XXXVIII. MY PART IN THE
On arrival in England I learned that Gokhale had been
stranded in Paris where he had gone for reasons of
health, and as communication between Paris and London had
been cut off, there was no knowing when he would return.
I did not want to go home without having seen him, but no
one could say definitely when he would arrive.
What then was I to do in the meanwhile? What was my
duty as regards the war? Sorabji Adajania, my comrade in
jail and a Satyagrahi, was then reading for the bar in
London. As one of the best Satyagrahis he had been sent
to England to qualify himself as a barrister, so that he
might take my place on return to South Africa. Dr.
Pranjivandas Mehta was paying his expenses. With him, and
through him, I had conferences with Dr. Jivraj Mehta and
others who were prosecuting their studies in England. In
consultation with them, a meeting of the Indian residents
in Great Britain and Ireland was called. I placed my
views before them.
I felt that Indians residing in England ought to do
their bit in the war. English students had volunteered to
serve in the army, and Indians might do no less. A number
of objections were taken to this line of argument. There
was, it was contended, a world of difference between the
Indians and the English. We were salves and they were
masters. How could a slave co-operate with the master in
the hour of the latter's need? Was it not the duty of the
slave, seeking to be free, to make the master's need his
opportunity? This argument failed to appeal to me then. I
knew the difference of status between an Indian and an
Englishman, but I did not believe that we had been quite
reduced to slavery. I felt then that it was more the
fault of individual British officials than of the British
system, and that we could convert them by love. If we
would improve our status through the help and
co-operation of the British, it was our duty to win their
help by standing by them in their hour of need. Though
the system was faulty, it did not seem to me to be
intolerable, as it does today. But if, having lost my
faith in the system, I refuse to co-operate with the
British Government today, how could those friends then do
so, having lost their faith not only in the system but in
the officials as well?
The opposing friends felt that was the hour for making
a bold declaration of Indian demands and for improving
the status of Indians.
I thought that England's need should not be turned
into our opportunity, and that it was more becoming and
far-sighted not to press our demands while the war
lasted. I therefore adhered to my advice and invited
those who would to enlist as volunteers. There was a good
response, practically all the provinces and all the
religions being represented among the volunteers.
I wrote a letter to Lord Crewe, acquainting him with
these facts, and expressing our readiness to be trained
for ambulance work, if that should be considered a
condition precedent to the acceptance of our offer.
Lord Crewe accepted the offer after some hesitation,
and thanked us for having tendered our services to the
Empire at that critical hour.
The volunteers began their preliminary training in
first aid to the wounded under the well-known Dr.Cantlie.
It was a short course of six weeks, but it covered the
whole course of first aid.
We were a class of about 80. In six weeks we were
examined, and all except one passed. For these the
Government now provided military drill and other
training. Colonel Baker was placed in charge of this
London in these days was a sight worth seeing. There
was no panic, but all were busy helping to the best of
their ability. Able-bodied adults began training as
combatants, but what were the old, the infirm and the
women to do? There was enough work for them, if they
wanted. So they employed themselves in cutting and making
clothes and dressings for the wounded.
The Lyceum, a ladies' club, undertook to make as many
clothes for the soldiers as they could. Shrimati Sarojini
Naidu was a member of this club, and threw herself
whole-heartedly into the work. This was my first
acquaintance with her. She placed before me a heap of
clothes which had been cut to pattern, and asked me to
get them all sewn up and return them to her. I welcomed
her demand and with the assistance of friends got as many
clothes made as I could manage during my training for