SARAGARHI DAY IN SOUTHALL THRILLS AND INSPIRES WITH DANCE, DRAMA AND REAL LIFE SUCCESS STORIES
The Public thronged to witness colourful displays and moving dramas at a spectacular interactive event at Southall Army Reserve Centre held to commemorate one of the proudest days in Sikh history, the Battle of Saragarhi. And two special visitors in particular summed up the spirit of Saragarhi – the determination to win against the odds. In a significant homecoming, Local Sikh Captain Brijinder Nijjar, who first dreamed of becoming a Army helicopter pilots while growing up down the road from the Southall Gudwara, flew in today in a British Army Apache Attack Helicopter – living proof that dreams really can come true. He was met on landing by his brother Lieutenant Harmeet Nijjar who is also currently training to be an Army Air Corps pilot. They and other Sikh service personnel spent the day offering inspiration and honest encouragement to visiting youngsters and their families, many of whom admitted they knew very little about the world class training and professional qualifications offered by the British Army.
Harmeet Nijjar said: “It can’t be the case that we are the only two people from our community who are good enough to join the Army. That’s just not true. There are a lot more out there. This is your army and everyone should know what opportunities are available.”
Brijinder Nijjar said people are surprised when he tells them he is an Army pilot. “The British Army is a home for everybody, no matter what kind of background you are from.” And he added: “I have gone from a young boy in West London to now on the verge of being a fully qualified frontline Apache attack helicopter pilot. I think that is a massive win for social mobility. The fact you can take somebody from any background and bring them to the front of a completely new area is just brilliant and more people should be encouraged to do it.”
In commemoration of the battle of Saragarhi visitors learned about the 21 Sikh soldiers who took part in the famous “last stand” against 10,000 Afghan tribesmen in 1897. The modern day Sikh Service personnel from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force explained how they use the story of their forebears as daily inspiration in all that they do in service of our country. Celebrating our shared history and heritage is an important part of what binds military personnel serving today, giving them an enhanced sense of purpose and belonging.
We believe it’s very important to teach children about the historic contribution Sikhs made fighting for Britain, and we know you feel the same. You often tell us there’s a lack of school resources and that is why teachers are not able to do so.
Not any more!
As we prepare to mark Saragarhi Day 2018 we’re pleased to announce we’ve produced a new education resource based on the battle containing films and lesson plans, which can be used to teach History, Citizenship and RE at KS3/4 level.
This pack has been developed alongside British school teachers for Key Stage 3 & 4 pupils. It is made possible through funding via the Armed Forces Covenant, and as such we’re able to give the first 100 school teachers who apply FREE copies.
If you’d like a pack – please fill in the form below, ensuring you provide your school name, your position there and the best address to post the pack out to.
NB: Packs will be posted in Sept/Oct 2018, with a limited supply of one per school.
Punjabi and Sufi music legend Sartaaj has visited our Saragarhi: The True Story media partners KTV to film scenes for his new music video. We’re honoured to have presented him a DVD of our film by our Creative Director Manpreet Singh Talwar, who’s nominated for 2 awards at the Nice International Film Festival! Enjoy the film Sartaaj ji
Today, we visited Uppingham School to speak to pupils there about the life and times of old boy Lt Col John Haughton, the commander of the 36th Sikhs at Saragarhi.
The visit was timed to mark the 120th anniversary of Haughton’s death during the Tirah campaign.
The talk was immensely succesful as filmmaker Capt. Jay Singh-Sohal addressed 850 pupils and staff in the school’s chapel. Later, we presented a copy of our Saragarhi book and film to the school’s headmaster.
Below are the remarks made to pupils:
Uppingham School: 120th anniversary of John Haughton’s death
It’s my absolute pleasure to be here today – to speak about an Uppingham old boy who you might not have heard of but who has an important role in one of the greatest stories of Sikh heroism.
