Archive: Feb 2015

  1. Sikhs on the Western Front – guest article by Major Gordon Corrigan

    Leave a Comment

    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 CorriganQ_070214

    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Reserve) would be available, but not all its members had yet signed for overseas service, and much of its equipment was out of date.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.  Q_014954

    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”.

  2. Sculpting and Casting the WW1 Sikh Memorial

    Leave a Comment

    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.IMG_5840IMG_5832IMG_5841

    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.  IMG_5831IMG_5828 IMG_5829

    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.

  3. Depicting WW1 Sikhs in Art – guest article by Jag Lall

    Leave a Comment

    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 Lalldraft_tilt

    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 cover01of 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 for more.

  4. Creating the WW1 Sikh Memorial

    Leave a Comment

    As we build up to the launch of the WW1 Sikh Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in late March 2015, we’re releasing some of the articles that will feature in our souvenir publication.

    Today’s guest contribution is from Mark Bibby, the sculptor of the memorial who describes below his process in creating an everlasting memorial in memory of Sikhs.


    Creating the Memorial

    Having for over thirty years studied British military history, and with my sculptures displayed in private collections; I developed a lifelong fascination with the image of the proud Sikh soldier.  So it was an honour to be commissioned to create the World War One Sikh Memorial.

    Research is vital when sculpting military themes, for me this begins by reading regimental histories covering the period the sculpture portrays, then gathering images of the subject – but remembering never to work from just the one image.  The internet is an aid with specialist websites such as ”Sikhs At War” but so too are living history groups and collectors, that research the minutia of their subject.

    Once details of the figure (size, shape etc) have been confirmed any any queries regarding material, production rechecked, the creative work begins.  Sketching ideas helps imagine what it should look like – before moving on to a Marquette, a small model used to give an idea of how the finished sculpture will look.

    Beginning work on the actual sculpture an armature has to be created, a solid wooden metal frame.  Any mistakes at this point would cause major problems later.  And so surrounding myself with reference photos, sketches and notes I start with the face, getting this right makes the rest fall into place.

    This is followed by a rough rendering of the remainder of the sculpture, always viewing the figure from different angles to iron out any flaws.  As the scale of the figure has been set, small details such as buttons and medals are sculpted as separate parts to be added later.  The rough rendering of the figure is shaped, adding plus removing over and over.  I then cover the figure and try not to look at it for a few days, this way when I return to work on it imperfections are noticed that were missed before.

    Once happy with the layering of the clothes texture, seams and buttons are added. Going back to the face the roughly sculpted facial hair is worked on.  It was decided to extend the beard in order to ensure the depiction that the Sikhs maintained uncut hair while fighting.  Returning to research and references, Sikhs would have maintained their beards tied up, to stop them jamming in their rifles and to be manageable.  The look of a longer beard fits well with the image of the Sikh.  But I was not happy until my fifth attempt at the facial hair – “that will do” is never an option especially when the model is to last forever!

    Finally the medals are added tweaking the little bits that may not be seen by many but I know they are there.

    A much larger sculpture could have been created but even this would not represent the sacrifice made by these men.

    I see the World War One Sikh memorial as a dignified reminder of the role played by Sikhs to which we are all indebted.  In future, those who look upon it must surely feel the same sentiment.