Category Archive: khalsa

  1. Saragarhi in 2017

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    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.

    In May, we continued our filmmaking efforts and were thankful to connect with a heliography expert who explained to us how the signalling device was utilised by the Sikhs at Saragarhi.

    June saw speaking engagements about the battle in Leicester and in Southall.

    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!


  2. India blog 4: Kapurthala’s Tirah Memorial

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    During my wonderful trip to Panjab, I had the pleasure of visiting many historic sites relating to the story of Saragarhi, in AmritsarFerozepur 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 [1919] 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

  3. India blog 3: A trip to a hero’s village

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    As part of my research and filming trip in India, I’ve been fortunate to visit Jhorran village near Jagroan in Punjab. It’s where Havildar (or Sergeant) Ishar Singh, who lead the men at Saragarhi, was born. Today, there stands in his homestead a memorial erected by the 4 Sikh regiment, descendant of the 36th Sikhs.

    Jay Singh-Sohal standing beside the memorial

    The monument is a special one, after the memorial Gurdwara’s built in Amritsar and Ferozepur by the British (as well as the cairn and obelisk built on the Samana itself) this was unveiled in 1997 by 4 Sikh to mark the centenary anniversary of the battle. While the bust purports to show Ishar Singh, written in Punjabi on the marble are the names of the 20 soldiers who fought beside him AND ‘safai wala Dadh’ or the cleaner Dadh, the often overlooked non-combatant who was also at Saragarhi.

    Curiously, next door to the home of the soldier Ishar Singh in 1913 was born Baba Ishar Singh (Rara Sahib) a saint who dedicated himself to prayer and serving others. You can just make out the Gurdwara Sahib (place of worship) in the side of the photo of the memorial. We spoke to the head granthi or priest who informed us that every year in honour of Havildar Ishar Singh there is a regimental ceremony that take place in which prayers are said and dhadhi (war ballads) are sung.

    So what do we know about Ishar Singh*? It’s believed he was born in 1858, which would be a significant year as it was during the India Mutiny. At the age of 19, Ishar Singh is said to have joined the Punjab Frontier Force. Sikhs were being recruited into the ‘Pffiers’ quiet heavily during this period to be sent to serve on the frontier. It kept men of fighting age away from the Punjab after the fall of the Sikh Kingdom, and helped check an age old enemy in the Pathans.

    Close up of the bust – note that the cap badge is wrong, its the current 4 Sikh one and not the 36th Sikh emblem, which was simply the chakar

    It would have appealed to many young men like Ishar Singh, it was a chance to earn a stable income and do something different to farm labour.  And it was a chance for adventure, to live like past Sikh heroes who had fought the Pathans and defend India from their invasions. Albeit now in service of British Indian interests.

    With the Piffers, Ishar Singh would have spent much of his time on the frontier with Afghanistan, and this is seen in his late marriage in 1893 – at the age of 35/36. He only had a month at home with his new wife before he was back on duty in Peshawar. He would be stationed on the frontier from 1894 until his death in 1897.

    At some point in the early 1890’s Ishar Singh transferred to the 36th Sikhs, the exact timing and details I will look into, but what we do know is that the new sister regiments of the 35th and 36th were recruiting heavily and some men from other Sikh and Punjabi units were transferred across to bring up the manpower. It could be that the transfer was related to his promotion, he rose to the rank of Havildar in 1892.

    Nonetheless, Havildar Ishar Singh was both senior and seasoned enough in frontier warfare for the commander of his regiment, Lt Col John Haughton to entrust him with manning the post at Saragarhi. Exactly when Ishar Singh was tasked with the role is unknown, the 36th were on the Samana from December 1896 onwards – and so it could be from that point when all the forts and posts were strengthened. We do know that during August/early September Haughton moved sepoys around from Lockhart to Gulistan and other posts in order to best combat the thousands upon thousands of tribesmen who were attacking the positions.

    The 4 Sikh regt of the Indian Army, descendant of the 36th (Sikh) Regiment of Bengal Infantry

    There can be no doubt that the odds were stacked up against Ishar Singh and the 20 jawans at Saragarhi: they were surrounded by a force of 10,000 enemy tribesmen and with a limited number of rounds of ammunition – just 400 each. It took a resolute and strong leader in Havildar Ishar Singh to be staunch and steadfast and not scared or intimidated by the enemy.  This is reflected in the Sikh national anthem:

    Supreme Lord, grant me this boon that I may never falter in performing righteous actions.
    When I fight my enemies may I not be a bit intimidated by them, may I be victorious.
    That I may instruct my mind to continuously crave to utter Your praises.
    And when my mortal life comes to an end, may I die fighting fiercely in battle.

    Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji

    So what did Ishar Singh do? He inspired his men to fight to the bitter end. With the Guru’s words in their thoughts that a single Sikh would be empowered to fight hundreds of thousands. To live up to the expectation of the Khalsa creed and for the glory of their race the Sikhs put up a stubborn defence for nearly seven hours, repelling two attacks and countless sniper shots.


    The men died but their deeds have and will continue to inspire future generations to serve a greater cause and undertake public service.

    *Details drawn from research undertaken by Gurinderpal Singh Josan, New York.
  4. India blog 2: Amritsar’s neglected heritage

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    *** Watch “Saragarhi Live: Amritsar Memorial – click here ***

    We continued our trip in India with a visit to Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. It is well known that the city is home to Sri Harimandir Sahib (the “Golden Temple” herein GT) and Sikhs make regular pilgrimage to it to take a dip in the holy water. It is also known that opposite the most sacred of sites for Sikhs is the Sri Akal Takht, the Sikh parliament if you like, where political edicts governing the faith and community are discussed and issued.

    But Amritsar is a special place for many many more reasons, for the city also hosts a wide variety of shrines and sites associated with Sikh history, from the recently restored Loh Garh fort built by the 6th Guru Hargobind Sahib ji in the mid 17th century to defend Amritsar, through to the locations within the GT complex in which Sikh warrior saints Baba Duleep Singh ji and Baba Gurbakhs Singh ji laid down their severed heads AFTER battling on whilst decapitated against Mughal forces!

    Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara Amritsar

    Many visitors to the holy city will not know of the significance of another memorial shrine built in the heart of Sikhdom. This is the Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara (seen to the left). It is now dwarfed by a hostel for foreign visitors built around it, a travesty as the memorial was originally placed in a nice garden (as was the one at Ferozepur which is still maintained). But there should be no excuse to not know about or visit this place – it is right opposite the main Saragarhi car park which most visitors use!

    It’s sad to see this memorial shrine in its current state and the proximity of other buildings on the new Heritage walkway which leads to the GT. My only hope is that the authorities, who are still undertaking some building around the new walkway, might use the empty land to the left of the Gurdwara to create some greenery where visitors can sit, discover and contemplate the bravery of the Sikhs on the Samana in 1897.

    The Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara has a fascinating history which deserves wider recognition. It was unveiled in April 1902, during the special time of Vaisakhi when the Khalsa brotherhood was created by Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji.  Vaisakhi is a time of gathering for Sikhs, to become like the Guru and take initiation into the Khalsa brotherhood and to abide by a code of  ethics and conduct (for more info I recommend reading Sikh Code of Conduct).

    It is not surprising that the unveiling took place at this time, it’s a simple and effective information campaign (more in a future blog post). The British were seeking to use the battle to inspire greater contribution of Sikhs in the British Indian Army, particularly on the frontier. Making the connection to the founding principles in the creation of the Khalsa by opening the memorial Gurdwara at this time created a strong sense of Sikh belief and empowerment – for the use of the British. But how useful it indeed proved, when the Great War erupted 12 years later.

    The memorial unveiling in April 1902

    With this in mind then back to the unveiling (seen left), the Commander in Chief of Punjab General Sir Arthur Power Palmer, unveiled the monument saying that it was created to show the  “spontaneous appreciation of the gallantry of a representative detachment of the Sikh nation, proving that they possess one of the finest of soldierly characteristics – namely that they prefer death to surrender.” The unveiling was attended by dignitaries and a guard of honour of the 36th Sikhs was formed.

    The General finished by saying that this memorial was: “erected at the headquarters of the Sikh religion, in order that as long as the British rule lasted the brave Sikh soldiers of the King might realise that their deeds would never be forgotten.”

    I’m pleased to say that in Britain today, through the work we’re doing with the British Army, we have put remembrance of Saragarhi and how it can inspire acts of public service back onto the agenda – read more about Saragarhi Day 2016 here.

    The memorial contains tablets on each of the four walls, and much like the Saragarhi monument at Ferozepur, they are each written in English, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. On the Amritsar tablet, the inscription reads: “The Government of India have caused this memorial to be erected to the memory of the twenty-one non-commissioned officers and men of the 36th Sikhs whose names are engraved below as a perpetual record of the heroism shewn by these gallant soldiers who died at their posts in the defence of the frontier fort of Saragarhi on the 12th September 1897 fighting against overwhelming numbers thus proving their loyalty and devotion to their sovereign the Queen Empress of India and gloriously maintaining the reputation of the Sikhs for unflinching courage on the field of battle.”

    Jay Singh-Sohal at the Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara Amritsar: click to watch “Saragarhi Live”

    Then, much like the tablets at Ferozepur, follow the regt number, rank and names of the 21.

