On Friday 12 September Lord Singh, The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) was given the honor of inspecting and taking the salute with Major General Nitsch at the Sandhurst parade, of the Sikh Platoon dressed as World War 1 soldiers.
The commemoration at the Royal Military Academy, remembered the fallen in Saraghari, whilst launching the British Army Sikh Association (BASA).
Full text of Lord Singh’s speech at the launch of the BASA and the commemoration of Saragarhi Day is given below:
Major General Nitsch, Lords, ladies, Captain Makand Singh and members of BASA, honoured guests, friends,
It’s a real pleasure to be with you on this commemoration of Saragarhi day and the launch of BASA – British Army Sikh Association aptly timed to coincide with one of the most heroic episodes in the history of warfare. On this day in 1897, 21 brave Sikhs of the then 36th Sikh Regiment holed up in a small brick and mud fort held back an army of some 10,000 Afghan tribesmen for nearly a day to give valuable time to their army colleagues. Eventually they were all killed, but the thought of surrender never entered their minds. They lived and died true to the Sikh teaching ‘Purja purja kat mare, kaboo na chadey khet’.
Always live true to what you beliefs and fight for them at the cost of your own life. Their courage received a rare standing ovation in the British parliament. All were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, then the highest gallantry award given to Indian soldiers. Their achievement has been recognised by UNESCO the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as one of eight most inspiring stories of collective bravery in human history.
Saragahri Day sets the bar high for today’s Sikh soldiers but from what I’ve seen of our serving Sikh soldiers they will be up to the challenge of living true to the spirit of Saragarhi and I wish BASA every success. They add a miri dimension to the piri one provided by the Sikh Armed Services chaplaincy. Today, I believe there are about 200 Sikhs in the British Army. According to population ratios, there should be more than 1000. With BASA’s lead, I’m sure numbers will significantly increase.
I have long campaigned to see Sikhs and other faith in all walks of life, having proper spiritual support and we made real progress in prison and hospital chaplaincy. About 9 years ago, colleagues and I from other faiths managed to get the British Armed Services to agree on the establishment of chaplains for other faiths. I was nominated as the endorsing officer for the Sikh faith and took part in an interview for the first Sikh chaplain and we appointed Mandeep Kaur and she has proved an excellent choice. Not only has her work achieved recognition from her colleagues in other faiths, but she has done much to bring Sikhs in the services together, particularly in the annual Chardi Kala Chaplaincy Conference which helps in the re-charging of spiritual batteries. Her work has helped to bring serving Sikhs together: a prelude to today’s formation of BASA. We owe her a great debt.
I would also like to pay tribute to the work of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, led by the tireless Harbinder Singh, Daljit Singh Sidhu and others who do so much to keep our heritage alive. But for their work, few, Sikhs or non-Sikhs in the UK would even be aware of Saragarhi and other inspiring episodes in our history. In 2001 the Trust persuaded my colleague in the Lords, Viscount Slim to give a memorial lecture at the Imperial War Museum in the series ‘Portraits of Courage’. Lord Slim, who had spent a lifetime in India particularly among Sikhs, chose the siege of Saragarhi as the theme of his inspiring address.
In the last couple of days, I have been lifted by the example of two moving events. Today we remember the courage of the 21 Sikhs at Saragarhi. Yesterday, I attended the Invictus Games, named after the poem Invictus, which reminds us that however difficult or unfair life may appear, we should never give up. The poem ends with the immortal lines:
It matters not how straight the gate; how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.
Yesterday I saw limbless blade runners, one with severe burns to his face, and others in wheelchairs enthusiastically embracing life. They and the brave soldiers of Saragarhi set a high standard. I am confident that BASA and others in the armed services will live true to their example of inspiring courage. Courage that refuses to accept the bludgeoning’s of chance, and helps put all our petty aches and pains and grumblings about the unfairness of life, into true perspective.
Please see link to coverage of the event on the British Army website: http://www.army.mod.uk/news/26554.aspx