BBC Midlands Today covered the story of the WW1 Sikh Memorial Unveiling – their report uploaded to Facebook has now received over 1.4M views!
Click the image below to see the coverage.
The UK’s first national Sikh memorial in honour of those who fought during the First World War has been unveiled in Staffordshire. It stands at the National Memorial Arboretum and has been funded by donations. Louisa Currie was at today’s service:
“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. Do not be distressed … such hardships come upon brave men.
What is fated must be endured. I pray to God to give us a chance to meet the foe face to face …. to die in battle is a noble fate.”
Signaller Kartar Singh from France in January 1916
Nations First WW1 Sikh Memorial Unveiled At Memorial Arboretum
Above: VIPs at the unveiling: Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Sarah Montgomery (National Memorial Arboretum MD), Lord Lieutenant of Stafford Ian Dudson,
Major General Patrick Sanders, Peter Singh Virdee, Jay Singh-Sohal (memorial Chairman), Mandeep Kaur (Sikh Chaplain)
The UK’s first national Sikh memorial in honour of those who fought during the Great War has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
The “WW1 Sikh Memorial” was unveiled by Major General Patrick Sanders CBE DSO, business tycoon Peter Singh Virdee and the monuments chairman Jay Singh-Sohal at a ceremony which fused religious traditions from the Sikh faith with British military pomp and custom.
Speeches were made honouring the sacrifice of the 126,245 Sikhs who fought during the Great War – before a parade led the congregation to the unveiling site. An ardaas prayer was recited and after the traditional Sikh war cry, a one minute silence was observed by the 300 people present.
The memorial is the first of its kind – a statue commemorating the bravery and sacrifice of Sikh soldiers during the conflict. 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. For their heroism, Sikhs received 29% of all Indian Orders of Merit awarded during the war and 24% of all Indian Distinguished Service Medals.
The memorial was uniquely funded through a grassroots campaign by the “WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund” on the Kickstarter website. More than 200 people from across different faiths and backgrounds contributed from £1 to £1,000 to fund the memorial. The monuments creator and charity chairman Jay Singh-Sohal says: “It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have a dedicated memorial which will stand the test of time and attest to future generations the gratitude we have for the sacrifice and valour of our forefathers. This memorial is mindful of our glorious past and will inspire future generations to undertake public service as confident and proud British Sikhs. It is already attracting visitors from abroad, and will be a place of pilgrimage for people from all sections of our society to recall the bravery of a martial race that fought for Britain simply because it was their duty to serve and desire to seek glory in battle against tyranny and oppression.”
Major General Patrick Sanders, Commander of the British Army’s 3rd Division says: “It’s a hugely significant event, the record of service of courage and sacrifice of Sikhs during the First World War is really second to none.” Further adding: “The Sikh community understands how the sacrifice, the courage the martial spirit that their forebears have shown is very consistent with the traditions of today.”
The memorials patron is the Virdee Foundation, a charitable organisation that seeks to empower young people. Its Chairman Peter Singh Virdee says: “We need to support out youth not only through monetary means but more importantly with knowledge, guidance and intuition.”
The monument team will now look to inspire the creation of more Sikh monuments up and down the country, as well as encourage other Asian communities to create their own.
The UK’s first national Sikh memorial in honour of those who fought during the Great War will be unveiled on Sunday 1st November 2015 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
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 memorial has been uniquely funded through a grassroots campaign by the “WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund” on the Kickstarter website. More than 200 people from across different faiths and backgrounds contributed from £1 to £1,000 to fund the memorial. The charities founder and chairman Jay Singh-Sohal says: “It is a tremendous achievement for Sikhs to be able to finally have a national monument in honour of the bravery and sacrifice of our forebears. For far too long the contribution of those from India to the war effort has been overlooked but now young people have a symbol of remembrance which they can visit at the National Memorial Arboretum and which will inspire people from all backgrounds well into the future.”
The Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt MP paid tribute to the community in the “Sikh Chronicles” souvenir publication to be released to mark the unveiling:”Sikh Service personnel have served with great distinction in the British Armed Forces. We recognise their outstanding contribution, and the strong link with the British Armed Forces which continues to this day. As Minister for the Armed Forces, I am grateful for all that they have accomplished; their incredible efforts have helped to build a better world for future generations. Defence recognises that our people are our most important asset; we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that our Services reflect British society, and that we recruit individuals from all communities including the Sikh community.”
