Category Archive: india

  1. India Blog 1: A visit to Ferozepur’s Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara

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    Jay Singh-Sohal with Gurdwara’s head granthi (priest) Bhai Bilumber Singh “Dastgir”

    We’re in India undertaking research and filming for our forthcoming “Saragarhi: The True Story” documentary.

    On Monday, we visited Ferozepur to see the Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara built there. The monument was funded and built through public subscription to the Pioneer newspaper, in the cantonment area that most of the 21 men that fought and died hailed from.

    It was a wonderful trip, all the more so as aside from filming I also had an opportunity to spend some time and speak to the head granthi (priest) of the Gurdwara Bhai Bilumber Singh “Dastgir” (pictured). We discussed my research and I got to share with the person in charge of performing devotional duties at the Gurdwara my insights into the bravery and heroism of our martyrs and how they can inspire now and into the future to live up to the traditions of the Khalsa. It was a pleasure to present him with a copy of my book.

    The Ferozepur Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara is a special place, the building has protective status meaning it is maintained and within a beautiful green park which cannot be built upon; its a delight to walk around, to think and contemplate. The Gurdwara is well attended, being so close to the cantonment, and I got to see various Sikh and non-Sikh Indian officers and soldiers visit to pay their respects to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji (Sikh holy scripture). Langar (free kitchen) is also open to all.  I took much time enjoying my settings!

    On the building are positioned four tablets, one in each direction, which denote the bravery of the 21 Sikhs in English, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. They say: “This monument is erected to the memory of the men of the 36th regiment of the Punjab infantry who fell in the heroic defence of Fort Saragarhi on September 12 1897 and in the gallant sortie from Fort Gulistan on September 13 1897.  A spontaneous testimony – the result of voluntary subscriptions collected through the Pioneer newspaper Allahabad – from the Anglo-Indian and Indian public to the undying glory which these ever memorable feats of arms brought to the soldiers of the Khalsa and the Army of the British Empire.”

    Below the inscription are the names of the 21 Sikh soldiers alongside their regimental numbers, starting with Havildar Ishar Singh.

    Some historical observations on this:
    1 – the 36th is listed as of the Punjab infantry rather than the Bengal Army
    2 – Saragarhi mentioned as a fort rather than a post
    3 – It’s also fantastic to see special mention also made of the heroism displayed at Gulistan.

    A memorial tablet containing sacred verses

    Inside there are tablets, donated by the Raja of Faridkot H.H Balbir Singh Bahadur in honour of the men of his princely state who fought. They contain sacred verses from scripture that describe how a Sikh should behave in war, inspiring the warrior spirit in all those who read and draw strength from the Guru’s words.


    One of my favourites, as shown, describes how the Khalsa (brotherhood of the pure, Sikhs who are initiated and abide by a code) should behave:

    Khalsa is he who shuns back-biting
    Khalsa is he who fights foremost
    Khalsa is he who respects others’ rights
    Khalsa is he who loves God
    Khalsa is he who devotes himself to the Guru
    Khalsa is he who confronts arms
    Khalsa is he who helps the needy
    Khalsa is he who wages war against evil
    Khalsa is he who rides well
    Khalsa is he who is first in war

    Two Anglo-Sikh war era 9-pound canon stand guard outside the Gurdwara

    This is a powerful statement which echoes the values of the British Army today: courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment.

    Standing guard outside the memorial Gurdwara – are canon placed at each of the four entrances. On the pathway towards the Nishaan Sahib are two 9-pound wheeled carriage gun (pictured). It’s a rare sight as these were melted down for scrap metal and replaced by iron and steel artillery pieces from the 1860s. It’s an ironic twist that these guns, which saw service during the Anglo-Sikh wars are now guarding the sacred Scriptures inside.

    I’ll hold back some insights for the forthcoming documentary, but I truly hope that you’ll read this and if you should ever find yourself in Ferozepur that you will take time out to see this Gurdwara, pay homage to our Sikh heroes who fought on the frontier and enjoy the pleasant surroundings of what is a wonderful piece of heritage being cherished and preserved by Indians who appreciate it’s full value.

  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. 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…


  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Memorial Report on BBC Hits 1.4M Views!

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    BBC Midlands Today covered the story of the WW1 Sikh Memorial Unveiling – their report uploaded to Facebook has now received over 1.4M views!

    Click the image below to see the coverage.
    BBC MT

    The UK’s first national Sikh memorial in honour of those who fought during the First World War has been unveiled in Staffordshire. It stands at the National Memorial Arboretum and has been funded by donations. Louisa Currie was at today’s service:

    Posted by BBC Midlands Today on Sunday, 1 November 2015

  7. Nations First WW1 Sikh Memorial Unveiled At Memorial Arboretum

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    Immediate Release

    2nd November 2015

    Nations First WW1 Sikh Memorial Unveiled
    At Memorial Arboretum

      WW1 Sikh Memorial Unveiled at The National Memorial Arboretum

    Above: VIPs at the unveiling: Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Sarah Montgomery (National Memorial Arboretum MD), Lord Lieutenant of Stafford Ian Dudson,

    Major General Patrick Sanders, Peter Singh Virdee, Jay Singh-Sohal (memorial Chairman), Mandeep Kaur (Sikh Chaplain)

    The UK’s first national Sikh memorial in honour of those who fought during the Great War has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

    The “WW1 Sikh Memorial” was unveiled by Major General Patrick Sanders CBE DSO, business tycoon Peter Singh Virdee and the monuments chairman Jay Singh-Sohal at a ceremony which fused religious traditions from the Sikh faith with British military pomp and custom.

    Speeches were made honouring the sacrifice of the 126,245 Sikhs who fought during the Great War – before a parade led the congregation to the unveiling site.  An ardaas prayer was recited and after the traditional Sikh war cry, a one minute silence was observed by the 300 people present.

    The memorial is the first of its kind – a statue commemorating the bravery and sacrifice of Sikh soldiers during the conflict. The Sikh contribution is remarkable, as despite being only 1% of the Indian population at the time, they constituted 20% of the British Indian Army and were represented in over a third of the regiments at the time.  For their heroism, Sikhs received 29% of all Indian Orders of Merit awarded during the war and 24% of all Indian Distinguished Service Medals.

    The memorial was uniquely funded through a grassroots campaign by the “WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund” on the Kickstarter website.  More than 200 people from across different faiths and backgrounds contributed from £1 to £1,000 to fund the memorial.  The monuments creator and charity chairman Jay Singh-Sohal says: “It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have a dedicated memorial which will stand the test of time and attest to future generations the gratitude we have for the sacrifice and valour of our forefathers.  This memorial is mindful of our glorious past and will inspire future generations to undertake public service as confident and proud British Sikhs.  It is already attracting visitors from abroad, and will be a place of pilgrimage for people from all sections of our society to recall the bravery of a martial race that fought for Britain simply because it was their duty to serve and desire to seek glory in battle against tyranny and oppression.”

    Major General Patrick Sanders, Commander of the British Army’s 3rd Division says: “It’s a hugely significant event, the record of service of courage and sacrifice of Sikhs during the First World War is really second to none.”  Further adding: “The Sikh community understands how the sacrifice, the courage the martial spirit that their forebears have shown is very consistent with the traditions of today.”

    The memorials patron is the Virdee Foundation, a charitable organisation that seeks to empower young people.  Its Chairman Peter Singh Virdee says: “We need to support out youth not only through monetary means but more importantly with knowledge, guidance and intuition.”

    The monument team will now look to inspire the creation of more Sikh monuments up and down the country, as well as encourage other Asian communities to create their own.


  8. 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.

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

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    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.