Sunday, 26 October 2014

New website and blog

We have moved this blog to our new website - click on the logo below to visit and bookmark.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Seize Anglo Sikh Heritage!

This month I want to inspire you all.  Yes YOU!

For far too long work on the agenda of Anglo-Sikh heritage has been the bastion of politically motivated and ego-centric organisations.

Such organisations use and abuse contacts and well-wishers, burn bridges with new and established talent and prevent others from leading on heritage awareness programmes.  I am thinking of one organisation in particular.

Not any more.

Through our Kickstarter campaign, the #WW1SikhMemorial has proved that good ideas will find support and funds to become a reality.

That where there is a need to raise awareness and promote the history and heritage we are proud of, people and groups will band together to make something great happen.

That's how I feel about the memorial project.

It was an idea I had in the back of my mind for a very long time.  Ever since I started making films under the "Sikhs At War" banner, uploading them for free usage as a resource on the websites I felt there was a need for a lasting legacy of Sikh remembrance.

I watched with interest to see whether anyone would occupy the space devoid of a memorial and try to create something fantastic.  It didn't happen.

So earlier this year, when I decided that my own journey to narrate the WW1 Sikh story through online films was coming to an end, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to see left behind for future generations.

It's one that has inspired me - both as a Brit and as a Sikh.


The old adage came to mind that: we shape buildings and in future buildings shape us (or words to that effect).

With the centenary commemorations of the start of the Great War taking place, I was sure there would be some move to create a memorial.

But nothing happened.

That's when I knew it was my duty to MAKE it happen.

I looked to the social fundraising site Kickstarter to plan how to raise money from the grassroots to create a memorial.

I thought that for a memorial to be not just successful but to stand the test of time, it needed to have mass support.  My belief became that it should be a monument funded by the many and not the few who could afford it.

I filmed and put together a short video, nothing amazing, but one which told the important facts of what I wanted to do.

I consulted a lot, in private, with individuals and groups.  Ascertained what the thoughts of Sikhs and non-Sikhs were about a national memorial.  And I put these ideas into a plan.

Then I waited.  I waited for summer, then I waited for the world cup to be over.  Secretly, I wondered whether anyone else would gazump me by launching a Kickstarter campaign first.  I didn't mind, this would after all create a lot of work for me at a time when I need to let go of responsibilities.

Then came the planning for "Saragarhi day" which I created and organised and was a tremendous success.

When was the best time to launch a campaign?  I thought long and hard...

It wasn't the summer and it wasn't when people were pre-occupied with football.  So it had to be after.  And so I prepared the ground work of the project.  I budgeted the memorial.  I made connections with the proposed venue.  I consulted more Sikhs and non-Sikhs.  I wrote a proposal.  I met with business leaders and potential corporate donors.  I tried to partner with other Sikh groups (too much politics).

Then came the time to launch ... and with baited breath the campaign went live.

You know that the #WW1SikhMemorial campaign was a huge success - but you probably don't know why it was so.

In a series of blogs this month I will aim to show you why it was - and in turn try and encourage you to seek such ways of empowerment to make your own projects happen.

Seize the initiative!  Don't allow the oldies and politics cloud your ability - if you believe it make it happen!  I believe there are many many more great initiatives out there, and I want to pass on what I have learnt so that more young people can create history and heritage.

For now, and you've probably guessed what I've been trying to get to with this post; let me tell you that a successful campaign is about a good idea and preparation.

If its not a good idea - which has wider appeal and realistic potential; and you don't prepare the groundwork, then you will fail.  Either you won't find the money or resources, or you will but the final outcome will be a flop.

So think about what you want to create - be energetic and enthusiastic but ultimately be realistic.

Plan it and plan some more ... but ultimately think about what need their is out there.

In part 2 I will shed light on the final outcome of the memorial project and what it can tell you about creating a wide support base.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

British General Honoured In Amritsar


Brigadier Mark Abraham OBE received a kirpan or ceremonial sword from the Akaal  Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh at the centre of Sikhdom, Sri Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar (often called the ‘Golden Temple’).

The honour came as seven British Army Officers and Soldiers visited India to commemorate the Battle of Saragarhi where twenty-one Sikhs fought for the British Indian Army in an epic battle to defend a vital outpost against overwhelming odds on the North West Frontier in Sep 1897. Taking on more than 10,000 enemy tribesmen, this last stand has inspired generations of Sikhs with a tale of valour seldom matched. Every soldier was posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the Indian Army equivalent to the Victoria Cross.