The memorials patron, Peter Singh Virdee from the Virdee Foundation, says: “The sacrifice of Sikhs who’ve served Great Britain will surely never be forgotten, now that this community initiative has led to the creation of a permanent national memorial at the centre of remembrance in our country. The monument will undoubtedly inspire future generations to follow in the footsteps of their forebears and contribute great things to our society.”
Sir Francis Richards, Chairman Imperial War Museums, says: “The Memorial will be a fitting tribute to the sacrifice made by Sikh servicemen during the First World War and can only serve to increase awareness and appreciation of the Sikh contribution to British military history. Most importantly, it will ensure that we remember in perpetuity those Sikhs who gave their lives in Britain’s defence.”
The unveiling event will include speeches from dignitaries, a British Army band and re-enactment troop. The memorial will be sanctified with a traditional Sikh prayer and a minutes silence held to remember all who have fought for Great Britain.
This month we remember some key battles 100 years ago on the Western Front including at Neuve Chapelle which Sikhs were heavily involved in.
As we finish up the “Sikh Chronicles” book for the official unveiling of the “WW1 Sikh Memorial” at the National Memorial Arboretum on Sunday 29 March, we thought it poignant to post below a guest article from former Gurkha Major Gordon Corrigan.
The Western Front Gordon Corrigan
It was said at the time, and has been said many times since, that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that crossed to France and Belgium after the British declaration of war on Germany on 4 August 1914 was the best led, the best trained and the best equipped body of troops ever to leave these shores. That is probably correct, but it was pitifully small: four British infantry divisions compared to sixty-two French ones, one British cavalry division to ten French ones. Even the Belgians and the Serbs provided more than that, and if Britain was to have any significant influence on the war on land the BEF would have to be reinforced and expanded hugely, but where was that reinforcement to come from?
In due course the Territorial Force (later the Territorial Army, now the Army Reserve) would be available, but not all its members had yet signed for overseas service, and much of its equipment was out of date. The dominions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand would make a major contribution in time, but when war broke out their armies were tiny and they would need time to raise, train and equip contingents for war. In 1914 the only other source of trained manpower was the Indian Army, a regular all-volunteer force of about 200,000 men. Before the war successive Secretaries for India in the British government had told the Indian government that if war broke out in Europe the Indian Army would not be involved. This was a budgetary decision, if the Indian Army was to be prepared for an intensive war against a first class enemy then it would have to be equipped as for the British Army. While the equipment used by the Indian Army was perfectly adequate for punitive expeditions on the frontier and actions in India’s near abroad, it only had mountain artillery and its infantry was equipped with the Mark II Enfield rifle, whereas the British had the Mark III. Neither government was prepared to spend the money to prepare the Indian Army for a war that might not happen.
Fortunately the Indian Army knew very well that if war came they would inevitably be involved, and units were earmarked for overseas deployment with movement orders and plans already prepared. Sure enough, the British government’s stance was swiftly reversed. Shortly after war broke out the Poona Division (containing four regiments with Sikhs) was sent to the Persian Gulf to protect the British-owned oil fields; and on 6 and 7 August two more infantry divisions, the Lahore and the Meerut, plus the Secunderabad cavalry brigade; were ordered to mobilise for overseas service. The Lahore Division included the 34th Sikh Pioneers, as well as nine other regiments containing companies or squadrons of Sikhs. The Meerut Division contained the 30th Punjabis, as well as five other regiments with Sikhs in them. The Secunderabad brigade contained the 20th Deccan Horse which included one squadron of Sikhs.
For security reasons only the commanders were told where that overseas service was to be, although most could guess that it would be Europe. The various battalions and regiments were moved by train from their peacetime stations to the embarkation ports, Karachi and Bombay. As no army has a permanent fleet of troop transporters which may only be required very rarely, movement was by what the army, in its long lexicon of acronyms, calls STUFT – shipping taken up from trade – where civilian ships were hired and then modified to take troops, horses, mules and all the equipment needed for war. At this stage the field and heavy artillery came from British units, although this would change during the course of the war.
