was so widespread that even in a Polish Second World War memoir of Aleksander Topolski (1923-2014), the author remarked that colonial soldiers ‘from Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria [who failed to capture the Abbey of Monte Cassino] were led by professional [emphasis added] French officers’ (Topolski 2012, 237) thus applying it to another European empire. The fact that Poland never had a colonial army did not stop Topolski from imagining how such a force would always need Western instruction and control. It can be argued that his conviction, like many other similar claims, stemmed from the Polish close and unprecedented cooperation with the British colonial military apparatus. Unsurprisingly, in their wartime encounters with the Indian and the Gurkha soldiers, the Poles tended to observe the comportment of the British, give it some consideration, and act as they saw fit.

Having analysed numerous Polish Second World War memoirs through the hegemonic lens, I concluded that the British greatly influenced the relations between the Poles and the South Asians by being a crucial point of reference for the authors. This analysis focuses on the role of the British in shaping the Poles’ perception of the British Indian army by investigating the underlying power relations. It uncovers the most common colonial assumptions about the Other that Polish soldiers unwittingly reproduced in their accounts and underlines some of their efforts to distance themselves from the colonial rhetoric. I argue that most authors looked at the British Indian army hierarchies with a critical eye, portraying their European ally as race and class-dominated nation.