Archive: 2016

  1. Press Release: New factual Saragarhi film wins community backing

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    Press Release: New factual Saragarhi film wins community backing

    A new film about an epic British Indian frontier battle is to be made after securing grassroots support through a social media fundraising drive.

    “Saragarhi: The True Story” will tell the factual tale of how 21 Sikhs fought to the last man against 10,000 enemy tribesmen to defend a small outpost in 1897.

    The battle was commemorated by the British at the time, with memorials built to it and a battle honour awarded to the 36th Sikh regiment that fought at Saragarhi.

    The project raised more than £9,000 on the Kickstarter website, and is now being developed by the “Saragarhi Society” in partnership with new broadcast channel “KTV” and digital arts producers “Taran 3D”.

    Writer and filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal has been working on raising awareness about the battle for the past 6 years, and has written a book about it. He brought the “Saragarhi Day” commemoration back onto the agenda in the UK, and the official event is hosted annually by the British Army on the 12th September battle honour day.

    Mr Singh-Sohal said: “The story of Saragarhi is a crucial one for British Indians but over the years it has had many myths attached to it. Our motivation in telling the true story through documentary film is to delve into what really happened, using authoritative research and primary sources, in order to pay tribute to those who fought in accordance with their Sikh creed and ethos to the bitter end. This will give the proper respect due to their sacrifices which can only inspire many more young people to take up public service. As a British Sikh I feel it’s important our community own this history, retells it with pride to mainstream audiences, and is motivated by it to stand up for the freedoms we enjoy in our country.”

    The British Sikh Association is a key sponsor of the film, Dr Rami Ranger said: “This history is a testament to the valour and the bravery of the Sikhs who always fought for a just cause, were disciplined and courageous even when heavily outnumbered. Sikhs were hand crafted by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh to fight tyranny and injustice in any shape or form and as a result, the world is a better place. Their sacrifice on the frontier, as in the two world wars, should never be forgotten.”

    The film is a collaboration with newly established broadcaster KTV. Jagjit Singh Bassi said: “We at KTV are committed to developing high quality productions and are working to ensure our history and heritage is put into the spotlight. The Sikh community has many stories that should be told in the mainstream, and we look forward to working with talented filmmakers and creative minds, promoting their projects and giving a platform to future generations of storytellers.”

    Video graphics and technology company Taran 3D are producing unique innovative content for the project that will ensure the story engages with young people. Taranjit Singh said: “We are creating new landscapes and testing new formats to ensure this powerful story is brought to new audiences. Our work will ensure that there is in depth understanding of the physical location, the historic forts and how this affected the sequence of events at the time.”

    The documentary will be released in September 2017, to mark the 120th anniversary of the epic battle. It will be premier at a prestigious venue in central London before going on the road to be screened across the UK and abroad.

    The Saragarhi Society is a project of the “WW1 Sikh Memorial”, which created the UK’s first national monument to Sikh service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.


    For more information, questions or media bids for interview please contact us via:

    For more information visit or tweet us via @SikhsAtWar.

    Photos provided should be credited to “Jag Lall/Sikhs At War”

  2. Remembrance is a time to commit to acts of public service

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    Originally published on Conservative Home

    It was on a recent research visit to St Luke’s Church in South Kensington that I was struck by just how much of our imperial history is hidden away.

    Plaques in remembrance of the men and regiments of the Punjab Frontier Force, originally placed in churches in Kohat and Peshawar, were brought back to the UK when India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947. Perusing through the names of the officers who fought on the frontier with Afghanistan during the punitive campaigns of the late 19th Century I was surprised to see just how many had survived that harsh rugged terrain only to die in Flanders during the Great War.

    As Remembrance Day approaches, I think of those men of the Punjab Frontier Force who are largely forgotten but whose heroism and devotion to duty deserves to be rediscovered and retold to new audiences.

    I also continue to think of my own communities connection to the conflict and the Sikhs who fought, which has inspired me and should embolden us all to undertake greater public service in Britain.

