Category Archive: 1914sikhs

  1. 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.

  2. Sculpting and Casting the WW1 Sikh Memorial

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    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. Comrades of WW1

    We get a lot of questions and messages on Twitter via @SikhsAtWar

    One such person is Marika Pirie from Canada, who shared with us this rare postcard showing a British and Indian soldier.

    The individual on the right is a Sikh, the beard and turban certainly show this to be the case.  But the chakkar on the turban seems more crescent shaped that circular – highly likely a mistake on the part of the artist.

    If you have any images you’d like to share with us on this blog – please do so via dothyphen1

  4. What Indians Wore In The Trenches

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    We’ve had fantastic feedback from many of you on our new trailer (above) for our forthcoming film “Indians in the Trenches”.  The film depicts the real life experiences of those who fought during World War One – told by amateur actors narrating the real letters sent betweem 1914 – 18.

    Telling the story through the actual words written by those who experienced the war was important for us, as it meant we could harness the truth of their emotions and sentiments.  The letters tell us a lot about the state of mind of the soldiers – from those who missed their family and India, to those who were proud of doing their part in the war.  There were also those who saw horrific things and wanted the madness to end.  In depicting the film we wanted it to be as real as possible and the letters enabled us to achieve that in ways that any other type of script could not.

    To ensure we did the story justice, the authenticity of the period uniforms was a crucial element of our depiction.  We were pleased to have with us Edwin Field (above) from the Die Hards Re-enactment group who not only curated the look of the soldiers but was a font of knowledge for us to understand more about the kit the soldiers had.

    Prior to the shoot, I’d spent quite a lot of time researching what Indians wore in the trenches, but seeing for myself the various items of clothing was important – and I want to share that with you with hopes that you’ll be inspired to find out more or utilise this post as a resource.

    Indians arrived in France in Khaki Drill.  This is because the soldiers wore KD in India and commanders had thought the Indians would be deployed to Egypt.  But Indian Expeditionary Force A which set out in August 1914 had a different purpose, to help reinforce the defence on the western front and stop the Germans reaching the Cinque ports.

    And so Indians arrived wearing this cotton khaki in France, a light dress which was unsuitable for the cold conditions of a European winter.  Their kit contained a great coat, which was the only warm item of clothing they had.

    The Indians fought in this kit in cold conditions – but despite being badly equipped it did not stop them from some daring feats of bravery in the trenches and in fighting the Germans.  In 1914-15 alone 53 Indian Order of Merit and 6 Military Cross medals were rewarded to Sikhs in particular (research courtesy of Narindar Dhesi’s “Sikh Soldier”).

    By mid-1915, the shirts were replaced with thicker jackets, as seen on the left modeled by Joban Singh from the “Indians in the Trenches” film,as photographed by the Wedshot team.  But this mattered to little to many of the soldiers as Indian infantry units were removed from the western front and redeployed in arena’s including Mesopotamia.

    By the end of 1915, the cavalry units which remained in France were issued woolen clothes for the harsh winters.  Cavalrymen would stay and fight until the end of the conflict.

    There is also a difference in the kit of Native Indian officers and other ranks, with the former being issued Sam Browne equipment and tending to have larger turbans.  Harmeet Singh Bharaj, on the left, is depicting a Risaldar in July 1917 so is seen with a lighter khaki jacket with 1903 pattern leather belt pouches and a handgun.

    Understanding the various uniform changes makes a difference when looking at images of Indians in general from the First World War for it enables researchers to see which year they are from – and understand how those fighting were equipped.

    We certainly relied on such images in our filmmaking, but learnt a lot from Edwin about spotting the difference, such as the thinner shirts having 2 pockets and the thicker jackets 4.  Knowing that the Indians deployed to the western front began the conflict ill-equipped is a well known fact, but as better kit was supplied to them so too was the realisation that they were there for longer than they might have expected.

    The Sikhs were the most visible of the soldiers deployed in every arena of the war.  While orders went out for helmets to be worn by Indian soldiers to protect from shrapnel, it was recognised at once that this would not work for the Sikhs whose turban remains a fundamental part of their identity.  Sikhs wore their turbans in conflict, although images of the conflict show non-Sikh cavalrymen wearing turbans in apparent combat, for the Sikhs it was a strict adherence and a sign of the pride in their faith.

    Despite some images of the era showing otherwise, regimental cap badges too were worn on the turban in the trenches too.  This came as a surprise to us, as in combat having a metallic item which reflects light and shines would give away the position of a soldier.  I can only think that the while Sikhs maintained the dress code and chakkar on the turban with pride and in defiance of the enemy, it would be sensible to assume these were removed for night time or more covert operations.

    Finally, many Indian soldiers who were injured in France and Flanders were brought over to England to recover at Brighton Pavillion.  The black and white photos of the time hide it well, but the period dress of a hospital patient is very surprising too: a white shirt, red tie and blue jacket and trousers was worn by them. Azadbir Singh Atwal on the left demonstrates this, with a rather worn out turban in this scene.

    In all, the uniforms of the period evolved somewhat as the needs of the Indian soldiers became apparent.

    It was an amazing experience working with young volunteers who had hardly any acting experience – but who felt the power of the letters sent from the trenches.  In coaching the actors and providing the motivation for their words it began clear to me what the overriding feelings and sentiments were of those who fought.