The Indian Army of 1914 (and indeed of today, come to that) was in no sense representative of the Indian population, for the British recruited from what were known as the Martial Classes, those races that had traditionally been soldiers and had proved themselves over many decades and many campaigns. About a third of the Indian army was recruited from the Punjab: Sikhs, Hindu Jats and Punjabi Mussalmans, with most of the rest from the north: Gurkhas, Garhwalis, Pathans and Rajputs, and Mahrattas from Central India. It is of course politically incorrect in these days of multi culture and diversity to suggest that any one race is better at anything than any other, but common sense might indicate that if one were required to attack a well led, well equipped and very fierce enemy, one might prefer to do it with a dozen Sikhs rather than with a hundred members of certain other nationalities (although if one were opening a restaurant one might come to a different conclusion). And if that makes this author a racist, then he pleads guilty.
The Indian Infantry was composed of “Class Regiments” and “Class Company Regiments”. A class regiment had all its members of the same race – all Sikhs, all Gurkhas etc; while in a class company regiment each company might be of a different race – for example 57th Wilde’s Rifles had a single company of Sikhs, Dogras, Pathans and Punjabi Mussalmans. Many were the arguments as to which type of regiment was better. In some ways the administration of a class regiment was simpler because only one language was spoken and all ate the same food, but a class company regiment allowed the talents of several races to be utilised, and there was always somebody to do guards and fatigues on a religious holiday. Of the twenty Indian nfantry and pioneer battalions that went to the Western Front in 1914 thirteen were from class regiments and seven were class company battalions. Of the four cavalry regiments all were mixed except for the Jodhpur Lancers (made up of Rajputs). The Sappers and Miners (equivalent to the Royal Engineers) were all mixed units. The truth is that both types were equally capable, and the system worked.
There were two sorts of commissioned officer in the Indian Army. The middle management of platoon commanders and company seconds-in-command, Jemadars and Subedars who held their commissions from the Viceroy and were known as Viceroy Commissioned Officers (VCOs), were men who had joined as the equivalent of privates and had worked their way up through the ranks of Lance Naik (lance corporal), Naik (corporal), and Havildar (sergeant). These were highly experienced men with long service, and while uneducated academically were possessed of plenty of sound common sense. The senior management in a battalion or regiment of 720 men consisted of eleven British officers who held their commissions from the King, and filled the appointments of commanding officer (lieutenant colonel), adjutant (lieutenant or captain), quartermaster (lieutenant or second lieutenant), four company commanders (captains or majors) and four ‘company officers’ (lieutenants or second lieutenants) who were there to learn their trade and assist the company commander. In addition there was a medical officer from the Indian Medical Service.
To obtain a commission in the Indian Army a British applicant had to pass out in the top thirty from the Royal Military College Sandhurst, after which he spent his first year as an officer attached to a British regiment stationed in India, during which time he had to learn Urdu and pass the examination in that language. Urdu was the lingua franca of the Indian Army: all pamphlets and official communications were printed in Urdu and potential VCOs had to be able to speak it. Having passed the Urdu examination the young officer then had to study the language of the regiment to which he was going: Punjabi, Gurkhali, Mahratta etc and pass an examination in that too. Only then could he report for duty to his regiment, where he was expected to learn about the culture and religion of his men, and while on leave to trek around the areas from where they came.
Having sailed from Bombay and Karachi under escort form the Royal Navy, the convoy passed through the Suez canal into the Mediterranean and on 26 September the first ships arrived at Marseilles and the troops began to disembark. The original plan had been to concentrate the Indians at Orleans and to give then two months to get accustomed to Europe, to zero their new Mark III rifles issued to them on arrival and to change their battalion organisation from eight small companies to the British model of four large ones. It was not to be, for the First Battle of Ypres was raging and reinforcements were desperately needed. In August the BEF had taken station at Mons in Belgium, on the left of the French, and when the Germans launched a major attack the British, with the French, fell back to the River Marne, when a gap opened up between two German Armies. General Joffre, commanding the French army with the BEF in support, saw an opportunity and went on the offensive, pushing the Germans back to the River Aisne. Now began what came to be called “the race to the sea” when both sides attempted to outflank each other by shifting farther and farther north, until the Allies won the race by getting to the Channel coast at Nieupoort. Now the war changed to what was effectively siege warfare, with both sides digging in and creating even more complex trench systems. The Germans were desperate to break through at Ypres, held by the BEF, to get to the Channel ports. By October the British had suffered heavy casualties and were hanging on grimly around the Ypres salient, but there were huge gaps in the line which the British could not fill. The Indians were thrust into the line as soon as they arrived, and they came just in time and in just sufficient numbers to fill those gaps, and the Germans never did break through. It was said at the time that the Indian Army had saved the Empire, and while that is probably an exaggeration, they had certainly saved the BEF.
