Centenary exhibition highlights Indian Army Sikhs who fought for Britain in the First World War.

Posted on centenarynews.com on 25 July 2014
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The UK Punjab Heritage Association is holding a First World War exhibition dedicated to commemorating 'the remarkable but largely forgotten contribution and experiences of Sikh soldiers' as well as the families they left behind.

Britain's Secretary of State for Culture, Sajid Javid, opened Empire, Faith & War: The Sikhs and World War One at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London on July 8th 2014.

The event marks the start of a three year project for the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA), aimed at revealing 'the untold story of how one of the world's smallest communities played a disproportionately large role in the ‘war to end all wars’.

Undivided India (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) provided Britain with a massive volunteer army in its hour of need, UKPHA states.

Almost 1.5 million Indians from all communities served during the First World War, fighting alongside their British and Commonwealth counterparts.

Although accounting for less than one per cent of the population of British India at the time, the Association points out that Sikhs made up nearly 20 per cent of the colonial Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. 

Launching the London exhibition, UKPHA Chair Amandeep Madra said: "Men from British India in particular ensured that the Western Front wasn’t lost in those vital first months, and then went on to fight the war’s forgotten fronts in Mesopotamia, Arabia, Palestine, North Africa and beyond. Their contribution has never adequately been recognised or even told."

Every sixth British soldier serving during the war would have been from the Indian subcontinent, states UKPHA, making the British Indian Army as large as all the forces from the rest of the Empire combined – including those of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

Mr Madra said: "The non-white Empire’s efforts have largely been forgotten and their heroism and sacrifices omitted from mainstream narratives, or left as somewhat forlorn footnotes of history.

"By telling the Sikh story we want to change that and remind the world of this wider undervalued contribution of the non-white British Empire. 

"This is British history and a story that helps explain much about modern Britain as well as filling in a tragically missing piece of First World War history.”

Empire, Faith & War: The Sikhs and World War One runs until 28th September 2014 at the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental & African Studies, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG. More details can be found here

Information and images supplied by UK Punjab Heritage Association.

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News