Remember Together is joint project from the Royal British Legion and British Future, which brings people from different backgrounds together ahead of Remembrance Sunday to learn about and commemorate our shared history.
In 2019, Remember Together reflects on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, as we remember how Britain and its allies in the Commonwealth, the US and the free armies of Europe fought side-by-side in the Second World War.
Remember Together events in Leicester and in Boston, Lincolnshire are bringing together ethnic minority and white Britons and Eastern European communities to mark this important history that we all share – and to remind us that Remembrance is for all of us.
Remember Together Leicester
People from different backgrounds in Leicester came together on Saturday to learn about the Commonwealth contribution to the Second World War, and ‘Remember Together’ our shared history of service and sacrifice.
Historian Dan Hill brought to life the story of the millions of soldiers from India, Canada, the Caribbean and Kenya who fought in the Second World War, alongside their white British allies. India in particular made a huge contribution raising the world’s largest volunteer army – 2.5 million soldiers from pre-partition India – many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice.
One such story is that of the Indian Comforts Fund. In 1939, as Indian soldiers headed to France and merchant sailors endeavoured to keep supply lines open, a group of British and Asian men and women based in India House, Aldwych, began packing parcels of food and warm clothing to send across Europe, to Indian prisoners of war, soldiers, and merchant sailors. As these men were fighting so far from home each food parcel contained some home comforts such as ghee, curry powder and Indian sweets. Taking inspiration from this story, participants had the opportunity to make chocolates and Indian sweets, with the help of Carl Turner from Leicester’s Ministry of Chocolate.
Tajinder Kaur Jagdev, from Leicester, said:
“I thought the sweet-making idea was a brilliant idea, it was very effective. It was a good way to get everybody in their more playful zone so they could contemplate and feel more connected to each other.”
Sixteen-year-old Prabhpreet Minhas came with friends from the Punjabi Sikh community to learn more about the Commonwealth contribution in the Second World War. She said:
“Remembrance Sunday does feel more relevant to me now because meeting the people and actually hearing more stories, they’re heartbreaking. I think they’re more relevant to me now because I can relate, and look back into my own history. Talking to the people at this event has actually helped me because you find out so much about people that you’ve never actually met before and their background and heritage.”
One group whose contribution to the war effort is sometimes overlooked is that of the African-Caribbean community. Some 10,000 men and women from the Caribbean left their families to join the war effort, many working in the Merchant Navy. We heard first hand from Second World War veteran Albert Jarrett, who said “It is the duty of those who are here today to remember those who are gone.”
Amanda Ballentyne, a former army reservist from Leicester, said:
“Learning about our shared history can bring people together because we were all in it together – we were all fighting together. And so many people don’t realise that – they think it was just the British and the Americans and the French and the Germans, but it wasn’t that at all – there were millions of people from all over the world who came together and fought. If only people realised, I think our Remembrance celebrations would be very different.”
Remember Together Boston
People from the Polish and English communities of Boston came together on Saturday, in the historic setting of Boston’s Guildhall, for an event to remember their shared history of service and sacrifice in the Second World War.
People at the event, both young and old, created their own giant ‘Remember Together’ message, made from hundreds of individual poppies. Each poppy carried a personal message of remembrance, written by the people of Boston.
Pupils at the local Polish Saturday School and St Thomas Primary Academy wrote messages, some in English and others in Polish, as they learned about Remembrance in class.
Magda Eede works at the schools, came to the event with her young family. She said:
“In Boston we have nationalities from all around the world here. An event like this brings people together: we have a chance to exchange our history, our past, and we find out very often that that past, somehow, has something in common.”
Servicemen and women from Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic fought for Britain in the Second World War, alongside millions from pre-partition India and the Caribbean, Africa, Canada and Australia.
96-year-old Polish WW2 veteran Wanda Szuwalska shared her own extraordinary story at the event. Sent from Poland to a Siberian work camp at 16 by invading Russians as Germany invaded from the West, she travelled to Uzbekhistan and then Iran and Egypt, joining the free Polish Army and then the RAF. After arriving in Liverpool by boat, she was posted to the Polish 300 Squadron and was based for part of the war in Lincolnshire – where she directed aircraft at RAF Faldingworth. Wanda told the audience that “It is very, very important to remember and remind all the younger people how it was.”
