Tuesday, 26 August 2014

WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund Launched

Today we launched a campaign, alongside the British Armed Forces Sikh Association, to create a permanent memorial in memory of the Sikhs who fought in every arena of the First World War.

The "WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund" will ensure the heroics and of-overlooked contribution of our forebears is not forgotten.  The memorial will be placed at the heart of remembrance in the UK as the first national monument to the Sikhs.

And we need your support to make this happen.  Please see below for details - and visit the Kickstarter campaign page to donate as much as you can to this worthy cause.

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Immediate Release  
August 2014

National Campaign Launched To Create A Permanent Memorial For World War One Indians.

Today, Tuesday 26th August 2014, sees the launch of a national campaign which aims to create a permanent memorial in the memory of Indians who fought during World War One.

The “WW1 Sikh Memorial” is the first of its kind. A statue commemorating the 130,000 Sikh soldiers who fought in the Great War will be unveiled in a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum. The Sikh contribution is remarkable, as despite being only 1% of the Indian population at the time, they constituted 20% of the British Indian Army and were represented in over a third of the regiments at the time.

The campaign is led by filmmaker and activist Jay Singh-Sohal, who describes its importance: “This centenary anniversary of the start of World War One is an ideal time to remember all those who fought in the conflict – the Sikh story is only now finding prominence with exhibitions, films and research.  We want to ensure that our community has a lasting legacy of remembrance for those who fought – a memorial will ensure that their service is never forgotten and that in future people remember their heroism.”

The memorial is supported by serving military personnel.  Captain Makand Singh MBE from the British Armed Forces Sikh Association states: This is a fitting memorial to our forefathers and will no doubt inspire those Indians serving now and into the future. Whether you are a soldier or a civilian we should all be grateful for the sacrifices made by such a small distinct group such as the Sikhs – and be encouraged that their contribution has made it easier for successive generations in Britain to integrate and be key players in society.”

The project has the backing of British Sikh professionals.  Speaking about creating a lasting legacy of remembrance, Wolverhampton MP Paul Uppal says: “As the only Sikh MP in the House of Commons, I am proud to be able to support a memorial commemorating the Sikh soldiers who fought in the Great War. The valour and courage of Sikh soldiers is something that was quite rightly commended by British Generals - as a nation we should recognise this by building a lasting tribute to the sacrifice of these often forgotten heroes.”

At the centre of the campaign is the involvement of grassroot participants who by donating to the memorials Kickstarter crowd funding campaign will become stakeholders in the monument.  The campaigners believe this will ensure a groundswell of community support which will inspire young people to get involved with the project and ensure the memorial has lasting support well into the future.

The initiative is spearheaded by the “Sikhs At War” project as part of its legacy efforts to create British-Sikh heritage initiatives and ensure the Sikh sacrifice is never forgotten.  The project produces films and shares its research via www.sikhsatwar.info

***ENDS***

Notes to Editors:
All media bids for interview to be made via:
07908 22 6667/ dothyphen1@gmail.com

Visit the fundraising campaign website via this link here:

For more information visit www.sikhsatwar.info or tweet us via @SikhsAtWar.

Stills images attached are available for publication, more are available upon request. 

Please accredit “@SikhsAtWar” for any images used.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Sikhs At War On Arise News

"Sikhs At War" director Jay Singh-Sohal featured on Arise News - talking to worldwide audiences about the Sikh contribution during WW1.

The interview featured some details of our forthcoming plans to create a WW1 Sikh Memorial.



In the interview, we also previewed some fantastic images from our resident artist Jag Lall (below), which you will see on our forthcoming new website.



Arise News is available on ch 519 on Sky EPG.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

British Sikh Regiments: An OrBat from 1914

An Order of Battle is an important piece of military knowledge, which enables a researcher or analyst to make certain fact based assessments about the make up of an army and how a field force lines up in battle.

To researchers of the First World War, it provides vital information and understanding about the units deployed to certain arenas of war.  This is significant now, as we try to understand how the Sikh regiments were represented in the British Indian Army in 1914.

Acknowledging this enables us today to fully appreciate the huge sacrifice of the Sikhs - a race of people that despite being just 1% of the population at the time were represented in a third of all native British Indian regiments.

Having researched the OrBat of the British Indian Army, the below film depicts for the first time how they were organised.  It shows solely the line up of regiments containing Sikhs, white units and non-Sikh units are not included for the purposes of the film:



The Sikhs made up a significant part of the forces, we know.  Their were Sikh class-based regiments as well as Sikhs serving in mixed-class Punjabi regiments.

