CHANDIGARH: The battle of Saragarhi is an untold story of valour where 21 Sikh soldiers went down fighting 10,000 Afghan troops. The British Indian contingent of the 36th Sikhs (now the 4th battalion of the Sikh regiment) was stationed at an army post and came under attack by 10,000 Afghan troopers.
Over the last 120 years, Sikh soldiers have been incorporated in the British army. Over 83,000 Sikh soldiers went to battle during the two World Wars. That proud legacy continues to this day, and, taking it forward are Major Sartaj Singh Gogana and Captain J.Singh Sahol. The two turbaned Sikh officers were part of the four member British army delegation, which was in the city on Friday to attend the Military Literary Festival, 2018. The event is dedicated to the valour of the over 74,000 Indians, who laid down their lives in the line of duty during the First World War.
Speaking to this newspaper, Major Gogana, a 40-year old mechanical engineer who is serving in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Division of the British army, recalled the day he joined the army in 2000 as an officer cadet. "Initially, my family members were hesitant and even voiced concern. However, seeing that I was determined to the join the forces and serve my country, they gave in," said the man who is presently posted at Royal Military Centre.
Hailing from Jandusighwala village, near Jalandhar in Punjab, Gogana had moved to United Kingdom, along with his family, when he was just two years old. "My father worked in a private security firm, but I always wanted to wear the army uniform and this proud legacy (of Sikh soldiers being drafted into the British army) forward," he said.
Recalling the unparalleled sacrifice of Indian soldiers in the World War I and II, Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore said, "This year also marks the centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918, a time for remembrance of the 74, 000 Indians who laid down their lives and 67, 000 others who were severely wounded. ''
While the other sikh gentleman in the British army uniform Captain J.Singh Sohal has been born and brought up in England and joined the army in 2009 he says that he had a passion to join the forces since his childhood and wear the uniform. "To serve was the key, as after graduation from the university had joined TV media but left it,'' says Johal who joined the army in his late twenties and is serving in military intelligence.
Both are first generation officers in the British army and say that ten per cent of personnel in the British army are from the ethnic minorities. "We observe the Saragarhi day to pay tribute to the soldiers who sacrificed their life's.'' said Gogana.
While Colonel James Sunderland who is heading the delegation says that both the British and Indian Army share historical bonds, the values, ranks, structure are all similar and both armies have old links with each other and will also have future collaborations. Recently the British and Indian navy had an exercise in Goa. `` there is diversity in our army and everyone is given equal opportunities as all rolls are open to all,'' he says and added that British army is small in size and compared to Indian army.
Recalling the unparalleled sacrifice of the Indian soldiers in the World War-1 and II, Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore said, "This year also marks the centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918, a time for remembrance of the 74, 000 Indians who fell and 67, 000 others who were severely wounded, many of whom never recovered, and they lie in, or their ashes are interred in foreign fields. ''
He said that it was a matter of great pride for the country that sent 1.3 million soldiers in these expeditions. The Indian soldiers proved their mettle in these missions by winning 11 Victoria Crosses and significantly six more were won by British officers leading Indian troops, he added.
In the first World War (1914-18), the strength of the British Indian Army rose to one million and in the Second World War (1939-45) with two and a half million.
Of all the colonies in the British, French and German empires, the contribution of undivided India ( India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) in terms of manpower remains the highest a total of one and half million men, including soldiers and non-combatants, were recruited into the British Indian army during the First World War.
India joined the war as part of the British empire. In late September and early October, two Indian divisions renamed Lahore and Meerut and totalling some 24,000 men arrived at Marseilles and were placed under the command of General Sir James Willcocks.
In the next four years, a total of 140,000 men were sent to France and most of them would serve there from October 1914 to December 1915 and took part in some of the fiercest battles of Loos, Ypres, Neuve Chapelee, Givenchy and Festubert suffering losses and winning the first Victoria Crosses to be awarded to Indians.