Schoolchildren, soldiers and religious leaders are preparing to embark on a unique trip to France to commemorate the sacrifices of a multi-cultural First World War Brigade.
When looking for ways to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, members of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment looked back on the battles their 12 antecedent regiments had fought.
Officers were drawn to a battle involving The Jullundar Brigade – then part of the Indian Army – made up of the 1st Battallion the Manchester Regiment, the 47th Sikhs, and the 59th Scinde Rifles, which took place on October 28, 1914.
On that day Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Christian soldiers launched an attack to recapture Neuve Chapelle, near Lille, from the Germans.
On Tuesday, 100 years to the day, 80 Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment soldiers, 100 Year Six school children, 30 Army cadets and Lancashire and Manchester religious leaders, will hold a service of remembrance for the fallen at the Indian Army Memorial in Neuve Chapelle.
Colonel Chris Owen, regimental secretary of The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, said: “There were Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians in The Jullundur Brigade – a microcosm of the area where we recruit now. This has resonance for our community and an educational resonance for the children.”
He added: “This is all about strengthening ties between us and the community and celebrating our shared history and knowledge. The multi-cultural element of the war is often overlooked, but we have to remember that it was an empire then and we have a Commonwealth now. There were many Indian troops on the Western Front, it was a real multicultural effort.”
As well as attending the service, children, including many pupils from Weeton Primary School, within Weeton Barracks, will also complete a tour of the battlefields and the war cemeteries.
Seediaq Baje, 11, and Hermione Morrison, 10, are two of the Weeton Primary School pupils going on the trip. Seedia said: “We’re all really excited, it’s very important to learn about these things and understand what went on. In class we’ve been learning about the war for quite a long time, we’ve been digging trenches in the school field and have been to see War Horse in Manchester.”
Hermione said: “Both of our dads are in the Army, and so I think the trip will mean more to us than to some other children. I think it will be quite emotional. My dad said that when he went he almost cried, so if he nearly cried, then I definitely will.”
Nadia Hurt, Year One teacher at Weeton Primary, will be accompanying the children. She said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity and the children are looking forward to seeing in real life what they have been learning about in school, such as the battlefields and cemetaries. I think it will emotional. I went on the same tour when I was at school and I still remember it like it was yesterday. People think that cemeteries are a bit gloomy, but seeing all the neat rows of white headstones really takes your breath away and captures the magnitude of it all.”
On February 26, those who went on the trip will share their experiences with other schoolchildren at Preston’s Guild Hall.