Within the cavalry, we can pick out the the 2nd Lancers (Gardner's Horse) as one regiment with a rich military history; earning battle honours at Arracon, Sabroan, Egypy and Tel-el-Kebir.  It's composition consisted of x1 Sikh, x1 Rajput, x1 Jatt (Hindu), x1 Hindustani Muslim squadrons.  The regiment would play a key role throughout the war on the western front, fighting at La Basee, Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle, Festubert, Somme, Morval and Cambrai.

Within the infantry, the 9th Bhopal had a battle honour from Afghanistan 1878.  The regiment consisted of x2 Sikh, x2 Rajput, x2 Brahman and x2 Muslim double-company squadrons (a unique Indian set up, consisting of around 80 soldiers).  The regiment went from India to serve in France but in 1915 was moved to Egypt and then Mesopotamia.

In total, according to my research, the Sikhs were represented in x29 cavalry regiments and x54 infantry regiments.  To this we can add the x2 Sappers and Miners.

That means a total of 83 regiments contained Sikhs - either as a wholly Sikh class-based regiment or with Sikh squadrons or double-companies.

This is an immense contribution - unseen anywhere else by any other racial grouping.

It is inspiring and something we British Sikhs in particular should be extremely proud of.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Empire, Faith and War: A Review

Fifteen years, half of my lifetime thus far, have passed since I attended an event that stands out in shaping my self-confidence as a British Sikh.  And in this review of the new exhibition "Empire, Faith and War" I must begin in the spring of 1999.

It was the tercentenary of the birth of the Sikh brotherhood - the Khalsa; and as a teenager i was active with my schools Sikh society.  I thought it would be a great idea to visit with fellow students a new exhibition everyone in my community was talking about.  And so one Saturday with a teacher and a minibus eagerly arranged we embarked upon a trip from Birmingham to London.

The exhibition we visited was the groundbreaking "Arts of the Sikh Kingdom" at the prestigious V&A.  It was the first time the jewels of the Sikh faith were on display and a rare event for a mainstream museum to be hosting a closer examination of the Sikhs.

As a band of young impressionable men (I went to a boys grammar school) we were moved by the treasures and history we saw before our eyes.  I bought a copy of the inspirational "Warrior Saints" book with my pocket money, and it was from there that my desire to read and delve into Anglo-Sikh history and heritage began.

Just like Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh, who were featured in the BBC1 documentary series "The Sikhs" on Vaisakhi that year, I too wanted to write and research about Sikhs.  I'd like to think as a mainstream journalist (and one who has produced independent projects alongside organizations such as the Arts Council, as well as events in prestigious venues such as Parliament and RMA Sandhurst) that that visit and iconic book sparked my drive to tell the Sikh story to mainstream audiences. 

These thoughts were at the forefront of my mind as I missed the launch of the "Empire Faith and War" exhibition in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS some weeks ago, due to a foreign work commitment.  But on Thursday at the regular late night opening of the exhibit I finally made a visit with my family.  And, to my secret delight, was given an introduction to the exhibition and project by the UKPHA Chairman Amandeep Singh Madra.

It might be awkward, as a researcher, to look upon someone else's hard work and efforts on the very subject you both work on.  But I felt no such discomfort, as what I found at the EFW exhibit, as an insider to the Sikh WW1 story, was yes familiar but nonetheless an immensely satisfying and highly produced revelation of the contribution of the Sikhs during the war effort.

Knowing the world of history and heritage, and having had many online exchanges with Amandeep, I was immediately struck by the depth of research and imagery the UKPHA team had uncovered.  Many new images I had not seen before alongside new videos from the era.

It is a testament to their hard work and continuous effort to delve, find, preserve and promote these treasures of knowledge which would otherwise be hidden or little understood.  And a sign of their dedication that since their work on the original "Warrior Saints" in 1999 the team has progressed to become, undoubtedly, the leaders in their field of researching and producing content on Anglo-Sikh history and heritage.  Bravo!

The story of the WW1 Sikh contribution as told through the exhibit unfolds in a way that lends itself to fascination and interest - how could a minority community have paid such a heavy sacrifice during the war effort.  Being just 1% of the Indian population at the time (I had gone with 2% but will now look to reexamine the figure) the Sikhs made up a disproportionate amount - 20% - of the British Indian Army.

