WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund LaunchedLeave a Comment
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Please accredit “@SikhsAtWar” for any images used.
Please accredit “@SikhsAtWar” for any images used.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.