Category Archive: world war one

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund: Half Way Point Update

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    *** Donate to the WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund by clicking here ***

    We are now half way through the campaign to create a WW1 Sikh Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.

    Before an update on the campaign so far, I’d like to thank all those who send messages of support via private message and on social media.  Here is one I’d like to share:

    “Just contributed to your great idea for a Sikh WW1 memorial, I very much hope this will happen. I just wanted to commend you and thank you and the sikhs@war team for the work you have done in your project. It is a really important subject and is vital for future generations.”

    The campaign has been going well, it started many months ago with strategy discussions, coalition building and research into whether a memorial was necessary.  We decided to press ahead because there is an overwhelming desire to create a legacy of remembrance.  We’ve continued our work behind the scenes by meeting with interested donors and businessmen, building dialogue with supporters and Sikh organisations and engaging with the media.  It’s a lot of hard work for us volunteers.

    In particular I’ve been raising awareness of the project in the mainstream by appearing in national media including BBC, Sikh Channel, Arise News and BFBS Forces TV.  This is all with the aim of encouraging more donors to step forward and support our efforts.

    I’ve said we – the spark to create this memorial came from me but this is a project backed and progressed by serving Sikhs in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, who recognise the significance of a memorial and what it will mean for future generations of British Sikhs.

    So far just over 30 people have stepped forward to donate to the campaign, including one patron.  The funds we have gathered take us a third of the way to our target – but more needs to be done to hit the full amount.  If we do not raise the requisite £20,000 needed we will not get a penny that has been pledged and this project will wilt away.  So I urge you not just to donate what you can but share the campaign with friends and family and encourage them to donate too.

    The project has been fully costed, and we’re lucky to be working with a very talented sculptor on the grand design.  To the left is a busk created by Mark ?.  The concept we have been working with him on is one which depicts the image of the Sikh soldier in all his glory – with proud turban and uncut beard symbolising the spirit and physical form of the Khalsa.  We’d like your thoughts on the design and we continue to work to perfect the memorial.

    Finally, this is an open and accessible project.  The memorial, once funded, will be organised by a charity which will be set up to administer it.  This is not an individual vanity project but one for the good of the community.  I urge you to ask on this forum any questions you like about the memorial with the aim of better educating yourself about our work and intentions.  We are heritage enthusiasts not politicians!

    I end with a thanks in advance for supporting the memorial campaign, and any efforts you can put in to ensure this much needed project happens.

    *** Donate to the WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund by clicking here ***
  4. The Story Of Bhaga Singh of 38th Central India Horse

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    Dot Hyphen Productions presents “Indians in the Trenches” – a new film featuring the real life experiences of soldiers who fought in France and France.

    In this second trailer, Pavandeep Singh Sandhu narrates the story of Bhaga Singh of 38th Central India Horse through the letters he sent home to India in July 1917 describing what he saw.

    For more films visit

  5. Faith and War: Sikhs in World War One

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    Here’s a presentation I gave ahead of the first screening of “Indians in the Trenches” at Goldman Sachs, London on 28th May 2014.

    In this part, I narrate briefly the Sikh contribution during World War One and why it was so significant.

    The trailer is also below – and the film will be released this August.

    ** If you’d like to host such a presentation contact us via dothyphen1 AT gmail DOT com **

  6. 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 **

  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.