His name was Lt Col John Haughton and he commanded the 36th Sikh regiment of Bengal Infantry on the unruly NW frontier of British India in 1897.
The 36th was a class regiment – meaning all the soldiers within it were of the same faith, my faith, Sikhs.
We believe in One God, and the teachings of the ten living Gurus – which give us our spiritual beliefs and martial traditions.
The officers commanding the 36th understood this well – but they were British and Christian. Thus, developed a unique and mutually respectful relationship between our two races.
Under the command of Haughton the 36th Sikhs gained a glorious reputation when on 12th September 1897, 21 of his Sikh soldiers defended the small signalling post of Saragarhi against the onslaught of 10,000 enemy tribesmen.
The British recognised this brave last stand with many honours including a regimental holiday – which the Indian Army continues to mark to this day. The men received the posthumous award of the Indian Order of Merit, the equivalent at the time of the Victoria Cross.
We in the British Army also celebrate Saragarhi Day every year in September as a way of remembering the Sikh contributions on the frontier.
It is through researching the bravery of the Sikhs at Saragarhi that I learnt more about Haughton – and with the assistance of your archivist Jerry Rudman, had the opportunity to uncover his life story at this school for my film about the battle.
Monday marked 120 years since the death of Haughton – so today I’d like to reflect upon the life of the man described as “a hero of Tirah”. His story is an inspiring one – of eagerness to learn, to serve and to do ones’ duty which I hope will inspire you as you progress through your studies and into your careers.
John Haughton was born in 1852 in India. He was the son of a General and war hero of the 1st Afghan War. And although he spent his childhood in India – he came here for schooling in 1865.
Haughton had a very Victorian education but did not distinguish himself during his schooling, as evidenced in his reports. Perhaps a lesson there to persevere in all you do.
After Uppingham aged 17 he passed the entrance exam to attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and thus began his journey to follow in his father’s footsteps as an officer.
Selection for India service at the time was difficult with only those at the top of the class at Sandhurst being selected; and it’s a testament to Haughton’s efforts that he passed out in 1871 and would go on to lead a native Indian regiment.
In 1887, aged 35 (the same age as I am now) Haughton helped raise the 35th Sikhs in Punjab, before taking over its sister regiment the 36th Sikhs in 1894.
Stationed in Peshawar in modern day Pakistan, Haughton immersed himself in frontier warfare. Studying and learning the tactics of the enemy tribesmen, as well as languages. He spoke French and was also learning Russian. This on top of the Punjabi and Urdu he was expected to know as a British Indian Army officer.
Through Haughton’s leadership, the 36th trained and prepared to occupy the Samana – a strategic location near the British garrison town of Kohat with various frontier forts that ensured the Pathan tribes did not encroach into British territory.
It was there that the post of Saragarhi was attacked and its defenders put up a gallant last stand. Haughton showed equal courage in leading his troops, trying several times to divert the enemy from the outpost but to no avail. In his diary we find Haughton full of remorse about not being able to save his men.
His biographer Major A.C Yates writes of Haughton’s qualities that he had a high sense of duty, strong religious feeling, staunchness, cool courage and a readiness to sacrifice himself.
This was evident five months after the attack at Saragarhi – which led to an expedition into the Tirah homeland of the waring tribes. Haughton led his Sikhs on a difficult march into an uncharted part of Afghanistan, through hostile terrain that no Army had ventured.
It was on 29th January 1898, that as British and Indian troops meandered through the mountains that Haughton went to reconnoitre the Shinkamar pass. A misunderstanding in orders led to his party being exposed and the enemy advanced upon the men.
Haughton ordered his Sikhs to fix bayonets and fire their remaining ammunition. But it was too late, a Pathan sniper shot Haughton in the head. He died aged 46.
The commander was buried in Peshawar, leaving behind a young family. And it’s remarkable when you think that much of his adult life was spent on the frontier, far from home and from his children.