    In 1914 when war engulfed the world, the call to fight for Britain went out across India and in undivided Punjab young men of all religious denominations stepped forward to serve. Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim men joined to serve side-by-side in the Punjab regiments, while class-based units of Sikhs also saw a groundswell of enthusiastic volunteers.

    Those SIkhs who joined did so to fight and prove their worth, as befitting a warrior race. They were pragmatic and pioneering and had no hesitation in believing that the cause was a just one.

    They had grown up on chronicles of how their forefathers had fought to defend their lands against foreign invaders (including at one time the Brits in the Anglo-Sikh wars) and through their devotion to a just war made a name for themselves. They too yearned this glory, to be remembered in war ballads and stories to be passed on to the next generation.

    So it was no surprise that at the onset of war in 1914, the rallying cry of the Sikhs was the loudest amongst all the native tribes of India, of which they were a minority. Despite being only one per cent of the population of undivided India at the time they made up 20 per cent of the army in action: 124,245 Sikhs fought as part of the British Indian Army during the conflict, plus several thousands more as part of the Imperial Service’ Troop raised by the princely states, such as Kapurthala and Patiala.

    Their motivation in serving was suitably summed up by signaller Kartar Singh who wrote from the western front in January 1916:  “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.”

    From Flanders to Mesopotamia, Gallipoli to East Africa, Egypt, Jerusalem, Persia and in little-known missions such as in Tsingtao in China and Trans-Caspia in Turkmenistan; wherever they went the Sikhs lived up to their martial traditions and their remarkable deeds of bravery were amply rewarded.

    Between 1914 and 1919, 29 per cent of all Indian Orders of Merit (second to the Victoria Cross) went to Sikhs, as did 24 per cent of all Indian Distinguished Service Medals awarded. They gained 22 Military Crosses and a host of European gallantry awards such as the French Croix De Guerre, Romanian Order of the Crown, and Russian Cross of St George.

    For a landlocked people, the war and service to the British took the Sikhs far and wide; it instilled in them the confidence to spread their wings, be pioneering, see the world and to settle outside of the Punjab in greater numbers. The clearest indication of the success of the diaspora is seen here in Britain today where Sikhs are visibly noticed in every industry and profession, contributing to the economy and sharing their wealth with those less fortunate.

    We can never forget that it Is the courage and conviction of the Sikh soldier from whence it all stems. The loyal, confident Sikh, ever zealous about his role in the world, inspired by his faith and identity to do good, to stand and be counted. The Sikh whose creed instils a natural bearing for truth, justice and freedom; who would fight for his beliefs and that of others to uphold the name of his Creator and the traditions of his brotherhood.

    We can reflect upon the courage of such heroes to refresh our own belief in pursuing truth and truthful living. This remembrance, let us be inspired by the devotion and selfless commitement of men of all faiths and backgrounds who served Britain on the frontier and in the First World War.

    In their sacrifice and our shared history we find more that unites us than divides, which can only inspire us to undertake greater acts of public service in all its forms.

  3. WW1 Sikh Memorial Wins Prestigious Award

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    WW1 Sikh Memorial Wins Prestigious Award


    Britain’s first and only memorial to Sikh service during the First World War today won a prestigious award in London.

    The “Remember WW” awards recognised the monument at a special ceremony at the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall, where it won the category prize for “Remembering the Fallen: War Memorials, Graves and Gardens.”

    The judging panel of Rt Rev & Rt Hon Richard Chartres (Bishop of London) and Andrew Murrison MP (Prime Ministers Special Representative for the Centenary Commemorations of the Great War) praised the project.

    The monuments creator and Chairman Jay Singh-Sohal said: “It’s an honour and privilege to be recognised in this way because the WW1 Sikh Memorial is so special. It’s in remembrance of our forebears who left their homes in the Punjab to travel far and fight in distant lands that we felt we needed to leave a lasting tribute in their name for future generations to recognise their heroism and sacrifice.