Of the Indian infantry on the Western Front the largest racial group was the Gurkhas, with twenty-four companies, all in class regiments, followed by the Sikhs with twenty-one companies in both class and class company regiments. Others represented were Punjabi Mussalmans, Pathans, Garhwalis, Dogras, Rajputs, Jats and one company of Brahmins (rare due to caste restrictions on what they could eat and who they could mix with). Despite the mixture of race and religion and different dietary requirements, the administration worked surprisingly well. All ate rice, which was grown in southern France, and while Hindus did not eat beef nor Moslems pork, all could eat goat, sheep and chickens, which the procurement organisation could obtain locally; and anything else, such as atta to make chapattis, could be imported from India.
Having saved the day at Ypres, despite being thrown in by companies and platoons scattered all along the line, the Indian Corps was now allotted a sector of its own and of the thirty-five miles of front held by the BEF in late 1914 and 1915, eight miles, or almost a quarter, was held by the Indian Corps. They took part in all the major battles of late 1914 and 1915, their greatest moment being the capture of Neuve Chapelle, the first time the German line had been broken and the gains held. There was much nonsense talked about Indian troops on the Western Front, one being that “they could not stand the cold”. Apart from the fact that many Indian units arrived in Europe in tropical uniforms, which took time to replace with warm serge, these soldiers came from the Himalayan foothills, hilly Garhwal or the Punjab, which in winter could be a lot colder than Europe. This canard arose from the fact that the sick rate in the Indian Corps was much higher than that of the BEF as a whole. Investigation revealed that this figure was escalated by the sick rate of the British battalions in the Indian Corps (one battalion in each four-battalion brigade) which had been in India for up to seven years and had failed to re-acclimatise to the cold and wet. The sick rate in the Indian battalions was actually slightly less than that of the rest of the BEF.
By November 1915 Territorial Force, New Army and Canadian divisions were arriving on the Western Front and the infantry of the Indian Corps was transferred to Mesopotamia where British units were having problems with the climate and the terrain. Staying behind was the Indian cavalry, now expanded to two divisions, who would remain in Europe until 1918 when Allenby, in Palestine, needed more cavalry. The artillery units, now increasingly Indian rather than British, were formed into the Indian Artillery Group and remained on the Western Front until the end of the war.
Major Gordon Corrigan MBE is a former officer in the Royal Gurkha Rifles and military historian. He has written several books including “Sepoy’s in the Trenches” and “Napoleon’s Waterloo”.
The hour-long drive to Basingstoke had me thinking all sorts of thoughts about the creation of the WW1 Sikh Memorial – we are currently putting together the launch event and my attention has also been drawn to the souvenir publication “The Sikh Chronicles.” So the drive was a chance to think and reflect.
It has been been 6 months since we successfully raised funds for the memorial, and in that time there has been lots of attention and response (extremely positive) to what we are doing.
If there was any doubt in my mind as to the importance of creating a national monument for Sikhs who served in the Great War, it was dispelled as I drove into the business estate to visit Sculptor Castings – the fine art foundry where the Sikh Subedar is being created.
What struck me as I walked in was a life-size bronze stature of a majestic horse – I was not only in the right place butclearly surrounded by people who knew what they were doing.
I met the team who are working on the Subedar, they are a fantastic bunch of guys who acknowledge completely the epic scale and expectation this one memorial has.
Simon and Adam took me through the sculpting and casting process (the video I hope to share with you soon) and I was amazed by their professionalism – and just how intricate the process of making the memorial is.
