Preston’s Sikh community in tribute to fallen soldiers

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Members of Preston’s Sikh community have been reflecting on their part in a multi­cultural First World War ­commemoration.

Last week representatives from the Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Christian religions joined soldiers from the Duke of ­Lancaster’s Regiment, schoolchildren and cadets to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle near Lille.

Sikh community take part in the WW1 Jullundur Brigade Commemoration in Ypres & Neuve Chapelle

Sikh community take part in the WW1 Jullundur Brigade Commemoration in Ypres & Neuve Chapelle

The battle, on October 28, 1914, involved the The Jullundar Brigade – then part of the Indian Army – made up of the 1st Battalion the Manchester Regiment, the 47th Sikhs, and the 59th Scinde Rifles.

Current-day army bosses were keen to reflect the multi-cultural war effort and will be using information and experiences in future educational packs.

Gulab Singh, who has laid wreaths in Preston on behalf of Commonwealth forces since 1999, was part of the organ­ising committee behind the trip. He attended the playing of the Last Post at the Menin Gate Memorial and laid a wreath on behalf of the Sikh community.

On Monday evening during a multi-denominational service at Neuve Chapelle, Mr Singh read from a translated letter home from an Indian soldier to his family.

Sikh community  take part in the WW1 Jullundur Brigade Commemoration in Ypres & Neuve Chapelle

Sikh community take part in the WW1 Jullundur Brigade Commemoration in Ypres & Neuve Chapelle

He said: “At one point ­during the reading I felt quite emotional, but overall it was very humbling. I felt privileged to be involved.

“It was surreal during the Last Post – I saw a lot of Sikh names engraved at Menin Gate.

“At Neuve Chapelle the ­atmosphere was surreal too. I wasn’t aware of the thousands who had travelled from one land to another and who never went home.”

He added: “I’m grateful that the Duke of Lancaster’s regiment had the foresight to make this commemoration multicultural.

“It means a lot to the Sikh community to be associated with the town and barracks and to pay respect to those who paid so much.

“History has not really ­portrayed Commonwealth forces, but this will highlight a wider society perspective.

“But also there is no education about it in the Sikh community, it’s not normal to learn about it, so lots of the community are not aware of the massive contribution made.”

During the commemoration, a group of young Sikh performers dressed in real First World War uniforms ­carried out a reenactment.

It was particularly poignant for Lakhbir Singh Rai from Fulwood, whose grandfather Sham Singh Rai fought at the battle of Jullundar.

He said: “He was in the British Army before the war and shipped from Punjab to ­Marseilles to fight. He spent four years there, got injured, and then went back to the front line.

“When I got to Neuve Chapelle I was trying to get a feel of what it must have been like for him.

“It was cold and sparse and very windy. The temperature must have been a shock to the system for them, but they were hard men in those days.”

“It would also have been hard as they didn’t speak English, French or German.”

“A total of 83,000 Sikhs died in both World Wars, and Sikhs won 17 Victoria Crosses, but we are never mentioned.

“Sikhs are a very small community in India, but the amount of their contribution is no mean feat.”