Archive: Sep 2014

  1. Kickstarted! The National WW1 Sikh Memorial

    Leave a Comment
    *** 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.”

    “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

  2. Saragarhi Day At Sandhurst: A Review

    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 never 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!

  3. Saragarhi: A British Tribute

    Leave a Comment
    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.  

  4. WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund: Half Way Point Update

    Leave a Comment
    *** 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 ***