“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.”
These were the words written home from the Western Front in January 1916 by Kartar Singh, an Indian soldier from Ludhiana in Punjab, who was probably with the signal troop of the 6th Indian Cavalry Brigade.
The letter conveys a belief in fighting for a righteous cause, and the opportunity it presented to become renowned within one's community through bravery and selflessness in a just war. Reading it, and many others like it, motivated me to capture on film the sentiments of some of those Sikhs who served.
That my own community are a part of this tapestry of service to Great Britain has always been a sense of pride and inspired me to ensure these ‘Sikh chronicles’ are never forgotten, by leading in creating the UK’s first WW1 Sikh Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.
But it isn’t just the story of the Sikh soldier that moves me, but all those from undivided India - the hundreds of thousands of Hindu, Muslim and Zoroastrians from the subcontinent, who fought for us in every operational theatre of the Great War. They were pioneers with an eager sense of adventure, a desire to do their duty and exercise their martial prowess.
As a British Army Reservist, I know full well what their role during the war effort means for us today. When gathering and parading, be it at the WW1 Sikh Memorial in November, at Buckingham Gates for Commonwealth Day in March or at the Chhatri in Brighton each June; I am cognisant of the selfless commitment of all those before us who have sacrificed for the freedoms we now cherish.
It’s moved me enough to make a personal commitment when I travel abroad too, to visit CWGC sites and discover more about the immense contribution of the Commonwealth during the world wars. From the Menin Gate in Ypres to the Taukkyan War Cemetery in Rangoon, reading soldiers’ names and researching regimental histories brings moments of deep reflection and is a fulfilling experience to share with others on social media.
This pilgrimage of remembrance has enabled me to value the CWGC and brought me closer to the wonderful work so many of the Commission’s people worldwide undertake to keep these memories both alive and relevant for my generation and into the future.
Thus, it is an honour to serve as a Trustee of the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation and to contribute to ensuring the stories of the Commonwealth soldier connect with young people and those from diverse backgrounds all over the world.
As the centenary of the ending of the Great War nears, let us be aware that the war continued beyond 1918 and was fought by men of the Commonwealth in places such as Mesopotamia and Afghanistan. How relevant they still are for us today!
It is never a wrong time nor ever inappropriate to remember why we are able to enjoy our liberties today. We shall never get such another chance to recognise the role of the Commonwealth. I hope we shall renew our shared chronicles.
- Find out more about the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation here -