Speaking of the accolade, Brig Abraham said: “It is a great honour for the British Army delegation to receive the ceremonial sword from Akaal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh and we cannot thank him and our hosts enough for their hospitality. We were extremely happy to share ideas on values and standards in an open, friendly and supportive way that has strengthened understanding and links between Sikhs and the British Army. Our Sikh officers and soldiers are a crucial part of our organisation and this event has added to their wonderful history and reputation.”

The British team visiting India included one Sikh Officer, four Sikh Soldiers and Senior Officers from the Army's UK Headquarters and the British High Commission.

The visit highlighted the important contribution of Sikh Soldiers both past and present within the British Army. The group stopped at the Fatah Academy to talk to Indian students about the importance of Sikhs in the British Army and also had a most emotional and moving visit to India Gate where the Officers and Soldiers reflected on the sacrifices made by the Sikhs throughout the two World Wars. The trip has left a lasting impression on the Officers and Soldiers involved. It greatly enhanced their knowledge and understanding of their heritage for the Sikh Soldiers and all felt deeply honoured to be so warmly welcomed.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kickstarted! The National WW1 Sikh Memorial

*** The National WW1 Sikh Memorial has now been funded!!! ***


Thank you to everyone who donated and supported the WW1 Sikh Memorial appeal on Kickstarter.

We have reached our budgeted goal of £20,000 plus a little extra ... which will mean we can:
1 - create a lasting national memorial
2 - create a souvenir publication for it
3 - put on a prestigious event for mainstream media coverage.

In doing all three of these we will ensure that there is:
1 - a permanent monument at the heart of remembrance in the UK to Sikhs
2 - inspiration for future generations to learn from and appreciate this sacrifice
3 - the story of the Sikh contribution becomes an international news event.

Our intention was to create a grassroot and youth-led movement in order to enact a memorial, not gifted by government or funded by a small circle BUT with mass involvement - on behalf of Sikhs and non-Sikhs - who feel proud of the heroic contribution made by the martial race.

This is why we turned to Kickstarter, feeling that the social media nature of the endeavour fitted with our target audience and with our aspiration to not just create a sculptor but a living heritage which is narrated and shared by all.

We have achieved that:
- with 153 people donating to the project
- with mainstream media coverage
- with tens of thousands of social media impressions

We believe in inspiring people to not just volunteer with heritage but to own a piece of THEIR heritage.

For far too long the British-Sikh heritage agenda has been driven by politically motivated organisations, run by an old guard of ego's who usurp ideas and funding without mass impact.

We have changed that and firmly put the power of heritage back into the hands of those passionate about leaving a lasting legacy.

We are not digging up the bones of old Maharaja's or taking credit for others work - but creating something new and unique....

In time we will continue our work to inspire more of you - by offering advice and insights in a unique article on how to run a successful grassroots Kickstarter campaign.  I'm hopeful this will see many many more ideas within the community come to fruition.

For now, I leave you some of the fantastic comments we have received.  We look forward to sharing the memorial's developments with you soon...

"I thing this memorial proposal is a really great idea and will be a good permanent reminder of the sikh contributions in the war."
B. Kaur

"Thank you for your sacrifices; projects such as this and the fine gentlemen of the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs Regiment serve to remind us that our great grandfathers fought and bested a common foe and helped put the Great in Britain.  In these times when immigration has become a dirty word, this is a timely reminder that the Sikh community earned its place in this country and make up a proud part of our heritage."
Wibble

"I feel deeply honoured and am proud ro be both british and sikh. These men fought for our freedom they are the reason why sikhs live in the united kingdom. We sikh s complain we never get recognition and are all classed as Asian this memorial will raise our status in the country and bridge the gap in our different identify into the minds of the uk mindset..."
J.S. Minhas

"Such a great project - I'm proud to support it and hope others will, too."
M. Wallace

"Thank you for making sure that the memory of all those who fought with such unparallelled gallantry and selfless courage will be preserved - and their sacrifice honoured with a beautiful and dignified memorial!"
P Hagglund


"As a ex-serviceman who got quite emotional about this subject in the past for there was no real recognition for the fallen .... at last we have succeeded for a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum may it be a fitting memorial to our warrior ancestors who came to foreign lands so far from home to fight for justice and equality against evil suppressors when they were called upon from Britain...."
G Singh




Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saragarhi Day At Sandhurst: A Review

*** Donate to the WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund, click here ***



When I began researching and writing "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle" I did not imagine that a meeting with the British Army would result in the Sikh community marking it's battle honour day at the heart of the British military.

