Project hailed by prominent community figures including MP Tan Dhesi

{Tarlochan Singh Virk, Leicester} Sikh Soldier Statue Memorial was unveiled on Sunday 30 October 2022 to honour Sikhs who fought for the United Kingdom in the two World Wars and many other conflicts around the world.  The bronze figure on a granite plinth went on display in Victoria Park opposite De Montfort Hall, Granville Road, Leicester. The Sikh Troops War Memorial Committee said it would compliment the existing war memorials already there.

Background to the Project

In 2015,  Dr. Margarette Bonney, Head of Records Office in Wigston which is part of the Library Service contacted Gurjeet Singh Samra, Senior Librarian at St. Barnabas Library, Leicester and informed him that in the UK there were going to be number of programmes to remember the people who sacrificed their lives in the First World War, and wanted his help in organising programmes to make people aware of this.  Dr Bonney knew Mr Samra’s interest in Sikh history including the service of Sikh soldiers in British Army as they had done a similar programme in the library about the World War Two. 

We agreed to organise two programmes, one in the Reference Library, Bishop Street and the second in Town Hall, Leicester which was confirmed by Adrian Willis, Head of the Library Service .  Bhupinder Singh of Holland was contacted to be the main speaker as he had written number of books on this subject including ‘How Europe is Indebted to Sikhs’.  Both these events were very well attended by nearly 100 people and the second one at Town Hall included Councillor Culdip Singh Bhatti MBE who was so impressed with the presentation of Bhupinder Singh , he suggested we have a memorial in Leicester to remember the sacrifice of Sikhs.  Regular meetings were held by the Sikh community to give practical shape to the Project. 

Firstly it was important to find a suitable place for the Sikh statue.  After a lot of discussion and various options Victoria Park was chosen  for the Sikh Soldier Statue Memorial .  This is also the place for the Arch of Remembrance , to commemorate the dead of the First World War.  The process was slow but we did not give up.  Kashmir Singh Khalsa was appointed General Secretary and Mr Culdip Singh Bhatti MBE was appointed the President.   Unfortunately Mr. Bhatti died in 2016 and was not able to see the the end project.

Then Covid 19 delayed the project by about two years .  Deputy City Mayor Piara Singh Clair came on board and he worked very hard with the project committee to make the project a success.  Over two hundred and fifty individuals , Gurdwaras in Leicestershire and Leicester City Council have donated money for the this project.

Sikh Soldier Statue Memorial Unveiling Celebrations  

The historic event had attendance from Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Army, Police, Fire Service, Cadets, Falcon School Children, Sikh Motorcycle Club, Gurdwara Management Committees and congregation from Leicester , Leicestershire and other cities.   After speeches from dignitary that included representative of King Charles 3rd, Mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby OBE, Deputy Mayor Piara Singh Clair MBE, Jasbir Mann Headteacher Falcon school, everyone took part in the Sikh prayer Ardaas by Giani Gursevak Singh in presence of Panj Pyare {The Five Beloved}.   After which the special guests walked towards the statue and the unveiling ceremony took place.

 A total of 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers died in the two World Wars and 109,045 were wounded. The statue was created by artist Tarnjit Singh and paid for by Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Guru Amar Das Gurdwara, Gurdwara  Panth Parkash, Gurdwara Shri Guru HarKrishan Sahib, Ravidas Gurdwara Sahib,  Sri Dasmesh Gurdwara Sahib and Loughborough Gurdwara Sahib, Leicester City Council and over 250 individuals. 

President of the War Memorial Committee, Ajmer Singh Basra commented “We are so proud to be unveiling this memorial to honour the sacrifice of all those brave men who travelled thousands of miles to fight for a country that wasn’t their own.”

General Secretary of the Sikh Soldier Statue Memorial Committee Kashmir Singh Khalsa said “ It is a historical and educational project.  Sikhs are hardly two percent of the total Indian population, but their contribution is great and will be recognised by all future generations.”.

Talking about the statue Deputy City Mayor, Piara Singh Clair said ” Leicester is a proudly diverse city with a very unique identity made up of many different faiths, cultures and communities.  For many decades, the Sikh community has significantly contributed towards the success of our city.”

Commenting on the Sikh Soldier statue: Manjit Singh Virdee pointed out that “ It’s very important to remember the sacrifices made by Sikh Soldiers’ in the last two World Wars.  This part of our history has never been told in the mainstream media in UK until recently.”  Rajwant Singh Dard, Firefighter said of this historic occasion “ A worthwhile and deserved contribution to commemorate the sacrifices made by a few for the many .”

Gurpal Singh – Head of National Sikh Museum, Derby pointed out that “ In both World Wars, Sikhs were 22% of the Indian Army while their population was less than 2% { 1.6-1.8 } at the time and yet, more than 83,000 Turban wearing Sikhs died for Great Britain in the name of humanity.”

Kuldip Singh Bhamrah QAM who was awarded the Queen Ambulance Award in 2018 said of the event “ Unveiling the statue in memory of all the Sikhs who died in World War 1 and world War 2 was commendable.  My thanks goes out to all the team members who were involved for arranging this.I also noticed that dignitaries from the Fire Services, Police and Army and Navy were present and it was good to see them but my only disappointment was that Ambulance services were not invited.  Also noticed that Sikh people from other Cities were not present which I think that committee members must look into in the future events to make sure its considered carefully.  Overall it was a wonderful event.”

Leicester Sikhi Camp Volunteer Dalbag Singh commenting about the Sikh Soldier Statue Memorial said “  It is praise worthy of the British government to allow the current generation to see the contribution of the Sikhs around the world alongside the British.  Its a lost history that is not spoken about much, but with statue a lot of people will be able to see, understand, and learn about Sikhs alongside British.  One statue will open the doors for many more historical figures to come out into limelight and be shown to the British public.  Its a moment of celebration for British Sikhs and all the soldiers who came from different parts of the world to join hands with British and contribute in both World Wars and gave their lives.” One A-Level history student Mansukhpreet Kaur said “ Known as the ‘Lions of the Great War’ after World War 1,  the Sikhs made up 60% of the British – Indian troops fighting in the Battle of Malaya.  Whilst only being 2% of the Indian population during the British Raj, stories and rumours of their courage and bravery constantly echoed throughout India, Britain and the rest of the world.  They joined the war effort to support the Allies with the thought of independence in mind for themselves and for other nations.  These Lions sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Europe, and as a history student and a descendent of a Sikh Soldier it is heart -warming to see this statue of a Sikh Soldier being unveiled in Leicester on Sunday 30th October.

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