    In our next post, I’ll go into more details about the psyche of the Indians in the trenches – and why it was belief in their martial traditions that kept many Sikhs in high spirits at the hardest of times.

    **Visit for our online films **

  5. Indians In The Trenches: The Trailer

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    Dot Hyphen Productions are pleased to present the trailer for the forthcoming film “Indians In The Trenches”.

    Coming soon this summer to

    Directed by Jay Singh-Sohal
    Executive Producer Juggy Rehnsi / Wedshot Ltd.

  6. Turbans of the British Indian Army

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    Recent posts on popular social media groups such as “Great Sikh Battles” got me thinking that a blog about writing this post about the Turbans worn in the British Indian Army.

    As the author of  “Turbanology: Guide to Sikh Identity”  it irks me that when talking about the Sikh contribution – researchers and writers often make the mistake of counting anyone who is a ‘Singh’ or has a turban as a Sikh, thus exaggerating the numbers of those who served.  This doesn’t help our understanding of the conflict nor the sacrifices of our ancestors.

    The turban is fundamentally a part of Sikh identity – it encases uncut hair on the head, and for men is complimented by an unshorn beard.  The hair is a sacred symbol, one of the 5 K’s and which all Sikhs keep in accordance with the will of God.

    But the turban is not a solely Sikh symbol – it is associated with the east and shared with many other faiths and cultures across Asia.  This is best seen in India where the turban is worn by many non-Sikhs.

    Turning to the period of Empire, Sikh soldiers were distinguishable by their turbans and uncut beards.  But all British Indian regiments embraced the turban as the primary ceremonial form of regimental headdress worn by all ranks regardless of faith.  Even British officers donned the turban.

    During conflicts such as the Great War, many Indians would switch their turbans for helmets for combat – but the Sikhs were afforded the respect and dignity of always maintaining their dastaar and thus their faith and identity was represented even in battle.

    But when we see images of these conflicts, many are confused by who the turban-wearing Indians are, so this blog is designed to shed light on this – and we can do so by looking at the style of turbans in question.

    So what were there different turban styles.  Here are some examples:

    L – R:  Sikh with 24th Punjabi / (Hindu) Jatt with 12th Pioneers / Punjabi Muslim
    L – R:   Rajputa Muslim with 128th Pioneers /  Afridi with 24th Punjabis

    British Indian regiments during the time of Empire were organised on a class-based system.  While some were solely Sikh, Rajput or Brahmin regiments – others had a mix of squadrons or companies of different races.

    For example – the 36th Sikhs, famed for it’s defence of Samana and heroics at Saragahi, was a regiment based wholly of Sikhs.  While the 27th Punjabis, who achieved battle honours in China, Afghanistan and Burma; was a mixture of Sikh, Hindu Dogra, Punjabi Muslim and Pathan companies.

    The classes that made up British Indian regiments in 1914 were:
    Sikh, (Hindu) Dogra, (Hindu) Jatt, Punjabi Hindu, Brahmin, Punjabi Muslim, Rajputana Muslim, Dekhani Muslim, Pathan, Hazaras, Afridi, Orakzais, Khattaks

    Sikhs were further organised into: Jatt, non-Jatt, Lobana, Mazbi & Ramdasia squadrons or companies.  This was not because the British embraced the caste system but rather because of the prowess in various arms of the classes.  We will leave further discussion of this to a future post.

    While turbans are not the same in how they are tied, we can certainly see similarities in how tthe various races tied their turbans which lends us to be able to analyse photos and say with some credibility who they belong to.

    If you have any real images of British Indians in turbans please do share on this post thread, and let’s see if we can spot which race the soldiers belong to.

  7. New “Sikhs At War” Logo

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    We tasked our favourite artist Jag Lall to create a new logo for the “Sikhs At War” project.

    We went through a long procedure to iron out the best motif – debating what we wanted to depict in order to show the shared British-Sikh history and inspire others to feel proud about their connection and service during the Great War.

    Below are some of the design concepts Jag came up with, which we creatively discussed:

    The common theme was the chakkar / silver circle.  This denotes the oneness with God that Sikhs believe in – reflected within the kara or iron bracelet that forms one of the 5 K’s which all Sikhs wear.

    The Sikh soldier too is represented – in memory of the countless tens of thousands who fought for freedom and against tyranny in every arena of the Great War.  The soldiers turban is large, this was the only defence Sikhs had in war and they’d often find bullets within them!  The beard appears trimmed but isn’t – Sikhs did not cut their hair even in combat; but the beard was kept tied up to stop it jamming in the rifle.

    We debated about whether to keep the Union Jack flag and Nishaan Sahib – but in our final choice we were won over by simplicity as we didn’t feel the need to make this extroversial gesture.

    Our final choice for our logo is the final one above – image 6.

    We feel this pays tribute to the memory of Sikhs during the Great War – please do comment and add your thoughts.

  8. Welcome…

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    Welcome to our blog – we’ve given it a face lift as we head into a busy year of research, filmmaking and blogging.

    Please do bookmark the page – you can also use the image below as a link button on your website or on social media to direct people to our main site.

    * Many thanks to Jag Lall for the fantastic artwork.