SOAS University of London

SOAS Brunei Gallery exhibition to commemorate largely forgotten Sikh soldiers in World War One

2 July 2014

This summer will see a landmark exhibition at SOAS, University of London’s Brunei Gallery to commemorate the remarkable but largely forgotten contribution and experiences of Sikh soldiers, as well as the families they left behind.

Presented by the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) ‘Empire, Faith & War: The Sikhs and World War One’ will be held at the Brunei Gallery from 9 July to 28 September. It is the launch event of a three-year project to reveal the untold story of how one of the world's smaller communities played a disproportionately large role in the ‘war to end all wars’.

Empire, Faith and War pic 2
Sikh and British wounded recovering from injuries sustained in the front line to their left hand or arm, Southampton, c. November 1914. (UKPHA Archive)
Nearly 1.5million Indians served in World War One, fighting in all the major theatres of war from Flanders fields to the Mesopotamian oil fields of what is now Iraq. The story of Sikhs in World War One will be told through original artefacts including unpublished photographs and drawings, newspapers and comics, postcards, stunning works of art, uniforms, gallantry medals, and folk songs sung by the wives left at home. It will also feature a unique album of X-Rays of wounded Indian soldiers’ injuries generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection.

Empire, Faith and War pic 1
'Stalwarts from the East' A French lady pins a flower on the Sikh saviours of France, Paris, 1916. (Source: Toor Collection)

UKPHA Chair, Amandeep Madra said: “The British Indian Army’s contribution was actually 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 British India in particular ensured that the Western Front wasn’t lost in those vital first 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.”

For further information, contact:

Visit SOAS Brunei Gallery's webpage on 'Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One'