    “We achieved our goal by being innovative and creative, thinking big and being bold in fundraising, engaging with different community groups and leading from the front in our efforts to leave a legacy of remembrance. The result is that we’re inspiring many people to find out how and why Sikhs served and also encouraging them to undertake public service too.

    The “WW1 Sikh Memorial” was unveiled on 1st November 2015 at a lavish ceremony by senior military figures and leaders within the British Sikh community at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

    The organisation behind the monument is now working to ensure lasting co-operation and support for Her Majesty’s Armed Forces amongst the community by encouraging Sikh groups to sign up to the Community Covenant, a statement of mutual support between a civilian community and its local armed forces community.

  4. The heart of Punjab in Chelsea – a visit to St Luke’s Church

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    img_2111It’s been on the agenda for some time, but a rare day off in town allowed for a visit to St Luke’s church in Chelsea.

    The church has a fascinating history and heritage which enthusiasts will find remarkable – for at this holy place are held the lasting memories of those who served and sacrificed with the Punjab Frontier Force.

    Their story starts with the 2nd Sikh War, which ended in February 1849 and was followed by the annexation of the whole of the Sikh kingdom which extended to the borders of what is now Afghanistan.

    A new force, the Transfrontier Brigade, was raised thereafter with fighting Sikh men, to be kept out of causing trouble in the Sikh homeland and to be sent to the frontier. These irregular levies were enlarged in 1851 and became the Punjab Frontier Force, or Piffers and they policed and protected the unruly border with Afghanistan for nearly a century, as well as being sent overseas during WW1 and WW2.

    They served on the frontier, through the period of the punitive campaigns (including during Tirah and the standalone battle of Saragarhi) and through the 3rd Afghan war of 1919.

    Sadly, the realities of independence in 1949 and the tragic subsequent partition of Punjab meant that the history these regiments represented had to be moved as it was realised that the Christian population of the North West frontier would be very small and that the churches at Aimg_2115bbottabad (curiously where bin Laden was found), Kohat and Mardan etc would fall into disuse.

    With few if any to care for the memorials to British officers in those places, it was decided to bring as many as possible back to England.

    Lord Ismay and General Sir Rob Lockhart, who both served on the frontier, undertook the task of finding a church willing to allow the memorial tablets to be placed on their walls.

    Eventually, after much work, they found St Luke’s in London for the site in England to pay long lasting testament to those Christian officers who led units of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. Here two rooms in the crYpt were offered for the placement of memorial tablets and the South Nave in which to build a Punjab Frontier Force chapel.

    In June 1951 a service of dedication took place with the new installations in place, where the Lord Bishop of London led a service attended by more than 500 officers who’d served with the Punjab Frontier Force and their families.

    Today in 2016, a visit to the chapel and church is a rare insight into an oft forgotten part of our history.  My enquiries about the chapel were warmly welcomed, and the Vicar stopped by to speak to me which was lovely.  I discovered not many Indians venture into the chapel and that their is much history still there to be explored and narrated.

    I would strongly recommend those interested in Punjab and frontier history to pay a visit and discover some of the stories of those who served.

    Upon my visit, I looked through the memorial book and saw so many names of officers who had served in frontier regiments and had died either there or during the Great War.  There were Victoria Cross recipients and Distinguished Service Order winners – such amazing acts of heroism and bravery to inspire us all.

    It was an opportunity to solemnly reflect upon British Punjabi history – I’m so glad to see these archives have been preserved for future generations, but also that it gives people like me a chance to appreciate where we have come from as a community with a view to where we are going in Britain.

    As if to thrust the point deeper into my emotions, as I left the church I happened to have walked into a dear comrade who I had served with overseas – what kismat!  Such serendipity is rare, and made me believe that everything happens for a reason.

    Sometimes we forget, sometimes history forgets.  This cannot be left to be the case.  Let’s turn to ways to ensure our story is never forgotten…


  5. “Tally-Ho” VC winner honoured

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    Recently I had the pleasure of attending a special memorial outside the Ministry of Defence in memory of the “Tally-Ho” Victoria Cross recipient Brigadier General John Vaughan Campbell, one hundred years to the day after he won the award for conspicuous bravery.