First, the model bust created by Mark Bibby was given to the moulder who made a jesmonite solid case of the figure with silicon rubber (above). The mould picked up all the details of the medals, beards etc and any texture put in.
The solid case comes in two parts. Into this goes a very hot swill of wax which picks up all the detail to ensure the replication of the mould. With both halves done the mould is put together creating a cast with a thickness of around 4 or 5mm (right).
The seam line of the mould is taken with much patience, and then the object has wax tubes inserted for the bronzing process.
The wax object is encased in the solid shell which goes into a very hot box which melts all the wax away. The ceramic shell is then put into the furnace – where bronze is cast at 1100 degrees. The molton metel is poured into the ceramic shell, once cooled it leaves a solid bronze casting once the ceramic is smashed off.
The metal workers then take over, who use a variety of grinders, air tools and files to put the surface details back into the metal work.
Then the final stage is the patination process, the colouring of the bronze – using a flame torch the surface of the metal is heated forming a chemical process. Then finished with polishing to a high shine.
All this work entails hard graft and dedication – certainly the team at Sculpture Casting have this in abundance! They’re doing a fantastic job of putting the Subedar together – they deserve not just our thanks but the blessings of this momentous task.
As we gear up for the official launch of the WW1 Sikh Memorial on Sunday 29th March, we thought we’d share with you some new artwork and a guest article from the “Sikh Chronicles” publication we are releasing on the day.
Jag Lall is an artist we regularly work with – and below details how he created the look of the Subedar for the Sikh Chronicles.
The publication is being released exclusively at the memorial launch event – so book now and ensure your copy at this historic event.
Depicting WW1 Sikhs in Art Jag Lall
It was a tremendous honour to be asked to depict the image of the Subedar for the cover of “The Sikh Chronicles” publication. The whole look and feel of the Sikh soldier, in bronze and standing proud at the National Memorial Arboretum, is one which will convey an inspirational message to future generations of the role of Sikhs during the Great War.
In trying to create an artwork for the front cover illustration which provokes strong emotions, many concepts were drafted and discussed.
At first the ideas revolved around a dynamic scene, perhaps an action shot similar to other works I’ve had the pleasure of creating for the Sikhs at War project.
Having covered various action shots ranging from one-on-one fighting, a cavalry charge, of soldiers in the trenches etc; I decided to try and take the dynamism up a notch and create a draft of a Sikh soldier leaping to take on a German tank. Whilst the art was energetic it was not a realistic moment of the war, nor was there much of a profile on the Sikh soldier which was the focus of the publication and memorial. Those draft forms are shown opposite, and give some idea of the creative but highly ambitious concept.
We decided instead to focus directly on a Sikh soldier – unidentified in name but personable in appearance, to show the pride and integrity of one who had survived the war with medals pinned on his chest – but with a hint of sorrow and reflection upon the human tragedy of conflict he had witnessed.
The first several drafts had the soldier looking straight on at the viewer but in doing so this lacked depth. Also in the first draft the beard was too short with a trim look so I corrected this by replicating a much more similar style to what the Sikh soldiers had in WWI. I looked at bringing a slight tilt to the angle by having the soldier look like he was standing to attention, perhaps after receiving a new medal or having met a General. This brought his head and chin up a little and made the image look less flat and one dimensional. In a way it helped give more character to the soldier and depicted a scene which the viewer should hopefully think about.
I felt the eyes were an important feature in this artwork and I wanted to bring emotion and substance to them. Whilst there is strength in the soldiers’ eyes there is also a somewhat sombre look in them too, a moment of remembrance of the reality of war he had witnessed. In turn I wanted the viewer to try and feel the same sentiment, of not forgetting the sacrifices of the Sikhs.
It was important for me to show some tainted joy, to bring emotion to the piece and show the human element by creating a strong sentiment. I did this through the use of the colours I chose and in slightly discolouring the medals to convey grit and to symbolise the sorrow that ties in with war.
I feel in many ways that this cover art is a reflection of the pride and admiration we have for our Sikh soldiers coupled with the contemplation for all that they witnessed and endured. Hopefully it – and the memorial – will get people thinking and remembering the sacrifices of our ancestors.
Jag Lall is an artist who has created visually engaging images for comics and exhibitions. Visit www.jaglallart.com for more.