Nor that I would gaze upon more than 300 people enjoying wonderful vegetarian Punjabi food in the Officer's mess of that most English of institutions.

Nor that a troop of 30 British Sikh jawans would march on the historic parade square which has seen the likes of Winston Churchill and Princes William and Harry be passed off.

Or, dare I say, that I would be stood infront of an audience of military and civilian personnel delivering a speech - then repeating a lighter version of it to school children, and another version to parents in Punjabi!

I didn't even imagine that a delegation of serving British officers and soldiers (including Sikhs) would pay their respects at the memorial Gurdwaras built in it's honour as well as at Sri Harimandir Sahib, Amritsar.

In 2014, that is what we have achieved.

The journey to narrate the true meaning and factual details of Saragarhi has seen the British Armed Forces re-embrace the battle as one which has a deep meaning within the UK, connecting Britain and Sikhs as well as shining a light on a period of frontier history often overlooked but highly relevant given the situation we face with jihadists.

Saragarhi Day has been a phenomenal event, seeing Sikhs and non-Sikhs, military and civillian, old and young, men and women coming together to mark an event that continues to inspire and encourage us all to dedicate ourselves to selfless and public service.  The image at the top of this post shows you just how many people enjoyed the most English of settings.

The day began, for me, with picking up a rather special guest.  A friend I made from Stockholm through my work on British-Sikh history who flew in especially to attend the event.  Per Haaglund (I know he will appreciate this mention) was the proverbial excited kid in the candy store, through whom I got to see just how this heritage we occasionally take for granted is such an awesome sight for others.

Technical set up and rehearsals followed, the excellent and professional "Your Army" team had everything in hand and were brilliant at ensuring a smooth operation with the various elements of video and sound being played.

As the audience filled in, a flutter  came over me.  But sat with my wife, I couldn't help but feel that this was all very comfortable and feeling right.  Not out of place nor nervousness, but rather excitement at being able to be a part of such an historic moment - a Saragarhi lecture on Saragarhi battle honour day!  Major-General Robert Nitsch (GOC Support Command) proceeded me and was wonderful to speak to.

My speech, I felt, was well received.  I will endeavour to make another post of it.  The atmosphere of the room was emotive, lights dimmed room packed with people, it lent itself nicely to the themes of my speech and the feelings I wanted to evoke.  Lord Suri read a tribute poem (watch it here) I had discovered during research, which was a fitting way to lead into a minutes silence - which we encouraged via Twitter for others to observe at 1130.  A jaikara/war cry broke the short moment of reflection before I continued on.

But I was disappointed (in all honesty) to later hear Lord Indarjit Singh rehash the same wikipedia factual inaccuracies I have researched and spent so long to dispell.  (That UNESCO had ranked the battle, that Parliament gave a standing ovation).

After the speech, I hurried to the theatre room to speak to school children from Khalsa Primary, Slough about the battle and history (left).  They had watched my film Indians in the Trenches, and were excited.  Looking up at the podium I realised I would have to, off the cuff, water down some of the more gory bits for the group of 10 and 11 year olds!  I laughed about this with the headteacher later.  The kids were wonderful, and inquisitively asked some rather interesting questions which made this a pleasure.

I was then requested to do the same to a group of Punjabi parents - the families of the 1914 Sikhs troop, but in Panjabi!  Looking once again upon my speech I adjusted to deliver it from English to Panjabi.  Not an easy task but once again enjoyable given the people who had come to discover and see this history.

A break followed during which Punjab Restaurant Covent Garden provided a fantastic vegetarian lunch.  The last event to mark Saragarhi on it's battle honour day was a luncheon in 1947, so to see the officers mess filled with the smell of Indian food was amazing.

The day ended with everyone being led outside for a parade by 1914 Sikhs (left) a troop of young Sikhs from the Midlands who were equally impassioned about rekindling the spirit of their forefathers.  They wore their turbans and period uniforms proud, shouted the jaikara loud - and even recited Gurbani/Sikh prayers which was stirring and inspiring.

The event ended with media interviews, briefing the BBC on factual details and nudging the right people in front of the cameras.


The immense positive nature of the day, the engagement with the community and between civilians and military was fantastic.  But there were some shenanigans as one unsavoury character provided some scorn in attempting to hustle in on the event for his own purposes (Google search "Harbinder Rana").