The audience is taken on parallel journeys, quite literally with the early WW1 element running alongside another about the empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, to be given a fuller picture of how a community of warriors went from sworn enemies of the British to the staunchest of allies.  The splendid and abundant Toor Collection makes up the bulk of the physical heritage on display of that period, from an extremely rare coin of the first Sikh kingdom to the Maharajas sword and shield.  Yet it is the fascinating X-rays of the wounds Sikhs suffered during the war, graciously lent from the Royal Collection by Her Majesty, that one gets a truer sense of the scale of this exhibit - it is a phenomena in itself.  No stone has been left unturned in narrating how the Sikhs contributed to the First World War and how they and their families back at home were affected.  From the Western Front through to Mesopotamia via campaigns in Gallipoli, Jerusalem, East Africa... it all unravels to make sense of their sacrifice.

The exhibition is a journey every person (Sikh or non, history enthusiast or not) should undertake as we mark the First World War and seek ways of better understanding the various elements of the conflict and the people involved in it.  In better understanding the Sikh story one get's a real appreciation of how the community has got to where it has today, as crucial players in British society and economy.

Visiting with my family was memorable - my 16 month old ran around looking at the sights (exclaiming her favourite phrase "oh wow" whenever she saw something she liked) and it presented an opportunity to enthuse upon our next generation the importance of our history.  I recommend others take their families too - and if you have any children or young relatives take them with you as it will no doubt shape their understanding and self-confidence as British Sikhs much in the same way the "Arts of the Sikh Kingdom" did for me when I was growing up.

It is too easy to be critical of such hard works, the only doubt expressed in my mind about the experience was on overhearing a tour guide stating an incorrect fact (on the composition of the 36th Sikhs) as well as the hanging question mark I had about the practical ways the Sikh code of conduct was enacted by the soldiers - which in itself requires more research and reading.

But I must offer this critique for balance - that the space for the exhibit does not do it justice.  I do not doubt that with a larger room better laid out the UKPHA team could fill it with more riches of our history and rather than offering what in places is a general introduction to elements of the Sikh effort (such as with the campaign outside of Europe) could present more depth.  Perhaps that is their intention or desire as they continue this project over the next few years.

Finally, I so wanted to take something away with me - in the form of a book - of their research and images on the WW1 Sikhs and the behind-the-scenes story of how they made such a wonderful exhibition happen.  Perhaps this is something they are working on - I'd love to buy it.  There were books on sale, but some of these have been a turn-off for me because of the connection they've had with the sanatanist Nidar Singh.  Though that should not in any way impact upon the view of UKPHA as the pioneers of bringing Anglo-Sikh heritage to the masses.

I do not doubt that, like me many years ago, there are many many more young impressionable men and women out there yearning for this power of knowledge - who inspired by such national events will progress the cause of the British Sikh community.  They should see this exhibition and be proud of their communities heroism during the war - and of the awesome work of UKPHA in keeping their story alive.

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'Empire, Faith & War' is a project of the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). 

Learn more here: www.empirefaithwar.com and follow them on Twitter via @gt1588

Friday, 1 August 2014

Renewing Our Sikh Chronicles: Article In War Hospital Magazine

A team of University of Birmingham PhD students have undertaken the marvelous task for the WW1 centenary anniversary of re-creating the old "Southern Cross" War Hospital Magazine.

The magazine was published in Birmingham between 1916-18, and featured stories jokes and graphics from injured soldiers and their families.

Birmingham has a rich heritage of caring for the war injured - from the first Southern Cross War Hospital to the new Department of Defence Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

So I was delighted to have been invited to contribute an article to the centenary magazine; not only to support this initiative as a proud Brummie but also because the creators wanted to reflect upon the rich contribution of Sikhs who fought in a city where the Sikh impact is truly visible.


The magazine is free and available from BBC Mailbox, University of Birmingham and the QE Hospital.

For more information on the Forward 100: Birmingham At War project here.

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Renewing Our Sikh chronicles.
By J. Singh-Sohal
Director, www.SikhsAtWar.info


A hundred years ago, thousands of Sikhs left their villages and towns to travel across the ocean with the British Indian Army to fight in a faraway land they had never imagined they would see.

They knew that in serving the British they were fighting for a just cause; they had grown up on the chronicles of valour of how their forefathers had fought against the foreigners who now ruled their lands, but they had no hesitation in believing that the British cause was righteous and just.

