Britain’s first national Sikh memorial in honour of those who fought during the First World War has been unveiled.
The WW1 Sikh Memorial statue at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire commemorates the 130,000 Sikhs who fought during the Great War.
More than 200 people from across different faiths and backgrounds contributed over £22,000 to help create the memorial, which was unveiled last Sunday (1). It was funded through a campaign by the World War I Sikh Memorial Fund on the crowd-funding Kickstarter website.
Although they accounted for only one per cent of the Indian population at the time, Sikhs constituted 20 per cent of the British Indian Army and were represented in over a third of the regiments.
The monument’s founder and charity chairman, Jay Singh-Sohal, said the statue was a “long time coming”.
“We finally have a dedicated memorial which will stand the test of time and attest to future generations the gratitude we have for the sacrifice and valour of our forefathers,” he said.
“This memorial is mindful of our glorious past and will inspire future generations to undertake public service as confident and proud British Sikhs.
“It will be a place of pilgrimage for people from all sections of our society to recall the bravery of a martial race that fought for Britain simply because it was their duty to serve and seek glory in battle against tyranny and oppression.”
Describing the statue, he added: “It’s got a large turban, long flowing beard – very much the image of a Sikh soldier from that period. (It has) the look and feel of a Sikh solider with the uniform and the medal that they would have been eligible for and would have won as a result of their service”.
Major General Patrick Sanders, Commander of the British Army’s 3rd Division, was present on the occasion. He said: “It’s a hugely significant event. The record of service of courage and sacrifice of Sikhs during the First World War is really second to none. The Sikh community understands how the sacrifice, the courage, the martial spirit that their forebears have shown is very consistent with the traditions of today.”
An ardaas (prayer) was recited and after the traditional Sikh war cry, a one-minute silence was observed by the 300 people who attended the event.
The Armed Forces minister Penny Mordaunt paid tribute to the community. “We recognise their outstanding contribution, and the strong link with the British Armed Forces which continues to this day. Their incredible efforts have helped to build a better world for future generations. Our people are our most important asset – we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that our services reflect British society, and that we recruit individuals from all communities including the Sikh community.”
The memorial’s patron, Peter Singh Virdee from the Virdee Foundation, said: “The sacrifice of Sikhs who have served Great Britain will surely never be forgotten, now that this community initiative has led to the creation of a permanent national memorial in our country. The monument will undoubtedly inspire future generations to follow in the footsteps of their forebears and contribute great things to our society.”