Nonetheless, the day ended with a lot of positive and a lot of enthusiasm at the historic occasion.


Here, I would like to turn my attention to another element of the day - indeed the week.  For while we were commemorating the battle honour day at Sandhurst, a group of serving British Army personnel under the command of Brigadier Mark Abraham had spent the week marking Saragarhi in India.

The group visited the Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwaras in Amritsar, Ferozepur and to Fateh Academy.  They had paid their respects at the holiest of Sikh sites, Sri Harimandir Sahib (above), and engaged with Sikh leaders.

As we begin to descend from the high of achieving such a remarkable and memorable event programme, I reflected to Lt Col John Kendall, who has been instrumental in seeing the potential for Saragarhi to reconnect the British and Sikhs, that this event had been ten times bigger and better than the one we ran in 2013.

The challenge for us now to continue to mark Saragarhi Day - and to continue to inspire people from all backgrounds to engage with the Armed Forces, involve themselves in public life and to be inspired!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Saragarhi: A British Tribute

Tomorrow is 12th September, Saragarhi Day.

It is the date on which 21 Sikh soldiers fought bravely and fiercely to defend a small communications output on the frontier against the onslaught of at least 10,000 Pathan tribesmen.

The battle is one which I been immersed in for several years, having researched it and written about it in "Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle".

That book was launched in the Indian Army Memorial Room of Old College, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2013.

So it is with tremendous pride that we are once again back in that most prestigious of venues to mark Saragarhi on the battle honour day itself.

I'll have the pleasure of hosting the commemoration of this most important battle, and narrating to a British and Sikh audience the reasons why it is still relevant for us today.

We'll be joined by Lords, Ladies and honoured guests, plus a large contingent of young schoolchildren from Khalsa Primary school in Slough.  

The commemoration will include a minutes silence and a poem written by a British officer I unearthed during my research.  This poem has been brought to life by the actor Pavandeep Singh Sandhu - please watch, share and be inspired by the bravery and courage shown by a group of men who fought against the odds until the last man.  





Tuesday, 9 September 2014

WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund: Half Way Point Update

*** Donate to the WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund by clicking here ***

We are now half way through the campaign to create a WW1 Sikh Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Before an update on the campaign so far, I'd like to thank all those who send messages of support via private message and on social media.  Here is one I'd like to share:

"Just contributed to your great idea for a Sikh WW1 memorial, I very much hope this will happen. I just wanted to commend you and thank you and the sikhs@war team for the work you have done in your project. It is a really important subject and is vital for future generations."

The campaign has been going well, it started many months ago with strategy discussions, coalition building and research into whether a memorial was necessary.  We decided to press ahead because there is an overwhelming desire to create a legacy of remembrance.  We've continued our work behind the scenes by meeting with interested donors and businessmen, building dialogue with supporters and Sikh organisations and engaging with the media.  It's a lot of hard work for us volunteers.


In particular I've been raising awareness of the project in the mainstream by appearing in national media including BBC, Sikh Channel, Arise News and BFBS Forces TV.  This is all with the aim of encouraging more donors to step forward and support our efforts.

I've said we - the spark to create this memorial came from me but this is a project backed and progressed by serving Sikhs in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, who recognise the significance of a memorial and what it will mean for future generations of British Sikhs.

So far just over 30 people have stepped forward to donate to the campaign, including one patron.  The funds we have gathered take us a third of the way to our target - but more needs to be done to hit the full amount.  If we do not raise the requisite £20,000 needed we will not get a penny that has been pledged and this project will wilt away.  So I urge you not just to donate what you can but share the campaign with friends and family and encourage them to donate too.

The project has been fully costed, and we're lucky to be working with a very talented sculptor on the grand design.  To the left is a busk created by Mark ?.  The concept we have been working with him on is one which depicts the image of the Sikh soldier in all his glory - with proud turban and uncut beard symbolising the spirit and physical form of the Khalsa.  We'd like your thoughts on the design and we continue to work to perfect the memorial.

Finally, this is an open and accessible project.  The memorial, once funded, will be organised by a charity which will be set up to administer it.  This is not an individual vanity project but one for the good of the community.  I urge you to ask on this forum any questions you like about the memorial with the aim of better educating yourself about our work and intentions.  We are heritage enthusiasts not politicians!

I end with a thanks in advance for supporting the memorial campaign, and any efforts you can put in to ensure this much needed project happens.


*** Donate to the WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund by clicking here ***

Monday, 1 September 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.

*****
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.