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.


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