Abstracts and Biographies

Rana Chhina
All the King’s Men: The Great War’s Forgotten Army

An introduction to the role of India in the First World War. Though a British colony at the time, India actively supported the war in its bid to obtain ‘home rule’. The mainstream political opinion was that if India desired greater responsibility and political autonomy, it must also be willing to share in the burden of Imperial defence. As a result, India contributed immensely to the war effort in terms of both men and material. By the end of the war, 1,100,000 Indians had served overseas at the cost of approximately 60,000 lives.

Rana TS Chhina served in the Indian Air Force as a helicopter pilot. A recipient of the prestigious Macgregor Medal for best military reconnaissance in 1986, he is currently Secretary and Editor of the United Service Institution of India Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research and Vice President of the Indian Military Historical Society, UK. A member of the Government of India’s Archival Advisory Board, he is presently a member of the joint USI-MEA Steering Committee responsible for coordinating international and national commemoration of India’s participation in the First World War in connection with the centenary of the conflict.


Adil Rana Chhina
Recovering Memory: Narratives of Indian soldiers of the Great War

This paper examines both oral and written memory of Indian soldiers that have recently come to light as a part of the United Service Institution of India’s ‘India and the Great War’ centenary commemoration project. As the world commemorates the centenary of the First World War these memories gain added poignancy and relevance as none of those who lived through those times are with us today. Their testimonies lie buried in the form of memoirs, diaries, letters, censor reports and oral legacies.

Adil Rana Chhina is a researcher at the USI of India’s Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research. He has been working on the Joint USI-MEA ‘India and the Great War’ centenary commemoration project, which aims to highlight India’s oft forgotten role in the war. He has been involved in extensive research on the social, political and military aspects of India’s participation and is currently working on an edited compilation of Indian writings from the Great War that have surfaced as a result of the project.


Anita Anand
Sophia, Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary

Sophia is the remarkable true story of an Indian Princess, born to the dispossessed Maharajah Duleep Singh at his estate in Norfolk, in 1876. Raised as a British society lady, Sophia Duleep Singh travels to India against the wishes of the British government and returns a revolutionary. Committed to female suffrage and to Indian independence, Sophia becomes a thorn in the government’s side.

Anita Anand explores the extraordinary life of Sophia and the experience of writing such a biography.

Anita Anand is a broadcaster and author. She currently presents Any Answers, BBC Radio 4 and has previously presented for Beyond Westminster, Women’s Hour and Saturday Live. She has also appeared on Newsnight and the Sunday Politics, BBC 1.

Her book, Sophia, Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary was published in the UK, India and the US in January 2015. Anita has been shortlisted for the Foxed Books Biographers Guild First Biography award.


Dr. Prabhjot Parmar
‘Dark-Skinned Warriors’: India and the Great War

Dr Parmar brings to life the voices of Indian soldiers using letters sent home from Brighton hospitals. The letters serve as socio-narratives of the soldiers’ experiences. Issues included reflect loyalty to King George V, violence, kinship and discrimination. There were also letters of longing, for home, their mothers, their wives. Dr Parmar also explores issues with the letters themselves, the layers of distortion added due to the illiteracy of many of the soldiers and the military censorship.

Dr Prabhjot Parmar is a professor of English at University of the Fraser Valley, Canada.
Dr. Heike Liebau

Voices from the Shadow: South Asian Prisoners of War in Germany 
Based on a variety of sources, including sound recordings of soldiers and civilians from WWI, Dr. Liebau investigates the day-to-day life and social diversity of South Asian soldiers living in German prison camps during WWI. By focusing on the activities, reactions and biographies of individual prisoners, she will be looking at the soldiers’ expectations and strategies for coping with captivity, including their reactions to factors such as fear, longing, hunger, pressure and boredom.
Dr. Heike Liebau is a Senior Research Fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin. She is the author of Cultural Encounters in India- The local co-workers of the Tranquebar Mission, 2013. Her research interest lies in the history of cultural encounters, biographical studies and questions of knowledge production.


Kevin Bacon
Medicine, Media and Myth in the Pavilion Indian Hospital

The Royal Pavilion Indian Hospital was both a state of the art medical facility and a showpiece for British benevolence to its Indian subjects. This talk examines how the Pavilion negotiated the medical and political needs placed upon it, its relationship to Brighton’s other WW1 Indian hospitals, and the people of the town.

Kevin Bacon is the Royal Pavilion & Museums’ Digital Development Officer, but has worked in a variety of roles since joining the organisation in 2003. As its former Curator of Photographs, he co-curated the Indian Military Hospital gallery in the Royal Pavilion which opened in 2010. More recently, he led on the development of a new audio tour for the Royal Pavilion focused on the story of the building’s use as a WW1 hospital, which launched in 2015.


Tom Donovan
Letting the Landscape Speak

The fields of France and Flanders can provide an extraordinary insight into the contribution of the Indian Army in the First World War. This presentation uses a virtual tour of the landscape which saw the first Indian attack on the Western Front  – and the award of the first Victoria Cross to an Indian – to illustrate the power of scenery to speak to us about these historical events over one hundred years later.

