Kids Corner


Empire, Faith & War:
The Sikhs and World War One





As the world turns its attention to the centenary of the Great War, this summer will see a landmark exhibition by the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) to commemorate the remarkable but largely forgotten contribution and experiences of Sikh soldiers, as well as the families they left behind.

Empire, Faith & War: The Sikhs and World War One’ will be held at the Brunei Gallery at The School of Oriental & African Studies’ (“SOAS“), University of London, Russell Square, from 9 July to 28 September, 2014, and is the launch event of a three year project to reveal the untold story of how one of the world's smallest communities played a disproportionately large role in the ‘war to end all wars’.

From the blood-soaked trenches of the Somme and Gallipoli, to the deserts and heat of Africa and the Middle East, Sikhs fought and died alongside their British, Indian and Commonwealth counterparts to serve the greater good, gaining commendations and a reputation as fearsome and fearless soldiers.

Although accounting for less than 2% of the population of British India at the time, Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. They and their comrades in arms proved to be critical in the early months of the fighting on the Western Front, helping save the allies from an early and ignominious defeat.


And yet their far from inconsequential role remains largely forgotten. Undivided India provided Britain with a massive volunteer army in its hour of need. Close to 1.5 million Indians served, fighting in all the major theatres of war from Flanders fields to the Mesopotamian oil fields of what is now Iraq.

Surprisingly every sixth British soldier serving in the war would have been from the Indian subcontinent, making the British Indian Army as large as all the forces from the rest of the Empire combined – including the forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

The exhibition will see this untold, or at least forgotten, story put centre stage for the first time.

Speaking before the launch UKPHA Chair, Amandeep Singh Madra said:

The British Indian Army’s contribution was actually far greater than the better-known efforts of the white commonwealth countries of Australia, Canada and New Zealand put together. The non-white Empire’s efforts have largely been forgotten and their heroism and sacrifices omitted from mainstream narratives, or left as somewhat forlorn footnotes of history.

And yet men from Undivided India in particular ensured that the Western Front wasn’t lost in those first vital months, and then went on to fight the war’s forgotten fronts in Mesopotamia, Arabia, Palestine, North Africa and beyond. Their contribution has never adequately been recognised or even told.

By telling the Sikh story we want to change that and remind the world of this wider undervalued contribution of the non-white British Empire. This is British history and a story that helps explain much about modern Britain as well as filling in a tragically missing piece of First World War history.


Between 2014-16 UKPHA’s ‘Empire, Faith & War’ project will commemorate the Sikh contribution and will include the creation of a documentary film, a commemorative publication, education packs for schools, and a mini touring exhibition.

A core aspect of the project will be the database of soldiers’ and families’ stories which will be created with the help of the community in the role of ‘Citizen Historians’. They will be encouraged to either discover their own ancestors who fought or to ‘Adopt a Hero’ with help from online guides and other resources.

Crucially this will also include uncovering the lives of those left behind – the wives, mothers and others who waited anxiously for loved ones to return.

In this way, with the public’s help, UKPHA will collect and share the stories of Sikh combatants and their families, creating new history enabling the world to remember the story of the Sikhs and World War One.


The exhibition itself is the centrepiece of The School of Oriental & African Studies’ own centenary commemorations and will also serve as a ‘recruiting sergeant’ for UKPHA’s community-driven effort to create new history as the public will be encouraged to sign up as Citizen Historians.

It offers a unique opportunity to learn about this largely unknown aspect of the war and will feature:

*    Rare archive war footage and sound recordings of Sikh soldiers
*    Original artefacts including stunning artworks and military memorabilia
*    An interactive kids’ educational zone and commemorative wall
*    A pre-story section featuring dazzling original artefacts from the days of the Sikh Empire
*    A series of associated symposiums featuring expert speakers


Brunei Gallery
Dates: 9 July - 28 September, 2014
Open: Tuesday - Sunday: 10:30 - 17:00. Late night Thursday until 20:00.
Closed: Mondays and Bank Holidays
Admission: Free.

Address: Brunei Gallery, The School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, United Kingdom

Contact:   T. 020 7898 4046 (recording)      E.
Groups of ten or more are requested to book in advance to avoid disappointment or overcrowding.

For further details of the exhibition and events please CLICK here.


[Courtesy: UKPHA]

May 15, 2014


Conversation about this article

1: Harinder Singh (Punjab), May 15, 2014, 11:36 AM.

Soldiering for the 'good cause' is the thing Sikhs do best.

2: Pardeep Singh Nagra (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 15, 2014, 1:28 PM.

Congratulations to UKPHA for their tiredless efforts in researching, perserving and sharing our rich Sikh history and in particular our great contribution in the Great War. Well done. I will definitely visit. I encourage all Sikhs around the world to commemorate this historic anniversary. The Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada will also be hosting an exhibition in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Great War on Sept 27 & 28, 2014, as well as on Nov 9, 2014.

3: Vikram Sodhi (New Delhi, India), May 17, 2014, 10:02 AM.

I am impressed by this work. Perhaps somebody could get in touch with me to bring an exhibition to the UK that we have sucessfully organized in Delhi on the heritage of Anandpur Sahib and the Hola Mohalla Festival.

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