Going the Extra Mile for Sikh History

angad running
Image:  Raj Gedhu

Hopefully you will have already checked out our recent World War One exhibition, War Stories, before it closed last month. This included the story of one of the Pavilion’s most interesting chapters, when it served a stint as the Indian Military Hospital.
Can you imagine what a strange, disorientating and moving experience that must have been for an Indian soldier, thousands of miles from home, gradually coming to after sustaining a war wound to find himself laid up in this spectacular Indian-style palace, on the damp and rainy English south coast of all places?
Many of the soldiers were delighted to be treated here, with some likening the experience to ‘having died and gone to heaven’ and one proclaiming that ‘the King has given us his palace.’

If that exhibition piqued your interest then you might like to hear that this particular project has got legs, literally!

Copyright Raj Gedhu
Copyright Raj Gedhu

Marathon Man

27 year old Angad Singh from Finchley, London, is raising funds for the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) by running the Brighton Marathon in an authentic World War One replica uniform, complete with full turban.

He’s doing this to raise funds for the UKPHA’s Empire Faith & War, an ambitious social history project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund over 3 years) that’s working to collate and document the stories of thousands of ordinary Sikhs in Britain and the huge contribution they made to the war effort.

When thinking about the role of Indians in the British and Allied Forces, many people naturally think of the Gurkha regiment, but the Sikh presence was considerable too and should not be overlooked.

Sikh Soldiers

I didn’t know that a staggering 130,000 Sikhs were recruited by the British Army and while Sikhs accounted for just 1% of the British Indian population a century ago, they actually made up 20% of the armed forces in 1914. One in three soldiers who fought on the Western Front in the early months of the campaign were Indians, with Sikhs being credited with filling a crucial gap in the ranks which delivered victory for the allies.

These soldiers’ stories have been largely untold until now, with the charity confident that there are many more to uncover. These are stories of phenomenal heroism and sacrifice, such as that of Manta Singh, who featured in our exhibition and died saving the life of a British officer.

Project Plans

The project comes on the back of last summer’s exhibition at London’s School of Oriental & African Studies and UKPHA will use funds to create education packs, produce a documentary film, run a short film competition and a special publication, to be distributed for free. They’re building a database of stories, effectively making new history and helping Sikhs trace their family’s story, creating a network of ‘Citizen Historians’ in the process.

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I caught up with Angad to get the skinny on his march into Sikh history…

Tell us a bit about yourself Angad

I’m co-founder of Equal Education, a social enterprise which improves the educational outcomes of children in care. This, along with running and training, has been taking up all my time!

How did you first get involved with the UKPHA?

I signed up with the UKPHA to become a core citizen historian, as part of their Empire, Faith and War project. I was inspired by previous projects, like the Golden Temple exhibition and the books they publish. The depth of their historical research appealed to me.

Prior to volunteering I had sat down with my uncle and mapped my family tree, going back seven generations, but there was no mention of any direct involvement with WW1.

Through volunteering I slowly learned and appreciated the scale of the British Indian Army to the war effort. It was astounding to realise that some 1.5 million soldiers from the Indian Subcontinent saw service for the Great War. Despite attending many workshops, I still felt like a spectator or a consumer of the project, at least until we had a workshop on the CWGC….

What piqued your interest in the project?

In this workshop I discovered a personal connection to the Great War.  I discovered records citing those who had gone from my small ancestral village, who had fought and died in Gallipoli. Jivan Singh from the Malay State Guides would have been a contemporary of my great grandfather. This stirred a much bigger interest in World War 1 and its history.

The EFW project massively increased my awareness and I wanted to do something to give back. I enjoy running and have run half marathons in the past to support Great Ormond Street Hospital, so I decided to take on my most ambitious run to date: a full marathon in WW1 uniform!

Why did you pick the Brighton Marathon for this bold challenge?

Brighton seemed the obvious choice, given the Pavilion’s history as the military hospital and the Chattri Memorial. It was uncanny that we were able to secure places, with the marathon being exactly 6 months from the date I decided I would train for a marathon!

With less than a week to go I’m slightly apprehensive and excited at the same time. The public support has been overwhelming. It is an honour to represent the community and a relationship between Sikhs and Britain.

Support Angad and Sikh History
Please do come along on the day to cheer on Angad and look out for a series of related talks over the Marathon weekend too.
Want to support him? Here’s Angad’s Just Giving page.
You can find the UKPHA’s Sikh history project Empire Faith & War on facebook and twitter: @gt1588

Jools Stone, Blogger in Residence

Look out for…

Meet the UK Punjabi Heritage Association Team

Brighton Museum

Saturday 11 April 12-4pm

Further resources