During the making of my film we rediscovered his gravesite in Pakistan – the once magnificent marble cross has since disappeared but luckily the stone carrying his name is still there revealing his last resting place.
After his death this school’s magazine published an article in his memory in which his old form master Mr Candler described him as “strong and valiant – a man to be depended on and trusted.”
His brother officers in the 35th and 36th Sikh regiments raised a memorial plaque in his honour in this chapel which pays tribute to Haughton, stating he “boldly defended a position to the last against overwhelming odds.”
Take a moment when you can to visit the plaque, just there, to remember him.
You might not have heard of John Haughton before today – but I hope the qualities he exhibited in his life as a Christian and through his heroic deeds are ones which you will be inspired by: bravery, leadership, devotion to the men under his charge … and to his duty.
Today we had the pleasure of attending the launch of the National Sikh War Trust’s campaign to create a monument in central London.
The event, held in Parliament, was organised by Labour’s Tan Dhesi and attracting cross-party support, including Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid – who mentioned the WW1 Sikh Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Having led a succesful campaign 2014 to create the UK’s first national, we wish the organisers of a London monument well and hope they find a suitable place in our capital.
What a year 2017 has been for this project and our longstanding efforts to narrate the story of Saragarhi to mainstream audiences.
In January, we began the year with a special meeting with HRH The Prince of Wales (pictured) where we shared the story of Saragarhi and how the British Army are succesfully utilising this shared Anglo-Sikh heritage to engage with Indians in the UK.
In February, we began filming for the “Saragarhi: The True Story” documentary, with several shoots in India (further details here).
March brought special recognition for our director and filmmaker, J. Singh-Sohal, who was awarded a prestigious Sikh Jewel Award by the Defence Secretary at a glamorous gala for all his efforts over the past several years with this project (further details here).
In April we worked alongside renowned artist Raj “Pentacullar” Tattal to produce a special edition artwork of the battle of Saragarhi.
July and our filming working for the documentary in Pakistan led to the rediscovery of the grave of Lt Col John Haughton, the commander of the 36th Sikhs, in Peshawar.
In August we visited New Delhi (pictured) where J. Singh-Sohal delivered a special talk and teaser of the Saragarhi film to veterans and historians at the prestigious United Services Institute.
September marked an historic ‘Saragarhi Day’, the 5th year that the event has been hosted by the British Army in the UK, at the National Memorial Arboretum, the guest of honour was Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji, the eternal Guru of the Sikhs. Our film Saragarhi: The True Story also had it’s world premier at the event before being broadcast on KTV.
October and we continued our tour of the film with a special screening in Birmingham.
November saw screenings in London (Nehru Centre) and California, before an historic moment in the British Parliament with a screening and a standing ovation by Paliamentarians, the British Army and community represents in honour of the 21 at Saragarhi (pictured).
And we ended December with a screening in New York City, at the Sikh Arts Film Festival; and in Punjab hosted by the Maharaja of Kapurthala.
Throughout 2017 we endeavoured to share our journey with our audience through the groundbreaking “Saragarhi Live” Facebook Lives and regular blogs on this site.
In 2018, we will continue the year with special screenings and engagement with key audiences, details to be announced. Thereafter we’ll likely take a hiatus as we prepare for our next exciting project!
We thank you for all your support and good wishes this year – and hope you are also inspired to help tell the story of Sikh bravery and valour.
All the best for the New Year! May it be a blessed one!
Fresh from our screening and speaking engagement in New York City, we were off to India for a special screening of “Saragarhi: The True Story” in Punjab.
The journey began with the Maharaja of Kapurthala Brig. Sukhjit Singh Ahluwalia hosting the feature film at the Sainik School, which was attended by hundreds of cadets.
The school, formerly the Jagatjit Palace and royal seat of the rulers of the princely state of Kapurthala, was a wonderful venue for the screening.
In the below image, filmmaker J. Singh-Sohal presents a copy of the DVD of the film to the schools principal.
