29 October 2020

MPs, veterans and public support ‘Remember Together’ call for greater recognition of black and Asian WW2 service

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Commemorating Britain’s history can unite our society, not just provoke angry ‘culture war’ debates, according to the new ‘Remember Together’ initiative, launched in an open letter signed by prominent voices from culture, politics, faith, civil society and the military.

Media contact:
Steve Ballinger
020 7632 9085
steve@britishfuture.com

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and former Home Secretary Sajid Javid, actors Adrian Lester and Meera Syal, WW2 veterans and former heads of the armed forces Lord Dannatt and Lord Richards are among those to sign an open letter urging that “more should be done to highlight the role of soldiers from across the Commonwealth, ensuring their contributions are reflected and acknowledged, and that Remembrance activity is truly inclusive.”

Support for the Remember Together initiative ranges across politics, including Baroness Warsi, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, MPs Virendra Sharma, Rushanara Ali, Nusrat Ghani, Liam Byrne ,Andrew Murrison, Dan Jarvis, Stuart McDonald and Anas Sarwar MSP.

The letter urges that we “ensure all who served are fully recognised, through better education, commemoration and documentation of our shared history.”

It is also signed by two Second World War veterans: Allan Wilmot, who was born in Jamaica and served in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force; and 96-year-old Muhammad Hussain, who was born in modern-day Pakistan and served in the British-Indian Army, fighting in Italy at the battle of Monte Cassino, one of the largest and most brutal battles of the Second World War.

An online event, Forgotten Sacrifice: How can we Remember the Black and Asian soldiers of the Second World War? brought together expert voices on history, education and race to discuss how we can remember this shared history and mark the contribution of Black and Asian soldiers in the Second World War. You can watch a video of the event here.

New polling for British Future finds that eight in ten people (78%) agree that doing more to recognise the Commonwealth contribution in World War Two would be a positive way to promote understanding of the shared history of today’s multi-ethnic Britain. The sentiment is felt equally by white Britons (78%) and ethnic minority Britons too (76%). Just 3% of people disagree.

The poll, conducted earlier this month by Number Cruncher Politics, also finds that most people in Britain (59%) agree that our tradition of Remembrance Day brings people of all faiths and ethnicities together. But that is less widely felt among black and minority ethnic citizens, with less than half (46%) feeling that Remembrance does bring us all together. The Remember Together initiative seeks to address that imbalance, ensuring that the service and sacrifice of all those who fought is commemorated and helping to make remembrance feel relevant and inclusive to people of all creeds and colours in Britain today.

Remember Together is a joint campaign by British Future, as part of the /Together coalition, and the Royal British Legion, whose Director-General, Charles Byrne, is a signatory to the open letter. British Future Director Sunder Katwala said:

“Angry ‘culture war’ debates about Britain’s history overlook its ability to unite as well as divide us. Men and women from across the Commonwealth served together 75 years ago and we can come together today to remember them all, regardless of creed or colour. This is a history that we share and of which we can all be proud.

“Awareness of the service and sacrifice of black and Asian troops in WW2 is growing, but more still needs to be done to teach and commemorate this contribution. Getting that right is key to making Remembrance Sunday a moment that is meaningful to people of all backgrounds in Britain today.”

Commenting on the new initiative, Sajid Javid MP said:

“No-one told me, growing up as a Pakistani-background kid, about the million soldiers who fought for Britain in World War Two and looked like me. So I support the Remember Together call to ensure their service is remembered. It can only be good for our society if we better understand this history that we all share.” 

David Lammy MP said:

“Every child grows up learning about the Second World War in school, but the stories of the black and brown soldiers who helped defeat the Nazis have long been missing from their textbooks. We can and must do more to commemorate this forgotten sacrifice, so that every child in our diverse classrooms sees that British history is their history.”

Historian Stephen Bourne, author of Black Poppies and Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45, said:

“The Army, Navy and RAF personnel that fought fascism in the Second World War included servicemen and women from across the British Empire including India, Africa and the Caribbean. They fought alongside their white compatriots. In its diversity, this fighting force looks a lot more like the Britain of 2020. The Remember Together campaign is about commemorating this history that we all share.”

