During my wonderful trip to Panjab, I had the pleasure of visiting many historic sites relating to the story of Saragarhi, in Amritsar, Ferozepur and the village of Jhorran. I would not have imagined that there would be a link to the epic in my own maternal town of Kapurthala!
J. Singh-Sohal stumbling upon the Tirah memorial in Kapurthala
Driving into Kapurthala on the day of my arrival, past a roundabout I have gone by so many times as a child and adult; I looked out of the window upon a sight I had never connected to. It was a memorial obelisk built in memory of the Tirah expedition! With my knowledge of the frontier wars I instantly recognised it’s significance.
The tribal uprisings of 1897, which included the attacks on the Samana forts, led to a field force being mustered for an expedition into the Tirah homeland. The tribes who lived there, the Afridi, and their neighbours the Orakzai had violated a treaty of peace with the British. Now, the Tirah Expeditionary Force, with around 35,000 fighting men (including the 15th Sikhs and 36th Sikhs), would march there under the command of General Sir WIlliam Lockhart, to subdue the enemy and seek reparations for the damage done.
The force was joined by a contingent from the Kapurthala Imperial Service Troops, the army of the princely state itself. It was the first time that they were employed on the frontier and the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh Bahadur [not too dissimilar to my full name, Jagjeet!] was keen his troops should be involved and show the kingdom’s loyalty to the British cause.
“The Kapurthala Darbar met the expedition of its troops in respect of ordinary pay of the troops, land transport other than rail, first supply of clothing and all articles required for full equipment of the troops for mobilisation on active service, whereas the Government of India paid the cost of their extra allowance or the field bhatta as permissible to the soldiers of Indian army and also met all the expenses for the transport of troops by rail, free rations to all combatants and ammunition and other explosives.” (See below*)
During the campaign, the troops “conducted themselves excellently well and evoked appreciation from the Commander-in-Chief”*.
But a tragic event struck on 27 November 1897, two months after the events at Saragarhi. A detachment of 36 soldiers (led by Subadar Dewa Singh) lost its way to Kurman, in the Kurram Valley and was ambushed by the enemy. “The small force put up a gallant defence against superior odds and preferred heroic death to surrender*.”
In response, the Government of India communicated their heartfelt regrets and sympathies to the Raja of Kapurthala for the loss of the troops. Sir Jagatjit Singh saw the opportunity to pay tribute to the bravery of his men who fought gallantly to the last, much like at Saragarhi. He raised near the regimental lines this permanent memorial to their heroism.
In doing so, the Maharaja was demonstrating to the British his commitment and that of his state to the British cause, but was also seizing upon an opportunity to create a legacy of remembrance of how brave men should act and how they would be rewarded for their sacrifice. This would be to stiry his own men and recruits to fight the enemy and demonstrate loyalty to the British Raj – so no surprise them to find that the obelisk contains the citation and names of the war dead in English, Panjabi, and Urdu.
Inscription in Urdu
Nearly three decades later, the Maharaja gives indication of the importance of this. He spoke at the Kapurthala Darbar in 26 November 1927, commemorating the golden jubilee of his rule, the reason for the memorial. Stating that “the war record of my Troops is so well-known that I need hardly expatiate on it. During the last 37 years they have served the Empire in various theatres of hostilities. The Tirah campaign of 1897, the Great War, the last Afghan War  and the Mesopotamia Campaign [1914-1919] found them in the field fighting the Empire’s enemies shoulder to shoulder with the comrades of the imperial Army.*”
That’s the aim of the Maharaja Sir Jagatjit Singh Bahadur, Maharaja of Kapurthala, GCSI, GCIE, GBE, of showing the states loyalty to the Brits, how they are equal to the British, as well as outdoing the other princes. The reward would be a raised profile for Kapurthala, and personal honours for the Maharaja:
1) the GCSI honour in his name stands for Knight Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, he was awarded the 2nd class of the order in 1897 and the 1st class in 1911;
2) the GCIE is Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, awarded in 1921
3) the GBE or Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire awarded in 1927.
Nothing wrong with that – he was the figurehead and leader of a princely state, a commander of state troops and was involved in the politics of ensuring his territories were on the right side of the imperial power. Kapurthala certainly prospered during the period, and its ruler went on to spend much of that on shopping trips abroad!
But how did the ordinary folk of Kapurthala feel about this? Perhaps we see their response in the increased numbers serving within the Kapurthala Imperial Service Troops during the Great War on Indian Expeditionary Force B, C and D (in East Africa and Mesopotamia).
In truth, this is a question I will delve into and an area I intend to do more research on. I hope to bring more answers and evidence to light in due course.
* Source: The Princely States. British Paramountcy and Internal Administration 1858 – 1948 (a case study of the Kapurthala state) by Anju Arora
As we build up to the launch of the WW1 Sikh Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in late March 2015, we’re releasing some of the articles that will feature in our souvenir publication.
Today’s guest contribution is from Mark Bibby, the sculptor of the memorial who describes below his process in creating an everlasting memorial in memory of Sikhs.
Creating the Memorial
Having for over thirty years studied British military history, and with my sculptures displayed in private collections; I developed a lifelong fascination with the image of the proud Sikh soldier. So it was an honour to be commissioned to create the World War One Sikh Memorial.
Research is vital when sculpting military themes, for me this begins by reading regimental histories covering the period the sculpture portrays, then gathering images of the subject – but remembering never to work from just the one image. The internet is an aid with specialist websites such as ”Sikhs At War” but so too are living history groups and collectors, that research the minutia of their subject.
Once details of the figure (size, shape etc) have been confirmed any any queries regarding material, production rechecked, the creative work begins. Sketching ideas helps imagine what it should look like – before moving on to a Marquette, a small model used to give an idea of how the finished sculpture will look.
Beginning work on the actual sculpture an armature has to be created, a solid wooden metal frame. Any mistakes at this point would cause major problems later. And so surrounding myself with reference photos, sketches and notes I start with the face, getting this right makes the rest fall into place.
This is followed by a rough rendering of the remainder of the sculpture, always viewing the figure from different angles to iron out any flaws. As the scale of the figure has been set, small details such as buttons and medals are sculpted as separate parts to be added later. The rough rendering of the figure is shaped, adding plus removing over and over. I then cover the figure and try not to look at it for a few days, this way when I return to work on it imperfections are noticed that were missed before.
Once happy with the layering of the clothes texture, seams and buttons are added. Going back to the face the roughly sculpted facial hair is worked on. It was decided to extend the beard in order to ensure the depiction that the Sikhs maintained uncut hair while fighting. Returning to research and references, Sikhs would have maintained their beards tied up, to stop them jamming in their rifles and to be manageable. The look of a longer beard fits well with the image of the Sikh. But I was not happy until my fifth attempt at the facial hair – “that will do” is never an option especially when the model is to last forever!
Finally the medals are added tweaking the little bits that may not be seen by many but I know they are there.
A much larger sculpture could have been created but even this would not represent the sacrifice made by these men.
I see the World War One Sikh memorial as a dignified reminder of the role played by Sikhs to which we are all indebted. In future, those who look upon it must surely feel the same sentiment.