We thank all those who helped arrange the event and supported our film and visits. These included to the Captain Jhaggar Singh Memorial for Flag Day, and to the inaugural Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh, where we got to speak to Armed Forces personnel and dignitaries about our work.
On Saturday 2nd December, we had the pleasure of screening “Saragarhi: The True Story” in New York.
The Sikh Art and Film Festivall (SAFF) hosted the event at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, which was attended by hundreds of people.
It was a wonderful opportunity to share the feature film with an American audience for the first time and for filmmaker J. Singh-Sohal to share his journey over the many years it has taken to make the docu-drama.
Some images from the screening are below, courtesy of SAFF.
We thank the SAFF for all their support for the film and their continued devotion to ensuring the Sikh story is told far and wide.
On Tuesday 14th November 2017, the British Parliament resounded to a thunderous round of applause in honour of 21 native Indian soldiers who fought to defend British India on the unruly North West frontier in 1897.
Parliamentarians, leading members of the British Indian community and representatives of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces gathered for a special Parliamentary launch and screening of the new docu-drama “Saragarhi: The True Story”, hosted by former Justice and Work and Pensions Minister Shailesh Vara MP.
The film, made in honour of the Sikhs who fought at Saragarhi to mark the battle’s 120th anniversary, comes after more than seven years of research and production by Captain J. Singh-Sohal, a British Army reservist and filmmaker.
“Saragarhi: The True Story” narrates, for the first time on film, the fate of the 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36th Sikh Regiment of Bengal Infantry who on 12th September 1897 found themselves surrounded by 10,000 enemy tribesmen during an uprising on the North West Frontier between colonial India and Afghanistan.
The brave 21 fought to the last man despite the odds, in an engagement lasting nearly seven hours and with only limited ammunition. The battle is a significant one which was commemorated by the British with memorials in India, a battle honour for the 36th Sikh regiment that fought (now the 4th Sikh Regiment in the Indian Army) and the issue of the Indian Order of Merit class III, the highest award of gallantry at that time given to native Indians on par with the Victoria Cross, which was awarded posthumously to the 21 men.
The documentary, filmed in India, Pakistan and the UK; tells the story with unique access to private archives, never-before-seen images, stunning visual graphics, effects and re-enactment scenes.
Event host Shailesh Vara MP said:
“This film rightly records the outstanding courage and bravery of Sikh soldiers fighting against the odds and paying the ultimate price.
It is right that we remember these brave men in the Mother of Parliaments, and I congratulate Captain Jay Singh-Sohal for his commitment and dedication over many years in making this remarkable film.
The film not only informs the public, but it will also be a valuable resource for historians in the years to come.”
Speaking about his new film, Captain Singh-Sohal said:
“It is a unique and fitting way to honour the memory of the men who fought at Saragarhi by remembering their bravery and valour in the very Parliament of Queen and country they were fighting for. This episode of British Indian history inspired many more Indians to serve during the first and second World Wars shoulder to shoulder with the British and troops from all over the Commonwealth. And it inspires a new generation now to commit to defending our parliamentary democracy and the values it represents. Sharing their story in our Parliament is a tremendous honour for which I’d like to express my thanks to Mr Vara.”
The film will now begin it’s international tour, with a screening at the “Sikh Arts and Film Festival” in New York City and events across India.
Colonel John Kendall, from the British Army, who was part of a delegation to India that visited the Saragarhi Memorial sites added:
“The courage and loyalty of the Sikhs as a warrior race is legendary. For over a century and a half the British Army has been proud to serve alongside Sikhs. We have fought together in many campaigns including the North West Frontier and the First and Second World Wars. We have fought alongside each other to protect democracy and to rescue those in need from natural disasters. Today we are privileged to have Sikhs serving among our ranks across Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and support the work of the British Armed Forces Sikh Association (BAFSA) who help us to promote the message of inclusivity and Sikh service in the Army.”