During his career, Tom Donovan has combined publishing with a thriving antiquarian book business, specialising in books on British military history. Tom has been associated for many years with the Chattri Memorial Group, which organises an annual ceremony to commemorate the Indian soldiers who died in Brighton during 1914-15. He is a longstanding student of Indian Army history and particularly of the Indian Corps, and with his colleague Simon Doherty, was responsible for creating an exhibition on this topic that has been shown at several locations in the United Kingdom and at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium. Tom and Simon wrote and published The Indian Corps on the Western Front: A Handbook and Battlefield Guide in 2014.


UK Punjab Heritage Association
Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs & WWI – The creation of a people’s history

As the world turns its attention to the centenary of the First World War, the UK Punjab Heritage Association has put together a major project to commemorate the remarkable but largely forgotten contribution and experiences of Sikh soldiers. Their landmark exhibition in 2014, Empire, Faith & War was the beginning of a 3 year journey to create a legacy to ensure lasting links with this monumental past. In this talk, Amandeep Madra, Chair of UKPHA, highlights previously untold personal stories which were brought to light in the exhibition. He also explores the impact of their initiative to create a team of 1000 Citizen Historians who will discover, record and pass on the story of the Sikh contribution to WW1 and that of those left behind. At the heart of their organisation is collaboration and a recent partnership with the Royal Pavilion & Museums, led to two UKPHA volunteers running Brighton Marathon 2014, dressed in full WW1 soldier uniform.

The UK Punjab Heritage Association is the leading Sikh and Punjab Heritage group in the UK run on a voluntary basis by professionals who are passionate about their cultural heritage. In the early 1990s a group of young British-born Sikhs began a journey of discovery to make sense of their seemingly enigmatic cultural inheritance. It took them into museums, academic institutions, private collections and libraries around the UK and the Indian subcontinent. They soon realised that there is a wealth of material heritage, largely undiscovered and unappreciated. In 2001 UKPHA was formally constituted as a voluntary organisation to preserve and present an important cultural legacy to modern audiences.


Dr Santanu Das and Kamila Shamsie
‘The Truth of Fiction’

Kamila Shamsie and Santanu Das explore the relationship between history and narrative with a focus on India and the First World War. What is the relationship between the ‘truth’ of history and the ‘truth’ of fiction, especially when the sources are so piecemeal and elusive?How do we recover the inner lives of these soldiers when many of them were non-literate and did not leave behind many written testimonies? How can historical research and literary reconstruction complement each other in recovering the texture of the past? Can literature help us to provide a framework that can accommodate both imperial war service and a burgeoning nationalist consciousness?

Dr. Santanu Das grew up in Kolkata and teaches at King’s College London. In 2012, he was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize. He is the author of Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (2006), and Indian Troops in Europe, 1914-1918 (2014) and the editor of Race, Empire and First World War Writing (2011) and the Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War (2013). Currently he is completing the monograph India, Empire and First World War Culture for Cambridge University Press.

Kamila Shamsie is the author of six novels, including A God in Every Stone (shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize) and Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize).  Three of her other novels (In the City by the Sea, Kartography, Broken Verses) have received awards from the Pakistan Academy of Letters. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and one of Granta’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’, she grew up in Karachi, and now lives in London.

Take the Bachelors to War: Songs of Separation performance

Jasdeep, Amanroop and Harleen are three London-based musicians who have been classically trained in Indian and Sikh music from a young age. They came together in the summer of 2014 to bring the folk songs sung by the people of Punjab during the First World War back to the forefront of events to mark 100 years since the start of the war. They debuted their renditions of war songs at the hugely successful Empire, Faith and War exhibition, curated by UKPHA at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Since then, the musicians have performed the war songs at numerous events and prestigious venues such as the National Memorial Arboretum, The House of Lords and City Hall.


Davinder Dhillon, in conversation with Rana Chhina
The Chattri Memorial Group; the voice of a community which commemorates the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers

High above Brighton, on the windswept South Downs National Park, stands the Chattri Memorial. Built to honour the Indian dead of the First World War it stands at the place where Hindu and Sikh soldiers who died in Brighton War hospitals during 1914-15 were cremated. Unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1921, it has been neglected and forgotten over the years but brought back to public consciousness by the dedication of the Chattri Memorial Group. Long before the current revival of events commemorating the First World War, the Chattri Memorial Group have held an annual remembrance ceremony at the Chattri, which is now regularly attended by several hundred people. The service goes beyond religion or politics and simply commemorates the men as soldiers who fell in the Great War. Davinder Dhillon, Chairman of the Group, discusses the importance of the Chattri Memorial as a lasting reminder of the contribution India made to the British cause during the war as well as their work to ensure this part of history is accessible to a wide audience in Brighton and beyond.

Davinder Dhillon revived the annual Chattri Memorial Service in 2000 and set up the Chattri Memorial Group in 2005 to promote the memory of the Indian soldiers who fought in WW1 and to commemorate the links with Brighton. The Group works to preserve the maintenance of the memorial and is actively working to improve the site. One of their main aims is to raise awareness of the memorial and its history, through exhibitions and talks.