Battlefield of Neuve Chapelle, France.
Battlefield of Neuve Chapelle, France.
The location is the quaint French town of Neuve-Chapelle and a gathering of Sikhs surrounds a stone podium as prayers are recited in Punjabi. The Sikhs are from Britain and they are on a journey across battlefields in northern France and Belgium to honour Indian soldiers who died fighting for Britain in World War I. The Indian Army fought in every major theatre of operations during the war and around 65,000 Indian fighters were killed. In Neuve-Chapelle, Indian soldiers under British command were part of two Allied divisions that fought the Germans in 1915. There were heavy losses and an enclosed memorial garden circled by domed pavilions and towering columns is now a permanent reminder of their sacrifice. In addition, the names of more than 4,700 soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives are carved into the stone walls. Harjit Parmar has come from the Midlands and, together with his family, studies the rows of Sikh names etched into the walls in an experience they all find deeply moving. A sombre Mr Parmar has mixed emotions as a sense of pride is mingled with sadness.
Lack of recognition
"I feel proud that we contributed and were there but also sad at how many people died to give us the life that we have now," he told the BBC. As the group continues the tour of where Sikhs fought on the Western Front, they visit the Belgian trenches of Bayernwald and Wytschaete, scene of the first battles involving Indian battalions. The one-day tour is proving to be the learning experience the organisers - the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail - had hoped as the group discovers more about the contribution made by Indian and, in particular, Sikh soldiers. However, with the increase in knowledge and understanding during some emotional moments, there is also a sense of a lack of recognition when it comes to the efforts of their community in the war. According to Harbinder Singh, honorary director of the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail, there are various reasons for this. "As soon as the British Empire came to an end the stories of the Indian Army became almost redundant," he said. "I think in Britain there was a reluctance to acknowledge sacrifices other than those of British troops. Unfortunately, this was seen as a war for the British. "Our recognition needs to given due gravity within what is said about remembrance and the great wars. "I think we need a greater emphasis on the fact that there were other communities that voluntarily gave their lives."
Connection with past
The desire to educate current and future generations of Sikhs and Asians is one of the reasons behind the trip, as Mr Singh believes it is vital for the contribution of those who fought to be highlighted.
The journey has certainly proved an eye-opening experience for Jag Parmar, the wife of Harjit.
"I came on this trip because I wanted to know the position of the Sikhs in World War I," she said.
"I'd heard a little bit about it but I didn't really know that we had played such a significant part. This trip has allowed me to actually come to a place where they fought and died."Growing up, I was taught history at school but never to this extent and I don't think children these days are either. "So I think it's really important they come along and experience it first hand. You really do feel a connection with the past coming here." At the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, there is a memorial ceremony every evening which is dedicated to the commemoration of British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in battle and whose graves are unknown. As buglers from the local fire brigade sound the Last Post, a group of Sikhs lays wreaths under the arches. For brothers Taran and Gurinder Singh it represents a moment of pride in their heritage. "It makes me proud because our forefathers died so that we could be here today," said Taran. "We can walk around the streets of London and people will recognise us as Sikhs - people who fought among their grandfathers." 19th July 2010 the memorial for the fallen Sikhs from World War I at Neuve Chapelle, France. The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visit the Indian Memorial at Neuve-Chappelle to pay tribute to the sacrifice of Sikh, Muslim and Gurkha troops during the First World War. The memorial commemorates 4,742 Indian soldiers with no known grave who died in the Battle of Neuve-Chappelle.
TRH visit the Indian Memorial at Neuve-Chapelle in France
19th July 2010
The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall paid tribute to the contribution of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu soldiers in the First World War during a visit to the Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial today. The Battle of Neuve-Chapelle saw a huge contribution by the British Indian Army, and the memorial represents the 4,742 Indian soldiers with no known grave who died in the First World War.Their Royal Highnesses attended a memorial service, which was attended by children from a number of schools in Britain learning about the contributions of the many different ethnic communities that fought and died in the First World War for the Allied cause.
n entering the memorial, The Duchess was presented with flowers, before The Prince was invited to lay a wreath given to him by a pupil from Allerton Grange School in Leeds.Pupils from the school talked to The Prince and told him what they have been learning about the link between shared national values and national cohesion, in relation to Neuve-Chappelle and the sacrifices made there by the many different ethnic communities.
Poems were recited by 10-year-old Rasnam Singh, who travelled with a Sikh delegation. Their Royal Highnesses listened as he read the poem which had been written by a Sikh soldier who served at Neuve-Chapelle.
Rasnam was followed by a specially written poem by a pupil from Allerton Grange School.
The Prince and The Duchess toured the memorial grounds meeting with veterans, Gurkhas, and representatives from Britain’s Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities who had made the journey to Neuve-Chapelle especially for the service
Their Royal Highnesses visited Neuve-Chapelle Memorial, in memory of soldiers from South Asia who gave their lives fighting for the British Indian Army in the First World War. Their Royal Highnesses met a delegation from the Sikh community and students from the United Kingdom and France.
The Sikh delegation, led by the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail included renowned Scottish Sikhs music producers Tigerstyle.
Commenting on the visit Pops of music duo Tigerstyle said “We very much welcomed the opportunity to be represented at this important event. It is our duty to preserve the memories of our forefathers who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Europe” The delegation was led by the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail, for which Tigerstyle are Goodwill Ambasadors. The charity were behind the launch by MSP Linda Fabiani, of the Scottish Sikh Heritage Trail at Edinburgh Castle in 2008.