Full text of the open letter and signatories:

Remembrance brings us together in recognition of all who have served and sacrificed on behalf of our country, both past and present. We want to ensure the contributions of people from all communities are recognised, and that all feel able to take part in Remembrance activity.

Soldiers of different colours and creeds came from across the Commonwealth to play a crucial role in defending the freedoms we enjoy today. The armies that fought in the Second World War were the largest multicultural force that has ever served together, and are more reflective of the modern day ethnic diversity we see in Britain today, than the Britain of 1939 to 1945.

The service of Commonwealth soldiers is one of many examples of how the history of Empire and decolonisation shaped modern Britain. We need to recognise that and engage with all of its complexity and controversies in an open, honest and constructive way as a key foundation for understanding the society that we share today.

We are supporting the Remember Together campaign’s call to ensure all who served are fully recognised through better education, commemoration and documentation of our shared history. Over the coming months we will be telling people how they can get involved in our project and share their stories of service, sacrifice and contribution. 

It is not only the contributions of black and Asian soldiers that have been forgotten. But in a year that has marked 75 years since VE and VJ Day, we believe more should be done to highlight the role of soldiers from across the Commonwealth, ensuring their contributions are reflected and acknowledged, and that Remembrance activity is truly inclusive.

Yours,

Adrian Lester, actor;

Meera Syal, actor and writer;

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London;

Sajid Javid MP;

Liam Byrne MP

Nusrat Ghani MP

Dan Jarvis MP

Baroness Warsi;

Andrew Murrison MP

Stuart McDonald MP

Rushanara Ali MP

Virendra Sharma MP

Helen Grant MP;

Anas Sarwar MSP;

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands;

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol;

Patrick Vernon, author, 100 Great black Britons;

Zehra Zaidi, We Too Built Britain;

Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future;

General The Lord Richards GCB CBE DSO DL, Former Chief of Defence Staff and Grand President of The Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League;

General The Lord Dannatt GCB CBE MC, former Chief of the General Staff;

Allan Wilmott, WW2 veteran;

Sergeant Mohammad Hussain (Rtd), WW2 veteran;

Charles Byrne, Director-General, Royal British Legion;

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director, Young Vic;

Yasmin Alibhai Brown, writer;

Trevor Phillips OBE;

Shailesh Solanki, Executive Editor, Asian Media Group;

Stephen Pollard, editor, Jewish Chronicle;

Gurvinder Sandher, CEO, Kent Equality Cohesion Council;

Katharine Birbalsingh, Co-founder, Michaela Community School;

Julie Siddiqi MBE, Founder, Together We Thrive;

Jasvir Singh, City Sikhs;

Sanjay Jagatia, Chair, Hindu Think Tank UK (Hindus in UK);

Imam Qari Asim MBE, Chair, Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board;

Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds and Chair of trustees for the Together Coalition;

Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham;

Shrabani Basu, author;

Shahina Ahmed, Principal, Eden Girls School;

Roma Taylor, Windrush Cymru Elders:

Dr Linda Yueh, Chair, Royal Commonwealth Society;

Robert Tombs, historian;

Stephen Bourne, author of Black Poppies and Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45;

Daniel Todman, Professor of Modern History, Queen Mary University of London;

Adam Wagner, barrister, Doughty Street Chambers;

Gaynor Legall, Chair, The Heritage & Cultural Exchange;

Professor Uzo Iwobi OBE , Founder, Race Council Cymru;

Mustafa Field OBE, Director, Faiths Forum for London;

Chris Campbell, Chair, South Wales Jamaican Society;

Rogiero Verma, Chair, Royal Commonwealth Society Wales;

Tim Dixon, Co-founder, More in Common;

Meg Henry and Linda Cowie, Joint Directors, The Linking Network;

Lord Bilimoria, Chair, Memorial Gates Council;

Omar Shaikh, Founder, Colourful Heritage.