British Future’s recent study into public attitudes to the First World War centenary showed that the single biggest increase in public knowledge about WW1 relates to the contribution of soldiers from the Empire and the Commonwealth who fought for Britain. Things Unseen produced two radio programmes looking at the contribution of Muslim and Sikh soldiers, why they fought, and the importance of that historical legacy now.
Britain’s Forgotten Muslim Heroes focuses on the 400,000 Muslim soldiers who made up one third of the British Indian Army.
For Muslims today, their role in a war which helped vanquish the Muslim superpower of the time, the Ottoman Empire, raises interesting questions. Remona Aly speaks to Muslims serving in the British Forces today – including Imam Asim Hafiz, their first Muslim chaplain – to find out what that historical legacy means to them.
She also meets military historian Jahan Mahmood, who discusses the sacrifices made by Muslim soldiers for Empire and King in a war that was effectively not their own, and the integral role faith played on the battlefield.
He also highlights the importance of these little-known narratives in terms of countering anti-Muslim prejudices and strengthening Muslim ties with the rest of British society.
Sikh Soldiers of the First World War tells the story of the hundreds of thousands of Sikhs from undivided India who fought in all major theatres contested by the British.
Nelufar Hedayat hears some of the stories of those Sikh soldiers and asks why so many of them would have fought, and what their contribution means to young Sikhs today.
She meets Amandeep Singh Madra, who researched the stories of Sikh soldiers for ‘Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One’, a major exhibition at the Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies (which British Future employee Jemimah Steinfeld reviewed in July this year), as well as young Sikhs whose own-great grandfathers fought in the Great War.
At a time when public interest in the soldiers of the Empire and Commonwealth is growing, and a significant proportion of people feel that their stories have not been heard enough, these programmes provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the soldiers who travelled thousands of miles to fight on the Western Front 100 years ago, for a country they had never even seen.
31st October 2014 will mark 100 years since the actions of one such soldier, Sepoy Khudadad Khan, made him the first Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross during the first battle of Ypres. To coincide with this anniversary a new Poppy Headscarf is being launched to raise money for the poppy appeal and to highlight the contribution of the 400,000 Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain during the First World War.