Putting Sikh Soldiers on the Map – Groundbreaking Website of First World War Stories Launched

1 July 2016 | Hannah Clark

As the world marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, unknown tales of Sikhs during World War One are being captured by the UK Punjab Heritage Association for the first time using the latest in mapping technology and a crowd-sourcing initiative to preserve family stories that were at risk of being lost forever.

Paris, July 1916 © Toor Collection

Thanks to the launch of a major new website titled ‘Empire, Faith & War: The Sikhs and World War One’ funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund  the remarkable contribution of Sikhs will be placed within the wider narrative of how the first global conflict in history pulled in men, money and materials from around the world – most notably for the British Empire, from India, and in particular the northern state of Punjab.

The endeavour by the UK Punjab Heritage Association represents a major shift of emphasis from institutional or historian-led research and interpretation to a community-focused drive to tell a story that would otherwise remain a footnote in history.

Despite accounting for less than 1% of the population of India at the time, Sikhs made up nearly 20% of its armed forces at the outbreak of hostilities. Indian troops overall comprised one in every six of Britain’s wartime forces. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many Sikh families in Britain have a wartime connection but their stories – including those of turbaned Sikh cavalrymen at the Somme – have mostly remained hidden and undocumented until now.

To enable the public, researchers and educators alike become involved, learn about and teach this forgotten aspect of British wartime history, the EFW website will continue to develop until the end of 2016 to host an array of exciting new resources.

These include a series of research guides aimed at novice Citizen Historians; teaching packs for Key Stages 2 and 3 created in conjunction with one of the country’s leading education consultants and Fellow of the Historical Association, Andrew Wrenn; an educational app; a collection of unique archival sound recordings of Sikh prisoners of war; a documentary film; and a commemorative publication.

Find out more on the Empire, Faith and War website.