And it was in doing this duty that they felt connected with their martial tradition – one which stemmed back to the times of the Sikh Gurus who had established the doctrine of a Sikh being both a saint and soldier; merging spiritual virtue with temporal power to create a race of people ever ready to fight against tyranny.  Who would stand out in the world as distinct, with flowing beards and tall turban alongside the articles of faith carried as part of their code of conduct, or reht maryada.

The British Indian Army embraced the Sikhs and the source of their prowess, acknowledging the hairy turbanned warriors as a martial race, indeed ensuring only those baptised into the Sikh brotherhood – the Khalsa – served.  The British even raised class-based regiments of Sikhs so the band of brothers could fight alongside their kinsmen and be properly administered according to their customs in the field. 

So it was no surprise that at the onset of the Great War, the rallying cry of the Sikhs was the loudest amongst all the native tribes of India, of which they were a minority.

In total up to 130,000 Sikhs fought during the conflict, and their contribution deserves greater praise when considering that despite being only 2% of the population of India at the time they made up 20% of the Indian army in action. 

The Sikhs were represented in 29 cavalry and 54 infantry regiments – more than even the Gurkhas – in Sikh regiments as well as mixed-class Punjabi regiments where they were barracked alongside Hindus and Muslims.

The Sikhs took to the war with great gusto because they believed it was their opportunity to show the world the creed of the Khalsa.  Writing of the war on the western front in January 1916, Signaller Kartar Singh summed up the feeling: “We shall never get such another chance to exalt the name of race, country, ancestors, parents, village and brothers, and to prove our loyalty to the Government.  I hope we shall renew our Sikh chronicles.” 

Their necessity to the international war effort is reflected in that they fought in every arena of the conflict; from the trenches of the western front to the deserts of Mesopotamia, the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign to the game of cat-and-mouse played out across vast swathes of East Africa;  Egypt to Jerusalem, Persia to the North West frontier.  They were stationed in Burma, in Hong Kong and took part in little-known missions such as in Trans-Caspia.

The Sikhs lived up to their martial traditions and showed remarkable courage and heroism.  This is best seen in the tally of decorations and medals they amassed during the conflict between 1914 and 1919: 29% of all Indian Orders of Merit awarded were to Sikhs, 24% of Indian Distinguished Service Medals awarded were to Sikhs.  They gained 22 Military Crosses and a host of European gallantry awards such as the French Croix De Guerre, Rumanian Order of the Crown and Russian Cross of St George.

In ending his letter home to his village, the brave Kartar Singh echoed the sentiments of many of his brethren who saw the war as the defining moment of not just their lives but the reputation of their community:  “I pray to God to give us a chance to meet the foe face to face - to die in battle is a noble fate.

For a race of landlocked people, the war and service to the British took the Sikhs far and wide; it instilled in them the confidence to spread their wings, to see the world and settle outside of the Punjab in greater numbers.  The clearest indication of the success of the Diaspora is seen here in Britain, where Sikhs are visibly noticed in every industry and profession, contributing to the economy and serving Britain today not just through their martial skills but by serving others and creating wealth.

Yet, it is the story of the Sikh soldier from whence it all stems.  The loyal confident Sikh ever zealous about his role in the world, inspired by his faith and identity; fighting for the British but with the name of God and his Guru in his heart.  The soldier who would sacrifice for a just cause, the Sikh who would fight to the bitter end – and then some – to uphold the Khalsa traditions. 

This is a living history, it can – and does - inspire a new generation to stand up and be of service.  It’s what led me to serve Britain as an Army reservist myself.   To follow in their footsteps and maintain the heritage of Anglo-Sikh relations, to be a part of a greater cause and add value to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.


We have indeed renewed our Sikh chronicles, and those inspired to live according to those traditions will continue to renew them into the future - it binds us to Britain and enables us to be great.




Friday, 25 July 2014

WW1 Postcards

Postcards depicting various races and tribes during WW1 were very popular, especially in France.


Beneath it says: Salute! My Duty Calls.

The reason the soldier is shown as a little child is because it was a popular type of theme for postcards in those days.  Other cards were done showing "kiddie soldiers".  

This card was published by Inter-Art Co., Red Lion Square, London, W.C.  Artist: Donald McGill.  Card designed early 1915.

If you have any postcards of Sikhs please share with us.

Photo courtesy of: Marika Pirie

Media Coverage of "Indians in the Trenches"

It's been a busy period for us outside of the project post launch of "Indians in the Trenches".