    Some observations on the wording on the tablets:

    1 – explicit credit given at the onset that the memorial was funded and built by the Government of India – British India
    2 – stating of ‘loyalty and devotion’ to Queen Victoria, certainly not the motivating factor behind their heroics so we can accept this statement as part of the information campaign at the time to show how brave and loyal men should behave towards the Crown. It worked, and this is seen in the ways the native Raja’s and leading Sardars worked to prove their loyalty to the government – we’ll detail more on this in a future post.  BUT this sentiment towards colonial India is now a contentious one which many Indians would not warm to
    3 – the belief that in death the 21 maintain the reputation of the Sikhs ‘for unflinching courage’ is a strong sentiment which cuts to the core of the Khalsa spirit, the belief in standing for a just cause and fighting (much like Baba Deep Singh and Baba Gurbakhs Singh, mentioned earlier) against the greatest of odds. This can and does inspire Sikhs to serve the greater good.

    I end by sharing my experience of visiting the memorial and speaking to the granthi (priest) on duty at the time. He was very warm and even made us a nice cup of tea while we worked!

    We also managed to get enough of a wifi signal to conduct our first foreign Saragarhi Live! You can view the clip of me explaining the memorial via this link here or clip on the photo to the left.



  5. 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.

  6. Lt Col John Haughton, Commander 36th Sikhs

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    *** Watch  Facebook Live: Haughton’s Memorial ***

    It was an early start and long drive to Leicestershire earlier this month when we set out on a pilgrimage to immerse ourselves in the life of a man whose service to his country would earn him the description of ‘a hero of Tirah’.

    Lt Col John Haughton, a hero of Tirah

    Lt Col John Haughton was the commander of the 36th Sikhs on the Samana which in 1897 was the scene of a tribal uprising that would earn his regiment a battle honour. It would, of course, also be where the battle of Saragarhi took place and where 21 Sikhs would defend the small signalling post against the onslaught of 10,000 enemy tribesmen.

    Haughton commanded his men from Fort Lockhart during the uprising, deploying the 21 to Saragarhi as well as reinforcing Fort Gulistan which was also under attack. His leadership was exceptional and was a testament to an officer who knew his men, had studied tactics and the local geography and knew how to counter the enemy.

    Our trip to Leicestershire was with the aim of finding out and documenting more about Haughton’s character, about his Victorian education at Uppingham, a public school founded in 1584; and to see the memorial dedicated to his life and sacrifice.

    It was a trip three years in the making, having discovered the connection during my research for my book I’d been in contact with the school but unable to make the trek for various reasons until now. It was well worth it, as you’ll see.

    Haughton was born in August 1852 in India – where his father, Lt-Gen John Colpoys Haughton, was stationed. The General had served with the 31st Bengal infantry in the first Afghan war (1839-42) and distinguished himself during the defence of Charikar in 1841. A career-soldier and administrator, Haughton raised a family in India, his son John was born in August 1852 at Chota Nagpur.

    There John Haughton would remain until August 1865, when at the age of 13 he was sent back to Britain to attend school. It was believed that public schools such as Uppingham ought to have an important part in the military training of the youth of the upper and middle classes.

    Presenting Uppingham’s archivist Jerry Rudman with a copy of “Saragarhi: The Forgotten Battle”

    Haughton, though while having a strong military figure in his father, did not distinguish himself during his schooling as evidenced in his reports. At 17 he went to a crammer to prepare for the entrance exam at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which he passed first time. He passed out in 1871 and was gazetted with the 1st Bn 24th Foot (later the South Wales Borderers). His father applied for John to be gazetted to a regiment in India, and he joined the 72nd Highlanders, which was stationed in Peshawar.

    He later  helped raise the 35th Sikhs in Ferozepur in May 1887 and remained with it before being brevetted as Lt Colonel to its sister-regiment the 36th, taking over command in June 1894. From April 1895 to December 1896 the regiment remained in Peshawar, before then marching onto the Samana to occupy the Forts and posts there.

    Thereafter, Haughton led the 36th Sikhs during the Tirah Expedition, where it joined the 4th Brigade in protecting the right flank of the advancing troops on the Samana Suk. From the Dargai heights to the Maidan Valley, the 36th made the trek to subdue the Afridi and Orakzai tribes.

    It was on 29th January 1898, five months after Saragarhi, that Haughton would fall while in battle. He was tasked to recce caves beyond the Shinkamar pass, but a misunderstanding in orders led to his party of Sikhs being exposed from the rear. The Pathans advanced and Haughton ordered his men to fix bayonets and fire the last of their ammunition. But the order to charge never came, a sniper hit Haughton with a bullet to the head, and he died.

