Archive: May 2012

  1. Sandhurst Sikhs

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    We spent a WHOLE day filming at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for the upcoming short feature series “Slough to Sandhurst.”

    What we thought would take a few hours ended up being a whole morning and afternoon – there is so much history and heritage at Sandhurst that it’s not very easy to do it justice in a short film.  Nor is it simple to combine the stories of so many role models from the BME communities currently serving.

    We were there filming with Sikh officers and soldiers (above cameraman Juggy with Capt Sartaj Singh Gogna and recruits) for a new short film series about the various stages people go through to join the British Army – from civvies inspired to serve, to walking through the doors at the recruitment office and signing up, to undertaking medicals, tests, being accepted as ‘Soldiers under Training’ and going through to Phase 1 training.

    At Sandhurst, we filmed two young aspiring officers discovering more about what Sandhurst has to offer – and telling us about what inspired them to want to serve.  They had the opportunity to see the historic buildings – and the history contained in them relating to the British Raj in India.

    We were all inspired in particular by Capt Sartaj Singh Gogna (above) an officer with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.  Capt Gogna joined the British Army 12 years ago, what’s extraordinary is that he chose to start growing his hair and tie a Turban AFTER he joined.  While most find joining the military difficult with these articles of Sikh faith intact, Capt Gogna described the process of learning that led him to chose to don this very important headdress – and compliment his Officers uniform with a Turban.

    We’ll feature the interview in the “Slough2Soldier” series.  Our thanks for allowing us to film at Sandhurst to the Protocol Officer L Col Parkinson and the National Army Museum for making use of the display items (about which I will post a separate entry.)

  2. Captain Makand Singh MBE

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    We had the pleasure of filming with Captain Makand Singh (Royal Logistic Corps) and his family – after his visit to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for services to Great Britain.

    Captain Singh joined the British Army in 1977 at the age of 17 – when Britain was very different to now – what makes his story all the more fascinating for our upcoming series is that his father was the first Sikh to join an English regiment WITH his Turban and Beard.
    It might seem bizarre because of the rich history of Sikhs fighting for Great Britain during the Worlds Wars, but we often forget that turbanned Sikhs who wanted to join mainland UK regiments had to conform to uniform policies at the time which did not make allowances for the Turban and uncut hair.
    This was not because of any racist or discriminatory policy but because of the conformity of these units which ensured that all soldiers and officers were the same, in spirit de corps or administration.  It’s similar to what US units have been through recently, although they too have now begun to allow Sikhs to maintain their distinct identity.
    The British held the Sikhs in high esteem because of the bravery and valour shown during the Anglo-Sikh Wars, WW1 and WW2 – and in far flung parts of Empire.  But never had a Sikh joined a British unit in the UK…
    That was until Makand Singh’s father – Baldev Singh – applied to join.  He was rejected because he would not cut his hair.  Baldev Singh persisted, taking his case to policymakers – and won – being allowed to serve with his uncut hair.
    Without his efforts, Sikhs today would have struggled to serve with their uncut and Turbans intact.  In fact, it is because of Baldev Singh’s immovable belief in his Sikh identity that the British Army has developed into such a modern and diverse workforce with a focus on recruiting black and minority ethnic soldiers and officers.
    His actions inspired many people, and foremost amongst them is his son Makand Singh – who this blog post celebrates as a role model and inspiration.
    Captain Singh spoke very little English when he came to the UK from Malaysia and joined the Army – but he worked his way up becoming well known for his contribution to the forces especially within sports such as Hockey and Kabaddi (which he introduced to the Army).  
    After 33 years in the Army – which includes postings to Germany, Belize and Hong Kong – Singh rightly adds the MBE to his achievements which include the prestigious Meritorious Service Medal for his commitment to recruiting members of the BME community.
    Our interview with Makand Singh will feature in our new series coming soon – as we delve into what inspires young Sikhs to join and serve their country.  Hearing his answers outside the memorial celebrating the contribution of soldiers from all over Empire has enabled us to appreciate more the sacrifices our forefathers made for Great Britain.
  3. Inspiration

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    What inspires Sikhs to join the British Army?

    It’s a question I’m currently asking a lot of officers and soldiers in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, for our new short film series.
    Is it awareness of the Sikh contribution during the Worlds Wars and history with the British?  Or a desire to serve one’s country and excel in the military?
    If you’re Sikh – either thinking of joining or are joining – I’d like your thoughts … please comment to this post…
  4. New Film Project

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    The team at Dot Hyphen Productions has spent the past few months working on bringing the “Turbanology” exhibition to central London in April – now that is over I’m pleased we can move forward with a series of exciting films.

    Not to give much away, we’ve been tasked with looking at the role of Sikhs in the British Army – past and present.  Over the next few months I’ll blog about what we’re researching and finding.

    We started the project, in fact, back in March by filming with a young Sikh from Slough who’s joining the Army – and the Parachute Regiment!  Sounds very interesting, but more so when you hear that he is a Sikh with a full beard and wears a Turban!  So how will he cope when the job spec for the Reg is for him to jump out of planes?

    We’ll let you know soon…