    The ceremony at Victoria Embankment Gardens, attended by senior British Army officers, soldiers from his regiment and his descendants, the officer – who was born in Westminster – was remembered for his gallantry and service during the Great War with a special paving stone.

    As an acting Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards in 1916, Campbell fought in the Battle of the Somme. On 15th September 1916 he took personal command of the third line of guardsmen at Ginchy, France after the first two waves of his battalion were shot down by machine gun and rifle fire.

    He rallied his men by blowing a hunting horn and shouting the traditional hunting cry of “Tally-Ho”, by which he also earned his nickname.

    His VC citation states that he then led the charge against enemy machine gun positions, capturing the guns and killing the personnel. Later in the day after consultation with other unit commanders he again rallied the survivors of this battalion and at a critical moment led them through a very hostile fire barrage against the objective. He was one of the first to enter the enemy trench.

    The Lord Mayor of the City of Westminster, Cllr Steve Summers unveiled the commemorative stone alongside a member of the Campbell family. The stone was then blessed by the current chaplain to the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, Reverend J. W. Caldwell. The hunting horn that Campbell blew in battle was sounded as the Band of the Coldstream Guards played the National Anthem.

    The Victoria Cross paving stone for John Vaughan Campbell is the fourth of 12 to be unveiled in Westminster.

    In total 628 paving stones will be laid across the country, in memory of all those awarded a Victoria Cross throughout the Great War.

  6. Saragarhi Day Commemoration Photos

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    Saragarhi Expert J. Singh-Sohal speaking about the battle


    Earl Howe, Minister of State for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords


    Q&A with serving British Sikh Armed Forces personnel


    Delegates stand for a minutes silence in memory of those Sikhs who have served Britain


    Sikh Chaplain Mandeep Kaur leads prayers of remembrance


  7. British Army proud to support Saragarhi Day 2016

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    On the most prestigious of Sikh days, when Sikhs everywhere honour the bravery of their forebears at the deadly Battle of Saragarhi, Defence Minister Earl Howe has joined Major General Ben Bathurst, General Officer Commanding London District, and esteemed guests from the Sikh community in a special event in the heart of London. Sikhs have made a long and valuable contribution to the British Army and a unique respect for each other’s courage, skill and determination has led to a proud, shared military heritage.

    On 12th September 1897 in an ultimate test of devotion to duty, 21 British Indian Army sepoys (Sikh soldiers) defended the Saragarhi outpost in the hills of the North West Frontier Province (now Pakistan but then part of British India), against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen. Rather than surrender, the soldiers fought to the death against impossible odds for nearly 7 hours with limited ammunition and bayonets fixed.

    Although the outpost was lost, the Afghans later admitted to having lost around 180 of their soldiers with many more wounded, demonstrating the expertise of the Sikh warriors. To honour the selfless commitment and courage of these Sikh soldiers they were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award of the time.

    The heritage of Sikh service to the Crown is humbling, courageous, inspiring and continues today in the Regular Army, Army Reserve and Army Cadet Force. The event held today at The Honourable Artillery Company’s HQ, Armoury House in Finsbury, London, highlighted that contribution, in particular looking at how the values exemplified by the Saragarhi 21; are demonstrated in current serving Sikh personnel.

    There are currently 180 Sikhs in the British Army and their integral contribution and success is undoubtedly due to the common core values upheld and shared between Sikhism and the Armed Forces: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty, and Commitment.

    During the course of the morning Saragarhi expert Jay Singh-Sohal explained movingly about the selfless commitment and bravery of Sikhs from their unflinching loyalty in 1897 to operations today.

    Serving soldiers and cadets enthused about the benefits they currently enjoy from serving, and the opportunities Army life offers for future careers beyond the military.

    Adding colour and pageantry to the commemorative event, the Band of the Royal Logistic Corps played traditional music. One of their number played the last post and a solemn silence was held in memory of all those who had fallen in service of the Crown, before a dramatic War Cry; was performed. Then the guests were treated to a Punjabi lunch with spiced tea in the Honourable Artillery Company’s historic Prince Consort Rooms.