    With the documentary team at the memorial plaque for Haughton (Manpreet, Jay & Jayram)

    Haughton would be buried at a British cemetery in Peshawar, and his brother officers in the 35th and 36th would raise a memorial plaque in his honour at the school chapel at Uppingham. The plaque would state: “Sacred to the memory of Lt. Col. John Haughton, Commandant of the 36th Sikhs who was killed in action at the Shinkamar pass N.W. Frontier of India 29th January 1898 while boldly defending a position to the last against overwhelming odds. This brass is erected by his brother officers of the 35th and 36th Sikhs.”

    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.  Much of the detail of his life and service can be found in “A Hero of Tirah” which I recommend for further reading.

    Having known about his service and sacrifice, the trip to Uppingham gave us a deeper understanding of his education, and the values he gained from it. It was a rare treat to see such a prestigious place and to speak to an expert in the archivist Jerry Rudman, an interview of which we look forward to bringing to you in due course. And it was a remarkable opportunity to share Haughton’s story with the school, who knew little of what happened to their old boy after he left.

    In the meantime, if you would like to see more, do check out the Facebook Live: Haughton’s Memorial which was broadcast during our trip.

    Memorial Plaque to Lt Col John Haughton, copyright “Sikhs At War”.

  7. The India Medal 1895 – 1902

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    The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been published with many Sikhs receiving awards for their selfless service to their community and the nation.

    We had a look through our archives and wanted to share with you the campaign medal given to all soldiers, British and native Indian, who served on the frontier.

    This is the India Medal 1895 – 1902, and it was awarded for campaigns on the Punjab Froniter, Chitral, Malakand and later Waziristan.

    It was also given for the Samana – where the batle of Saragarhi took place in 1897, and Tirah the expedition that occurred thereafter.

    Each medal with the clasps depicting the area of conflict the soldier or officer served tells a story, one of how the unruly frontier was policed and controlled during the Great Game.

    We hope this inspires you to dig around for such medals and to share their stories with us and the wider world.

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  8. Press Release: New factual Saragarhi film wins community backing

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    Press Release: New factual Saragarhi film wins community backing

    A new film about an epic British Indian frontier battle is to be made after securing grassroots support through a social media fundraising drive.

    “Saragarhi: The True Story” will tell the factual tale of how 21 Sikhs fought to the last man against 10,000 enemy tribesmen to defend a small outpost in 1897.

    The battle was commemorated by the British at the time, with memorials built to it and a battle honour awarded to the 36th Sikh regiment that fought at Saragarhi.

    The project raised more than £9,000 on the Kickstarter website, and is now being developed by the “Saragarhi Society” in partnership with new broadcast channel “KTV” and digital arts producers “Taran 3D”.

    Writer and filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal has been working on raising awareness about the battle for the past 6 years, and has written a book about it. He brought the “Saragarhi Day” commemoration back onto the agenda in the UK, and the official event is hosted annually by the British Army on the 12th September battle honour day.

    Mr Singh-Sohal said: “The story of Saragarhi is a crucial one for British Indians but over the years it has had many myths attached to it. Our motivation in telling the true story through documentary film is to delve into what really happened, using authoritative research and primary sources, in order to pay tribute to those who fought in accordance with their Sikh creed and ethos to the bitter end. This will give the proper respect due to their sacrifices which can only inspire many more young people to take up public service. As a British Sikh I feel it’s important our community own this history, retells it with pride to mainstream audiences, and is motivated by it to stand up for the freedoms we enjoy in our country.”

    The British Sikh Association is a key sponsor of the film, Dr Rami Ranger said: “This history is a testament to the valour and the bravery of the Sikhs who always fought for a just cause, were disciplined and courageous even when heavily outnumbered. Sikhs were hand crafted by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh to fight tyranny and injustice in any shape or form and as a result, the world is a better place. Their sacrifice on the frontier, as in the two world wars, should never be forgotten.”

    The film is a collaboration with newly established broadcaster KTV. Jagjit Singh Bassi said: “We at KTV are committed to developing high quality productions and are working to ensure our history and heritage is put into the spotlight. The Sikh community has many stories that should be told in the mainstream, and we look forward to working with talented filmmakers and creative minds, promoting their projects and giving a platform to future generations of storytellers.”

    Video graphics and technology company Taran 3D are producing unique innovative content for the project that will ensure the story engages with young people. Taranjit Singh said: “We are creating new landscapes and testing new formats to ensure this powerful story is brought to new audiences. Our work will ensure that there is in depth understanding of the physical location, the historic forts and how this affected the sequence of events at the time.”

    The documentary will be released in September 2017, to mark the 120th anniversary of the epic battle. It will be premier at a prestigious venue in central London before going on the road to be screened across the UK and abroad.

    The Saragarhi Society is a project of the “WW1 Sikh Memorial”, which created the UK’s first national monument to Sikh service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.


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    For more information visit or tweet us via @SikhsAtWar.

    Photos provided should be credited to “Jag Lall/Sikhs At War”

  9. 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.

  10. 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.