Too little, too late? UK unveils statue honouring Indian soldiers from World War I

By Prarthana Mitra

To commemorate Indian soldiers who fought and died for Britain in the First World War, a 10-foot-tall bronze statue was unveiled in England’s Smethwick High Street on Sunday, marking 100 years of completion of the Great War.

Situated between the High Street and Tollhouse Way in the town of Smethwick in the West Midlands region, the statue depicting a turbaned Sikh soldier had been commissioned by Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, as part of a community project and collaboration between the gurudwara and the local Sandwell Council.

Christened as the “Lions of the Great War” monument, the towering structure like the khadi poppy now serves as a reminder for the sacrifices made by millions of South Asian service personnel who fought as part of the British Indian Army in the world wars.

Remembering undivided India’s contribution to the war effort

“We are very proud to be bringing this memorial to Smethwick High Street to honour the sacrifice of all those brave men who travelled thousands of miles to fight for a country that wasn’t their own,” Jatinder Singh, President of Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, told PTI.

The sculpture was built on donations worth £20,000 from the gurudwara, while the council arranged for the seating and lighting. Designed by local artist Luke Perry, the granite plinth beneath the sculpture bears inscriptions of the names of regiments South Asian soldiers served in. To Perry, the sheer number of Indian soldiers sent to fight the Great War suggest that their contributions should have been honoured much before.

“Indians of all religions fought in the war and we are such a diverse multicultural country in part because of the sacrifices they made, so this is a wonderful statement…” he said in a statement to the press.

The unveiling comes a week ahead of Armistice Day, which is observed elaborately all over the country, including a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph by the Queen and a fundraising campaign for war veterans called the Poppy Appeal. Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May referred to the upcoming statue while paying a tribute to Indian soldiers who put their lives on the line along with their British compatriots.

“Over 74,000 soldiers came from undivided India and lost of their lives; 11 of them won the Victoria Cross for their outstanding bravery and played a crucial role in the war across multiple continents,” she said in the British House of Commons on Wednesday.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Armistice DayEnglandGurudwaraLions of the Great WarSikhTheresa MayWorld War