David Mitchell, who was born in Boston and whose father was killed while fighting in the Pacific in the Second World War, felt the event helped increase people’s understanding of remembrance. “I will be in Whitehall next Sunday and it makes you think – that it’s not just the British people that we’re remembering but all the other nations that fought with us,” he said.
Iga Paczkowska, who lives and works in Boston and helped gather remembrance messages from the town’s Polish community, said:
“By putting those messages on the poppies we’ve had a chance to talk about it, to slow down and think and put something from the bottom of your heart on that little flower. We have to remember to people who were fighting for us. They were serving together and we have to remember them together.”
Our shared history
75 years ago in 1944 Britain’s allies from the Commonwealth and other nations, who had fought shoulder to shoulder with Britain since the start of the Second World War, collaborated to secure victory in three critical battles: Monte Cassino, Kohima and Imphal and the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Between January and May 1944 nearly a quarter of a million troops from six continents fought in four battles on and around Monte Cassino and the town of Cassino in Italy. They suffered heavy casualties: by the time Polish troops captured the summit of Monte Cassino, Allied armies had suffered over 54,000 casualties. Cassino cemeteries testify not only to the loss of so many but to the mix of nations and forces involved, including Britons, pre-partition Indians, Maoris from New Zealand, Poles, Americans, Moroccans and South Africans.
Kohima and Imphal
The battles of Kohima and Imphal changed the course of the war in South East Asia, dealing the Japanese Imperial Army its greatest defeat.
Allied troops of the 14th Army comprised British, pre-partition Indian, Gurkha and African troops from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. They were supported by Naga tribes of North East India and Burmese hill tribes. At the core of this multi-cultural, multi-national force was the British-Indian army, the largest volunteer army in history. At its height, this force consisted of approximately 2.5 million men.
The battles of Imphal and Kohima cost the Japanese Imperial Army dearly. Of the 85,000 men that started the battles 53,000 were killed or declared missing. The 14th Army suffered nearly 17,000 casualties. The legacy of the battles of Imphal and Kohima echoes on in the inscription taken from a cemetery for British soldiers who fell at Kohima. That inscription we know as the Kohima Epitaph:
“When You Go Home, Tell Them of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”.
D-Day, 6 June 1944, ranks among the most significant battles in history, marking the beginning of the liberation of France and Western Europe. It drew on the knowledge of meteorologists, scientists, inventors and the combined militaries of 13 nations. They were assisted by tens of thousands of members of the French Resistance. By the end of D-Day Allied forces had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties, of which 4,000 were fatalities.
In addition to those from the UK, D-day forces included sailors, soldiers and airmen from the USA, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland and others.
Remember Together in 2018
In 2018, as Britain marked the end of the First World War centenary, Remember Together brought people together to commemorate those who fought for Britain a century ago – including over a million Indian soldiers, 400,000 of them Muslims from present-day Pakistan.
Imams in mosques around the country gave remembrance-themed services at Friday prayers. A Remember Together event in Birmingham brought together Imams from across the UK to learn more about the Muslim contribution to WW1 and the Islamic context of Remembrance.
In Bradford, London and Derby primary and secondary school pupils and families from different ethnic and faith backgrounds came together to learn that soldiers from all backgrounds fought side-by-side, and make poppies to remember them. Poppy wreaths made at the events were laid at local war memorials as part of Remembrance Sunday services in Walthamstow, Bradford and Derby on 11 November.
Politicians from all parties joined faith leaders, charities and former military leaders to back Remember Together in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph (28 Oct). Supporters included Baroness Warsi; Lord Paddy Ashdown; Lord Richards, former Chief of Defence Staff; James Cleverly MP; Naz Shah MP; Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London; Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands; the Bishop of Durham; Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism; Charles Byrne, Director-General of the Royal British Legion; and Imam Qari Asim MBE, Chair of the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board.