    Defence Minister Earl Howe said: “I am pleased and honoured to be attending this wonderful event, the fourth time that the British Armed Forces have commemorated the famous – and frankly, astonishing – battle of Saragarhi. This wasn’t a battle that was large in the number of Sikh soldiers involved, but it was huge in terms of bravery, spirit, and dedication, and remains to this day a truly heroic action that Sikhs the world over can be eternally proud of.”

    The General Officer Commanding London District, Major General Ben Bathurst said: “I am delighted that we are able to come together today with the wider Sikh Community to commemorate this important part of our shared history. The Armed Forces enjoys a strong relationship with the Sikh community in London and we genuinely appreciate their support. As the General Officer Commanding London District, I am committed to working with them to enhance further our mutual understanding for the benefit of all.”

    Major Sartaj Singh Gogna, 38, from Brentwood is a senior instructor at the School of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineering in Arborfield. He joined the Army 15 years ago and as Chairman of the British Armed Forces Sikh Association he often gets asked about the challenges facing Sikhs thinking of joining the Army. “When I signed up I was a clean shaven, short haired bloke. And surprisingly it was the Army that has helped me to grow spiritually and supported my decision to become a fully practising Sikh, wearing my Dastar (turban).”

    Lieutenant Daljinder Virdee, 26, from Iver Buckinghamshire is a pharmacist officer in 256 Field Hospital Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in London. He said he takes inspiration from the 21 Saragarhi Warriors every day:  The RAMC motto is strength in adversity and in tough times when odds are stacked against you these soldiers stood their ground and did not give an inch.

    The Army is keen to commemorate such events to keep the memory of Empire and Commonwealth soldiers; contributions to our history alive and inspire others to follow their example. This is the fourth year that they have commemorated the Battle of Saragarhi, strengthening bonds and, inspired by the recollection of a shared past, encouraging even greater Sikh participation in the future force of tomorrow, so together they can write a proud new chapter in the history of Britain.

  8. Saragarhi Day 2016

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    This year’s Saragarhi Day will be the 4th annual event being held in the UK, and will once again take place at the Armoury House, London.

    Photos and an update will be posted in due course.

    In the meantime, read about Saragarhi on ConservativeHome or check out “Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle.”

    PS – thank you to “One Little Aubergine” for kindly sponsoring copies of the Saragarhi book for distribution at the event.

  9. Remember the Sikh heroes who fought for Britain

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    Article originally published on ConservativeHome

    The debate about how best to challenge Islamist fanaticism will no doubt continue. US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is outlining his plan, which includes an ideological test for those applying to enter the States.

    But an example of how Britain successfully combated jihadism lies in a frontier battle fought in 1897 in what is now the tribal belt of Pakistan. It was there that twenty-one native soldiers of the British Indian Army made a valiant last stand to defend a small communications post against the onslaught of ten-thousand enemy tribesmen.

    In doing so the martial race of Sikhs, who fought for Britain, demonstrated how jihadism can be tackled – and eventually defeated – by selfless commitment and unflinching sacrifice in pursuing justice and righteousness.

    This year, the heroics at Saragarhi will be remembered, on its battle honour day of Saturday 12th September, in the capital as the British Army hosts the UK’s 4th commemoration event at Armoury House, London.

    It is a last stand which deserves a wider audience in our country – not just because it saw Sikhs defending British interests, but also because of the way it can inspire more ethnic minorities to undertake public service and serve our country.

    The 36th (Sikh) Bengal Infantry was raised specifically for service on the unruly frontier during a period of continuous uprisings by the Pathans. They manned outposts on the strategic Samana ridge on the North West frontier to defend colonial India, not only from local tribesmen but also Russian encroachment during the period known as the “Great Game”.

    The Afridi and Orakzai tribes of Tirah were incited by their Mullahs to declare holy war against the British in 1897 (months after a young Winston Churchill fought against their brethren at Malakand) and descended upon the Samana.

