Britain has a proud tradition of valiant armed forces and a capable military which has managed to defend these isles effectively for hundreds of years. British Military achievement is well known throughout the world and the bravery and versatility of its soldiers, seamen and airmen is unquestioned and forever stamped in history.
Today as we look at the VE Day Celebrations there is an abundance of information in the media that provides an insight into what life would have been like in those troubled times. It is right that we remember them, the fallen, and the living whose numbers dwindle with every passing year. To them we owe our freedom as they fought for this land and often lost their lives so that we might remain a free country.
However, whilst each country has a right to blow its own trumpet and remember the heroic gestures, hardships and victories that made this nation what it is today, we should also remember the massive sacrifice given by others from nations further afield.
The Sikhs sacrificed a great deal for this country. During the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1845 – 1849 the British had been so impressed by the Khalsa Army they decided to enlist many battalions of Sikh forces. The former Sikh enemy became so loyal that in 1857 when most of the Indian Army revolted, the Sikhs remained totally supportive and fought side by side with the British Army. Subsequently, the Punjab became the recruiting ground for the British. This staunch and loyal Sikh support was to show itself again during the great wars.
During the First World War Sikhs joined the ranks of the British Army in great numbers. They fought in the trenches of Germany and at Gallipoli where thousands of Sikhs fought and died. The British Indian Army was made of nearly 20% Sikhs, despite the fact that Sikhs account for only 2% of the population in India.
During the Second World War this action was repeated. Even though there was now a quest for Indian Independence the British Indian Army grew from 189,000 at the start of the war to over 2.5 million through voluntary recruitment and a large proportion of those were Sikh. At no other time in history has a foreign army this large been voluntarily mobilised to fight for a foreign land as if it were their own country. The significance of this should not be underestimated.
In 1944, Sikh Soldiers halted the advance of the Japanese in Burma and prevented them from invading India. Four VC’s were awarded in this campaign.
As the British Empire came to a close many Sikhs were encouraged to settle in the UK. Their loyalty, hard work ethics and historic connection with the British should be remembered. Many Sikh families in Birmingham are direct descendents of those who put so much into this country.
Of course, there were also millions of Russians who died in the Second World War. One might argue that the Russians won the war and that without them things would have been significantly different. Then of course there are the 100,000 Gurkhas who fought in World War I and the 40 battalions of Gurkhas in the Second World War. What of the Polish who valiantly fought during the Battle of Britain and those from other nations who out of Patriotism and loyalty, came from oversees to enlist, and often die, in order that we might enjoy our freedom today.