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



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.

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.

******************

'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.

**********************

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