Britain’s history is one of the key fronts in our divisive identity ‘culture war’ – yet remembrance of shared history also has the power to bring people together in a way that few other things have.
In 2021 British Future worked with students at two secondary schools, in Rochdale and east London, to uncover new history and heritage from within their own diverse communities that highlights the contribution of black and Asian soldiers in the Second World War and what this means today.
Calling on the local community – via students’ families and other networks such as local mosques, community organisations and local media – students asked local black and Asian people to share the stories of their family’s involvement in the Second World War. The students then become historians themselves, conducting filmed interviews with family members and documenting these stories online with video, family photos and medals and other memorabilia.
Eden Girls School, a Muslim secondary school in Walthamstow, east London, archived these community stories on the school website. On 10 November an event brought members of the local community together at the school, where students shared the stories that they uncovered, screening a short compilation video and guest speakers. You can watch a short film of the east London project here.
Falinge Park High School in Rochdale also has more information about the initiative, together with the local community stories of WW2 contribution, on the school’s website. Students from the school laid a wreath at the local cenotaph on Armistice Day (11 November) to commemorate all who served, including those soldiers whose stories they uncovered as part of this project.
Awareness of the vast contribution made by black and Asian servicemen and women in the World Wars has increased significantly, but still requires further promotion to majority and minority audiences alike. Research 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. That sentiment is felt equally by white Britons (78%) and ethnic minority Britons (76%), with just 3% of people saying they disagree.
Remember Together is a project from British Future and The Royal British Legion that aims to bring people from different backgrounds together in remembrance of our shared history. It highlights and celebrates the service and sacrifice made by servicemen and women of all creeds and colours, engaging new audiences and helping make the national tradition of Remembrance feel relevant and inclusive to everybody in Britain today.
In November 2020, British Future assembled a coalition of voices – across politics and ethnicities and from civil society, culture, the military and faith – to urge 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.” Supported by both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, we called for greater efforts “to ensure all who served are fully recognised through better education, commemoration and documentation of our shared history.”
Through these two projects we hope to demonstrate how this can be put into practice in communities across the UK, with a view to expanding the scope of Remember Together in 2022.