Remembering Indian Soldiers in World War 1
Interfaith Week – Saturday 19th November 2016, Zoroastrian Centre, Zartoshty Brothers Hall, 440 Alexandra Avenue, Harrow, HA2 9TL
A packed Zoroastrian Centre in Rayners Lane was host to the Interfaith Week and centenary commemoration of the contribution of all Indian soldiers during the First World War on Saturday, 19th November 2016. The programme was organised jointly by Palan Foundation and the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe with sponsorship from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and was the first such attempt to bring together all faiths and communities in this remembrance. The event was attended by dignitaries including Conservative Peer Lord Popat of Harrow, Air Attache of the High Commission of India Air Commander Anil Sabharwal, Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar Chauhan MBE – Headquarters Regional Command Aldershot, Warrant Officer John Rock – The Royal Logistic Corps, Air Commodore Dr Fredoon K Amroliwalla, Jack Lynes – Chair of Harrow Interfaith, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Inter Faith Network for the UK, Mayoress of Harrow Councillor Rekha Shah and local Members of Parliament Bob Blackman (Harrow East) and Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) all of who lent their support to this great initiative.
Among the guest speakers and experts were renowned names such as the author of "I Can Never Say Enough About the Men – A History of Jammu and Kashmir Throughout their World War One East India Campaign" Prof Andrew Kerr, Genealogist, Historian and Founder of the BlackPoppyRose Selena Carty, Immediate Past Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britan Dr Shuja Shafi, Chairman of Harrow Interfaith Jack Lynes who shared the paper by Author of Honours and Rewards in the British Empire Anthony N Pamm on Indian Jewry. The students from the Sai School in Harrow dressed in soldiers’ uniforms from the World War period marched their way into the event and each child read out their thoughts and poems honouring the fallen.
A number of presentations, videos, and personal stories were shared on the Zoroastrian/Parsi contribution, stories from the Trenches from Nepalese, Maratha communities, story of a cavalryman who rescued the Baha’ I spiritual leader in the Great War and an account of the contribution of the Nizam of Hyderabad during the War were all shared.
President of Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe and the local host, Malcolm Deboo while welcoming guests spoke about the importance of Inter-Faith week, “Now in its eighth year the Inter Faith Week reflects the diversity of our country and the great importance of understanding each other and living well together.”
He added, “The First World War started on 28th July 1914, while Great Britain joined on 4th August 1914, and ended on 11th November 1914. The First World War was for the first time in history considered a total war because all of the population of the main nations involved were called into service in one way or another. A multitude of communities from the Empire and Commonwealth volunteered to serve the King-Emperor and Great Britain. Many who served were from the Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic Communities and their contribution to Great Britain was immense however, sadly much of their contribution has been ignored and forgotten.”
The event was supported by the National Army Museum and Armed Forces and highlighted the immense contribution and sacrifice made by countless South Asian, Black, Minority, and Ethic volunteers from the British Empire and the Commonwealth countries who fought shoulder to shoulder.
The Vice President of the ZTFE, Behram R Kapadia read out a message from Lord Karan Bilimoria, patron of the Zoroastrian community, “These heroes, whose service saw them decorated with the first Victoria crosses awarded to soldiers of Indian heritage, were sent to battle in unfamiliar and horrific conditions, and their sacrifice should be remembered appropriately. India Gate is an impressive monument dedicated to fallen soldiers and is one of Delhi’s biggest attractions. I was thrilled to hear that the Indian government has committed to also create a national war memorial nearby.”
Bob Blackman, MP of Harrow East reminded the audience of Harrow’s own local hero, “The noted war hero Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson VC, who was born in South Coorg, in Karnataka South India, on 14th July 1895 died in Harrow on New Year’s Eve 31st December 1918.”
Nitin Palan, Chairman of Palan Foundation speaking to the audience said, “the contribution of soldiers from ethnic communities especially Indian soldiers during WW1 was considerable, but much of the story is missing from the public domain. As we journey together and put these facts in front of the Community, Schools, Museums and the Army I feel confident that they will want to share the history in its entirety.”This event was part of Palan Foundation project “Remembering Indian Soldiers in WW1” to broaden the engagement and understanding of WW1 sharing the heritage with the Hindu and communities such as the Zoroastrians, Jains, and Buddhists. This shared history is relevant as in today’s multi-faith Britain with more than a million people from these faiths have made the UK their home. The project’s emphasis is engaging with the younger generation by providing a ‘relevancy’ framework of how their ancestor’s contribution on the world stage impacted the future paths of the two nations in terms of independence, migration and national identity.
Nitin Palan reflecting on the success of the event said, “The event was incredible and brought together number communities and knowledge share. We heard from Kashmiris, Dogras, Rajputs, Marathas, Parsis, Indian Jews, Indian Muslims and West Indian community. Everyone had a story to tell. The two hundred plus guests participated fully and represented the various regions and faiths from India. I am especially pleased with the support from Lord Popat, Gareth and Bob who have all agreed to the need for an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Contribution of Indian Soldiers in World Wars to lobby for greater recognition and shared a remembrance of their immense contribution.”
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