On this day in 1914, Sepoy Khudadad Khan became the first Muslim recipient of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for bravery.
On 31 October 1914, Khan and the 129th Baluchis regiment were supporting the British Expeditionary Force at the front near Ypres in Belgium, to prevent German troops taking vital ports in France and Belgium. As the line was pushed back the machine gunner, badly wounded and massively outnumbered, held off the German advance long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive and hold back the enemy. He was the sole survivor of his team.
This new film, launched today to mark this anniversary, features the Joint Ancestors Project, which brought together descendants of WW1 Muslim soldiers and descendants of white WW1 Indian Army officers, from across the country, to learn more about their shared history at the National Archives. The project culminated in a London event at which descendants were joined by Paddy Ashdown, whose own father commanded Indian army forces in WW2.
British Future believes that our shared history can help bring Britons from different backgrounds together. During the First World War centenary period our Unknown & Untold project has told the stories of Britain’s WW1 Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in the war of 1914-18 alongside white British and other Commonwealth troops.
Khudadad Khan was just one of the 1.2 million Indian soldiers, 400,000 of them Muslims from what is now Pakistan, who fought for Britain in 1914. Former heads of the Army General Lord Dannatt and General Lord Richards have called for greater recognition of the first Muslim soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross, together with peers, MPs, historians and religious leaders who say children should be told about the role played by Muslim troops in the First World War.
YouGov research for British Future ahead of the First World War centenary found that 80% of the public agrees that “The British war effort included Empire and Commonwealth soldiers from countries including India and the West Indies, Australia and Canada. It is important for integration today that all of our children are taught about the shared history of a multi-ethnic Britain.”
In 2013, before the start of the Centenary, knowledge of the role of Commonwealth soldiers was confined to a minority. The latest research, also by YouGov for British Future in 2016, found that most of the public were aware of this contribution, with around two-thirds of people able to identify that more than 1,000 troops came to fight from India (68%), Australia (64%) and Canada (61%).
Next month a powerful new film, released ahead of Remembrance Sunday, brings together Bradford teenagers from Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds to express in rap lyrics how our shared history can help integration and bring people together in modern-day Britain. The young people interviewed descendants of WW1 Indian soldiers and then worked with Bradford rapper Blazer Boccle to produce lyrics about British identity and how it is shaped by this WW1 history. the film will be launched at a Bradford panel event exploring these themes – contact us if you’d like to attend.