In that period we've spoken to various media outlets, and had a lot of coverage on our project.

We've had a lot of social media impressions - and the film is going strong with 2,000 views!

Here's a link of some of those articles about our work:

Sikhnet

Sikh24 News

Asian Image

Operation Black Vote

Indian Express:

Times of India article below:


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Press Release: Story Of “Indians In The Trenches” Captured On Film For The First Time

Young actors have been given a rare opportunity to dress up in British World War One uniforms and re-enact the real life experiences of Sikhs who fought during the conflict for a new film, being released on Friday 4th July 2014.

"Indians in the Trenches" depicts the real life stories of those from the subcontinent who left their villages in 1914 to fight in a faraway land for the first time.  The film uses the original letters sent from the trenches of France and Flanders to delve into what the Indian soldiers felt and experienced at different key points during the four-year war.

It's the first time a Sikh re-enactment has taken place in Britain, and the first time the original writings of those who fought have been enacted and captured on film.  Around 126,000 Sikhs fought during the conflict in every arena of the war - from the western front to Mesopotamia; and their contribution is all the more remarkable when considered that despite being only 2% of the Indian population at the time they made up 20% of the fighting force of the British Indian Army.

The letters contain a strong belief of their faith and identity.  One Sikh soldier wrote “It was my very good fortune to be engaged in this war.  We shall never get such another chance to exalt the name of race, country, ancestors, parents, village and brothers.” while another Sikh remarked “We are fortunate men to have been able to join in this great war.  We will do our best to uphold the family traditions and the reputation of our tribe.”

But the experience for the Indians was also very harrowing as they faced the harsh realities of the conflict during the winter of 1914 without proper warm kit.  One Sikh soldier remarked “The guns fire all day like the thunder in Sawan.  The heaven and earth are undistinguishable and at night there is a regular Diwali festival.”

Speaking about the film, director Jay Singh-Sohal said: "This has been a fantastic way of highlighting the Indian contribution during the war through real life letters and experiences.  The Sikh story itself is inspiring because of the overwhelming contribution this small community made to the war effort, and this is reflected in that a quarter of Indian gallantry awards were given to this martial race.  It’s something people today should not forget."

This was the first role for aspiring young actor Pavandeep Singh Sandhu (pictured top), who plays the role of cavalrymen Bhaga Singh says: "It’s been a really exciting opportunity to portray this role, especially as Sikhs made such a dramatic impact during the course of the war.  It makes me feel proud that our forefathers made this sacrifice.  To delve into the psyche of the soldiers enabled me to appreciate what they went through – and be inspired by it.”

The film is being released on the online film site www.sikhsatwar.info and broadcast on British television as part of efforts to raise awareness during the centenary commemorations of World War One.

The team will then be working alongside members of the Armed Forces to create a national memorial to remember the sacrifices of Sikh soldiers.

***ENDS***

Notes to Editors:
All media bids for interview to be made via:
07908 22 6667/ dothyphen1@gmail.com

For more information visit: www.sikhsatwar.info or contact us on Twitter: @SikhsAtWar

Stills images attached are available for publication, more are available upon request. 

Please ensure logos are not cropped and accredit “www.sikhsatwar.info”.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

BBC News ...and an email from Philip

*** UPDATE: Watch the BBC report by clicking here ***

On Monday 23rd the story of the thousands upon thousands of Sikhs who fought for Britain during WW1 was featured on BBC regional news - on Midlands Today.

The "Sikhs At War" project was a key part of the special news report.  Earlier in the year we allowed the BBC to follow our work and film our forthcoming "Indians in the Trenches" film.

In turn they did a fantastic job of highlighting our endeavours.  And they raised the question of what is being done to recognise and remember the contributions that these gallant warriors made to a foreign land they had never visited before.


Since that broadcast I've been inundated with messages of thanks and support through email and social media.

The messages all convey one message - thanks for raising awareness of this significant history.


I wanted to share one such email with you - as it sums up nicely the high regard Sikhs continue to be held in and how we contribute to British society.
Here is an email from Philip:

"I would like to express my immense appreciation of the bravery and sacrifice that so many men of your faith made on our behalf in two world wars.

"You stood side by side with us and many many other men of the Commonwealth to overcome a great evil.


When I see the Sikh people, I behold a happy community, happy to be here and happy to be with us. I personally, am more than happy to have you here and wish that I could get to know you better."

[Above: images from the news report including Jay and Juggy filmmaking]