    Saragarhi was a small outpost situated between the main forts of Lockhart and Gulistan. The winding mountainous terrain meant the forts did not have direct line of sight, and in an era when messages were sent by heliograph (morse code flashed using light and mirrors) the communications post because crucial to relaying messages on enemy movements..

    The walls of Saragarhi were manned by twenty teenaged Sikh soldiers led by Havildar Ishar Singh. Their commander Lt Col John Haughton was located five miles east at fort Lockhart and estimated that they were surrounded by 10,000 tribesmen, evidenced by the standards they carried.

    It meant that each Sikh there stood to engage 476 Pathans, which as far as overwhelming odds go was not impossible; but they were limited by having just 400 rounds of ammunition to a man. The Sikhs could not rely on firepower to thwart the enemy, but by standing firm in defence of the post they aimed to demoralise the enemy from fighting.

    What motivated the Sikhs was their faith in the words of the tenth Guru Gobind Singh, which make up the Sikh national anthem: when my mortal life comes to an end, may I die fighting fiercely in battle”.They followed a different type of fanaticism to the jihadis: that of absolute devotion to performing righteous actions, informed by the Sikh ethos of serving humanity: sarbat da bhalla.

    So in standing firm they did not just show loyalty for a British cause but made it their own, because it was the right thing to do. In the act they cemented the reputation of their race as ever ready to fight for a just cause.

    Haughton observed what happened next at fort Lockhart. At about 9am the Pathans attacked by rushing the outpost, but were repulsed with around 60 losses as the Sikhs fired upon the mass of men. Diving behind rocks, folds, and dips in the ground for cover, the Pathans rallied to try and make a second attack.

    But two tribesmen had managed to get to the post and remained close under the walls of the north-west bastion where there was a dead angle. Unseen by the Sikhs, they began digging. Haughton tried several times to sally forward and divert the enemy away from Saragarhi, but the sheer number of enemy meant he did not get far.

    By around 3pm it was too late, the wall began to cave in and the enemy gave a final cry to advance and rushed through the new gap. As the jihadis crowded over their own dead and injured to get into Saragarhi, the few Sikhs remaining inside put up a stubborn defence but were forced to retreat into the inner defences.

    Ishar Singh covered the retreat and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Another sepoy secured the guard room door from the inside and carried on firing, but was burnt to death. The signaller Gurmukh Singh continued signalling what was going on, before asking permission to join the fight. He fired on until he too was overwhelmed by the enemy.

    The twenty-one had made a valiant last stand, but the enemy had paid a high price for their victory with up to 200 dead.

    Details of the battle travelled fast, being telegrammed by a Times correspondent back to London and then reported in newspapers around the world.

    The Commander-in-Chief of British India recorded his: “admiration of the heroism shown by those gallant soldiers. Fighting against overwhelming numbers they died at their post, thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their sovereign, while upholding to the last the traditional bravery of the Sikh nation.”

    The Governor-General of India lauded Havildar Ishar Singh’s leadership, saying he displayed “a heroic devotion which has never been surpassed in the annals of the Indian Army.”

    The British, seeing the significance of this last stand in inspiring more Indians to serve, built two Memorial Gurdwaras including one near Sri Harimandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) in Amritsar. The 36th Sikhs were duly rewarded a battle honour for Saragarhi and the 12th September set as a regimental holiday, which its descendant Indian regiment of 4 Sikh continues to mark.

    After Independence, the remembrance of Saragarhi became a solely Indian affair – but not anymore. In commemorating Saragarhi day, we recognise that this inspirational tale binds us Sikhs ever closer to our country through a legacy of public service and sacrifice for a righteous cause.

    It is a poignant reminder of how past sacrifices can inspire current and future generations to undertake public service.

    Jihadism was defeated on the frontier because of the bravery and courage of men like these Sikhs, who stood up to such fanaticism. As a serving Army Reservist I believe it can have the same affect today if more ethnic minorities, inspired by this battle, stand up and serve.